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Gospels vs. the Perfect Miracle Claim

Try to imagine the most compelling miracle story possible.

Tell me what you think of this one:

I met Jesus yesterday. At first, I didn’t believe who he was, but he turned my lawn furniture from steel into gold. I just got back from a dealer who assayed the furniture, confirmed that it was solid gold, and bought it. Over 200 pounds of gold at $1723 per ounce works out to be just under $5.9 million.

Guess who’s a believer now!

Would you buy this miracle story? I’m sure I’ve convinced no one, and yet, as miracle stories go, this one is pretty compelling. Compare it to the gospel story.

  • Taking the claim at face value, the time from event to the first writing was one day. There is no chance for legendary accretion. Compare this to 40 years with the gospels.
  • The time from original document to our oldest complete copy is zero days. Compare this to almost 300 years for the gospels. That’s a lot of time for copyist hanky-panky.
  • The cultural gulf to cross to understand this miracle claim is nonexistent. Compare this to our Greek copies of the gospels from around 350 CE, through which we must infer the Jewish/Aramaic facts of the Jesus story from around 30 CE.
  • This story claims to be an eyewitness account. The argument for the gospels being eyewitness accounts is very tenuous.
  • It uses a well-known and widely accepted deity. Compare this to Christianity, which must imagine that the Jewish god had Jesus in mind from the start and that that whole Jewish thing was just throat clearing before the main event.

Have I convinced anyone yet? If not, then why is the gospel story still convincing when I’ve beaten it on every point?

Let’s consider some responses from skeptical Christians. They might point to important elements of the gospel story: what about the terrified disciples who became confident after seeing Jesus, the conversions of former enemies Paul and James, or the empty tomb?

Okay, so you want a longer story? It’s hard to imagine that simply adding details and complications can make a story more believable, but I can give you that. Let’s suppose that the story were gospel-sized and included people who initially disbelieved but became convinced.

You say Jesus doesn’t make appearances like this anymore? Okay, make it some other deity—someone known or unknown. You pick.

You say that these claims are so recent that they demand evidence—photos, a check from the gold dealer, samples of the gold lawn furniture? Okay, then change the story to make the evidence inaccessible. Maybe now we imagine it taking place 200 years ago. Hey, it’s just words on (virtual) paper. Whatever additional objection you have, reshape the story to resolve the problem.

And yet if you were presented with this carefully sculpted story, you’d still be unconvinced. But why? What besides tradition or presuppositions of the rightness of the Christian position makes that more believable?

Let’s make one last attempt with a more historical example to convince the Christian of an ancient miracle story. Imagine that we’ve uncovered a cache of Chinese documents from 2000 years ago. They claim miracles similar to those found in the gospels. Here are the remarkable facts of this find.

  • As far as historians can tell, these documents are originals, not copies. They seem to date from the period about which they are writing. (For the gospels, this gap is 300 years.)
  • They claim to be writing immediately after the events, and the paleographic evidence supports this claim. (For the gospels, this gap is 40 to 60 years.)
  • They claim to be eyewitness accounts. Not only do the gospels not claim to be eyewitness accounts, not only is there evidence against such an idea (Matthew and Luke wouldn’t copy parts of Mark verbatim if they were eyewitnesses), but the evidence eyewitness tradition very weak (see link above).
  • Four different accounts in our Chinese documents give plausible independent attestation. The four gospels are not independent (the three synoptics rehash similar material).
  • There are no internal contradictions between the four accounts, nothing is unclear, and the message is unambiguous. Contrast that with the gospels, which disagree with each other and the rest of the Bible on such fundamental issues as whether or not salvation comes exclusively from faith, how long Jesus remained on earth after the resurrection, whether the resurrected Jesus had a spirit body or not, whether hell exists or not, and others.

Here again, the claims of our imaginary find trounce every equivalent Christian claim. But our Christian skeptic has several plausible responses.

  • These Chinese authors were lying, and they actually weren’t eyewitnesses. Maybe they even had an agenda.
  • They were confused, mistaken, or sloppy in their reporting. We can’t guarantee that an author from prescientific China recorded the facts without bias. Perhaps they were constrained by their worldview and unconsciously shoehorned what they saw to fit what they thought they ought to see.
  • We can’t prove that the claims are wrong, but so what? That’s not where the burden lies. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this story simply doesn’t have it.
  • Gosh—I dunno. It’s an impressive story, but that’s all it is. This is implausible, unrepeatable evidence that can’t overturn what modern science tells us about how the world works.

This Christian skeptic sounds just like me. These are the same objections that I’d raise. So why not show this kind of skepticism for the Christian account?

The honest Christian must avoid the fallacy of special pleading—having a tough standard of evidence for historical claims from the other guy but a lower one for his own. “But you can’t ask for videos or newspaper accounts of events 2000 years ago” is true but irrelevant. It amounts to “I can’t provide adequate evidence, so you can’t hold that against me.”

Ah, but we do.

Some Christians will point to Christianity’s popularity as evidence, but surely they can’t be saying that the number one religion must be true. Popularity doesn’t prove accuracy.

We need a consistently high bar of evidence for supernatural claims, both for foreign claims as well as those close to our heart.

If Christ has not been raised,
our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
— 1 Corinthians 15:14

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    This is precisely what you would expect a fake religion to look like. That is why it makes sense that it is a fake religion. Jesus is just not what a fake religion architect would make up. Too many hard sayings. Too many falsifiable claims.

    The biggest problem is when you move the gospel from paper to real life. When does that happen. Do the apostles make it up and write false stuff and then die for the cause so they can … they can .. well…. die.

    OK, maybe the second century Christians made up the apostles. They had this giant conspiracy of people all over the know world pretending to be successors of these apostles who never existed. Why? So they could leaders of an illegal sect and probably killed.

    You ignore the facts. Most lies are self-serving. Most lies are formed in such a way that they cannot be easily shown to be lies. Most lies are told by a very small group of people who have good communication between them. Most lies are not brilliant works of literature. Most lies are discernible by the people being lied to especially when believing the lie would endanger their lives.

