On Atheists Attempting to Disprove the Existence of the Historical Jesus

Earlier this month many atheists on social media were credulously sending around an article pumping up the work of Joseph Atwill that claims that Roman aristocrats invented Jesus out of whole cloth and wrote the New Testament in order to pacify the then rebellious Jews. Read Tom Verenna and Richard Carrier give lots of explanations for why that hypothesis is wholly implausible. Richard Carrier, who has his PhD in History from Columbia University, himself believes that there was no historical Jesus, but with much different accounts of where the idea of Jesus and where the Gospels came from than Atwill’s. [UPDATE: You can also listen here to Robert Price explaining why even though he also thinks there was no historical Jesus, Atwill's hypothesis about how he was invented is utterly preposterous.] This spring he gave a worthwhile hour long lecture explaining his reasoning, answered questions from Seth Andrews at The Thinking Atheist in an interesting interview, and also explained why he classifies the gospels as mythic literature. I recommend you check out all or most of these links as there’s a wealth of helpful information and it is good to be informed about these discussions if one is going to interact with atheists, as this question about the historicity of Jesus is something a lot of active atheists take great interest in.

I personally want to take this chance to discourage my fellow atheists who are not historians from publicly making a big deal out of the historicity of Jesus, especially when engaging with Christians. Why? Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus. Responsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus. Could they be wrong? It’s possible. But if they are, that is for qualified historians to prove, not laypeople. And it is for the field of ancient history to be persuaded to change its consensus before laypeople go around making claims that Jesus did not exist. I think it’s perfectly fine that Richard Carrier thinks he has a good case to make to the scholars of ancient history that there never was a historical Jesus. I enjoy listening to his arguments and am happy to pass his work on as a resource. But that is a debate for him to have with other historians and for secular historians to at least become widely divided over before atheists start advocating for one side or the other routinely and prominently. In the meantime, we should either be agnostic on the issue (as I am), defer to historical consensus, or, if we really find Carrier’s arguments compelling still be cautious and qualified in our declarations, acknowledging that we are agreeing with a minority view (and one that even Carrier seems far from certain about.)

Personally, ever since I became an atheist in college, I have remained supremely agnostic about all things historical Jesus. I have been steadfastly leery of anyone’s abilities to untangle the myths, facts, and their own ideological or cultural understandings when looking at Jesus. George Tyrell, once famously criticized the great pioneer in critical biblical scholarship and liberal theology Joseph von Harnack by writing, “The Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of ‘Catholic darkness’, is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.” That criticism has always struck me as applicable more widely and ever since I deconverted I have listened to everyone who talks about Jesus with an ear to learning about them and their own worldview and expecting to learn little that is precise about the facts of a historical man. When people approvingly say that “Jesus meant” I usually hear “I say”. Or when people like Nietzsche say approving things of Jesus without actually agreeing with him unqualifiedly, I just look at what kind of character type they are interested in finding and emphasizing within the myriad number of elements present in the text.

Jesus is just too controversial, self-contradictory, mediated through the words of others, distanced from us culturally and historically, and important to people theologically and philosophically to take anyone’s reading as totally unbiased and straightforward. The stakes involved in interpreting him are too high and there are too many divides between us and the ancient world for me to have much confidence that any one can pull out an authoritative account of what he did or thought. And now I am even amenable to the possibility that he didn’t exist at all.

So, with so much darkness and confusion and uncertainty surrounding the figure, I am happy to be agnostic about most things historical Jesus. All I know is that the notion of a godman who performed miracles and rose from the dead is preposterous. And I am happy to engage with the Gospel texts at face value and explore all the problems with believing in their supernatural claims or taking them as a moral guide that scream clearly from the surface.

But besides considerations of how atheists should be properly cautious, disciplined, patient, and deferent to scholarship before committing strongly to beliefs one way or the other about the historical Jesus, there are overwhelmingly clear strategic reasons not to get into fights about the issue with Christians. Quite simply, there are so many easier and clearer cut ways to debunk Christianity’s claims to truth that it is a terrible idea to get distracted trying to make a case that is at best just probable that Jesus didn’t exist. Even if you could convince a Christian that he likely didn’t exist, I can’t imagine very many Christians at all who would take that as a good reason not to believe in him. Christians will routinely seize on minuscule probabilities to believe even wilder propositions if it suits their faith. If there’s even a 20% chance there was a historical Jesus, if we have even Richard Carrier being careful to point out that he just thinks there was no Jesus but he can’t really know for sure, then to people already desperate to believe in Jesus that is tantamount to total vindication that Jesus is real. It’s just not the kind of thing I see as persuading them into disbelief. At all.

And, much worse than just being not convincing to Christians, it actively threatens to psychologically aid them in several ways. When we stake a lot on the question of whether Jesus ever existed during an argument, we set it up as a decisive issue. That means that if the result is inconclusive or (worse) if we are wholly unpersuasive to them that he didn’t exist, then the Christians leave feeling vindicated that on a central issue atheists are either guessing just as much as they are in other things or have outright lost a crucial point of contention for proving our side. We shouldn’t be giving the impression that disproving Jesus’s historical existence is at all integral to disproving Christianity. We should be making abundantly clear that Christianity is just as obviously false if Jesus did exist as if he didn’t and so the possibility or even great likelihood (if it’s demonstrated) that Jesus did exist does not hurt the core atheist arguments one bit. Arguing to them as though this is a central issue gives the opposite impression and makes our position seem way way more uncertain and vulnerable than it is.

It also pits us, for the time being, against the consensus of historians which makes us look willing to discard scholarship out of prejudice against Christians and, for the time being, leads us into guilt by association with a number of cranks. Many atheists wind up picking up sloppy claims from dubious mythicist sources and repeating them and making themselves easy targets for informed Christian scholars and apologists. If we ever as a broad community want to make a full frontal assault on the historical Jesus it has to be only after historical consensus has substantially shifted from where it is today. In the meantime, I think it best for the great majority of us to leave it to qualified ancient historians like Richard Carrier or Robert Price to make those kinds of arguments.

Your Thoughts?

UPDATE (10/23/13): Richard Carrier has endorsed the foregoing in a post called: Fincke Is Right: Arguing Jesus Didn’t Exist Should Not Be A Strategy.

This post was written as part of a blogathon I am doing all this weekend in order to squeeze a lot of belated writing into a small window of time I have available to blog uninterruptedly. If you are a grateful fan of the blog and want to see me able to post more regularly, please consider donating to support my efforts. I work numerous jobs. The more money that I can make from blogging, the less other jobs I need, and the more I can write for you. Donations can be made via paypal to dfincke at aol dot com. All amounts are deeply appreciated. $100 earns you the right to pick a blog post topic for me (one that I could reasonably be expected to have something halfway intelligent to say about).

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • autolukos

    This is very good, Dan. I particularly agree with, “Jesus is just too controversial, self-contradictory, mediated through the words of others, distanced from us culturally and historically, and important to people theologically and philosophically to take anyone’s reading as totally unbiased and straightforward.” Mythicism would be convenient for non-Christians if true, but we must be careful not to overestimate its probability.

  • SocraticGadfly

    My thoughts? “Hard” mythicism, that no historic Jesus ever existed, is about 5 percent likely to be true. “Soft” mythicism, the hard version plus a historic personage existed, but not necessarily quite at the time and place the Christian gospels claim, may have a 5-7 percent chance. It’s just enough that it deserves academic discussion.

    Among “soft” options? The idea that Jesus was born 100 BCE and was among the Pharisees crucified by Alexander Jannaeus. Not new from my lips, not at all. But, revitalized by me here: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2013/10/jesus-reality-and-jesus-mythicism-moved.html

    • SocraticGadfly

      Beyond what “autolukos” says about how mythicism would be “convenient,” I see many … er, Gnu type atheists liking it for that reson and beyond, as in mythicism gets used as an ugly stick to bash fundamentalist Christians above all, but some degree, all Christians.

    • Jim Jones

      There’s a logical reason for the position – and for mine.

      http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/rmsbrg02.htm

    • SocraticGadfly

      The Buddha wasn’t mentioned outside his own followers writings, either. I don’t consider that sufficient grounds for a mythicist stance.

    • Jim Jones

      I do. The story of his ‘enlightenment’ is obvious fiction.

    • SocraticGadfly

      You’re committing what philosopher Gilbert Ryle calls a category mistake with that statement. Just because the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment might be a fiction doesn’t mean that the Buddha is a fiction. Ditto for Jesus resurrection. Ditto for the miracles allegedly committed by Apollonius of Tyana, subject of a pagan Gospel. With all these and more, just because various events claimed to be parts of their lives aren’t true doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. That applies to purely secular figures, too. Just because George Washington didn’t chop down a cherry tree, that doesn’t mean George Washington didn’t exist, either.

    • Jim Jones

      Ditto for Glycon — and Zeus and Ra and the FSM (bless His noodles).

