Bart Ehrman Again

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On a Telic Thoughts thread based on my “Two Views of Faith” blog entry, Allen MacNeill left a comment suggesting we read this Salon.com article on Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a best-selling author devoted to debunking the New Testament. The article presents his work as if it were nothing but normal scholarship made accessible for the rest of us:

The field of biblical textual studies is 300 years old; Ehrman’s books simply present the accepted findings of that field for a mass audience.

That’s a clear-cut case of a reporter not doing his research. Yes, much of what Ehrman writes about NT textual criticism is accurate, on one level. As he says, there are known discrepancies among various texts. But he’s making a lot of money on books that exaggerate how much this matters. These discrepancies have in fact been known and acknowledged among scholars of all stripes for a long time, and other than obviously correctable typos, they were all footnoted in a Bible I owned back in the 1960s. None of them really make any difference to the intended meaning of the text. You can read Robert Gundry’s extended treatment on this if you like. One word captures the gist of what he thought of Ehrman on this topic:

Horsefeathers!

That’s “Horsefeathers!” with documentation, by the way. Similarly with Ehrman’s question, “Which Bible?” He acts as if there wasn’t an answer to that question–how astonishing is that!? The Salon.com article says,

As Ehrman notes, there were many other Gospels floating around in the days of the early Christians, many of which claimed to be written by apostles, and there’s no historical reason to believe that some of these non-canonical gospels were any less worthy of being part of the Bible than the books that made it in.

Well, yes there is historical reason. See this general overview (pdf) and this summary of the distinguishing marks of writings that were accepted as canonical. Another, longer artice goes into more depth yet on this. Ehrman is simply wrong on this point.

And then there is this:

Finally, and most devastatingly, Ehrman points out that “some of the most important Christian doctrines, such as that of a suffering Messiah, the divinity of Christ, the trinity and the existence of heaven and hell,” were not held by Jesus himself and were not contemporaneous with him.

This is puzzling. I thought he had said we didn’t know much about Jesus because we couldn’t trust the documents. Now he’s saying we know that Jesus didn’t believe these things. Is that not contradictory?

Ehrman is a scholar, certainly, so I’m sure he has some answer to this. But there are other answers besides, and they don’t support him on this. The trend in New Testament scholarship is actually running counter to what Ehrman said about Jesus’ view of his own deity. This brief article outlines several New Testament passages generally accepted, by skeptical as well as conservative scholars, as genuine accounts of Christ’s life, and shows how they demonstrate Jesus’ view of himself as divine. There is more here.

Jesus saw himself as God. That fact alone takes us a long way toward refuting Ehrman’s contention that Jesus had no conception of the Trinity. Similar responses could be made about heaven and hell. As for the suffering Messiah, he’s right in recognizing that Jesus’ contemporaries did not expect that. Doesn’t that make it unlikely that they would have invented such a story, then? For there is considerable evidence that Jesus’ crucifixion (and resurrection) were reported and accepted within just a few years after his death. The cross is central in Paul’s letters, some of which were written within 25 years of Jesus’ death. How much time does it take for an entire nation’s religious ethos to be overturned, so that a new religion would try to establish itself on a footing so contradictory to what everyone else accepted?

Ehrman is guilty of some clear errors of fact, and some definite errors in interpretation. For those who want to explore this further, I highly recommend two scholarly sources: Reinventing Jesus by J. Ed Komoszewski, and Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig.

54 Responses

  1. What about 1 John 5:7 (a widely attested interpolation): the only NT text that states that the Holy Ghost is one with the Father and Son? Or Dueteronomy 32:8, where the text may be “sons of Israel” or “sons of God”, the latter of which might have stark theological significane in light of the ancient Hebrew view of the divine council which included literal offspring of God? Or the removal of anthropomorphic language from the Biblical text attested to by no less than internationally known Biblical scholars Emmanuel Tov. There is also the dispute over the authenticity of 2 Peter and the pastorals, as well as some of Paul’s letters. These are not insignificant, even if they are admittedly small in number.

    So I wonder when Evangelicals are going to remove 1 John 5:7 from their Bibles, or if they are willing to remove entire books if it turns out that they are not authentic?

  2. This is a rather interesting debate between “Dr.” James White and Dr. Bart Ehrman.

  3. Charlie says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for this very good post and all the excellent links which answer questions sure to arise.

    Now I must follow your link to TT to find out why biologist Allen MacNeill is recommending the reading of dis-evangelizing Ehrman.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    @Kevin Winters:

    This is just my point. The 1 John 5:8 (not 5:7) passage is not in modern Bibles. When are evangelicals going to remove it? Ummm… at least 35 years ago. Probably much longer, but the oldest Bible I can put my hands on where I sit today is one I bought in the mid-1970s. Its copyright date (NASB New Testament only) is 1960 through 1963.

    Is that soon enough for you?

    We get the doctrine of the Trinity from elsewhere in the NT regardless.

    Deuteronomy 32:8 is not in the Gospels, which was Bart Ehrman’s topic. That’s the first thing to note. Second, ancient Hebrew questions about literal offspring of God are answered sufficiently in other Scripture. That is also my point: contested passages do not determine interpretations of any important doctrine, for uncontested passages do the job quite well enough.

    I’m not current on NT scholarship regarding the epistles you mentioned, but again, they are not in the Gospels either. I am aware of disputes on their authenticity, and that they were accepted in the canon nevertheless, but I have to work on something else this morning so I’ll leave it to someone else to point you to further information on that.

  5. Jordan says:

    Tom, have you read any of Ehrman’s books?

  6. The Deuce says:

    That’s a clear-cut case of a reporter not doing his research. Yes, much of what Ehrman writes about NT textual criticism is accurate, on one level. As he says, there are known discrepancies among various texts. But he’s making a lot of money on books that exaggerate how much this matters. These discrepancies have in fact been known and acknowledged among scholars of all stripes for a long time, and other than obviously correctable typos, they were all footnoted in a Bible I owned back in the 1960s.

    I’ve seen this a number of times in newspaper reports, “documentaries”, and the like, and from people I know in real life. I’ve got an old college acquaintance, for example, who believes himself to be greatly informed on this topic because he apparently took some Biblical criticism course or something, and thinks that the JEDP hypothesis is cutting edge stuff. Occasionally he writes a blog mentioning textual criticism, I’m amazed at how old hat the whole thing is. I’m certainly no expert on textual criticism and its rebuttals, but it’s all stuff I’ve known about since I was around 15.

    Most of big critical standbys are nearly a century old or more, and have been argued over endlessly, and largely tossed out or at least seriously modified and caveated. Most of the new stuff is, to put it quite frankly, post-modernist crap: the result of endless speculation, a cavalier disregard for objective truth, and other Po-Mo methods of criticism that would get a historian laughed out of a job if applied in any other context.