    So your post shows how hard it would actually be to fool people. People can tell a fake religion.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Randy: I’ve never heard anyone argue that the Jesus story was made up. That’s certainly not my position. I think that the gospel story grew with the retelling until it was finally documented decades later in the gospels. It’s a legend, not history.

      We can all agree on plenty of examples of legends. We can’t agree on a single example of the supernatural.

      Having falsifiable claims in your religion story isn’t much of a weakness when we’re reading something from 2000 years ago, so I don’t see this as a plus for Christianity.

      • C.J. O’Brien

        I think it’s entirely possible the Jesus story was made up. A piece of evidence for that claim: the author of Matthew obviously had numerous differences in theology and outlook with the gospel of Mark. And yet he’s utterly beholden to it for the outline of his narrative. There are a lot of additions to Mark in Matthew, but there are basically no changes to the basic story after the events of the nativity. What narrative elements are new are almost entirely there to supply context for the delivery of a saying or a parable. (Or are of the type of the nativity and the guards at the tomb –obviously late, apologetic or theological elements.) If Mark was reporting on real events that others, including the author of Matthew, could have come to be informed about in other ways than by reading Mark –and to me, this is a nearly inescapable corallary of “Mark didn’t make it all up”– then why doesn’t the author of Matthew give any indication that he has other resources for the basics of what occurred? Why is he so tightly constrained by what he found in Mark? A possible answer is that there simply was no “story of Jesus” (as an itinerant Galilean rabbi rather than a cosmic savior) before the author of Mark wrote one.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          CJ:

          the author of Matthew obviously had numerous differences in theology and outlook with the gospel of Mark.

          True, but a plausible explanation was that the author of Matt. was simply documenting the (different) story that had developed within his own church community. I’ll grant that he might be the first one with many of the smaller elements, but I’m guessing that the major themes were from his church community, not his imagination.

      • Greg G

        I argue that the Jesus story was made up by Mark. He was familiar with Odysseus, Old Testament scripture, O, and Pauline theology and brilliantly combined them into a narrative. Robert M. Price (The Christ Myth and Its Problems) has collected the work of various scholars that have found the roots of Mark in the Old Testament and Greek literature.

        The Epistles talk alot about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection but never give any details. They never tell about Jesus’ life or teachings. Some of them are alleged to have been written by his companions but they don’t offer a single anecdote. They seem to think Jesus had been crucified long before their time.

        Mark set the Jesus story to Antebellum Jerusalem, far enough back in time so as to be unfalsifiable in his time but just about the time the suffering Messiah idea arose. Someone else may have attributed some Wisdom sayings to the Epistle’s Jesus. Mark didn’t have a copy of Q but wrote from memory about taking up one’s cross. Matthew and Luke copied Mark’s version of the verse but they also copied the harsher Q version which are closer to the Gospel of Thomas version.

        Matthew and Luke made a few changes to Mark that appear to be for theological purposes and added Q. Luke borrowed from Josephus for verisimilitude. John also used Mark’s material but either omitted the passage where Mark used the omniscient narrator mode or he inserted the unnamed apostle that Jesus loved.

        The parts of the Bible where we should find reliable details about Jesus’ life, we get no details. The places we find details about Jesus, they seem to be from already 500 year-old literature.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Greg:

          The Epistles talk alot about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection but never give any details.

          Yes, this is a fascinating topic. I have on my list to do a post on what we know of Paul’s view of Jesus. He had the big one–that he rose from the dead after 3 days–but there’s not much more.

          If you know of any short summaries of this question, please point me to them.

        • Greg G

          Bob,
          I think this page might be what you are looking for about 60% of the way down. That is Earl Doherty on it.

          I would also suggest chapters 4 & 5 of Who Wrote the New Testament by Burton Mack. Mack is not a Jesus mythicist but he talks of Paul’s Christ Myth. He shows how Paul started with how Christ provided “the freedom from the law” for the Jews. He seems to combine the idea of Jewish resurrection with Greek immortality. When he writes to the thoroughly Greek Corinthians who really responded to the message of “freedom from the law”, he had to put the brakes on them.

          If you get the book and plan to read the gospel chapters, I suggest you start with Mack’s Q: The Lost Gospel. Mack believes the first layer of Q came from Jesus but it seems to me that it could have come from non-Christian sources just as easily. Even if it did come from someone named Jesus, it wasn’t the one written about in the Epistles. I agreed with him, though, when I read both books earlier this year.

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        The trouble with the legend theory is you have to have later Christian leaders make stuff up. They have to say Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the gospels. They would have to lie. So they would know that Christianity is false. Then they would have to get a church that had spread far and wide to believe their lie. They would have to do this all without leaving any written evidence of their conspiracy.

        Then you would have to explain how this church actually spread far and wide. You have reduced the gospel to a simple story about a nice guy getting executed by the Romans. Guess what? Nobody would join that church. Not Peter, not Paul, not anyone. Why give up being a fisherman or a pharisee to follow a guy who is dead, who never did anything supernatural, who never claimed anything supernatural.

        Your legend theory just does not fit the data. It is not possible. It is more likely that aliens came down and zapped the brains of the apostles.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Randy:

          Then you would have to explain how this church actually spread far and wide. You have reduced the gospel to a simple story about a nice guy getting executed by the Romans. Guess what? Nobody would join that church.

          Huh? The tenets of Christianity as expressed in the gospels are so empty that it can’t attract any adherents? I think you need to relook at the popularity polls.

          The gospel story is full of cool stuff. Legendary accretion put it there, IMO.

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          Becoming a Christian was a huge risk. It was made illegal already in the time of Nero. People like Oprah might attract adherents with an empty message. But death kind of ends that. Her death would end a lot of it. Then when they start killing her adherents you would find the lack of content would be an issue. In fact, a lack of content would beg the question why anyone would bother persecute them.

          So you attempts at parallels are huge failures. If you are trying to show Jesus has no parallel you are doing a good job.