    • David Marshall

      No comparison. The first Buddhist scriptures are hundreds of years late, and include nothing like the gospels with their obviously historical character. Apollonius was also very late, obviously unhistorical — India did not have 25 cubit ridge dragons, or whatever the length was, and people don’t talk or act like that. See my Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could — I specifically debunk the Apollonius parallel. Life of Apollonius is not a “gospel,” by any means — I describe 50 characteristics that define the genre.

    • SocraticGadfly

      Actually, there IS an Apollonius gospel, whether you like the word or not, other critical scholars use it, and, IIRC, the word “euangelion” is used by Philostratus. BTW, Philostratus was working from an earlier, also written, gospel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollonius_of_Tyana

    • SocraticGadfly

      Sorry, but critical scholars use the word “gospel” about what Philostratus wrote. Also, Philostratus wrote based on a previous gospel, now lost (likely destroyed by Christians) and other written materials. First writings about the Buddha aren’t any more distant than Xn writings about Jesus, on my proposed dating of Jesus.
      And, assuming you’re the “Tao of God” David Marshall, I have no desire to engage further with you.

    • unique2

      But if George Washington didn’t fight in the civil war and didn’t become first president, would this till be George Washington?

    • VorJack

      “Soft” mythicism

      A number of terms have been kicked around to describe the belief that a wandering holy man named Jesus probably did exist, but that we cannot know what he said or did because he’s so caked in legend and later church teachings. “Jesus agnosticism” doesn’t work. “Bultmannian” might work, but not enough people would catch the reference. “Jesus minimalist” would probably work.

    • SocraticGadfly

      I’d buy into “Jesus minimalism,” especially because “Old Testament minimalism” is a developed, primarily Scandanavian, “take” and school of thought on Old Testament exegesis. Like OT minimalists, I think there’s at least some likelihood that a historic “David” never existed. Note: We’re not talking about Moses, whom by critical consensus didn’t exist. Rather, King David.

    • Jim Jones

      > Rather, King David.

      Who is also possibly a myth or, if not, probably vastly different from the biblical hero.

    • SocraticGadfly

      Exactly. I find that more likely than a totally mythical Jesus.

    • Jim Jones

      Robin Hood, King Arthur, William Tell, Ned Ludd, John Frum — James Bond, Harry Potter and Mr Spock.

    • SocraticGadfly

      I think conservative writer John Frum is also a myth; he’s too sane.

    • Jim Jones
    • SocraticGadfly

      Oh, I’m familiar with the “real” mythical Frum. Indeed, on my “Was Jesus born 100 BCE” blog post, one mythicist tried to claim that the Romans were MORE sociologically intrusive than were the Americans and Brits appearing pretty much out of nowhere in the middle of Stone Age island societies. That, of course, is a total #fail, given that Jewish and Roman societies were roughly technologically equal, the Jews knew who the Romans were long before occupation by them, etc.

    • joe

      King David was long widely believed to be a mythological figure, but solid archeological evidence for the biblical King David has been found in recent years in Israel. IIRC it suggests the scope and stature of his kingdom and power is greatly exagerated in the OT.

      There are of course a fair number of dubious pronouncements of significant archeological finds in Israel, often of a suspiciously politically convenient nature, but this finding was the work of Israel Finkelstein, who has a solid reputation as a scholar and skeptic.

    • Jim Jones

      The evidence isn’t that great. The Tel Dan stele merely hints at existence.

    • joe

      I don’t know where you came up with these specific percent chances ( seems a bit absurd frankly), but I would say that chances that the accounts of Jesus in the Bible are not to some degree mythologized is precisely 0%. I don’t think many dispute that the Biblical accounts of Jesus contain mythologized elements (hell, accounts of Alexander the Great and George Washington contain mythologized elements). However, acknowledging a degree of mythologization doesn’t make one a “mythicist” of any sort. Bart Ehrman is certainly no mythicist and he wouldn’t dispute that the Jesus of the Bible is mythologized to some extent.

      One only ventures into mythicist territory when they entertain notions that there in fact was no historical basis for Jesus.

    • SocraticGadfly

      My percentages are about the likelihood **mythicism** and NOT the likelihood of **to some degree mythical.** I clearly said that. “Hard” vs. “soft” mythicism are terms used elsewhere, with the “soft” variety being a Jesus based on a historic personage, but one that clearly is not the same as the historicized personage as presented in the NT. I clearly said that, too.

    • joe

      Well, I appreciate the clarification and I suppose it makes sense (the distinction between hard and soft mythicist), though the distinction between “soft mythicism” and a “soft” understanding of Jesus as an historical figure can get blurry depending on whether the myth makers consciously created a mythical Jesus figure based on a earlier actual person or unintentionally conflated the two. I would say the latter is not actually a mythicist view but a kind of historical view (or perhaps it would make Jesus better described as a figure of legend than of myth).

      It seems to me what distinguishes whether a view of Jesus is mythicist or historical is ultimately whether Jesus was consciously ‘made up’ by some one, whether based on a real figure (soft mythicist) or not (hard mythicism).

    • SocraticGadfly

      Oh, agreed on your “intent” issue; sorry that that wasn’t stressed in my first comment, but that’s always been my operating point.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    I agree. It’s not worth arguing about either way. Fascinating question in my opinion. The historicity of Jesus brings out a lot about our understanding of history, archaeology, and even psychology. But even if someone could prove that THIS particular Jewish wizard/rabbi/conjob/whatever was THIS messiah everybody got all excited about later, it wouldn’t prove he was divine or speaking the truth about anything divine. That’s a whole other ball of wax. ;)

  • mikespeir

    I agree it’s not worth getting into any fights over. It is worth discussing.

  • Meredith Garmon

    Suppose a Gandalfian. The Gandalfian says, “Gandalf is a fictional character, yet he offers me deep and meaningful ethical and spiritual guidance, which I devote my life to trying to follow.” Now suppose a Christian whose stance toward Jesus exactly parallels the Gandalfian’s stance toward Gandalf. Would that sort of Christianity be something that you would want to establish was false?

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      It would be superfluous to prove such a Christianity false in terms of literal truth. The questions then become whether (a) Jesus’s example and words are true guides (good guides) in all matters, (b) what sorts of philosophies are at work interpreting Jesus in one way rather than another when there are countless “Jesuses” one could construct from the texts and the traditional ways of understanding him both, and (c) whether this person is going to prejudice him or herself to let Jesus trump all competing sources of insights wherever there’s a conflict, thereby closing his or her mind to the true and the good in any number of cases.

  • Pofarmer

    I engaged the other day on the Science and Religion blog on a thread entitled “Why are there Atheists.” I was engaged by a Lutheran Pastor calling himself Jim. Now Jim was willing to “discuss” as long as all views were considered equally true, but as soon as someone wanted to challenge if this or that particular story or whatever might not be true, he quickly reverted to “Jesus is God and the way and affects peoples lives and you should believe it too.” End of discussion. People don’t want to challenge themselves. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to consider that simply having the belief itself, even if none of the underlying tenants are true may be enough to have the effects indicated. IN short, it’s some small percent, I believe, that are really open to anything like reason in the first place when it comes to religion. So, I guess what I’m saying is, whether you think there is a historical Jesus or not, it really doesn’t matter, because they won’t even consider if there was a historical Adam and Eve.

  • Josiah J Mannion

    Whenever this has been brought up in discussions with a believer (not often, I grant), I do take an agnostic stance, but what I want them in turn to take home is that there is good reason not to simply take for granted the historicity of a Jesus figure (which they all seem to do).

  • Laurent Weppe

    Atwill is not trying to “disprove” anything: he’s just waving a little conspiracy theory that his audience will self-congratulatory brandish as the “proof” of their self-proclaimed cerebral superiority over the religious rubes.

    That’s nothing more than tribalistic grandstanding and intellectual imposture, things that any self-respecting adult should hold in utter disgust.

  • Loren Petrich

    I recall that Albert Schweitzer had noticed a century ago that many historical-Jesus questers have tended to make their recovered historical Jesus Christ in their moral likeness. This sort of thing Xenophanes had noted about 2500 years ago.

    As to fabrication conspiracies, I’ve seen an even weirder theory than Joseph Atwill’s. It’s that it was Emperor Constantine who commissioned the invention of Christianity, complete with inserting references to it into various earlier books.

  • Peri Sword

    I, too, think the “Jesus never existed” argument, at this point, does more harm than good to the atheist cause, if argued by laypeople. I’ve seen evangelists pick this aspect of an atheist’s argument, latch onto it, disregard any of the (frankly more solid) points and reject the atheist argument wholesale, and walk away feeling vindicated.

  • Heidi Sulzdorf

    Regardless of the existence of the historical Jesus, a religious text featuring his acts has been influencing western society for roughly 2000 years. Whether the genesis of that text was an individual’s life recorded by his following, or an invention of a group of people is in large part irrelevant. Further, any late antiquist worth their salt will admit that there just aren’t that many sources, other than biblical ones, surviving from the period. Ya, Josephus and Tacitus, and a few other oblique mentions (maybe). Basically from them you find out that there was a leader of a newish Jewish sect who was executed, every other scrap of information about Jesus is scriptural. Generously put, Jesus is the Word, just like his father.