    And yet, in so many of these news reports and documentaries, worn out skeptical dogmas, or the ideas of some fringe skeptic, are trotted out and reported on as if this were simply what the current state of scholarship has shown us, with no caveats stating that their ideas are speculative/not generally accepted/etc.

    But, I think that’s sort of the point. Like the “scholarship” itself, the articles aren’t about a concern for objective truth or informing people. It’s simply about attacking a position that the journalist doesn’t like, and hoping to make other people disagree with it. And for someone who places little importance on truth and rational justification, then simply deceiving others is as good or better than full disclosure and rational persuasion.

  7. Charlie says:

    Ehrman presents and sensationalizes information in his popular writings that is already well-known among scholars. He draws conclusions beyond what he can present when he offers that same information to scholarly journals.
    Of course, although it would seem his studies caused him to lose his faith, he admits elsewhere and in his subsequent book that it wasn’t textual criticism that finally brought an end to his faith, but the “problem of evil”.
    Scholars like Jones (Misquoting Truth) and Ehrman’s own mentor, Bruce Metzger, are as aware or more aware of the problems he presents and it has not damaged their faith.

    Jones says to Ehrman, ‘thank you for showing these issues are important’.

  8. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    I could remark on this post but at the same time I don’t want to interfere with a message that I see as addressed to believers. (It seems to me that posts like this are not so open to the free-for-all approach of some of your science, philosophical ones.)

    If you welcome critical remarks on these kind of topics let me know — otherwise I’ll assume that this is more of a topic for believers or that you’re too busy to reply.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    @Jordan:

    Of course I have. I’ve also heard him in debate.

  10. Jordan says:

    Jordan just forgot.

    Yep.

  11. SteveK says:

    Ehrman’s theories remind of this snippet from First Things, here.

    Here is a quick review of the startling authentic facts other “authorities” have unearthed about Jesus, which St. Paul, the early Church, the Vatican, and Fox News have kept hidden in a vault somewhere:

    • Jesus was a woman.

    • Jesus was a space alien and is buried in Japan.

    • Jesus survived the crucifixion and is buried in Kashmir.

    • Jesus was a Buddhist.

    • Jesus was a Muslim.

    • Jesus was a Mormon.

    • Jesus was a magician.

    • Jesus was a Gnostic.

    • Jesus was the son of Mary and a Roman solider.

    • Jesus never existed.

    • Jesus was never executed.

    • Jesus was married and had children.

    • Jesus was a social revolutionary when he was not a mere Mediterranean peasant.

    • Jesus was an itinerant visionary whose real teachings exist only in distorted, fragmented form.

    • Jesus was insane.

    Of course, all of these are true.

  12. Kim J. says:

    The debate about the accuracy of the Bible reminds me of a discussion I had with my husband’s grandfather. He would probably be considered a fundamentalist—the small denomination he worshiped with would definitely be considered “fundamentalist” rather than “evangelical,” with most of the stereotypes that go along with that appellation. They took the Bible—every verse—very seriously.

    They always used the King James Version. I asked why, as a bright young college student coming straight from my religion class. I expected him to say something like, “If it was good enough for Jesus and his Disciples, it’s good enough for me!” What he actually said was that he preferred this translation, because he already knew where the innacuracies, errors and mistranslations were.

    I don’t think he would be too worried about Dr. Ehrman’s findings.

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s a great comment, Kim J. Thanks!

  14. The Bible isn’t a scientific result. The Bible is hearsay.

    And we know that hearsay is unreliable. Just look at the Mormons and the Scientologists. When I raise this issue, you say that the LDS and Scientology are obvious frauds not supported by evidence, and that Christianity is not so obviously fraudulent. However, that doesn’t help your case. It helps mine. The examples show that people will gladly believe obviously fraudulent things, and die for those ridiculous beliefs. There’s no reason why a lot of people wouldn’t come to believe in Jesus in the same way.

    Moreover, there are a lot of strange coincidences. Jesus happens to resemble a number of deities who came before him, e.g., Horus. It’s implausible that these are just random coincidences because the reporters of the gospels would have been aware of the other myths. There’s a lot of astrology in the stories too. The House of the Bull? Following into the house of the water bearer? The three kings (the belt of Orion) following a star (Sirius) that points the way to the birth of the son (Sun) on Dec 25th?

    And how about the 153 fish? Remember? The fish they pulled out when they threw the nets over the other side. Why 153? Because the the cult of Pythagoras believed 153 was a magic number. It’s a ratio (153:256) of dimensions relating to two intersecting circles. (A geometric diagram that’s drawn as a fish that will be familiar to you.) And there’s a story about Pythagoras on the shore predicting that fisherman would bring up 153 fish in their nets which predates Christianity by hundreds of years. It looks like the early Christians were the one’s casting nets – for anyone who could match their own myths up with those of Christianity.

    You’re making a huge leap when you pretend that the Bible has been shown to be true. At best, your preferred gospels can be traced to within a few years (or perhaps decades) from the events they purport to describe. So what? The Mormons did the same. Knowing that the Mormons wrote their books and when they wrote them does not convince us that their hearsay was true.

  15. Charlie says:

    The Pythagoras story does not contain the number 153 unless and except, as with the other so-called “coincidences” it is used in the post-Christian era. Without it, there is not connection between the facts of the stories nor their intent.
    http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t133442.html

    The Bible has no reference to the number of wise men.

    Jesus bears little resemblance to Horus except that they both were babies once and we can presume were held by their mothers.
    http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/osy.html

    The Bible does not give a date for Jesus’ birth.

    House of the Bull? House of the water bearer? What the?

  16. Charlie says:

    Once, after conceding the minimal facts of the historical case for Jesus’ Resurrection, DL made this admission about the science v. hearsay claim:

    Charlie: Why don’t we have an account of Jesus being rescued off the Cross by angels?
    Why didn’t He come down, as He was taunted to, in glory and smite His persecutors?
    To an extreme, why doesn’t the book say He led a successful revolt?

    DL: Easy. Because those claims are verifiable.

    Charlie: Do you see how you just confirmed the authenticity of the accounts?
    Why didn’t they make up outlandish stories?
    Because there were eye-witnesses to verify what they said.
    They couldn’t say Jesus was lifted off the Cross by angels or that He came down to smite his antagonists because there were people about who would say “no, He wasn’t and no He didn’t”.

    You have confirmed that the accounts were written within the memory of eye-witnesses. Was it yesterday, or two days ago you said they were written so late that there would be nobody around to verify them?

    Even a hundred years later the writers could have even said that Jesus was the cause of the fall of Jerusalem, or that He did as He said He would and destroyed the Temple.
    They could have said He ran the Romans out of Jerusalem, but of course, there were people about who could have said that wasn’t the case.