          The legend talk is the same way. I have read some legends. I have read the bible. I just don’t see them as being similar at all. It is like saying poetry and laundry lists are the same thing because neither of them are prose.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Randy:

          Becoming a Christian was a huge risk. It was made illegal already in the time of Nero.

          So … therefore it must be true?

          If I showed you someone else who took a risk by adopting a religion, would you conclude anything about the truthfulness of that religion?

          We’re talking about people who hear about the religion second hand. They didn’t see Jesus before and after his resurrection; they heard about it.

          The legend talk is the same way. I have read some legends. I have read the bible. I just don’t see them as being similar at all.

          That’s the challenge–you can’t say, “Well, some say legend, others not. Doesn’t seem legendary to me.” You must show an overwhelming tsunami of evidence that legend is an impossible explanation, simply because legend/myth is such a likely one. We know it happens (Gilgamesh, Merlin, John Henry), and the gospel story is screaming to be put into that bin. “Meh–I’m not compelled by the legend hypothesis” isn’t much of an argument against putting it there.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          The internal evidence of the gospels gives us probable evidence of a historical kernel.

          OK. That’s possible.

        • Greg G

          I agree with you that the legend theory of a first century Jesus doesn’t work. The Epistles are all about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus but they have no details about it. They have no details about the teachings, sayings or deeds of a first century Jesus.

          The Jews thought God had promised they would always have a king. After they were controlled by one nation after another despite following all the laws, they began to read a Messiah into the scriptures. After waiting and waiting for the Messiah for generations, some began to read a suffering Messiah who had already been crucified and resurrected in the undefined past who would come and resurrect the believers and create a kingdom of God on Earth. You can read about their beliefs in the Epistles of the New Testament. This religion proved to be popular in the early and middle of the first century.

          After the destruction of Jerusalem, Mark and his group began to read into the Epistles that there was a Jesus in the first century. He made up a story to account for him based on Old Testament stories and Greek literature. Matthew, Luke, and John were in groups that adopted Mark’s story. That made a better story so it replaced the apostle’s message.

      • Jason

        Bob, I agree with the overall point you are making in the post, but I also think Randy is right about one thing. Your hypothetical examples are too perfect. Historical documents from the ancient world never look like that and if we found some that did, they would be suspect. Even if two different people were eyewitnesses and recorded an event, unless they sat down together and checked their accounts off each other, there would inevitably be minor discrepancies. This is just human nature in a world without cameras and video recorders. Of course the differences between them certainly don’t prove Christian religious claims. But they do suggest to me that our Gospels are variations with legendary accretions on some original historical kernel.

        • Greg G

          But they do suggest to me that our Gospels are variations with legendary accretions on some original historical kernel.

          Where is that kernel? I thought that way until earlier this year.

          The Epistles talk a great deal about the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection but give no details. How could they not have details if it had happened recently? They are bereft of anything about Jesus’ life. Not even an anecdote in the epistles that are allegedly written by his companions. The Christ story came before the first century Jesus story. Most of Mark comes from the OT stories of Moses, Elijah and Elisha plus Greek literature such as the Odyssey. The other gospels are based on Mark and add more OT material. Luke also uses Josephus as a source and a muse. John contains more Greek literature.

        • Jason

          Just to be clear, I believe the nature of the gospels (their parallels and disagreements taken as a whole) suggests a historical kernel, not proves one beyond doubt.

          Greg said:
          “The Epistles talk a great deal about the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection but give no details. How could they not have details if it had happened recently?”

          Yes, I am very aware of that. The only thing this difference shows is that Paul was totally disconnected from the communities that were writing gospels like Mark. I think Paul largely invented Christian soteriology based on his own reflections about what he had heard about the death and resurrection of Jesus. He either didn’t know the gospels or just had his own agenda and didn’t care. Later Christians imposed Paul’s soteriology on the gospels.

          The problem with your argument can be seen if we reverse the question. If Paul’s letters were written before the gospels, why don’t the gospels refer to Paul (or make clear references to his letters)? Well, they just don’t. In fact, the theological/soteriological messages about Jesus are not even the same in the gospels as in Paul. So just because some people were telling stories about Jesus that Paul didn’t use in is letters doesn’t mean that those stories were non-existent when Paul wrote. It goes both ways. The gospels don’t mention Paul and Paul doesn’t mention the gospels. Based on your theory of analysis, this should be impossible.

          “The Christ story came before the first century Jesus story. ”

          Well, sort of. Paul’s letters (containing his christology) were written before the versions of the gospels we have. As most scholars accept, the evidence in the gospels actually suggests earlier oral transmission and and no longer extant texts like Q. In other words, the weird and often conflicting content of the gospels actually helps us show that there were earlier stories (written and/or oral) that likely go back at least as early as Paul. The evidence for this is not definite but it is MUCH more certain and MUCH more substantial than any evidence of Greek literature being the foundational basis for the Jesus stories.

          “Most of Mark comes from the OT stories of Moses, Elijah and Elisha plus Greek literature such as the Odyssey. The other gospels are based on Mark and add more OT material. Luke also uses Josephus as a source and a muse. John contains more Greek literature.”

          There’s no doubt that the gospel writers were reading and quoting the OT. But just because they tried to make Jesus the fulfillment of OT prophecy doesn’t mean that the Jesus story was made up based on the OT. I think the presence of Greek literature in the NT is much more controversial than you realize. I’m a classicist by trade and am very suspicious of these claims. It stands to reason that there could be some influence since whoever wrote Mark in the form we have it must have known Greek. The clearest ref to Greek lit in the NT that I can think of at the moment is the reference to Aratus’ Phaenomena in Paul’s speech in Athens in the book of Acts. I will admit that I am not familiar with all the evidence that people have put forward for the connection between Mark and the Odyssey, but I don’t see how there could be enough of it to prove the kind of dependence you are talking about. Greg, if you will respond with whatever you think is the best single piece of evidence that Mark was using the Odyssey to create the Jesus story, I will be happy to consider it in detail.

