10 Reasons to Just Say Nay to the Naysayer Hypothesis

Apologists tell us that the gospels were written at a time when many disciples—the eyewitnesses—were still alive. If they heard an inaccurate story, they’d say, “I was there, and that’s not the way it happened!” They’d shut it down. An incorrect version of the story would not have survived.

Let’s consider this alternative world, where those in the inner circle tried to snuff out any false statements about Jesus. It quickly falls apart under examination.

Here are ten reasons why I say nay to this Naysayer Hypothesis.

1. There would have been few potential naysayers. True, the gospel story reports thousands witnessing the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but these wouldn’t be naysayers. A naysayer must have been a close companion of Jesus to witness him not doing every miracle recorded in the Gospels. He would need to know that Jesus didn’t walk on water and didn’t raise Lazarus. A proper naysayer must have been one of Jesus’s close companions during his entire ministry, and there would likely have been just a few dozen.

2. We imagine a handful of naysayers who know that the Jesus story is only a legend, but that was in the year 30. Now the first gospel is written and it’s roughly forty years later—how many are still alive? Conditions were harsh at that time, and people died young. Many from our little band of naysayers have died or been imprisoned by this point.

3. A naysayer must be in the right location to complain. Suppose he lived in Jerusalem, and say that the book of Mark was written in Alexandria, Egypt, which historians say is one possibility. How will our naysayer correct its errors? Sure, Mark will be copied and spread, but there’s little time before our 60- or 70-year-old witnesses die. Even if we imagine our tiny band dedicating their lives to stamping out this false story—and why would they?—believers are starting brush fires of Christian belief all over the Eastern Mediterranean, from Alexandria to Damascus to Corinth to Rome. How can we expect our naysayers to snuff them all out?

4. They wouldn’t know about it. Two thousand years ago you couldn’t walk down to the corner bookstore to find the latest Jesus gospel. How were our naysayers to learn of the story? Written documents at that time were scarce and precious things. The naysayers would be Jews who didn’t convert to Christianity. They wouldn’t have associated much with the new Christians and so would have been unlikely to come across the Jesus story.

5. There was another gulf between the naysayers and the early Christians: the Gospels were written in Greek, not the local language of Aramaic spoken by Jesus and the naysayers. To even learn of the Jesus story in this community, our naysayers must speak Greek, which is hard to imagine among the typical peasant followers of Jesus. How many could have done this? And to influence the Greek-speaking readers of the Gospels, a rebuttal would have to have been written in Greek—not a common skill in Palestine.

6. Imagine a naysayer knew the actual Jesus and knew that he was merely a charismatic rabbi. Nothing supernatural. Now he hears the story of Jesus the Son of Man, the man of miracles, the healer of lepers and raiser of the dead. Why connect the two? “Jesus” was a common name (or Joshua or Yeshua or whatever his name really was), and supernatural claims were common at the time. His friend Jesus didn’t do anything like this, so the story he heard must be of a different person. So even when confronted with the false teaching, he wouldn’t know to raise an alarm.

7. Consider how hard is it today for a politician, celebrity, or business leader to stop a false rumor, even with the many ways to get the word out. Think about how hard it would have been in first-century Palestine. How many thousands of Christians were out there spreading the word for every naysayer with his finger in the dike? Given the sensational story (“Jesus was a miracle worker who can save you from your sins!”) and the mundane one (“Nah—he’s just a guy that I hung around with when I was growing up”), which has more traction?

8. Jesus himself couldn’t rein in rumors. He repeatedly tells those around him to not tell anyone about his miracles, and yet we read about both the miracles and Jesus’s fruitless plea. If he can’t stop rumors, why imagine that mortals can?

Or consider Joseph Smith. Here was a man convicted of the very occult practices that he then tells about in the Book of Mormon. Should’ve been easy to pull aside the curtain on this “religion,” right? Nope.

Look at Scientologists, cults, or any of the divisions of Christianity, both major (Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses) and minor (thousands of nondenominational churches and sects). Apparently, new religions start quite easily. The incredulous, “But what else could explain the New Testament but that the writers were telling the truth?!” doesn’t hold up when we see how easy it is.

9. One way to stop the gospel story would be naysayers, but a far better way would be to show the story as false. And the gospels themselves document that it was.

Jesus said that the end would come within the lifetime of many within his hearing. It didn’t (indeed, that this was going to be a longer process than initially thought was a reason that the oral history was finally written down, decades after the events). With the central prediction crumbling, what more proof do you need that this religion was false? And yet the religion kept on going. Obviously, religion can grow in the face of evidence to the contrary.

10. Christian apologists say that there were no naysayers, but how do we know that there weren’t? For us to know about them, naysayers would need to have written their story and have some mechanism to recopy the true account over and over until the present day. Just like Christian documents, their originals would have crumbled with time. What would motivate anyone to preserve copies of documents that argued against a religion? Perhaps only another religion! And it’s not surprising that the Jesus-isn’t-divine religion didn’t catch on.

This argument is popular but empty. Don’t use it.

If a million people say a foolish thing,
it’s still a foolish thing.

(This post is a modification of one originally posted 11/2/11.)

Photo credit: Military Videos

About Bob Seidensticker
  • GeorgiaPeach23

    “And it’s not surprising that the Jesus-isn’t-divine religion didn’t catch on.” Sure it did — Islam.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The “Jesus is divine” religion knocks on doors to ensure that everyone knows that Jesus is not divine. Islam, by contrast, says that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. Quite different, I think.