    What they did say was the truth. And by your own admission we can very rationally hold that these accounts were written when there were people who could verify them, or, if possible, contradict them

    Thanks for coming around.

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m on the road touring potential colleges for my son to attend, with him and my wife. We’re sharing this computer in the evenings to do more college research. That means I’m not in a good position to keep up with these comments, but I have a few minutes now.

    DL, nice to see you back, first of all. I wonder, by setting “scientific result” against “hearsay,” do you mean to say that any information that is not a scientific result is hearsay? Waht about personal experience or documentary evidence? For documentary evidence is what the Bible is, and it is the report of eyewitnesses or people who interviewed them and wrote their reports (speaking of the NT specifically here).

    Your point about Mormons and Scientologists misses badly. You say it proves that people will “gladly believe obviously fraudulent things,” and “die for those ridiculous beliefs.” But the extent of obviousness differs tremendously. A religiously deluded person may believe that the angel Moroni gave Joseph Smith some golden plates, or that the world of material objects is an illusion. These are the kinds of things one could be deluded into believing.

    Christianity, however, involves people believing and reporting things like, “I personally saw a dead man, Lazarus, come out of the tomb after four days, alive. I saw a dead girl rise when Jesus spoke a word to her. I saw a man walk on water. I saw him feed 5,000 people out of a boy’s lunch sack. I heard him teach truth unmatched by any other. I saw this man face down the most intimidating opponents with the most unparalleled grace and truth. I saw him stand strong under torture. I saw him die. I saw the empty grave and the empty graveclothes. I saw him, talked with him, walked with him, had meals with him, was taught by him, after this. And large numbers of my friends and even my enemies saw most of the same.”

    That is, these people believed not what some charismatic preacher put over on them, but what they themselves repeatedly experienced.

    Now, you’re going to say that in this day and age we cannot trust that they saw these things. I’m running out of time here, sadly, but I’ll at least mention that the thrust of NT scholarship has been turning less and less skeptical over the past couple of decades.

    This, in particular, is completely off the mark again:

    You’re making a huge leap when you pretend that the Bible has been shown to be true. At best, your preferred gospels can be traced to within a few years (or perhaps decades) from the events they purport to describe. So what? The Mormons did the same. Knowing that the Mormons wrote their books and when they wrote them does not convince us that their hearsay was true.

    There was nothing in the book of Mormon that could be checked for accuracy by contemporaries. Sure, we have a good idea when Joseph Smith wrote it. He didn’t make any claims about a contemporary historical event. There was no question about taking time for a legend to arise, he could fabricate it instantly, because his legend was about long-ago history. Not so at all with the Gospels. For these stories to circulate so quickly in the first century means that they were circulating among thousands of people who could have quickly debunked them, if they had been false. So your parallelism fails.

  18. Charlie,

    Hate to quote Wikipedia, but here ya go:

    Several prominent early Christians, like Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, actually acknowledged the existence of many parallels, complaining that the earlier religions had copied Christian religion and practices, predicted in Hebrew sacred texts, before Jesus was even born, as some form of diabolically inspired pre-cognitive mockery.

    Yeah. It was the devil. What a kidder that guy is.

    As to the debate you quoted, it’s easy to verify that Jesus didn’t free Palestine from Rome when it isn’t free. If I tell you that I have a magic ruby which has cured all disease on Earth, you can dismiss me instantly. But if I tell you I one HAD a magic ruby that cured someone’s disease, but now the ruby has ascended to heaven, you’re going to ignore me. You’re not even going to bother to debunk the story. Especially not if you’re basically on a subsistence income.

    That means that the latter story is effectively not verifiable by you. Just like the Mormon fairy tale, you can take it or leave it.

  19. Tom,

    Your counter about debunking doesn’t work.

    Suppose you’re an average Joe in first century Jerusalem. You fall in with a bunch of guys who make some claim about a prophet. They sound convincing to you. But you have doubts. What are you going to do? Are you going to trek to investigate the claims in detail? That may cost you your livelihood. So you’re almost certainly not going to check things.

    In order to go out and check them, you would have to be very motivated. You would probably have to believe the claims were true. In which case, you’re looking for confirmation, not disconfirmation. And we all know where that leads.

    No, suppose you happen to be visiting your uncle at the scene of some purported miracle, and no one in the area can corroborate the claim. What are you going to do? Are you going to conclude the event never happened? Or will you conclude the people forgot about the even t or moved to another town?

    Suppose after all of this, you become convinced that the claim about the prophet is false. What then? Are you going to publish your findings in the paper? What paper? And to the extent that there is condemnation for the new cult, that condemnation will be dominated not by scholarly works of investigation, but by competing cults like Judaism.

    In other words, there was no debunking process. Most people who didn’t believe the early Christians weren’t going out of their way to investigate it. How much personal effort have you put into investigating the claims of Scientology? Probably not a lot, and you live a modern lifestyle where food, mobility and modern conveniences are plentiful.

    Also, you have assumed I think that the claims of early Christians were verifiable. But if stories like the resurrection of Lazarus were commonly believed myths inherited from Egypt, then the story wasn’t verifiable.

    And finally, the stories of miracles remain hearsay. They don’t change history except in the minds of believers. To this day, there are reports of miracles from around the world. They are all fakes. It’s a well known psychological phenomenon. When a group of kids visits the old haunted building, if one person claims to see a ghost, so will someone else. Why? Because they desperately want to see the ghost. Seeing the ghost is a self-reinforcing delusion where those who see it gain in their immediate peer group.

    BTW, the Mormons claimed to have witnesses:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Witnesses

    Why not check with them about the golden plates?

  20. Charlie says:

    Hi DL,

    Hate to quote Wikipedia, but here ya go:

    That’s because it’s a bad idea. Better than that, quote an actual source of one of these myths with some of its supposed “coincidences” and show that the similarities are 1) significant and 2) pre-Christian such that the best explanation for the existence of Biblical claims is the copy-cat thesis.
    Don’t show, for instance, that Mithra existed hundreds of years earlier in Persia, but that the Mithras of the Roman mystery cults existed in the form referenced by copy-cat theorists before it could borrow any of its so-called parallels from Christianity.

    Also show that the idea that God Himself had a Son, Who would sacrifice Himself for our sins, as our pre-existing Redeemer, born of a virgin and raised to eternal life came more likely from these cults as opposed to being prophesied centuries before Christ (and before the cults) in the Hebrew Scriptures or that Christ’s historical fulfillment of them is less likely than that they were copied.

    Here’s a place to start, not Mithras, Horus, Alexander the Great, Romulus/Remus, Buddha nor Vishnu, were born of virgins. The best case can be made not for Zoroaster but for his son, but event here his physical seed is necessary and must enter the woman, and there is no date for that version of the story. Also, none was sacrificed for our sins and was resurrected as Jesus, none had twelve disciples.