          Also, keep in mind that all “non-fiction” writing in the ancient world was more literary and formalized than we think of today. Even biographers like Plutarch or historians like Herodotus or Thucydides used standardized motifs and literary themes to help them shape their historical narratives based on historical events. So if someone was influenced by a theme in Greek lit/myth as they reshaped the story of Jesus, that’s not all that surprising. Yes, it does prove that Christianity is ridiculous for being based on a bunch of ancient legends shaped by literary themes, but no, it doesn’t prove that the story was lifted wholesale from other literature. It certainly doesn’t even almost prove that there is not a historical kernel.

          There are only so many themes and myths and many of them overlap. For example, just because there is one myth in Egypt of a god who dies and comes back to life doesn’t mean every myth after that about a god coming back to life was based on it. If you start trying to connect the dots too loosely between themes in ancient texts, you will find that you can create any theory you want. The connections have to be grounded in clear verbal parallels to have any kind of reasonable hypothesis.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          The clearest ref to Greek lit in the NT that I can think of at the moment is the reference to Aratus’ Phaenomena in Paul’s speech in Athens in the book of Acts.

          I’ve heard Bob Price mention “The Bacchae” by Euripides. He says that you can find parallels to Dionysus/Pentheus in the NT (Phil. 16 and Acts 9).

          I’m just passing this along; I haven’t studied this issue. Have you heard this one?

          It certainly doesn’t even almost prove that there is not a historical kernel.

          Right, and I think that’s the point. It’s not that anyone can prove that there was no historical kernel; it’s that there being no historical kernel is plausible.

          There are only so many themes and myths and many of them overlap. For example, just because there is one myth in Egypt of a god who dies and comes back to life doesn’t mean every myth after that about a god coming back to life was based on it.

          But the existence of those parallels does undercut the claim that the Jesus resurrection was history, right?

        • Jason

          I think the post I just left to Bob addresses some of the issues you mentioned. But let me respond to one thing.

          “But the existence of those parallels does undercut the claim that the Jesus resurrection was history, right?”

          Loose parallels don’t mean anything. They can be accidental so it depends on the amount of evidence. Again, I always look for clear verbal parallels in the text. My own philological work is very empirical and I avoid making claims I can’t prove by pointing to clear evidence in the text. I hope you can see that this is a higher standard of evidence not a lower one.

          If there are clear verbal parallels between the story of Jesus and say, Eurpides’ Bacchae, what that proves is that Christians are %100 wrong to claim that the Jesus stories in the gospels are totally unique and based completely on historical events. That’s pretty clear and I agree with you and Bob on that.

          But you don’t want to start poking holes in probable historical arguments and then opting for weaker theories. Consider what fundamentalist Christians say about evolution. They take a probable scientific theory with a lot of evidence and look for places where we don’t understand evolution completely or are missing some fossil link, etc, and then on the basis of that lack of evidence they claim that the whole theory is a fraud. Then they propose a less likely theory like creationism based on even less evidence. Similarly, there is a danger of poking holes in lot of persuasive positive evidence about the historical Jesus and then opting for some less likely myth theory based on a bunch of loose thematic parallels with Greek literature.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          Historical documents from the ancient world never look like that and if we found some that did, they would be suspect.

          But then you’re arguing that to make a story more believable you must reduce the factors that historians demand that make it believable. Does that make any sense?

          Anyway, my Chinese example is quite possible. Granted, it’s a lot to demand of documents, but there’s no reason why that cache of documents is impossible.

          there would inevitably be minor discrepancies.

          Granted, but the rather glaring differences between the gospel accounts points, again, to legend.

          This is just human nature in a world without cameras and video recorders.

          I doubt you’re saying this, but “Hey, cut me some slack–we didn’t have video recorders back then!” is completely unconvincing. The incredible claims in the gospels must have huge evidence. If such evidence is simply impossible because of the time gap, fine. Don’t make the claim then. No reasonable person will lower his standard of evidence simply because good evidence would be hard or even impossible to find.

          What do we do with the guy who says, “Ya gotta believe me! I was abducted by space aliens!” but who has absolutely no evidence besides his tale? We take it as an interesting data point, but we certainly don’t conclude from this that human-abducting space aliens exist.

          they do suggest to me that our Gospels are variations with legendary accretions on some original historical kernel.

          You can make that argument, but the opposite argument–that this is all just paint, and when you chip away all the paint, you’ll find nothing underneath.

          Keep in mind that even if we had the Greek originals (even the claim that we can recreate them is far fetched IMO), we still have a long way to go to find the original Hebrew/Aramaic Jesus story. What legendary bits were tacked on because of this Greek filter? What would the Jesus story have looked like if, instead of Hebrew/Aramaic to Greek, it had been to Chinese? Or Celtic? Or Mayan? What cultural baggage would those translations have made?

        • Jason

          Bob, I agree that there is very little that we can know for certain about Jesus. Most of what we can glean from the gospels helps us know what type of person he probably was (i.e. a poor illiterate messianic prophet in the mold of John the Baptist or members of the community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls) rather than details about who he specifically was as an individual or exactly how and when he was crucified, etc.

          Your comment about “giving me some slack because they didn’t have video cameras” would be appropriate if I were a Christian trying to convert you. But I’m NOT. If you’re going to study the ancient world and construct a probable theory, you have to have reasonable expectations about the type of evidence you can find.

          Bob, I think the problem is that in your zeal to poke holes in Christian religious claims you’ve started making positive claims based on negative evidence (e.g. because there is not a video of Alexander the Great fighting an elephant, it must never have happened). You need to distinguish between
          1) poking holes in someone’s theory to show that it is not definitely true and 2) using positive evidence to construct probable theories. The internal evidence of the gospels gives us probable evidence of a historical kernel. The fact that you can poke holes in the gospel account of Jesus is sufficient to disprove Christianity. It does not disprove probable theories based on other positive evidence.

        • Greg G

          Jason,

          Thanks for your reply.