  • Thomas Bennett

    It matters not, There was certainly a historical Mohammad – what difference does that make when considering the ridiculous claims and odious dictates of Islam?

    • rcarmona43

      You obviously haven’t read Robert Spencer.

  • emptyknight

    Well written and well said, Dan. I tend to be of the opinion that the biblical Jesus did not exist, but that he may be the result of an amalgamation of legend and myth that may have had one or more real life sources. It’s an interesting intellectual exercise, but the historicity, or lack thereof, of any part of the bible has little relevance when regarding whether its moral claims are true. Also very little to do with whether the particular bible-inspired worldview of any given christian is true. My lack of faith will remain strong either way.

  • Cameron

    In my experience, most Christians have little knowledge about the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus. So I find it interesting to ask them if they believe he existed. Of course, they say they do. Then I ask why they believe that. It often leads to interesting Socratic conversations. Most believe the gospels are eyewitness testimonies. Most believe there are non-Christian contemporary accounts. By exposing their complete lack of knowledge about their own religion, it sometimes leads them to ask questions about the veracity of what they have been taught. I know several friends who de-converted as a result of this process.

    • David Marshall

      Both those statements are, roughly speaking, true. See Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. The lack of knowledge is your own.

    • Pofarmer

      You are going against the scholarly consensus, here. Is there anyone in the scholarship community that this book actually swayed?

  • master craftsman

    Jesus is Lord

    • Pofarmer

      I’m reconvinced. Ya got me.

  • Jim Jones
    • Pofarmer

      good resource. You would have thout something there would have gotten some traction?

    • Jim Jones

      Christians (and other theists) are good at ignoring facts and logic. If you could reason with theists, there wouldn’t be any.

  • Dennis Goos

    “Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus.”
    What logical fallacy is represented by the above quote?

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      None. It’s not fallacious to respect the scholarly process and to either defer to scholars or withhold affirming they’re wrong until they’ve had sufficient opportunity to assess provocative new arguments.

    • RooBookaroo

      Excellent.

      Debunking the primitive fallacy of “resort to authority”. It is an absurd fallacy.

      Most of what we know are beliefs that we have no way to verify by experimentation or experience ourselves. We have to rely on the respect of sources, authorities that we deem experts in their field, either by demonstration of their competence or respect of the qualifications they have acquired after training with established experts.

      If we believe in the Big Bang formation of the universe, if we believe in the evolution of life forms from primitive cellular organisms, if we believe that our thinking is a product of the activity of our neuronal cells in the brain, if we believe that the sunlight takes about 8 minutes to travel to earth, it is in every case because we defer to the authority of experts who have developed the conclusions from their own experiments and experience, conclusions that we can fit with our mental representation of how the world works.

      We are no able to verify for ourselves the work of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Rudolf Virchow (who established the cell as foundation of formation of the body), Darwin, or any scientist, reporter, or discoverer outside of our limited sphere of experience.

      Our whole mental universe is built on beliefs we just cannot verify and have to accept on authority, as long as we find them “reasonable”.

      Only high-school teachers can instruct that conclusions are arguments that can be proved on the “merits” of the case, an absurd conclusion disproved by the continual existence of disputes among informed experts, as is the case you mention in the article about Jesus’s existence.

    • 3lemenope

      At the end of the day, I tend to think that a large part of the enduring opinion that appeals to authority are un-kosher in discussion and argumentation finds its source in a conflation between deductive unsoundness and wrongness, and a common inability to realize that most such conversations and arguments are not deductive in nature. It’s formally similar to when a person starts yelling “ad hominem” whenever an interlocutor is mean.

    • TCC

      It’s worth noting that arguments from authority – which is presumably what you’re referring to – are not always fallacious. In fact, asserting authority without consensus is one of the ways that such an argument can be fallacious.

    • Dennis Goos

      The logic of arguing from authority is always fallacious. And it is a major problem in science as it is in religion. The Pope is not infallible and nor is anyone else. I offer you this story I found entertaining and to the point of this truism.
      http://narrative.ly/pieces-of-mind/nick-brown-smelled-bull/

    • TCC

      No, it’s not. You can feel free to keep asserting that, but it won’t make your statement true. (I’m also not interested in your anecdote.)

    • Dennis Goos

      Evidence makes it possible for me to make the assertion. You reject evidence. I stated that fallibility makes arguing from authority fallacious. I gave a reference to a recent example which you reject. I am not interested in your opinion that you are entitled to ignore facts. Just the facts, Ma’am !

    • TCC

      What evidence? You mean like the evidence above (and those were only three sites that I selected) that there are perfectly reasonable ways to use an appeal to authority? Your claim that fallibility makes such an appeal fallacious is false; it merely means that such appeals rely on induction, not deductive logic. But feel free to keep ignoring the observed conclusions of, you know, the field of philosophy.

    • Dennis Goos

      Induction in logic is to postulate from known facts. Opinions of authorities are not facts. On the other hand, one can apply deduction to the statements of authorities to reach conclusions, which will be correct only if the authorities statements are facts. Conclusions are not observations. Unfortunately, what is termed the field of philosophy is often presumed to give all ideas equal value rather than preferring the views derived from fact as the word would imply. BTW, what sites did you select? I saw none.

    • jet

      He linked to several sites. Click on the first three words of his post.

      Also, opinions of authorities represent facts. It is a fact (usually) that experts possess the relevant knowledge on a subject. It is a fact (usually) that experts are trained to draw relevant conclusions (specific to their field) from that knowledge. It is a fact (almost always) that experts’ opinions will be more reliable than those of anyone else.

      That is the whole point of having experts, so we can defer to their judgement. Not only is there not enough time to fully investigate every matter personally, sometimes you just don’t want to (I don’t give a shit about cars for example, when they break I take them to a mechanic).

      Carrier explains this more formally in Sense and Goodness Without God and Proving History. I’d recommend those.

    • Dennis Goos

      “opinions of authorities represent facts.” That negates the meaning of the words “opinion” and “facts”. They do not and cannot mean the same thing

    • jet

      Since I never said “facts” and “opinions” mean the same thing, this is no obstacle to me :)

    • David Marshall

      There are no “known facts,” in the strict sense. Everything we think we “know” comes from our own minds — which is also human authority, sorry — our senses — also human — and other people or sentient beings. Sorry, there is no escape, except in utter nihilism.

    • Dennis Goos

      Science has long ago recognized that observation, experimentation and prediction are effective in improving the quality of life. If one can’t discriminate between what one imagines may be true and what one observes to be true, than nihilism may be a firm redoubt. But imaginings are not observable so they can form no part of reality.

    • TCC

      Who said that we’re talking about the “opinions of authorities”? That’s a complete strawman.

    • Dennis Goos

      The author of the article.
      “Why? Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus. Responsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus. “

    • TCC

      Why are those opinions as opposed to, you know, conclusions? Dan didn’t use the term “opinion”; you made that inference.

    • Dennis Goos

      Not an inference but a difference. He claimed the opinions of historians were sufficient for a conclusion. They are not. An appeal to authority of historians is a fallacy in logic. Always.
      ——
      opinion
      o·pin·ion [uh-pin-yuhn]
      noun
      1.a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.
      ————-
      con·clu·sion [kuhn-kloo-zhuhn]
      noun
      1.the end or close; final part.
      2.the last main division of a discourse, usually containing a summing up of the points and a statement of opinion or decisions reached.
      3.a result, issue, or outcome; settlement or arrangement: The restitution payment was one of the conclusions of the negotiations.
      4.final decision: The judge has reached his conclusion.
      5.a reasoned deduction or inference.

    • TCC

      An appeal to authority of historians is a fallacy in logic. Always.

      You’re welcome to that opinion.

      Also, nice job cherry-picking a definition of “opinion.” By that definition, there is very little which isn’t an opinion.

    • Dennis Goos

      What is your definition of opinion, then? If we are not using the same meaning for the same words, we are not communicating. Is there a case where gravity is an opinion ?

  • Steven Durrington

    I view Jesus like I do Robin Hood – there’s probably some historical basis for the person upon which the legend was founded, but the telling and retelling of the tales creates a mythical figure endowed with superhuman abilities, As I doubt that a Middle Ages bowman could shoot with consistently greater accuracy than modern Olympic archers with tech-savvy, compound bows, I also doubt very much that a Jewish preacher in the backwaters of the Roman Empire was actually the incarnation of a deity and spent 90% of his life living in obscurity before going on the road and performing supernatural miracles for a few years prior to his death. The actual Jesus was probably a Benny Hinn type of charismatic preacher who had his alleged feats rewritten all out of proportion when the NT was created a generation or two later.

  • John Odendaal

    Carrier himself shows in Proving History how the usual criteria used by historians to answer the Jesus question have led to a lack of consensus on an historical Jesus picture. He shows the illogic in each criterion (and how each sound criterion can be logically based on Bayes’ Theorem). He also references scholarship on analysis of these criteria, showing how there is consensus between critical scholars that historians have made a mess of things in the Jesus field.