    Also you have to deal with the fact that the Jewish polemic from the time of Christ presupposes the early claims of His birth by acknowledging that Joseph was not His father but that Mary had been raped by a Roman soldier. The Jews would not have been able to invent this story if the alternative did not exist. Likewise, Christianity did not need a virgin birth story to establish Jesus’ deity (notice it is either presupposed or irrelevant in two Gospels, including 1) the supposedly earliest, Mark and 2) the one with the highest Christology, John) so it is statistically improbable that the early Christians would invent the unnecessary and unverifiable story to open for their critics the charge of Joseph’s dishonour and Mary’s infidelity; these were the exact criticisms they did receive, in fact, because of the virgin birth account.

    Also, you could acknowledge your allusion to many non-Biblical claims in your previous rundown of evidences.

    As to the debate you quoted, it’s easy to verify that Jesus didn’t free Palestine from Rome when it isn’t free.

    That doesn’t hold up against the kinds of critiques used to maintain that the NT was written well after Jesus’ death; such as there was no census, there was no Nazareth, Pontius Pilate was not the governor, people weren’t nailed to crosses then, Jesus never existed an is an amalgam of contemporary mystery cult features.
    If a faker could have written long enough after the fact that all of these could be acceptable critiques then he could have said that Jesus came down off the Cross and smote His antagonists, or that He drove the Romans out of Jerusalem. If it’s possible to make up claims about history then these can be made up as well. If they can’t be, because people can verify claims, then they can;t be. You can have it one way or the other.

    But of course, you already admitted to the basic facts of the case for the historicity of the Crucifixion/Resurrection, so dating is not a concern.
    But then, if dating is not a concern and certain things did actually happen, by your admission, such as 1) Jesus was Crucified and 2) buried in a omb subsequently 3) found empty and 4) His followers at least believed that they had encounters with Jesus Resurrected then the copycat myth is pointless.
    First, borrowing from the mystery cults has no explanatory value in the case of these historical facts. Second, if the parallels were so great and well-known, and the Jesus case were not true, then nobody would have accepted that Jesus was anything more than Mithras and they would have scoffed at the copiers, stuck to their already favoured myths or incorporated Jesus as just another of these.
    Instead, tens of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem converted to belief in Christ within weeks of His Crucifixion and the very people who must have been plagiarizing these so-called mystery cults went off to die for the lie they had created.

  21. Charlie says:

    Are you going to publish your findings in the paper? What paper?

    Perhaps the Jewish Talmud. But your findings would then conclude that Jesus existed, was born in unusual circumstances, was a preacher, prophet, miracle worker and healer who was killed at the time of the Passover.

  22. SteveK says:

    Great detailed comments, Charlie.

  23. Like the Christmas season, the Easter season seems to threaten a great many people. This too shall, ultimately, pass.

  24. Charlie says:

    Indeed. And one PBS special later we are awash every year in the Jesus Myth.

  25. SteveK says:

    One bit of irony here is that most of what DL accepts as strong evidence today is based on hearsay (media, teachers, experts, etc) and he doesn’t bother to investigate despite the modern conveniences available to him.

  26. Charlie says:

    Very ironic. In my first response to DL I had edited out my reference to “rigorous, objective, dispassionate”, etc.
    It reminds me of his bald acceptance (among many such), with zero investigation, and passing on as truth, the supposed instance of George H.W. Bush saying that atheists could not be patriots or citizens.
    When your quote is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

  27. Charlie:
         There is a well-known essay by the late, great Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (“Can Atheists Be Good Citizens?”) in which he correctly argues that while atheists can certainly be citizens, they cannot be good citizens. That’s likely from where DL is misquoting the former president. But then DL faces his usual problem (and is partly the point Fr. Neuhaus makes): what possible objective meaning could the word “good” have to a moral relativist—which the overwhelming majority of atheists are? None, in fact… and that’s why DL can have no argument with Fr. Neuhaus.

  28. Charlie,

    When your quote is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

    Cough! Glass house. Cough!

    Tell me, Charlie… why did Joseph Smith base his story on the Christian mythology? Do you think that helped or hurt his ability to recruit believers?

    My wiki quote referred to Christian historians from very early in Christian history who thought the similarities were too great to ignore. That means nothing to you, apparently.

    The virgin birth story. There are two theories to account for the fact that Jesus’s biological father was not about. We’ll call them theory A and theory B. Your argument is that theory B was proposed to counter theory A. Of course, this is special pleading. Perhaps theory A was proposed to counter theory B. What you’re assuming is that no one was aware of the lineage of Jesus – no one knew he had no father about, and so it was therefore a big risk for Christians to claim a virgin birth. But why make that assumption? It seems more likely to me that Jesus was known be illegitimate, and the virgin birth story was a “Hail Mary” pass that just happened to resonate with other myths.

    If a faker could have written long enough after the fact that all of these could be acceptable critiques then he could have said that Jesus came down off the Cross and smote His antagonists, or that He drove the Romans out of Jerusalem.

    But that’s not how it works. If you live in LA and want to write a claim that your buddy Jack was a prophet, you’re not going to populate your story with falsehoods about the locations of famous buildings or of freeways. To make your story as plausible as possible, you’ll want to appeal to what your audience already believes. Unless, that is, your audience is dying to believe something different. For example, it was for many years very easy for Christians to sell fabrications naming the Jews as scapegoats for all the wrongs in the world.

    So I really don’t see your point. Yes, someone could have made up a story about Jesus that’s more preposterous than the standard ones. Indeed, many people have. But so what? The question is about whether the actual story is plausible, not whether they would have made up more preposterous things.

    But of course, you already admitted to the basic facts of the case for the historicity of the Crucifixion/Resurrection, so dating is not a concern.
    But then, if dating is not a concern and certain things did actually happen, by your admission, such as 1) Jesus was Crucified and 2) buried in a tomb subsequently 3) found empty and 4) His followers at least believed that they had encounters with Jesus Resurrected then the copycat myth is pointless.

    No, it’s not pointless. None of these “facts” address the illegitimate birth of Jesus, nor the supposed miracles of Jesus (save for the Resurrection). The stories about miracles and virgin birth are obvious window dressing to make the story more palatable to potential believers.

    I think the likelihood that Jesus existed, led a religious movement and was crucified is greater than 50%. I think the likelihood that some people thought he was resurrected is (trivially) almost 100%. But I think that the likelihood that the story was embellished is nearly 100%.

    First, borrowing from the mystery cults has no explanatory value in the case of these historical facts. Second, if the parallels were so great and well-known, and the Jesus case were not true, then nobody would have accepted that Jesus was anything more than Mithras and they would have scoffed at the copiers, stuck to their already favoured myths or incorporated Jesus as just another of these.