          Paul insists that what he knows he received from the Lord. Most of these revelations can be found in the OT, so he probably got it from reading. For example, 1 Corinthians 11:23 came from Psalm 41:9. I have seen Christian writers claim that Mark’s theology is closer to Paul’s than any other gospel.

          Mark probably worked from memory rather than copying from texts in front of him so he may have expanded on what he recalled from 1 Corinthians 11 in Mark 14:22. Another example of Mark working from memory is the verse about taking up one’s cross from Q. Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23 copied Mark 8:34 nearly verbatim but Matthew 10:38 and Luke 14:26-27 are more similar to Saying 55 in the Gospel of Thomas. They probably all used the same source but Matthew and Luke didn’t recognize Mark’s “nicer” version as being the same.

          It seems to me that to an educated Greek reader would recognize the Odyssey in Mark as well as we can recognize it in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It’s even easier once they;ve been pointed out to you. My favorite is the “Legion” story because of what fell into my lap when I investigated deeper.

          In Mark 5, Jesus sails to a place where he meets a powerful man, just as Odysseus did when he met the Cyclops. Jesus sends the demons into pigs that run into the sea. Circe had changed some of Odysseus’ men into pigs earlier but here his men escape to the sea from the blinded Cyclops by holding on to the bottom of sheep as the Cyclops felt the top of the sheep as they ran by. What caught my eye was the name of the Cyclops – Polyphemus. They prefix of the name reminded me of the “for we are many” phrase. It turns out that “Polyphemus” means “much talked about” or “talked about by many”. The Greek word translated as “many” is “polys”. “Legion” is a Latin word for many soldiers, the exact amount varied. However, it is also similar to the Greek word “lego” which is used just before the words translated as “my name”. Mark is leaving many clues that the demon-haunted man is Polyphemus.

          In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha feeds 100 men with a few loaves of bread. In Mark 6, Jesus feeds 5000 and in Mark 8, Jesus feeds 4000. Why two feasts? Because Odysseus’ son attended two feasts. Each walked to one and sailed to one. Odysseus’ son attended one feast with 5000 people and another with nine groups of 500. Mark may have rounded off because he was working from memory of the Odyssey. Jesus and the apostles use similar words to various Odyssey characters as well.

          Robert M. Price’s The Christ Myth and Its Problems combines the works of several scholars who have traced Mark verses to their OT roots plus MacDonald’s ideas on The Odyssey. It covers nearly every passage from Mark. There’s not much left that could come from history.

        • Greg G

          Jason,

          You can find Richard Carrier’s Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by Dennis MacDonald.

        • Greg G.

          Here’s an example of Mark using Pauline theology and attributing it to Jesus which proves it is not a kernel that goes back a historical Jesus.

          In Galatians 2, Peter is not eating kosher until a couple of James’ messengers arrive. Peter stops eating with the Gentiles and begins to eat with the Jerusalem Jews. He couldn’t convince them that what happens in Antioch, stays in Antioch, which goes to show that James’ power reached into Syria.

          Paul got into Peter’s face about it, arguing that Christians were not under the law so he should still eat with the Gentiles. Paul doesn’t give Peter’s argument nor does he claim that he won the argument but he wasn’t persuaded by Peter, either. Paul does tell us that his long-time companion, Barnabas, was led astray and went with Peter.

          In Mark 7, the Pharisees challenged Jesus because his disciples were not observing the kosher cleanliness laws. Jesus says that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a man, not what goes in.

          If this was an oral tradition that went back to Jesus, why did Peter argue with Paul? He should have agreed whole-heartedly and so would James.

          Mark may have heard the Galatians letter a few times and got the gist of it, but didn’t recall the whole passage with the reasoning when he applied the message to Jesus.

          Also, consider Bartimaeus, the blind man healed by Jesus in Mark 10. Mark teaches his readers that “bar” means “son of”. Timaeus was in Plato’s writings where he describes the physical world in a dialogue with Socrates. His son leaps up (Isaiah 35:6 or Psalm 18:33) to follow Jesus instead of his father.

          I think Matthew recognized the Greek elements here and in the Legion story so he wrote them out by doubling the miracles and omitting their Greek names.

        • Jason

          Greg,

          I looked briefly at Carrier’s review and it is clearly very enthusiastic of MacDonald’s ideas and agrees with you that we can all safely conclude now that Mark is totally based on the Odyssey. But please note that Carrier is NOT an academic or biblical scholar and he does NOT reflect the consensus view of scholars (as Atheists so often emphasize the importance of when it helps them make arguments against Christianity!). I came across a review I think you should look at because it is very fair and balanced but lays out some serious reasons for doubting MacDonald’s claims and methodologies. See Margaret M. Mitchell, “Homer in the New Testament” Journal of Religion 83 (2003). Mitchell is a professor at the University of Chicago and in more sophisticated terms basically says what I was trying to say about the dangers of finding loose thematic connections when they are not there. You will need to examine the evidence yourself, but here are a few quotes in case you have trouble finding the article (you may have to have access to academic databases like JSTOR, but I’m happy to email it to you through Bob or something if you want):

          “MacDonald’s efforts to question the consensus and call for more investigation into the possible impact of Homeric epic and lore even within the New Testament itself are salutary and worthy of attention, further engagement, and refinement. But his own reading of Mark, while ingenious…is, for several interrelated reasons, ultimately unconvincing as a recreation of historical authorial intent” (251-252).

          “Second, many of MacDonald’s interpretations of particular passages are forced or contorted, rendered on the basis of inconsistent application of interpretive principles. When available, the evidentiary value of exact verbal parallels is trumpeted; when not, it is downplayed or dis-
          missed (as in the complaint against “philological fundamentalists” [p. 7]). Sometimes MacDonald pays strict attention to the order of sentences or episodes in each document, but at other times he freely rearranges, either by reversing passages or juxtaposing them without attention to the intervening material, to create a paraphrase that fits the Markan pericopae” (Mitchelle 252)

          “Third, the overall argument is based on unconvincing and unexamined
          assumptions about ancient authorial practice and procedures. In fact, it is very hard to imagine what authorial gymnastics, both physical and literary, would have been required to construct the intricate parallels MacDonald has spread forth here” (Mitchelle 254).