    If we as lay people can appeal to consensus, then we can also appeal to authority to counter consensus.

    • Pofarmer

      I think one thing that Carrier rightly points out is that most of the “scholarship” on Jesus has also been by theologians or true beleiver types. We know there was disbeleif even very early on, but all we have of the conversations was the victors side.then, after about the 4th century, apostasy and heresy could be life ending.

    • David Marshall

      Your first comment is obviously untrue. For the past 200 + years, the gospels have endured a ferocious and highly motivated assault from many corners.

      Yes, they have survived that assault, and in the work of great modern scholars like NT Wright, compared to whom Carrier and Price are pretty fringy, emerged in surprisingly good shape.

    • Pofarmer

      Please elaborate. How have they ” stood up” to the criticisms of folks loke Ingersoll and Ehrman? What I mainly see are theologians ignoring the obvious and obliviously continuing to teach. LA , LA, LA, LA.

    • Pofarmer

      By using NT Wright you actually make my point.

  • Richard Collins

    Your argument for humility in the face of uncertainty is well taken and is the central theme of Dr Robert Burton’s work. We humans have a quirk in our thinking that biases us to believe strongly in ourselves. Uncertainty is unpleasant and can create anxiety if not resolved. True believers are the least humble because they have managed to discard all internal checks to their mental processes in the service of their faith. Burton argues against certainty as a mindset and tells us the world is really probabilistic and everyone should think more in those terms about everything. What if the entire House of Representatives and especially the rabid tea bag contingency could learn to think in terms of probabilities?

    “The bottom line is that certainty is biologically impossible. Dr. Burton believes that we can learn to tolerate the contradictory aspects of our biology, and that we can learn to tolerate the unpleasantness of uncertainty, and perhaps even teach this ability. Modern science incorporates the language and tools of probability and statistics, which make uncertainty more manageable. In real life, we constantly make decisions with incomplete information. But we also seem to have the tendency to feel certain about these choices.”

    Campbell, Ginger (2012-06-10). Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty (Brain Talk: Conversations with Neuroscientists) (Kindle Locations 394-398). JENTS, LLC. Kindle Edition.

  • Richard Collins

    As Pofarmer points out only a very small percentage of believers are open to reasoning about their beliefs. Although discussions with them often contain lurkers and they can sometimes change their minds the prospects are very slim. If Atheists really want to change the landscape a better use of their time would be to attack the unethical practices of institutional religion. This is ground rationalists can win on in the court of public opinion because the evidence is contemporary, widespread and hard to refute. Here I am talking about such things as child marriage, child religious grooming, clerical misconduct, and shady political and financial dealings. Pondering questions that lead straight to dogma can be stimulating and even amusing but they are basically a quagmire, You don’t win arguments with true believers.

    • stevenjohnson2

      Terrible idea. Such criticisms are easily dismissed as criticism of persons. Frankly only children would be convinced this way. And much worse, these kind of criticisms are commonly made by the religious themselves as part of their religious bigotry. Atheists who criticize Islam this way feed Christian bigotry. When minor religions like Scientology are singled out, as for instance providing incompetent psychotherapy, people like Dr. James Dobson and his Focus on the Family get a free ride.

      As an intellectual practice, this usually means reciting dubious anecdotes or parroting the latest scandal in the popular media, neither good things to do. These “criticisms” have been made, on a wide scale, for years with no discernible effect. Since they are neither fundamental nor sound.

    • Richard Collins

      Don’t agree that the arguments we make are as simplistic as you claim. There is great empirical evidence to rely on that is not easily refuted. This is the point I am trying to make. Arguing about the historic case for Jesus also has some evidence in the archeological and historical areas, but the topics I suggested are contemporary and more relevant to our current social malaise and dysfunction. I would be the very last person to ever give James Dobson a free ride. He deserves the most rigorous scrutiny and although he is not a cleric, he is in bed with the worst of them. Because he is not as visible now that means nothing. He is secretly behind the scenes doing great mischief. For that reason he is more of a threat than ever.

  • Mark Zima

    I agree. It isn’t necessary to doubt the historicity of Jesus in order to doubt the Christian faith. The historicity of Joseph Smith doesn’t play a role in my rejection of Mormonism, nor does the historicity of Mohammad play a role in my rejection of Islam. Why should it be an issue with Jesus?

    And there is nothing inherently improbable in the idea of a historical Jesus: another fellow, Shabbatai Sevi, was actually more successful, during his lifetime, at convincing Jews he was the messiah than Jesus was ever depicted as being in the gospels; Sevi’s historical presence shows that there can indeed be a such a thing as a popular historical Jewish leader of the messianic type, because there is no doubt whatsoever of Sevi’s historicity.

    I have nothing against exploring the idea that Jesus was not a historical figure. But I think this should be a discussion motivated by curiosity. not an approach to take when trying to challenge the faith of Christians.

  • master craftsman

    Jesus the only way to salvation!

    • ForwardEarth

      Your mom said so, so I guess it’s true. But who told her? Who told the person who told her? You see where I’m going with this.

    • Richard Collins

      Children get locked in the religious trap because their parents suffered the same fate. Like advocates of spanking kids, the problem is generational. We can waste our time trying to fix the problems created or we can start addressing the real problem, childhood religious grooming. Meaning we must end the cultural approval of hereditary religion. Not easy and it will take time. But this strategy attacks the problem and not the symptoms.

    • Maxximiliann

      Indirect evidence is frequently and reliably depended upon to ascertain the reality of the world we live in . As a case in point , it’s long been widely-used to show that our Sun generates power via nuclear fusion , hydrogen is present on it or that the our planet features an iron core . In like manner , the reality that not a one of fulfilled Bible predictions has at any time been completely wrong constitutes unquestionable attestation for the reality of it’s composer , Jehovah God .

      This is, by far the most persuasive logical reason why millions upon millions of rational people today the world over accept the Bible as the Inspired Word of Jehovah God. Simply no other book – religious or not – comes with such an illustrious prominence. Considering the fact that it’s literally ** impossible ** for any person to foresee with complete precision what’s sure to occur from one hour to the next, there’s no two ways about it: Bible prophecies are not of natural origin: http://bit.ly/1d0Y82v

    • ForwardEarth

      “not a one of fulfilled Bible predictions has at any time been completely wrong”

      Translated into rational thinking: Not one of the Bible’s predictions has at any time been right, but people who are determined to believe in the voracity of the Bible anyway have pointed out a handful of historical occurrences that share some factors with those predicted and decided they come close enough.

      Nothing is unquestionable. Even if some of the occurrences proffered as evidence for the accuracy of the prophecies were 100% spot on, they could just as easily, and quite reasonably, be discarded as coincidence. If all were so, that explanation would still be on the table. Given that none of them comes anywhere near that requirement, they’re only meaningless, desperate attempts at bolstering a belief system that can’t support itself.

      What you’re calling indirect evidence is not evidence; it’s hearsay, which only spawns belief in irrational people. That’s why people inherit their religions at birth, and the wise ones abandon them when they learn to reason.

    • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

      Why would one need salvation if a god was genuinely good?

      And why would one ever trust a god who thought that an eternity in hell was an appropriate punishment for anything?

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Did visions of a resurrected Messiah lead men to invent stories of the things that Jesus of Nazareth said and did or did the things that Jesus of Nazareth said and did lead men to have visions of him as a resurrected Messiah? I find the sources too problematic to do any more than to speculate out a range of possibilities so I come down in favor of historical Jesus agnosticism/minimalism.

  • Urbane_Gorilla

    The article was interesting and just another view of how the Bible pilfers prior history and adopts it as its own…Nobody can ‘disprove’ Jesus…But let’s face it. Nobody has proved he existed either. A well known radical in a Roman society which kept detailed records and all we have are uncorroborated stories from people that lived centuries later. Seriously? I’m placing my money on Jesus is a hoax. It makes more sense.

    • joe

      I don’t think it’s about proof per se so much as what is more probable. Ultimately there are two possibilities; there was an historical Jesus or there wasn’t, and based on the available evidence, we decide which of the two is more probable.

      For me, it’s not so much that the evidence for an historical Jesus is bulletproof (and I do think Ehrman does have a tendency to overstate how certain we can be of it), it’s rather that however flawed and indirect it may be, there is nevertheless more evidence for an historical Jesus than for the mythicist position.

    • unique2

      You are committing a classical fallacy. There are much more than two possibilities. There could have been one, two or more people who’s live partially resemble the story of Jesus.

    • joe

      There is no false dichotomy here; a Jesus based partially on two or more people would ultimately still be either an historical figure or not. If the essential teachings and sayings and what have you were in fact the words of an historic Jesus then the possibility that some things attributed to him were actually done by others wouldn’t render him non-historical. A lot of historical figures are credited or blamed for things they didn’t actually do.

      If however Jesus is an entirely composite character (whether by accident or design) to whom the sayings and actions of several people have been attributed to (perhaps a sort of fictional representation of a certain type of religious leader of his time) he would not be an historical figure.