    No, this isn’t true. I’ll have a post to both you and Tom in a minute.

  29. Tom, Charlie,

    Your argument goes something like this.

    1) A story that could be debunked would have been debunked by one or more persons.
    2) Once debunked by one or more persons, ALL persons would cease to believe in the story.
    3) The NT was not considered debunked by many people in the first century.

    4) Therefore, the NT is not a story that could be debunked.

    There are quite obvious flaws in this argument.

    The first premise isn’t true because, in the first century, people did not spend a lot of time debunking false claims. Their living standard was relatively low, and there was no public education and virtually no public media. That means that there was no good supply of debunkers, and they had precious little time to squander on ghost hunting instead of, say, feeding their families. Today, debunking false claims is an expensive business. In the first century, a proper investigation would have been an immense undertaking.

    Also, even if a person or two did find that claims were false, what could they do about it? You reason as if they would have published an expose in the paper and the whole thing would have been dismissed by popular culture. But there was no such thing at the time (papers or pop culture).

    If you told a guy who worked at the market that you checked the story and Jesus was a fake, why should he believe you? There’s no culture of scientific investigation. Furthermore, if the guy were Jewish, he would probably brush you off with “Yeah, there are a lot of false prophets and cults out there that say ridiculous things. I didn’t believe in Jesus anyways.”

    If he was a believer, he would respond by quoting his own witnesses who happened to be out of town that day, or happened to swear to their story as strong as you swear to your own.

    How many people today are interested in skepticism and debunking pseudoscience? A relatively tiny number, and it’s an uphill battle just to explain to average people that astrology is bunk. Horoscopes are published in most newspapers.

    So the second premise doesn’t work either. Just because a person could debunk the claim doesn’t mean it would be debunked for the general public, and certainly not for a subset. The Mormons prove this. Their claims are pretty well debunked, but that doesn’t stop millions from believing the claims anyway.

  30. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Your argument goes something like this.

    Personally, I think the argument goes something like this (in highly-abreviated form):

    1. There’s evidence to suggest Christ rose from the dead.
    2. Therefore, it’s reasonable to think Christ rose from the dead.

  31. Charlie says:

    Hi DL,

    My wiki quote referred to Christian historians from very early in Christian history who thought the similarities were too great to ignore. That means nothing to you, apparently.

    Actually your wiki quote made a vague and subjective claim about the statements of the apologists. True, it means nothing to me.
    That is because I know the nature of their statements, which you don’t provide and which wiki likely doesn’t either, and the context.

    Your argument is that theory B was proposed to counter theory A. Of course, this is special pleading. Perhaps theory A was proposed to counter theory B.

    It’s not special pleading and you’ve missed the point. I’ll not blame you because you make my case for having raised theory B.
    Theory B washes away theory C, the Jesus Myth, which you thought good enough to herald your introduction to this thread.
    The existence of B (harlotry/rape) proves a tradition existing from the beginning about Jesus’ birth and eliminates borrowing from mystery cults.
    Either B is true, and A is the answer to this, and not to C,
    or, A is true, as attested early in the Gospels and consistent with Paul’s even earlier letters, and was answered by B.
    In neither case is C relevant.

    It seems more likely to me that Jesus was known be illegitimate, and the virgin birth story was a “Hail Mary” pass that just happened to resonate with other myths.

    Then your claim that it just happened to resonate with other virgin birth stories (which didn’t exist) is irrelevant and hopes too much for coincidence. In your “more likely” scenario the mythological accounts are extraneous. You can have it one way or the other, not both.

    If you live in LA and want to write a claim that your buddy Jack was a prophet, you’re not going to populate your story with falsehoods about the locations of famous buildings or of freeways.

    Funny enough, that’s exactly what Luke’s and John’s critics accused them of – until they were proved wrong. And until any little critique of any factoid is proved wrong it is taken as evidence that the Gospel writers didn’t know what they were doing.

    . To make your story as plausible as possible, you’ll want to appeal to what your audience already believes.

    And if your audience is first century Palestinians you don’t make up censuses and town names and rulers which don’t or didn’t exist when they already have direct experience with those. The accuracy of these kinds of details demonstrates that the writers were there and knew these facts and wrote for others who knew them as well.
    And when you name members of the community and of the Sanhedrin you are naming real people that the audience knows as well you will only do so consistent to what that audience believes.
    If you are making up places, people and events you might as well make up the fact that Jesus was rescued from the Cross by angels – or was accompanied from the tomb to Heaven by angels. You’ve already admitted that these things didn’t happen because the accoutns were written when there were witnesses to say it didn’t happen like that.

    Somehow, though, these witnesses forgot that what they were really seeing was a fabrication based upon mystery religions which had yet to borrow from these true facts.

    As I said :

    The Jews would not have been able to invent this story if the alternative did not exist.

    If their story is an invention it relies first upon the existence of the virgin narrative.

    The question is about whether the actual story is plausible, not whether they would have made up more preposterous things.

    It is no more plausible that God raised His Son from the grave than that He rescued Him from the Cross in the first place. Unless …. there were real people around who knew that Jesus was Crucified. This shows that the story came from the actual time of the event.
    And if they were just going to make up another Mithras or Horus why not do just that? Or why not just keep the originals? Why use a historical person with a real past and who actually was Crucified. Why not an unnamed man in the time of the Roman occupation who could do lots of marvelous things in their tales and who wouldn’t show up in Josephus, Tacitus and the Talmud, among other sources?

    No, it’s not pointless. None of these “facts” address the illegitimate birth of Jesus, nor the supposed miracles of Jesus (save for the Resurrection). The stories about miracles and virgin birth are obvious window dressing to make the story more palatable to potential believers.

    One attested to and the other alluded to in the Jewish Talmud. Funny that the window dressing made it into their polemics.
    So, you admit that there is independent reason for the first century believers to accept 1) Jesus’s existence, 2) His Crucifixion, 3) His empty tomb, and 4) the fact that His followers believed they had seen Him risen.
    But, on top of that, they decided to borrow from Pagan myths a virgin birth narrative (unlike any known) and Jesus’ miracles (none of which compares to the only sign Jesus offered the Pharisees – His Resurrection).
    Yes, it is indeed pointless. Take those two elements away and you still have nothing to say about the core beliefs.
    And those elements have zero explanatory power regarding those core elements.

  32. Charlie says:

    Hi DL,

    4) Therefore, the NT is not a story that could be debunked.