          Greg, hopefully you get the idea of her criticism of MacDonald. She does give many specific examples, so don’t take my or her word for it. I took the time to hunt this down and post it because it matters to me that Atheists don’t make the same mistakes fundamentalist religious zealots make. At the very least I just want to show you that intelligent academics with solid methodologies are finding legitimate problems with MacDonald’s work. Thanks for prompting me to look into this issue further.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          note that Carrier is NOT an academic or biblical scholar

          He’s a historian, so that gives him substantial credibility when talking about history.

          and he does NOT reflect the consensus view of scholars (as Atheists so often emphasize the importance of when it helps them make arguments against Christianity!).

          Atheists talk about the importance of a consensus when it’s possible to have one–like in science or history. In religion, there is no consensus. Christian scholars and Muslim scholars and Bahai scholars disagree, because faith intrudes.

          But on the main topic of your comment, I appreciate your giving us another viewpoint.

        • Jason

          “Atheists talk about the importance of a consensus when it’s possible to have one–like in science or history. In religion, there is no consensus. Christian scholars and Muslim scholars and Bahai scholars disagree, because faith intrudes.”

          Bob,
          You’re not making any sense. This is a historical/literary question that I am responding to (i.e. whether the gospel Mark was modeled on the Odyssey). So, yes, consensus matters and whether or not someone understands philological/literary questions also matters. Please be careful about throwing your pre-packaged anti-religion claims into discussions where they are irrelevant.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          be careful about throwing your pre-packaged anti-religion claims into discussions where they are irrelevant.

          Did I misunderstand your earlier point? You said, “Carrier is NOT an academic or biblical scholar and he does NOT reflect the consensus view of scholars (as Atheists so often emphasize the importance of when it helps them make arguments against Christianity!).”

          Your point, as I understood it, was that atheists are quick to point to the scholarly consensus, and if they’re consistent, they must acknowledge that the sainted Dr. Carrier is against the scholarly consensus. I was challenging this point.

          I wasn’t responding to your very different point about the Odyssey vs. Mark.

        • Jason

          Bob said:
          “Did I misunderstand your earlier point … Your point, as I understood it, was that atheists are quick to point to the scholarly consensus, and if they’re consistent, they must acknowledge that the sainted Dr. Carrier is against the scholarly consensus. I was challenging this point.”

          So you’re arguing that Carrier DOES reflect the scholarly consensus on the question of the relationship between Mark and the Odyssey? I’m sorry but that’s just not true. I’m confused because if you say your interested in scholarly consensus as a measure of accuracy, it seems like you might be interested to learn that there aren’t many scholars who embrace MacDonald’s claims. Instead of being interested in that, you try to undermine my point by making an irrelevant claim–namely, that consensus doesn’t apply to religious beliefs and that Carrier’s non-consensus views are acceptable since he has a degree in history.

          As far as I understand, Carrier is first and foremost an activist for Atheism. Yes, he has a PhD, but so do many “scientists” affiliated with the Creation Museum. I’m simply trying to point out that Carrier may stand outside of the academic circles in which a consensus is formed.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          So you’re arguing that Carrier DOES reflect the scholarly consensus on the question of the relationship between Mark and the Odyssey?

          Nope. I made clear what my point is in that last comment.

          you try to undermine my point by making an irrelevant claim

          Honestly, this isn’t hard. You said: “[Carrier] does NOT reflect the consensus view of scholars (as Atheists so often emphasize the importance of when it helps them make arguments against Christianity!).”

          See that bolded part? I disagree with that. And I told you why, 2 comments ago. That’s what I’m talking about. No, I don’t think that responding to what you said is an “irrelevant claim.”

          Yes, [Carrier] has a PhD, but so do many “scientists” affiliated with the Creation Museum.

          Do I have to explain the difference? Carrier has a relevant PhD (he’s a historian talking about history) while that’s not the case for almost all Creationists with doctorates–you have medical doctors or physics PhDs telling us that biology is flawed, for example.

        • Jason

          Bob,

          I had one simple point to start with: PhD or not, Carrier’s views on the origin of the Gospel Mark do not reflect mainstream academic consensus. Since Greg cited Carrier’s web review published on his Atheist website, I thought it was important to show a review with very different views that was actually published in a mainstream academic website.

          I see now that you were mainly asserting that Carrier has credibility with ancient texts in general because he has a relevant degree (in history). So here’s my response to that: Having a PhD (even in a relevant field) only means that people should at least listen to you and give you tentative credibility. Ultimately, consensus and evidence are what matter. Below is a link to the Creation Museum where they list 800 scientists with PhD’s. Their fields range from biochemistry to physics. So according to you, Bob, these people have as much credibility about physical science and evolution as Carrier does about historical texts.

          800 Scientists with (relevant) PhD’s who Reject Evolution
          http://www.creationsd.org/creation-scientists.html

          Bob, you seem to think that creationists can’t find people with PhD’s in relevant fields. Clearly that’s not true.

          What bothers me is that you are willing to defend the general credibility of an Atheists activist even when he does not support a consensus view, but you have no problem condemning creationist scientists for going against consensus views. That’s a contradiction.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          I had one simple point to start with: PhD or not, Carrier’s views on the origin of the Gospel Mark do not reflect mainstream academic consensus.

          That’s an important point to make, and I agree with it. But you also made a side point, to which I commented, and that seems to have caused much confusion.

          Below is a link to the Creation Museum where they list 800 scientists with PhD’s.

          Words cannot express how uninteresting this is to me, or should be to you. What I want to see is the scientists operating within their field of expertise as they argue for Creationism. A physicist arguing against the scientific consensus within biology–a field in which he isn’t qualified to evaluate the evidence–is laughably irrelevant.

          800 Scientists with (relevant) PhD’s who Reject Evolution

          Let’s pull out just the ones with relevant degrees and vet them. Then we’ll have a relevant list of experts.