    • unique2

      What are the essential teachings and sayings (or deeds for that matter) of Jesus? Since there is no clear and precise answer to this question, his historicity is just as vague and imprecise and there is no simple Yes or No answer.

      I because even more complex if you focus on the teachings and sayings rather than deeds. What evidence could there be that the cursing of the fig tree, the sermon on the mount, and the parable of the lost sheep all *originated* from the same historical person? Bible scholar traced many of Jesus sayings back to a lost source Q. Is the author Q Jesus? Even if he had a different name, spoke Greek rather than Aramaic, and was never crucified?

    • joe

      “What are the essential teachings and sayings (or deeds for that matter) of Jesus Since there is no clear and precise answer to this question, his historicity is just as vague and imprecise…”

      With all due respect, I must say my first reaction upon reading the above was that your imagination and experience must be severely limited if you think vague and imprecise teachings – especially in a bronze age religious context – suggest the person to whom these teachings and sayings are attributed probably didn’t exist. I honestly intend no offense in saying this (you are clearly intelligent and knowledgable) but the implicit argument (his sayings are vague therefore he must have been made up) is not a sound one.

      “I(t) because even more complex if you focus on the teachings and sayings rather than deeds. What evidence could there be that the cursing of the fig tree, the sermon on the mount, and the parable of the lost sheep all *originated* from the same historical person?”

      The texts that say so. If I found a scroll tomorrow in a jar that said some guy named Abbadabba made a speech on a mountain and cursed a fig tree I wouldn’t feel any particular compulsion to doubt there probably was an historical Abbadabba. These aren’t extraordinary claims. Jesus said this, Jesus said that, etc. The supernatural claims made about Jesus are utterly implausible of course, but I see nothing about the mere claim that he made a speech or cursed a fig tree implausible in and of itself.

      “Bible scholar traced many of Jesus sayings back to a lost source Q. Is the author Q Jesus? Even if he had a different name, spoke Greek rather than Aramaic, and was never crucified?”

      Red herring. Q is a hypothetical written gospel that served as source material for some of the canonical gospels. No serious scholars on either side of this debate think Jesus wrote it (the general consensus is that neither Jesus nor his disciples were literate).

    • unique2

      Before trying to answer a question you should always make sure it is well defined. I am sure there was a historical Jesus for some definition of Jesus. For some definition of Jesus the author of Q would be Jesus, for some definition of Jesus there would be multitudes of Jesuses.

      I am honestly asking you what your definition of Jesus is. You already mentioned that it is the essential sayings and teachings which distinguishes him from any other man from that period. But what exactly are these?

    • Maxximiliann

      At the beginning in the historical past of Christianity , naysayers claimed that the Gospels contradicted each other which therefore meant their accounts should not be believed in . The Syrian author Tatian ( approximately 110-180 C .E . ) came to the defense of the Gospels . He deemed that any seeming contradictions would certainly vanish if the Gospels were expertly attuned and then merged into one account rather than four .

      Tatian set about preparing such a harmony . It is not known whether his original was in Greek or in Syriac . Whatever the case , about 170 C .E . , Tatian completed his work , known as the Diatessaron , a Greek word meaning “through the four .” Why would you want to consider this noninspired construction ?

      In the 19th century, critics began to promote the view that none of the Gospels were written before the middle of the second century C.E.; hence, they could have little historical value. Ancient manuscripts of the Diatessaron discovered since then, however, provide definitive evidence that the four Gospels—and only the four—were already well-known and accepted as a collection by the middle of the second century C.E.

      Discovery of the Diatessaron together with annotations about it in Arabic , Armenian , Greek , as well as Latin brought Bible scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon to submit : “These discoveries finally disposed of any doubt as to what the Diatessaron was , and proved that by about A .D . 170 the four canonical Gospels held an undisputed pre-eminence over all other narratives of our Saviour’s life .”

    • joe

      With all due respect, your conception of “historical” is so broad and flexible as to be essentially indistinguishable from non-historical.

      When I speak of an historical Jesus I mean quite simply that there actually was a person named Jesus who lived about 2000 years ago and is the person referred to in Christian religious texts. I myself am not a believer and don’t find the supernatural claims made about Jesus remotely plausible. I am also well aware that the accounts of him are inconsistent and at times confused and vague and written long after his death.

      That said, I still think the most reasonable conclusion one can draw based on what evidence does exist is that there was an historical Jesus. I find the alternate explanations to require far more speculative leaps beyond what the simplest interpretation of the evidence suggests, which is that there was a guy named Jesus.

      I think if Jesus could be resuscitated and brought to the present day he would be stunned at the amount of attention paid to him and furthermore I suspect we would all be quite surprised (and likely underwhelmed) by whatever it was he was actually peddling back in the day.

      My personal suspicion is that Jesus is probably the ultimate Chauncey Gardner sort of figure (if you aren’t familiar with Chauncey Gardner, Google “Being There” and “Peter Sellers”).

      I don’t find anything about Jesus and his supposed teachings particularly extraordinary; certainly I see no need to imagine he must be a composite or mythical figure. Some of what he is supposed to have said is quite nice, some of it is incoherent, some of it seems morally dubious, etc. I think were it not for the dominance of Christianity, particularly amongst the anti-intellectual elements of the religious right in the US, few skeptics would entertain doubts that the guy referred to in the scriptures actually existed. I think mythicism is primarily driven by hostility to Christianity rather than by the available evidence.

      Finally, no serious scholars on either side of this debate argue that Jesus was a possible author of “Q” or any other source material. This is your own speculation. Jesus and his disciples were almost certainly uneducated and illiterate.

    • unique2

      With all due respect, it’s not me who entertains such a broad and flexible concept of “historical” which is essentially indistinguishable from non-historical, but it appears you do, and I am just pointing this out.

      Do you really think Jesus (or rather an Aramaic form of it) was such a unique name, that only one person with that name existed? If there are multiple candidates of that name, how would you know who the Bible referred to? With such a notion of Jesus the question if he existed becomes meaningless.

      Using the teachings as the defining features of a historical Jesus also doesn’t work, since this would make the author of “Q” Jesus, which of course he isn’t, as you so eloquently agree with me.

      I have a very narrow and precise concept of a historical Jesus: the man who got resurrected after dying on the cross. And I think we both agree here: that guy never existed. Everything else is just muddying the water.

    • joe

      My conception of historical is actually pretty straight forward, conventional, and readily distinguishable from non-historical. In the case of Jesus, it means simply that I think the central figure of Christianity was an actual person.

      The name “Jesus” (or rather its Aramaic equivalent) was certainly not unique, but the fact that the there were other people named Jesus is not a good reason for doubting the historicity of the guy described in the gospels.

      You seem to be conflating the plausibility of an historical Jesus with the plausibility of the supernatural claims made about him. Heck, there were supernatural claims made about Alexander the Great (who doubtless was not the only Alexander on the earth) as well; do you doubt he existed? Jesus’ historicity certainly doesn’t depend on whether he rose from the dead.

      Also, “using the teachings as the defining features of a historical Jesus” would not make Jesus the author of Q; I really have no idea why you would think that is the case.

    • unique2

      If by straight forward you mean that by that standard James Bond is a historical figure. There was probably someone by that name, even though he lacks the most important features.

      Thanks for bringing up Alexander the Great. He is a great example for someone who, unlike James Bond or Jesus, clearly is a historical figure.

      First, who are we talking about? The Macedonian king who defeat the Persian empire. What evidence do we have that this event happened? There are lots of coins, inscriptions, and even contemporary records, but the most clear cut evidence is the spread of Greek culture. So Yes, the Persian empire was defeated by a Greek man, and that man was Alexander the Great.

      The problem with Jesus isn’t that some events ascribed to him didn’t happen, the problem is that the defining event, his resurrection didn’t happen. If Alexander the Great had never defeated the Persian empire he wouldn’t be Alexander the Great.

    • joe

      The resurrection is only the defining event in the context of Christian religious dogma; its implausibility has no bearing on Jesus’ historicity. Certainly, it can be the case that the religious leader described in the gospels actually existed even though the claim that he was ressurected is false. There are in fact a significant number of Christians who do not take the resurrection literally and a great many non Christians who don’t believe in the resurrection but still think there was an historical Jesus. Let’s be clear; the idea that there was not an historical Jesus is a fringe view among both skeptics and non-skeptics alike.

      In any event, I never argued that Jesus should be considered an historical figure simply because there must have been someone with that name at the time. I don’t know where you get that strawman from. In fact, in a previous response you made the equally strange but diametrically opposite charge that I was saying Jesus must be historical because no one else was named Jesus, lol.

      Look, his name is irrelevant. He is referred to constently as “Jesus” in literature about him, not Steve or Edwin or Kirk, so I presume that was dude’s name. The point is, there was a lot of ink spilled about the guy and a large religious movement based on his purported teachings took hold shortly after his death. I think those are good reasons to assume he actually existed, regardless of what implausible miraculous claims are made about him. The alternate position, that there was no historical Jesus, is is not the simplest explanation of the available evidence. It is a speculative and unsupported leap.

  • Pupienus

    “Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus. Responsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus.”