    But show one such debunking. Where are they? You guys always make a big deal about the lack of contemporary writers as if the many independent authors don’t count, or as though it is a negative point that anybody who happened to know the facts happened to believe in Christ (what does that tell you?).
    So where are the debunkers? Where’s even one?
    The Talmud tells us Jesus lived, preached, performed miracles and was executed for this. Many other historians attest to His life and Crucifixion under Nero. Many other religions sprang up saying He was not actually incarnate in flesh but was spirit only and all along (recognizing the widespread knowledge of His Divine nature, miracles and Resurrection).
    So where are the writings saying “these Christians, they believe in a God-man who never even existed”. Or the ones that say, as critics would have had a few decades ago “Crucified, what is this crucifixion? It doesn’t even exist! Nails in your feet … who woudl think such a thing?”. Where are the ones that say “Resurrected? But here’s his body! Look, right in Joseph’s tomb all along!”
    Were there no people around with an interest in saying such things?

    If you told a guy who worked at the market that you checked the story and Jesus was a fake, why should he believe you?

    Why should he believe the incredible story that Jesus was raised from the grave? Do you realize what you are saying here?
    The guy in the market is going to accept without question that a man was slain and lay in a tomb for parts of three days and then was miraculously raised, walked among His people for 40 days and then ascended into Heaven.
    But just dare tell him that this kind of thing didn’t happen and then watch his skepticism shift into high gear. Why, he would never believe an uncorroborated tale that a man didn’t do miracles, get up out his grave, or ascend into Heaven. What kind of fool would accept that kind of fairy tale?

  33. Charlie says:

    In the first century, a proper investigation would have been an immense undertaking.

    Not so much.
    Jesus didn’t even exist – you all know that.
    Rome doesn’t crucify people – you all know that.
    Of Nazareth? Ha! Where’s that supposed to be?
    It’s just the mythical Mithras tale all over again. We all know this, so why believe it of a real man? Come, soak in blood and have a banquet with me (in a few decades when we actually know about Mithras, at least).
    Raised from the dead, you say? When we have his body right here?
    500 witnesses? Who? None of these people even exist to spread this word.
    Signs and wonders, you know He did no such thing. There were thousands of you following Him from town to town because He taught you how to share bread and fish.

    The point is, you don’t need a professional debunker (as though the wealth and position of the Sanhedrin and the Romans wouldn’t have sufficed). There wouldn’t be believers in this if there weren’t reason. Lack of belief is all the debunking it would take.

  34. Charlie says:

    Now, what window dressing did Jesus’ followers have to borrow from Pagan myths?
    God’s begotten Son? Nope. Jewish Scriptures.
    His death for our sins? Nope. Same source.
    His virgin birth? Same source.
    Miracles? Lots of miracles in the Jewish Scriptures. In fact, they told us the Messiah would make the blind see and the deaf hear.
    The fact that though He died He would continue to live? Same source.
    That He would be our Saviour and Redeemer. Same source.
    What else did they tell us? That He would be pierced, His bones would be out of joint, He’d be born on Bethlehem, that He was God’s annointed one, that He would be numbered with the thieves and buried with the rich, that He would not remain on the grave

    ps.
    Forgot this on the Jews and Jesus. They even have a story in the Babylonian Talmud that Jesus was raised from the dead – albeit, in keeping with their general polemic, by incantation.

  35. Charlie says:

    One last thought. Since by the skeptic’s case the Jews could just invent a Horus/Mithras myth around any figure, and since Jesus was a dime-a-dozen revolutionary, itinerant preacher, or love-guru, where are the virgin birth, died for our salvation, resurrected to Heaven, son of God myths about all these other guys?

  36. Charlie:
         You’re going to get nowhere because the issue is one of a disordered will misinformed by disordered reasoning. Atheists do not want to accept anything that goes against their world view. Their willful not wanting to understand clouds their capacity to understand. Grave sin (in this case against the 1st Commandment) destroys the ability of grace to soften one’s heart. It is no accident that the phrase “harden one’s heart” is so prevalent in Scripture: it is a terrifying image of something living turning stone cold dead.

  37. Charlie,

    At this point, you’re erecting a giant straw man. I didn’t say I doubted that the Romans practiced crucifixion, but you’re bringing it up as a distraction. Just because some naive objections to mundane claims of the Bible have been shown to be false doesn’t mean that serious objections to extraordinary claims are false, too.

    My argument from my last post still stands. You’re arguing that we ought to believe in the extraordinary claims of the NT because

    1) within several years after the alleged events took place, a lot of people believed them to be true, and
    2) some (19th/20th century?) objections to mundane claims of the NT (e.g., the practice of crucifixion) have been shown false.

    This is an extremely weak case. There’s a plain fact: a claim can be debunkable and still lots of people may become believers. The Mormons and Scientologists prove this, and their stories are far easier to debunk than Christian stories. They are easier to debunk because debunking resources are more plentiful, and because their claims were even more testable in their time.

    So let’s put aside the mundane claims of the NT. Here’s what I’m willing to stipulate for the purpose of our debate. That Jesus was a religious leader of sorts, that he had followers before he died, that people believed he performed miracles, that he knew he was in a risky business before he was killed, that he was crucified by the authorities, and that his followers later claimed he was resurrected.

    None of your prior comments are addressing my argument in light of such a stipulation. We can accept the stipulated facts and still be consistent with claims that the followers had false beliefs, that the stories of Jesus’s earlier life were embellished, and that Jesus was not resurrected.

  38. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic),

    Not to jump in too much on Charlie’s excellent work, but I’m astonished at the evidence-free assumptions, and the missing-of-the-point, that characterize your recent comments, starting with…

    Suppose you’re an average Joe in first century Jerusalem. You fall in with a bunch of guys who make some claim about a prophet. They sound convincing to you. But you have doubts. What are you going to do? Are you going to trek to investigate the claims in detail? That may cost you your livelihood. So you’re almost certainly not going to check things.

    The trek would have been all the way from Jerusalem to Jerusalem.

    No, suppose you happen to be visiting your uncle at the scene of some purported miracle, and no one in the area can corroborate the claim. What are you going to do? Are you going to conclude the event never happened? Or will you conclude the people forgot about the even t or moved to another town?

    When did this happen?

    Suppose after all of this, you become convinced that the claim about the prophet is false. What then? Are you going to publish your findings in the paper? What paper?

    You’ve missed the whole point again. Again. Again. again. (again…)

    This is not about some curious listener off in Philippi. This is about the eyewitnesses and their very close associates, close to the events. If they had become convinced the claims were false, they would have just let them go, and not gone to their graves insisting Jesus was for real.

    Now, hear me again: this is about the eyewitnesses and their close associates, close to the events.

    Now, hear me again: this is about events with eyewitnesses, not at all parallel to the Mormon story. This is about the eyewitnesses and their close associates, close to the events.

    (I’ve had to repeat this before, and I’m expecting to have to repeat it again, so I’m just getting it in early. Hope it works.)

    In other words, there was no debunking process. Most people who didn’t believe the early Christians weren’t going out of their way to investigate it.