          What bothers me is that you are willing to defend the general credibility of an Atheists activist even when he does not support a consensus view, but you have no problem condemning creationist scientists for going against consensus views.

          I hesitate to mention this, but this is the point I was responding to several posts ago. Carrier, a historian, operating within history, is very different from a physicist (say) operating within biology. But if this will get us into a long tangent (again), best forget that I mentioned this!

        • Jason

          “Words cannot express how uninteresting this is to me, or should be to you. What I want to see is the scientists operating within their field of expertise as they argue for Creationism.”

          I have no idea what you mean by “operating within their field.” It sounds to me like you are trying to back off your original claim by splitting hairs. Anyone can publish a book on a topic that matches their PhD and then in some technical sense be said to operate in their field. Again, the reason I posted the review by M. Michele is precisely because she operates within the mainstream of her field and writes for mainstream journals. Surely you see a difference between operating in your field using your field’s neutral outlets and any type of activist website (atheist or evangelical).

          Also, I’m not sure why you’re trying to remind me that physics isn’t the most relevant field for evolution. The scientists on the list from the creation museum include many biologists, chemists, and geologists; and evolution involves multiple scientific disciplines. Out of all 800 scientists on that list, I’ll bet some of them have even written books or given professional talks in support of creationism. To be sure, they’re probably not in mainstream academic journals–but hey, that was my whole point. The review from Carrier was posted on an atheist activist site, not a mainstream academic journal.

          And by the way, history is NOT philology. The questions we were discussing about Mark and the Odyssey are primarily philological questions. I’m not primarily a NT scholar, but Greek philology is my field. Carrier may be smarter than me, but based on your claims, you should trust me more than him because my PhD is more relevant. Just saying…

          We don’t have to keep talking about this, Bob, but I have to add one more thing that I just discovered. I do apologize since it is from Wikipedia. Describing criticism of Carrier, it says:

          “All in all, Carrier has attracted a great deal of criticism and attention, while publishing very little through what might be called ‘normal’ scholarly channels. His admirers, including on Wikipedia, claim that this is the result of antipathy towards or fear of his views by religious people, especially Christians” (Wikipedia “Richard Carrier”).

          Isn’t it amazing that his followers say he avoids normal academic journals because of Christian prejudice! I have heard the exact opposite from creationists (e.g. “We can’t get published in normal academic journals because the secular academy is against us!”). Atheists AND creationists who make excuses like that are more interested in activism than accuracy and consensus.

          Come on, Bob…seriously?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          We’re talking past each other quite a bit here.

          Anyone can publish a book on a topic that matches their PhD and then in some technical sense be said to operate in their field.

          Not much to ask for, is it?

          the reason I posted the review by M. Michele

          How many times must we go over this? We don’t have any issue with Carrier vs. Mitchell vs. the historical consensus.

          Also, I’m not sure why you’re trying to remind me that physics isn’t the most relevant field for evolution.

          Huh? Because the Creationist lists like to have physicists critique biology.

          Isn’t it amazing that his followers say he avoids normal academic journals because of Christian prejudice!

          I’d’ve thought that he focuses on popular writing because it’s more lucrative, but I have nothing more than speculation here.

    • Blessed Jim

      Randy,
      I’m having a hard time deciding if you are defending christianity or attacking it. Let me analyze one of your paragraphs:
      ‘You ignore the facts. Most lies are self-serving.’ The Gospels ARE self serving. Their sole intention is to prove Jesus is the Messiah fulfiling Jewish prophecy. There is no back and forth philosophical debate, and no analysis of potential disproofs of Jesus such as one would find in a scholarly or scientific paper.

      ‘Most lies are formed in such a way that they cannot be easily shown to be lies.’ The miracles and stories of the Gospels are unverifiable. You cannot prove if they are truth or lies. NONE of the hundreds of claims in the Gospels stories can be checked for veracity. That is pretty suspicious by itself. But in addition, because many christians claim the bible is literal and inerrant, then contradictions in the accounts lend credence to the Gospels being literally false.

      ‘ Most lies are told by a very small group of people who have good communication between them.’ The four Gospels apparently come from a small group of people working mostly from two manuscripts. Also, the Gospels we see in the Bible are just the stories that were approved by a small group of religious leaders. Many stories of the times of Jesus were suppressed as heretical so that the Roman Catholic church could consolidate theological control. Then on top of that the Protestants come along and throw out several books from the Catholic Bible. Say what? You modify a perfect, unchanging book? To make it more perfect?

      ‘ Most lies are not brilliant works of literature.’ Hhhmmm. The Odyssey is certainly equal or superior to the Gospels as a literary story. Does that make it true? The Greek Gods are just as real as Jesus?

      ‘ Most lies are discernible by the people being lied to especially when believing the lie would endanger their lives.’ That is just plain nonsense. The whole aim of religious leaders is to so incite the emotions of the faithful that they would gladly die for their religion. Consider the followers of Jim Jones or David Koresh or the 9/11 suicide bombers.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    Or… the Christian can say that this is within the realm of believable and seek further information. Remember: Christianity does not preclude the possibility that God works outside the Church (Paul was not a Christian on the road to Damascus) or that non-God supernatural entities could be functioning elsewhere (false gods were often equated with demons).

    I would be inclined to disbelieve the example of the golden lawn furniture for two reasons. 1. What appraiser has $5.9 million to spend at a given moment? 2. The narrative of the story does not follow the typical mystical narrative (if for no other reason than the money provided was almost grotesque). Of course, this leaves a few possibilities for the tale: 1. it is a lie, 2. it was some natural phenomenon, (perhaps he met Jésus and the $5.9 million was some gag) 3. it was some other supernatural phenomenon but not divine. Without further evidence the answer to that question is not knowable.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      IT:

      1. What appraiser has $5.9 million to spend at a given moment?

      It was a gold wholesaler, accustomed to dealing with large purchases.

      2. The narrative of the story does not follow the typical mystical narrative (if for no other reason than the money provided was almost grotesque).