    In the 19th century when archaeology as a scientific pursuit was just getting started the consensus was that the bible was an historical document. Every dig, every find, they tried to fit into the biblical narrative. It wasn’t until the later part of the 20th century that some scholars – historians and archaeologists for the most part – started going about it the proper way, no longer presupposing that the bible was documentary. And lawd awmighty turns out the entire pentateuch was bulshit made up by people many many centuries after the alleged events.

    That the current consensus favors an historical Jesus is not much of an endorsement for the proposal. They are all working from the same material – mostly citing each other citing each other citing each other down through the centuries. More importantly, they presuppose the case. “Well there’s all this stuff written about him, it makes sense to think there must have been such a guy!” No. If one doesn’t presuppose then it makes more sense to think of Jesus as urban legend.

  • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

    It’s entirely possible that the Jesus of the Gospels was modelled on real people. I don’t think that it’s just one person, because the Sermon on the Mount just doesn’t fit with someone who would wither fig trees and attack money-changers.

    Perhaps the Gospels are a mythologized collection of anecdotes about Messiah-wannabes in Jerusalem… Or even a satire that someone took too seriously.

    • 3lemenope

      I don’t think that it’s just one person, because the Sermon on the Mount just doesn’t fit with someone who would wither fig trees and attack money-changers.

      Can they co-exist logically? Probably not. But can they co-exist in a human being? You bet. The capacity for hypocrisy in our species is impressive. I see no fundamental conflict on the level of character for a person to espouse peace but practice violence.

      Or even a satire that someone took too seriously.

      Some of the Beatitudes make more sense when read sarcastically. What happens to the meek again…and why would that be a good thing, given the eschatology of the religion?

  • Msironen

    My problem with “historical Jesus” is that it basically amounts to saying “there more than likely was some guy that probably did some or maybe even most of the non-supernatural stuff that inspired the gospels”.

    First, that “some guy” is in no relevant sense Jesus of the gospels. It’s like scraping the bottom of the barrel and when coming up empty handed, one goes on to say “well at least there’s a barrel”.

    Second, if that’s still somehow good enough for you, then you’ll have “historical” James Bond, Robin Hood, King Arthur etc.

  • Mick

    Responsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously
    disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus
    and have no agenda to
    promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus,
    believe there was a historical Jesus.

    Take away the miracles attributed to Jesus and there’s not much left to have a consensus about. If the miracles don’t count then what is left of Jesus? Who is the man about whom there is a consensus of opinion?

    Did he go to Egypt after his birth? (Matt 2:12-15)
    Or did his parents take him straight back to Nazareth? (Luke 2:39)

    Did he commence his ministry after John the Baptist was in prison? (Mark 1:14)
    Or did he commence before John the Baptist was imprisoned? (John 3:23-24)

    At his trial before Pilate, did Jesus remain silent? (Matt 27:14)
    Or did he answer all questions put to him? (John 18:33-37)

    Even if we ignore the miracles (about 40 of them) there are still dozens of contradictory stories about the human Jesus – and therefore no basis upon which to form a consensus of opinion.

    It seems to me the most anyone could agree upon is that some guy named Jesus lived 2,000 years ago. Well whoopy-doo!

    • David Marshall

      So don’t take away the miracles, then.

      Whether you realize it or not, this was a line of reasoning anticipated and predicted by J Gresham Machen most of a century ago.

      As for “contradictions,” read what prosecutor Vincent Burgliossi says about contradictions in testimony.

    • Pofarmer

      Links would be helpful. And I’m sorry, but you keep making my point over, and over, and over. All of these dudes were Theologians first.

    • Steven Carr

      Burgliossi says the following. He quotes Mark 14 :-

      56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

      57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

      He does have a point. If there are contradictions in testimony, then not even a kangaroo court will accept the testimony because the witnesses are contradicting each other, which proves they are false witnesses.

  • Steven Carr

    And , when debating Christians, always accept the historicity of Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Barrabas, Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Simon of Cyrene, Judas, the Magi, basically anybody in the Gospels.

    You don’t want to make yourself look an easy target for Christians by doubting that Lazarus existed.

    And remember that the consensus opinion is that Jesus was a totally obscure preacher with just a handful of followers who made no impact during his lifetime.

    That is why Josephus wrote about him in a section devoted to calamities that the Jews had suffered.

    After all, as any consenus historian will tell you, what could be more of a national calamity than the death of an obscure preacher that almost nobody had heard of during his lifetime.

    The death of an obscure preacher nobody had heard of was regarded by Josephus as worthy to be listed in a section with two massacres in it, priests being crucified, and 4000 Jews being banished from Rome.

    Yes, these historical consensuses are based on very solid reasoning.

    • 3lemenope

      Yes, these historical consensuses are based on very solid reasoning.

      Yeah, when some element in a list doesn’t fit with its neighbors, it actually is a good reason to entertain the possibility that it is a future interpolation rather than part of the original.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Nice OP Daniel. I definitely agree for what it’s worth.

  • Daniel Warren Brown

    I fail to understand what could possibly be gained by debating a believer about anything. They believe. That’s what they do. Their belief need have no basis in fact and is therefore utterly immune to critical analysis. Believers revel in their impenetrability. They relish the opportunity to display their unshakable faith. Debating believers is pissing in the wind. Smart people know better.

    I’m an atheist but I don’t BELIEVE in atheism or evolution or the big bang. I strongly suspect that religion is little more than a tool of social manipulation but I can’t PROVE that hypothesis to the satisfaction of anyone, including myself. I certainly don’t expect to penetrate anyone’s mental fortress and alter the beloved faith to which they imperviously cling.

    The likelihood that Jesus was real seems incredibly slim to me. Laughably slim. But I don’t laugh in the faces of believers. That would be rude.

  • stevenjohnson2

    Yes, as a narrow debating tactic, arguing the non-historicity of Jesus is a weak lead.

    Yes, arguing that thousands and thousands of university professors for hundreds and hundreds of years spouted absolute nonsense is usually perceived as hubris and dismissed as conspiracy thinking.

    Is it really possible that the careful adherence to the canons of scholarship has really justified the insistence on a historical Jesus? That the real existence of Jesus as in the Gospels has always been and still is a reasonable use of the Gospels as historical sources?

    Or, is it impossible that many scholars could have been, not just in error, but nonsensically wrong? That the centuries of scholarship to the contrary are worthless, that folly has been imposed by literary claques, by the censorship of opposing views, by bribes and threats and literal bloodshed?

    As uncomfortable as the answers may be, I think they are, in order, NO and YES.
    If you think the answers are Yes and No, then why be so argumentative as to espouse atheism of any sort at all? Frankly I’m inclined to think that only those who regard Christianity as fundamentally a mental tyranny, created by real tyranny, who should care to be so offensive as to argue against God and religion. After all, all believers redefine God as the personification of God and religion as aspiration to morality, when faced with any criticisms. Who’s against goodness and wanting to be good?

    Wanting effective rhetoric to “win” is pointless unless you are going to win something worthwhile.

    • Richard Collins

      Atheists are certainly not against goodness and wanting to be good. You seem afraid of them. Atheism is merely an intellectual response to theism. If theism has created problems for humanity, atheists have every right to point out the problems. If this offends you, I am sorry. Do not take it personally. Your point about making broad unsubstantiated claims is valid, but you are responsible for giving us some evidence for the claim. Which you have not done.

    • Maxximiliann

      I really wish that were true . . . however, this is the reality: http://bit.ly/1bu2CrY

      As you can see, Anti-Theist Atheists aren’t the gentle little creatures of night time fairy tales you’d like for us to believe they are. These militant types are as deadly as just about any radical Islamic cell . . .

  • João Tavares

    People should leave it to the scholars. I don’t get why you claim to be agnostic
    about Jesus existence when almost all scholars on the planet – even those
    who are not Christians (jews like the late Geza Vermes, agnostics like
    Bart Ehrman and so on) agree that he existed. There is not one single
    peer reviewed work in the western world claiming Jesus did not exist (no professor of new testament and christianity history claim that). Richard Carrier might be a very intelligent man and a real scholar (while, for instance, someone like Acharya is a layperson), however a complete nobody (no peer reviewed work on Jesus as a myth) in new testament and christianity scholarship.

    Historical evidence is indeed different from scientific evidence. But we could still make a comparison. Both evolution and Jesus’s existence are consensual
    positions (Jesus myth theory and creationism are dead in the academic world). What if some christian wrote a post claiming that christians should stop trying to deny evolution (since there is a scientific consensus), but, because of some good points on Michael Behe’s works, he is agnostic about evolution? It would be only because of his agenda and it would make no sense.

    Why don’t you just accept that Jesus did exist (as the scholars tell us) ? It won’t change anything about God existing or not for atheists. Bart Ehrman is agnostic himself…

    PS: like creationists, most mysticists deny the mainstream position, feel persecuted by scholars, try (and fail) to show holes and mistakes (usually positions already explained by scholars) and can’t be convinced by evidence (always having an excuse and conspiracy theory for every evidence you show them).