    The point is, what did the early Christians believe, and how would they have come to believe it? They believed Jesus Christ performed miracles, taught with unparalleled wisdom and authority, and died and rose again. If he hadn’t done that they would have known! Not so with any of the purported claims regarding Scientology or Mormonism.

    So if Scientologists or Mormons die believing a lie, they might really be deluded. If the first followers of Christ died believing a like, then they knew it was a lie. People do not willingly, joyfully die for a lie that they believe is a lie!

    Also, you have assumed I think that the claims of early Christians were verifiable.

    And contrary to modern NT scholarship, you have assumed that none of them are.

    Tell me, Charlie… why did Joseph Smith base his story on the Christian mythology? Do you think that helped or hurt his ability to recruit believers?

    What does that have to do with the question of history?

    Your argument goes something like this.
    1) A story that could be debunked would have been debunked by one or more persons.
    2) Once debunked by one or more persons, ALL persons would cease to believe in the story.
    3) The NT was not considered debunked by many people in the first century.

    4) Therefore, the NT is not a story that could be debunked.

    If you would just pay attention to NT scholarship, you would know you’re off the mark yet one more time. The question is whether the original writers of the NT documents believed the story, and how they came to believe it, and what price they paid for their testimony, which in turn validates their testimony because (I don’t mind being repetitive once more), people do not willingly, joyfully die for a lie that they believe is a lie.

    Going on:

    The first premise isn’t true because, in the first century, people did not spend a lot of time debunking false claims.

    I simply cannot believe that this came from someone who insists on evidence being brought forth for every claim! How do you know this?! “No good supply of debunkers,” you say. I laugh! What kind of “supply” does it take to show that Jesus was still in his grave?

    You reason as if they would have published an expose in the paper and the whole thing would have been dismissed by popular culture. But there was no such thing at the time (papers or pop culture).

    And there was no such thing as a religious system to counter claims about religion, and there were no scholars, no School of Gamaliel, no scribes, no Pharisees, no Sanhedrin; they all walked around ignorant and completely uninterested in what anybody else thought about anything, and anybody could spout whatever nonsense they wanted about anything and nobody would pay the slightest attention.

    dl, do you realize how far off the speculative, evidence-free deep end you’re jumping??

    If you told a guy who worked at the market that you checked the story and Jesus was a fake, why should he believe you?

    I think that if he was an original follower of Christ he would say, “You didn’t check with me! I was there and I saw it repeatedly with my own eyes, over the course of months or years with Christ.” And no, he wouldn’t believe. But I suppose if it were someone who didn’t know about Christ personally, he would probably pay attention and weigh your opinion along with others he had run across. Why not? Why kind of idiots do you suppose they had living in Palestine in those days?

    If he was a believer, he would respond by quoting his own witnesses who happened to be out of town that day, or happened to swear to their story as strong as you swear to your own.

    Shall I run the tape again? This is about the actual witnesses, and their close associates, close to the events, who provided the documents we now have, to which NT scholarship is tending to be more in agreement as time goes on.

  39. Charlie says:

    So let’s put aside the mundane claims of the NT. Here’s what I’m willing to stipulate for the purpose of our debate. That Jesus was a religious leader of sorts, that he had followers before he died, that people believed he performed miracles, that he knew he was in a risky business before he was killed, that he was crucified by the authorities, and that his followers later claimed he was resurrected.

    I am not satisified with this stipulation, even though much of it I had to elicit from you since you first approached the subject as one who doubted that Jesus even existed and that the writings about Him came from so late in the game as to be beyond verification/ falsification.
    I’m not going to give up the ground gained inch by inch or the damage it has done to your case just because you want to stipulate for the sake of argument.
    As of today, what I am still debunking is your allegation that Jesus’ story relies in any way upon the mystery cults or astrology.
    I’d still like a recognition that among what you offered as Biblical claims were nothing of the sort.
    Many of the naive objections were your own and stem from the same source as your less-naive objections.

    The Mormons and Scientologists prove this, and their stories are far easier to debunk than Christian stories. They are easier to debunk because debunking resources are more plentiful, and because their claims were even more testable in their time.

    “I found plates that I hid again and an angel is speaking to me privately” is easier to debunk than “the public figure Jesus has been publicly Crucified, buried in a tomb which is now empty and has been seen alive by hundreds for several weeks since His death”?
    Whom could you ask about whether or not Joseph had found such plates all by his lonesome? Or who could tell you if he was really hearing from Moroni?
    But you could ask 500 people if they had seen the risen Christ, and dozens if they had touched Him and eaten with Him. You could ask Joseph if he had put Jesus in his tomb and you could go have a look to see if he was still there.
    There were countless witnesses to the claims being made and these were all public claims.

  40. Tom,

    This is about the eyewitnesses and their very close associates, close to the events. If they had become convinced the claims were false, they would have just let them go, and not gone to their graves insisting Jesus was for real.

    Hey, I’m perfectly happy to talk about that. I thought we were talking about debunking rather than the initial proponents.

    Let’s go back to the Mormons. Joseph Smith and his Eight Witnesses. Why would they lie, Tom? Why would they stake their lives on the claim if it were not true? How about the Three Witnesses who claimed to have seen the plates and the angel? Why would they lie?

    As to the number of witnesses in the NT, what makes you so sure they would not exaggerate the number of alleged witnesses?

    A friend of mine who is a teacher related the tale of a student in his class who claimed to have seen a ghost. In fact, several of the student’s friends claimed to have seen the ghost. They had gone out on Halloween to explore an abandoned (and allegedly haunted) hospital building. The student claimed to have seen the ghost fly through a wall. What do you think of this story? Did they really see a ghost? Did they see a person? Did they see anything at all? What does your training in psychology tell you about the group dynamics?

  41. SteveK says:

    DL,

    Let’s go back to the Mormons. Joseph Smith and his Eight Witnesses. Why would they lie, Tom? Why would they stake their lives on the claim if it were not true?

    I don’t much about the history of these people so let me ask…Did they willingly/joyfully go to prison for their claims? Did they willingly/joyfully subject themselves to regular scorn, persecution and potential loss of life because of what they claimed? Did they gain anything that might be considered an earthly human reward because of what they claimed? Did they die for what they claimed was true rather than relent?

  42. Charlie,

    But you could ask 500 people if they had seen the risen Christ, and dozens if they had touched Him and eaten with Him. You could ask Joseph if he had put Jesus in his tomb and you could go have a look to see if he was still there.

    No, you couldn’t. You could ask, perhaps, four. And even that assumes that there were actually four independent authors of the gospels. If Joseph Smith claimed 500 anonymous witnesses, would you be so quick to believe him, too?

    Whom could you ask about whether or not Joseph had found such plates all by his lonesome? Or who could tell you if he was really hearing from Moroni?