  • natsera

    I wish you wouldn’t call the land “Palestine”. During the time of Jesus and for a while after, it was called “Iudaea” or as we would say, “Judea” which included Samaria as well. By using the word “Palestine” you propagate the myth that there was an indigenous Palestinian people, which is simply not true. The first intimation of the existence of a Palestinian Arab people came with Yasser Arafat in 1967 or so. And most of the current “Palestinians” came into the land from other Arab countries. You can talk about Palestine now, if you include Jordan, but if you’re talking about the time of Jesus, please refer to it properly as Judea.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      During the time of Jesus and for a while after, it was called “Iudaea” or as we would say, “Judea” which included Samaria as well.

      I’m pretty sure his work took him to places besides just Judea and Samaria—hence the inclusive name “Palestine.” Give me a better one.

      By using the word “Palestine” you propagate the myth that there was an indigenous Palestinian people, which is simply not true.

      You’re excited about the politics, and that’s not my interest. I think I hear you correctly that I should use words that aren’t inflammatory or confusing in a modern context.

      There were Canaanites before the Israelites got there (or find some other term for Israelites and Other). You’re not saying that in Galilee, Samaria, and Judea there were no people except for Jews, right?

      • natsera

        Thanks for understanding what I was trying to say. I’m actually not sure that Jesus’ work took him out of Jewish territory, because he, himself, appears to have only been preaching to Jews. Yes, there were other peoples there, and the name Palestine is derived from Philistia, the land of the Philistines. There was a Jewish kingdom there (the Hasmonean Dynasty) from 140 BCE to 37 BCE, when the Romans conquered it. What I’m actually looking for is contextual historical accuracy in using place names. The fact that Canaanites (and other peoples) lived in that land long before the time of Jesus is really not relevant, because you are talking about things that happened in Jesus’ time. I hope this clarifies what I was trying to say, and thanks for your response.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t think Jesus’s work did take him out of Jewish territory. I’m simply saying that Judea, Samaria, and Galilee are three different places. “Judea” doesn’t cover them all.

          If you don’t like Palestine as a name that covers these three regions, give me another one.

        • natsera

          Well, it seems to me that Jesus stayed in the Galilee and Jerusalem for his whole life. But if you want a word, in 6 CE, Rome joined Judea proper, Samaria and Idumea (biblical Edom) into the Roman province of Iudaea. So you could say Iudaea and Galilee. Most people won’t understand that though, and I think Galilee and Jerusalem are probably most accurate. :-) (smiling at you, because I enjoy discussing a concept without hostility!)

  • TheNuszAbides

    “They were not rumors. They were true. That is why people could not keep silent.”

    impeccable reasoning. because rumors are easily silenced and never take on a life of their own. /s

  • TheNuszAbides

    “compared to other religions”

    yeah, right; i bet you really wanted to go there.

  • TheNuszAbides

    one of the ‘comparison traps’ here is that the non-biblical figures mentioned were never (or are no longer, in Pythagoras’ case) core figures in a cult which became one of THE predominant organizations (+ its variously durable and/or zealous splinters) of recorded history.

    sure, we could quibble about how geometry and ‘Western music theory’ are conceptual sorts of ‘predominant organization’ or how Pythagoras, or ‘a Pythagoras figure’, was the focus of cultic veneration for a time, but the universality and utility of ‘his’ Theorem and other ‘eternal wisdom’ is definitively obvious; where questionable has been fruitfully questioned (without entrenched interest groups of today making significant political stink about persecution of their lord or his followers); and most importantly, if it were ‘someone else’ who came up with all that Pythagorean stuff, or wrote those Homeric epics:
    (a) it would appear rather too late to adjust intellectual property credit;
    (b) it could not possibly call into question the validity/utility of the ideas themselves, which have been tested and applied routinely for millennia with no particular reason to call their provenance or accuracy into question (except, perhaps, Timecube? oh wait, i said ‘reason’) (keeping in mind that the window for taking Homer’s stories literally has essentially come and gone);
    (c) while they may have indirectly contributed to more refined military technology, have not, in and of themselves or ‘belief in them’, prompted or excused or fuelled any wars or massacres (at least to my knowledge, or in the Iliad’s case, again, do not depend on whether Homer existed or ‘was actually Homer’, and have certainly passed the ‘use by’ date–where is Sparta again?).

    the more practical ideas attributed to Jesus of Nazareth either
    (a) were not original in ‘his time’ (though naturally many could have confidently, erroneously thought so for centuries on end, before more information was shared between far-flung cultures and documentary practices gained a more ‘globalized’ footing);
    or
    (b) simply do not require a particular individual’s specific existence, supernatural narrative or legend (as with Pythagoras, Homer, Socrates, etc.). of course The Trial of Socrates adds depth and resonance to ‘the Socrates narrative’, but even if that story were entirely fabricated, the ideas and practices attributed to him would be no less interesting or useful. (ditto for ‘the practical Jesus’, but bear with me here…)

    the more comforting and (dare i say) seductive of the ideas attributed/appended to Jesus of Nazareth are whoppers of unfalsifiability, and in the absence of unimpeachably first-hand accounts are no challenge at all to derive or develop entirely ‘post hoc’. and it should hardly be a surprising coincidence that these are also the sticking points that have historically required unquestioning faith (or at least lip service) to ‘get a leg up’ (or at least not be shunned/stoned/burned/etc.) in Christendom.

    i know this was thread-necro, but countdown to “but Prophecy!” commencing anyway…

    also, i’d welcome a link to where Bob has already-or-since made these very points, since i don’t think i’ve stumbled over them yet…

  • TheNuszAbides

    have you since? Loftus got blasted for her basically objective ‘expert testimony’ helping get Ted Bundy off at his first trial, but of course that doesn’t make her work any less important or relevant.

  • TheNuszAbides

    “cross-over appeal” which of course had nothing to do with ‘what is known of Jesus’ but rather sprang from the press agents who ostensibly took up ‘his’ cause.


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