    • unique2

      I don’t believe in Evolution just because people in white lab coats told me so, this would be no different from believing in God just because a man on Sunday morning told you so.
      Now if it were actually impossible for “laypeople” to evaluate the evidence put forward by “scholars”, then your only options would be blind faith or agnosticism.

    • João Tavares

      “I don’t believe in Evolution just because people in white lab coats told me so”.

      You (when I say you, I mean any common man) do in someway, I mean, (unless you are trained on the field), you can’t analyze yourself the evidence. You don’t have the knowledge for that (can you analyze the biochemical similarities to support common descent? Can you* even do a simple lab test?). You trust what the experts say about the subject (as you should).

      “this would be no different from believing in God just because a man on Sunday morning told you so.”

      No. Nothing to do with it. We are talking about historical (Jesus existence) and scientific evidence (evolution) and the universal view of scholars in the academy.

      “Now if it were actually impossible for “laypeople” to evaluate the
      evidence put forward by “scholars”, then your only options would be blind faith or agnosticism.”

      No, it would be not. Funny that Richard Carrier (I’ve taken the text from James McGrath’s blog – link at the end of the post): himself says:

      “an effective consensus of qualified experts constitutes meeting an initial burden of evidence” because “it is far more unlikely that an incorrect argument would persuade a hundred experts than that it would persuade only one; and it’s far more unlikely that it would persuade any expert than that it would persuade even a hundred amateurs””

      James McGrath is right when he says: “If the internet mythicists of today were to take this advice to heart”.

      It would not be “blind faith”, because scholars present the evidence. I trust the universal view of the academy (that Jesus existed) because I can’t personally analyze the evidence. I can’t read Greek, Latin, don’t know Aramaic and I’m not a trained historian, thus don’t really know how to apply the historical method.

      Link: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/08/review-of-richard-c-carrier-proving-history.html

    • unique2

      The consensus view of biologists on Evolution is just as much evidence as the consensus view of historians on Jesus or the consensus view of theologians on God. Yes, to some extent a consensus view is evidence, but on its own it is not sufficient evidence.

      I trust biologists to honestly report their results of DNA sequencing just as much as I trust historians to faithfully translate from ancients languages. But in both cases I can check if their arguments based on this data is valid and sound.

    • AgnesDomini

      Hello, Unique 2. You might enjoy some of the things posted at this site, regarding evolutionary theory being somewhat bunk:http://huhi6305utd.blogspot.com/2013/12/what-heck-is-etiology-and-what-does-it.html

    • AgnesDomini

      Hello. I must say that I find I cannot wholeheartedly concur with this line of reasoning:“an effective consensus of qualified experts constitutes meeting an initial burden of evidence” because “it is far more unlikely that an
      incorrect argument would persuade a hundred experts than that it would persuade only one; and it’s far more unlikely that it would persuade any expert than that it would persuade even a hundred amateurs””. Why? Well, I cannot help but recall Edgar Allan Poe’s pointed observation in “The Rationale of Verse” (from his treatise “The Poetic Principle”), which states the following:

      “There is, perhaps, no topic in polite literature which has been more
      pertinaciously discussed, and there is certainly not one about which
      so much inaccuracy, confusion, misconception, misrepresentation,
      mystification, and downright ignorance on all sides, can be fairly
      said to exist. Were the topic really difficult, or did it lie, even,
      in the cloudland of metaphysics, where the doubt- vapors may be made
      to assume any and every shape at the will or at the fancy of the
      gazer, we should have less reason to wonder at all this
      contradiction and perplexity; but in fact the subject is exceedingly
      simple; one-tenth of it, possibly, may be called ethical; nine-tenths,
      however, appertain to mathematics; and the whole is included within
      the limits of the commonest common sense.

      “But, if this is the case, how,” it will be asked, “can so much
      misunderstanding have arisen? Is it conceivable that a thousand
      profound scholars, investigating so very simple a matter for
      centuries, have not been able to place it in the fullest light, at
      least, of which it is susceptible?” These queries, I confess, are
      not easily answered: at all events, a satisfactory reply to them might
      cost more trouble than would, if properly considered, the whole vexata
      quaestio to which they have reference.

      Nevertheless, there is little
      difficulty or danger in suggesting that the “thousand profound
      scholars” may have failed first, because they were scholars; secondly,
      because they were profound; and thirdly, because they were a
      thousand-the impotency of the scholarship and profundity having been
      thus multiplied a thousand fold. I am serious in these suggestions;
      for, first again, there is something in “scholarship” which seduces us
      into blind worship of Bacon’s Idol of the Theatre- into irrational
      deference to antiquity, secondly, the proper “profundity” is rarely
      profound- it is the nature of Truth in general, as of some ores in
      particular, to be richest when most superficial; thirdly, the clearest
      subject may be over-clouded by mere superabundance of talk.

      In
      chemistry, the best way of separating two bodies is to add a third; in
      speculation, fact often agrees with fact and argument with argument
      until an additional well-meaning fact or argument sets everything by
      the ears. In one case out of a hundred a point is excessively
      discussed because it is obscure; in the ninety-nine remaining it is
      obscure because excessively discussed. When a topic is thus
      circumstanced, the readiest mode of investigating it is to forget that
      any previous investigation has been attempted.”

      In short, the masses is often asses, and people who have based their entire reputations and livehoods proclaiming something as being true are not exactly motivated to expose their shortcomings; all academicians are still human beings, and therefore subject to the same frailties and flaws as everyone else.

    • Viiit

      I don’t care if Jesus existed or not.

  • joe

    I often describe my confidence level in the historicity of Jesus by saying that if some extremely advanced and powerful alien were to suddenly appear and say:

    “OK, puny humans, we have been observing your planet for thousands of years, and know with certainty whether there was an historical Jesus or not. But just to make it interesting, instead of just tell you, you must first guess. If you guess correctly, you get a $25 Amazon gift card, but if you guess wrong, we will lock you in a box with a thousand enraged Japanese hornets. Now guess!”

    In that situation, I would definitely guess that there was an historical Jesus, but I’d be braving for those hornets.

    I just think at the end of the day, the idea that there was an historical Jesus makes more sense than anybody the Jesus myth theories, some of which are more plausible than others none are convincing.

    Bart Ehrman’s notion of Jesus as an apocalyptic Jew is probably the most plausible theory I’ve heard, though he seems to me to overstate the degree to which we can be “certain” of this. He regularly says things like “there is more evidence for Jesus’ existence than any other figure of the ancient world,” which seems overstated. He also often points out that 99.9% of the people of antiquity died without leaving a trace of their existence (a point he might have brought up in bis debate with Craig about the resurrection, since Craig seriously contends that the absence of any mortal removals of Jesus is good evidence for the resurrection; by this reasoning we might conclude that 99.9% of the people of antiquity were resurrected and is subsequently ascended into heaven, but I digress). I understand that however scant the evidence of an historical Jesus may be it is more than we have for most of his period, but that doesn’t change the fact that when the evidence for something is weak you have reason to doubt it. It’s not that we have particularly good evidence for an historical Jesus, it seems to me rather that we simply have even less evidence that Jesus was made up.

    I see the historical Jesus as something akin to an extinct dinosaur know only from some fragments of jaw bone; it ‘a reasonable to conclude it existed but we are very limited as to what we can say with certainly about what it was actually like in life. I cautiously lean to the position that there was an historical Jesus, but suspect we would all be surprised to discover what his movement was actually about and how it actually eventually become widespread.

  • unique2

    The case for the historicity of Jesus is absurd. Not because it is unlikely, but because the question at hand is so ill defined.

    Before even starting to try and answer this question we first have to make clear who’s existence we are talking about. If we talk about Jesus, the resurrected son of God, the case is simple: he didn’t exist. If we are talking about a man who got crucified (according to Ehrman this is the most certain element about him), then there were multitudes of those.

    So if you are willing to move the goal post just far enough there is probably one definition for which a single Jesus existed. The same is true for King Arthur, Robin Hood and Santa Claus (you can move the goal post to a bishop in Smyrna, this is actually relatively solid historical footing).
    I agree, that a “layperson” looks foolish trying to compete on the home field of “scholars”, but an outsider is probably in the best position to recognize which game is being played.

    • Maxximiliann

      At one time scholars doubted the existence of Assyrian King Sargon, mentioned at Isaiah 20:1. However, in the 1840’s, archaeologists began unearthing the palace of this king. Now, Sargon is one of the best-known Assyrian kings.

      Critics questioned the existence of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered Jesus’death. (Matthew 27:1, 22-24) But in 1961 a stone bearing Pilate’s name and rank was discovered near the city of Caesarea in Israel.

      Before 1993, there was no extra-biblical evidence to support the historicity of David, the brave young shepherd who later became king of Israel. That year, however, archaeologists uncovered in northern Israel a basalt stone, dated to the ninth century B.C.E., that experts say bears the words “House of David” and “king of Israel.”