    Apparently, Smith had three witnesses who claimed to see both the plates and the angel. Eight more witnesses claimed to have seen the plates. They gave their names, and could easily be found by people wishing to debunk the story at the time. What happened, Charlie?

    And, IIRC, the Mormons make some claims about ancient Hebrew cities on the American continent. That strikes me as rather verifiable, no?

    As for the stipulation, you can take it or leave it. There are well-known Greek stories about virgin birth, and Justin Martyr decides it’s best to suggest that the devil planted the ideas in history to confuse us poor doubters. I realize that the words of this historian aren’t compelling to you, but then I didn’t expect they would be.

  43. Steve,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Mormonism#History

    As you can see, the Mormons were much beloved, and they only crossed the mountains to Salt Lake because of their great love of travel.

  44. Charlie says:

    Hi DL,

    No, you couldn’t.

    Yes, you could. There were twelve Apostles and disciples aplenty, including the women who saw the empty tomb and the risen Christ. These people were named and known and anybody could ask them if they had seen what was being claimed of them. Again, the response would be “Mary Magdalene? There is no such person. And James an John, the sons of Zebedee and Salome, who are they supposed to be? Who are these people?”

    Apparently, Smith had three witnesses who claimed to see both the plates and the angel. Eight more witnesses claimed to have seen the plates. They gave their names, and could easily be found by people wishing to debunk the story at the time. What happened, Charlie?

    What was their actual story, though, DL?
    Did they actually say they saw the plates? They didn’t, did they? And what became of these witnesses?

    When you judge witnesses you have to take their character and history into account.
    Were they criminals? Did they apostatize? Did they start their own religions? Switch religions repeatedly? Get kicked out of their own church? Claim to be prophets themselves? Get themselves denounced and excommunicated from the movement for which they are witness? Were they referred to by their own authorities as mean, liars, cheats, swindlers, counterfeiters, etc.?

    As for Jesus’ Apostles, the answer is “no”.
    They were called to a religion of highest ethical standards and spread churches famous for attaining the high standards. Ten of the remaining eleven apostles suffered grisly deaths, demonstrating their high character and refusal to apostatize. We have no reason to believe them to be anything but honest, virtuous and moral.

    And, IIRC, the Mormons make some claims about ancient Hebrew cities on the American continent. That strikes me as rather verifiable, no?

    Amazingly easy for his original followers to go and verify these claims, wasn’t it? You’ve got poor Christians finding it too difficult to go trekking all the way from Jerusalem to Jerusalem and saying they wouldn’t be able to check the claims, but New York religious zealots would just grab a shovel and go excavate unknown cities somewhere in North America … or South America.
    But, of course, when archaeologists went to work looking for evidence the followers thought they had verification at the time. The debunking would have to wait.

    There are well-known Greek stories about virgin birth,

    Your task would be to name them. How many do you have?

    and Justin Martyr decides it’s best to suggest that the devil planted the ideas in history to confuse us poor doubters

    What Martyr was actually doing was not explaining the so-called parallels away, but convincing his Pagan listeners of parallels that they did not see themselves in order that they wouldn’t see Christian claims as so strange.

    I realize that the words of this historian aren’t compelling to you, but then I didn’t expect they would be.

    One day I might become dispassionate, scientific and rigorous like you.
    Did you find three Magi or December 25th in the Bible yet?

  45. Charlie says:

    Ok, gentlemen, I am out for three days. It’s all yours.
    Happy Easter!

  46. Charlie says:

    ps.
    Joseph Smith went down shooting and trying to escape.

  47. Charlie,

    There were twelve Apostles and disciples aplenty, including the women who saw the empty tomb and the risen Christ. These people were named and known and anybody could ask them if they had seen what was being claimed of them.

    Just imagine what the Mormon story would look like if the Mormons wrote the only account of the events in question.

    What was their actual story, though, DL?
    Did they actually say they saw the plates? They didn’t, did they? And what became of these witnesses?

    Several men witnessed that they saw something that they didn’t. So a group of people will claim things that did not happen because they have a commitment to the group. Jesus’s followers were fanatics, strongly committed before the Resurrection.

    And as to the personalities of the disciples, you don’t actually know what they were because you only have one source.

    But we know they were fanatics, just like many Jews of the time. They knew they were risking death while Jesus was alive and kicking. There were many Jewish martyrs over the centuries, just as there are Islamic martyrs today. Unless you’re saying that the danger inherent in Jesus’s ministry was a complete shock to them when the end came?

    Now you might say that Islamic martyrs haven’t seen miracles themselves, but that they have merely been immersed in a training and a culture that gives them those behaviors. It doesn’t really matter.

    We have all the ingredients. People who will make a shared paranormal claim whether it is true or not just because they feel a social pressure to do so. And martyrs who are conditioned to believe in the afterlife.

  48. Charlie says:

    Last thing….

    Just imagine what the Mormon story would look like if the Mormons wrote the only account of the events in question.

    Mean, cheats, liars, swindlers, counterfeits, excommunicants … I am talking about the Mormon accounts.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    DL, this is foundering on your supposition that you understand how many accounts we have, or put more broadly, your lack of understanding of NT scholarship, and how much we actually can trust from the documents.

  50. SteveK says:

    DL,
    I’m obviously missing something. What exactly IS the overall point that you are trying to make here? Is it that historical reports about events that can’t be confirmed/verified today via your method of choice must be considered false, or never to have occurred?

  51. Steve,

    My point is that there are perfectly mundane explanations for the NT. It’s a mundane fact that people make up stories, and that groups will report seeing the same paranormal effect. It’s also a mundane fact that certain people are willing to die for their beliefs, whether those beliefs be true or not.

    History does not support the Resurrection. It supports early claims of the Resurrection.

    Right back at you, Steve:

    Is it that historical reports about events that can’t be confirmed/verified today via your method of choice must be considered false, or never to have occurred?

    What methods do you use to show the Mormon claims were false? Do you use probability estimates? I mean, if seeing angels and golden plates isn’t improbable, why not believe them? Or are you just going with your gut?

  52. SteveK says:

    DL

    My point is that there are perfectly mundane explanations for the NT.

    Of course there are, but I don’t find them compelling.

    What methods do you use to show the Mormon claims were false? Do you use probability estimates? I mean, if seeing angels and golden plates isn’t improbable, why not believe them? Or are you just going with your gut?

    I don’t use any methods to show they are false. I can’t show they are true either. If I (or you) could show that via some methodology then we wouldn’t be disagreeing, would we?

    I do know that statistics can’t tell me if a past claim is true or false. I do know that my reasoning abilities can tell me if it’s reasonable to think an improbable event occurred despite the improbability. We do that all the time.

    I’m not bothered by the fact that there are mundane explanations for improbable events. I am bothered by the fact that you think “reasonable-ness” or “compelling-ness” can be found in statistical data.