      Until recently, many scholars doubted the accuracy of the Bible’s account of the nation of Edom battling with Israel in the time of David. (2 Samuel 8:13, 14) Edom, they argued, was a simple pastoral society at the time and did not become sufficiently organized or have the might to threaten Israel until much later. However, recent excavations indicate that “Edom was a complex society centuries earlier [than previously thought], as reflected in the Bible,” states an article in the journal Biblical Archaeology Review.

      There were many rulers on the world stage during the 16 centuries that the Bible was being written. When the Bible refers to a ruler, it always uses the proper title. For example, it correctly refers to Herod Antipas as “district ruler” and Gallio as “proconsul.” (Luke 3:1; Acts 18:12) Ezra 5:6 refers to Tattenai, the governor of the Persian province “beyond the River,” the Euphrates River. A coin produced in the fourth century B.C.E. contains a similar description, identifying the Persian governor Mazaeus as ruler of the province “Beyond the River.”

      Regarding the historical accuracy of the Bible, the October 25, 1999, issue of U.S.News & World Report said: “In extraordinary ways, modern archaeology has affirmed the historical core of the Old and New Testaments— corroborating key portions of the stories of Israel’s patriarchs, the Exodus, the Davidic monarchy, and the life and times of Jesus.” While faith in the Bible does not hinge on archaeological discoveries, such historical accuracy is what you would expect of a book inspired by God.

      Even more staggering, however, is the fact that there’s more historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Christ than there is for evolution. In fact, any denial of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection is comparable to denying the US declared its independence in 1776 or that Columbus landed in America in 1492.

      In his book “The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus”, Michael Licona provides a list of scholars who attest to the historicity of Christ’s death and resurrection which includes Brodeur, Collins, Conzelman, Fee, Gundry, Harris, Hayes, Hèring, Hurtado, Johnson, Kistemaker, Lockwood, Martin, Segal, Snyder, Thiselton, Witherington, and Wright.

      Concordantly, British scholar N. T. Wright states, “As a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.” (N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993)), p. 26.

      Even Gert L¸demann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”(Gerd L¸demann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.)

      These are just a minute sampling from the massive throng of scholars who all attest to the historicity of Christ’s resurrection -http://amzn.to/13MQiTE

      Prominently, in his book, “Justifying Historical Descriptions”, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:

      1. It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.

      2. It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.

      3. It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.

      4. It is not ad hoc or contrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.

      5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.

      6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5). Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection solution.

    • unique2

      Your post contains so many errors, it is hard to even believe your sincerity.

    • Maxximiliann

      It has so very many errors yet your incapable of pointing a single one out …

      Don’t ever let anyone ever accuse you of being noetically honest or sincere …

    • unique2

      Passing a verbatim copy of some shady internet page as your own work looks like the work of a very dishonest person. If you would belief or even understand this rubbish yourself you would have been able to put it into your own words. But as it stands this isn’t evidence for anything but your character.

      Try putting this argument into your own words and I will help you understand how it fails in every aspect.

    • Maxximiliann

      Then, please, by all means “scholar” prove it’s not my work then.

      Time to put up or …

    • unique2

      You should google your own words then. If what you claim is true, William Lane Craig is ripping you off.

  • unique2

    The drawback of atheism becoming mainstream is that it starts to attract people who cannot tell a good argument from a bad and can only parrot whatever they find on the internet.

    • Maxximiliann

      There’s also the very real danger of this http://bit.ly/1bu2CrY becoming mainstream too.

    • unique2

      But on the other hand nobody can beat Christians in parroting bad arguments from the internet :-) You are just so predictable:-)

  • AgnesDomini

    Hmm. First of all, historians distinguish between discussion of Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus as Christ; he is only referred to as Jesus Christ by those who believe him to be Lord and Savior. If we are strictly dealing with the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a mortal being, then well-respected, famous, and non-Christian historians having lived much closer to his own lifetime attest to his factual existence: “Even the non-Jewish historical sources of the time mention Jesus and it is nearly universal. There was a common knowledge of Jesus’ life and death among the people in the first few centuries. The list of
    historians are enormous: Tacitus (Annals, AD 115-120), Suetonius (Lives
    of the Caesars, AD 125), Lucian (mid-2nd century), Galen (AD 150; De
    pulsuum differentiis 2.4; 3.3) Celsus (True Discourse, AD 170), Mara Bar
    Serapion (pre AD-200?), and the Jewish Talmudic References (AD 300).”

    Read more: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/what-historical-evidence-is-there-to-support-the-existence-of-jesus-christ/#ixzz2oLn6IkPr

    None of these historical figures had a horse in this race, per se. So whereas it is also possible that he did, in fact, exist, it is also extremely probable that he did so. Moreover, Scripture gives the account of Caiaphas the high priest and Pontius Pilate being involved in Jesus’ bogus trial and condemnation, and until quite recently, no archeological evidence existed that either of said individuals had existed as historical persons. In 1990, the tomb of Caiaphas was discovered in Jerusalem, confirming his identity as high priest (his rule was from 18 to 36 A.D.), and in 1961, a dedication stone with Pilate’s name and title was unearthed by Italian archeologists:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/historical-notes-pontius-pilate-a-name-set-in-stone-1084786.html

    Scripture afforded the only record of dozens of ancient civilizations long forgotten until recently; the Hittites, for example, were recorded in the OT (and nowhere else, for centuries), until mass excavations in the 1930s and onwards revealed their capital and extensive history. (Prior to that, even the famed Encylopaedia. Britannica listed them as a mythical civilization.)

    I recommend checking out apologist Richard Riss’ “Christian Evidences” for arguments about the historical, archeological, paleontological, cultural anthropological, etymological, geographical, etc. verity of Scripture–it won’t disappoint you. Here is a sample of the text, in the heading entitled, “The Historical Trustworthiness of the Bible”:

    “The trustworthiness of the Bible’s historical statements has been corroborated again and again both through archaeological discoveries and through close correlation of the Bible’s content with other independent ancient sources. A comprehensive study of this topic would be far beyond the scope of these lectures, but for the purpose of illustration, it will be possible to examine
    briefly the accuracy of Luke as a historian.

    Luke, the friend and companion of Paul, is the author of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which may be two parts of one continuous historical work. Luke mentions three emperors by name: Augustus (Luke 2:1), Tiberius (Luke 3:1), and Claudius (Acts 18:2 and Acts 11:28). The birth of Jesus is fixed in the reign of the emperor Augustus, when Herod the Great was king of Judaea, and Quirinius governor of Syria (Luke 1:5, 2:2). Luke dates by a series of synchronisms in the Greek historical manner the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry (Luke 3:12), just as the Greek historian Thucydides dates the formal outbreak of the
    Peloponnesian War in his History, book II.2

    Luke accurately names the Roman governors Quirinius, Pilate, Sergius, Paullus,
    Gallio, Felix, and Festus, Herod the Great and a few of his descendants, including Herod Antipas the tetrarch of Galilee, the vassal-kings Herod Agrippa I and II, Berenice and Drusilla, Jewish priests such as Annas, Caiaphas, and Ananias, and
    Gamaliel, the great Rabbi and Pharisaic leader. An author relating his story to the wider context of world history must be careful, because he affords the reader abundant opportunities to test the degree of his accuracy. Not only does Luke take this risk, but he stands the test admirably. F. F. Bruce writes:

    ‘One of the most remarkable tokens of his accuracy is his sure familiarity with the proper titles of all the notable persons who are mentioned in his pages. This was by no means such an easy feat in his days as it is in ours, when it is so simple to consult convenient books of reference. The accuracy of Luke’s use of the various titles in the Roman Empire has been compared to the easy and confident way
    in which an Oxford man in ordinary conversation will refer to the Heads of Oxford colleges by their proper titles–the Provost of Oriel, the Master of Balliol, the Rector of Exeter, the President of Magdalen, and so on. A non-Oxonian like the present writer never feels quite at home with the multiplicity of these Oxford titles. But Luke had a further difficulty in that the titles sometimes did not remain the
    same for any great length of time; a province might pass from senatorial government to administration by a direct representative of the emperor, and would then be governed no longer by a proconsul but by an imperial legate (legatus pro
    proetore).

    F. F. Bruce gives multitudes of specific examples of the incredible accuracy of Luke as a historian. Among the many supposed mistakes of Luke that have since
    been vindicated was the mention in Luke 3:1 of Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (A.D. 27- 28). The only Lysanias of Abilene otherwise known from ancient history was a king who was executed by the order of Mark Antony in 34 B.C. We now have archaeological evidence of a later Lysanias who had the status of tetrarch. An inscription recording the dedication of a temple reads, “For the salvation of the Lords Imperial and their whole household, by Nymphaeus, a freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch.” The reference to “Lords
    Imperial,” which was a joint title given only to the emperor Tiberius and his mother Livia, the widow of Augustus, establishes the date of the inscription to between A.D. 14 and 29, the years of Tiberius’ accession and Livia’s death, respectively.”

    http://grmi.org/Richard_Riss/

    All this phenomenal accuracy begs the question as to why would the authors of the Gospels be so careful with details in documenting the life of a fictitious person? Your thoughts?


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