      Which is more grotesquely large–$5.9M or eternal life in paradise?

      It doesn’t follow the mystical narrative because it was abbreviated to its essence. But if adding details would make it believable (I’m not sure why it would, besides adding clues to its time and place), go ahead.

      You’re right that we moderns would be quite skeptical and that many explanations would immediately come to mind. And that’s my point–since we level criticism at this claim, why not at the far weaker Christian claims?

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        @Bob

        Altering the details could very much change whether we should believe this to be of God or not. Is the $5.9 million going to save an orphanage? Or is it going to pay for a third-world general to plant land-mines in schoolyards? (Know a tree by its fruits, etc.)

        Which is more grotesquely large–$5.9M or eternal life in paradise?

        The money. Heaven is never grotesque :-). Seriously though, I do not know of any of the affirmed miracles which directly resulted in any notable monetary wealth for the beneficiary. There have been several where money was provided to charities, and there are some which resulted in several days’ provisions left over, but none which have left a man so that he no longer had to work.

        You’re right that we moderns would be quite skeptical and that many explanations would immediately come to mind.

        I think that paragraph is addressed to someone else?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Altering the details could very much change whether we should believe this to be of God or not.

          Then alter the details. Rework it to make it a claim that, if you were hit with it (and didn’t know where it came from) you’d believe it.

          I do not know of any of the affirmed miracles which directly resulted in any notable monetary wealth for the beneficiary

          God works in mysterious ways, my friend. It happened. You gonna critique the actions of Jesus? If he wants to bless me, I’m not going to complain.

          (But again, modify the story as you see fit.)

          I think that paragraph is addressed to someone else?

          I was referring to your points 1-3 at the end.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          (But again, modify the story as you see fit.)

          If I trust the person, or the person has the testimony of someone who I trust, I would be inclined to believe it probable without much questioning (actually, at one point I was confronted with the question: “given that a person you trust claims a miracle which you believe unlikely, which would you choose: change your belief in the miracle or change your trust in the person?” I chose trust). That is, unless I had compelling and clear reason to doubt the nature of the event.

          I trust the Church Fathers, they trusted the Apostles (I’d put the Apostles first, but I admit that there are more records of the teachings of the Church Fathers than there are of the Apostles).

          In the case of the hypothetical Chinese documents, I would say it would depend on what, exactly, was in them and what effect they had. Part of the reason that I am a Catholic is that it handles the philosophical questions phenomenally well and comprehensively. Do these documents lead to a similar end? Is their philosophy self-sustaining? If so, why did the cult of Seidensticker die? If they really were supernaturally guided (by either side), why are there no members still?

          You’re right that we moderns would be quite skeptical and that many explanations would immediately come to mind.

          As a religious person, there are a series of questions which come to mind:
          1) Is it of natural or supernatural origin?
          No) Is it a mistake?
          No.Yes) It’s a mistake
          No.No) Was the testimony purposefully wrong?
          No.No.Yes) It is a lie.
          No.No.No) Is the person mentally well?
          No.No.No.No) The person is mentally ill. Suggest a doctor.
          No.No.No.Yes) This is probably supernatural.
          Yes) Is it of divine origin?
          Yes.Yes) It is a miracle
          Yes.No) It is an evil act

          The only explanations a skeptic might provide would simply remove the possibility of supernatural. In such a case the first answer must be “No”, and “No.No.No.Yes.” would translate to “No.Yes”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          If I trust the person, or the person has the testimony of someone who I trust, I would be inclined to believe it probable without much questioning

          That’s more than I would do since it’s so easy to imagine even trustworthy people being deluded or confused, but OK.

          But for this experiment, we must assume that the source is anonymous. We don’t have any personal connection with the author, just like we don’t have one with the authors of the gospels.

          I trust the Church Fathers, they trusted the Apostles

          And you have no reason to trust them except through writings. You didn’t know them.

          Part of the reason that I am a Catholic is that it handles the philosophical questions phenomenally well and comprehensively.

          What questions are these? I’d be surprised if the Catholic answers were any more trustworthy than those provided by these Chinese documents since they would be far, far more reliable from a historian’s standpoint.

          If so, why did the cult of Seidensticker die?

          Why do any religions die? It would be odd to claim that simply because a religion has prospered that it’s true. Similarly, it would be odd to claim that that Christianity’s success shows the hand of God because its morphing into a bazillion sects surely is due to Man, not God. Yes, our imaginary Chinese cult died, but then God(s) works in strange ways. Who are we to decide? God didn’t introduce Jesus in the Garden of Eden or at Mt. Sinai; he’s patient. Maybe he’s just waiting to try again later.

  • JohnH

    If someone were able to produce miracles on demand but taught doctrine that led to a life expectancy of about 30 with the inclusion of whatever abhorrent act one can think of then would you convert to that religion? If following it made ones life brutish, miserable, and short but one got to see constant minor miracles would you have the desire to follow it?

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    I met Jesus yesterday. At first, I didn’t believe who he was, but he turned my lawn furniture from steel into gold. I just got back from a dealer who assayed the furniture, confirmed that it was solid gold, and bought it. Over 200 pounds of gold at $1723 per ounce works out to be just under $5.9 million.
    Guess who’s a believer now!
    Would you buy this miracle story? I’m sure I’ve convinced no one, and yet, as miracle stories go, this one is pretty compelling. Compare it to the gospel story.

    It all comes down to context. If I’ve never met you before and I never meet you again, then there is little to back up what you are saying. If, however, your life changes in ways that fit your explanation, then your story will be much more credible.

    The gospel miracles did not happen in a vacuum.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      If, however, your life changes in ways that fit your explanation, then your story will be much more credible.

      In my example, that’s more information than you’re allowed. Your only source of evidence is reading it so we can compare it against the Bible. But if you want to imagine a more elaborate story that says what you said, go ahead and imagine that claim. Could this supernatural story be massaged so that you’d believe it?

      The gospel miracles did not happen in a vacuum.

      Well … that’s at least what the story says. And if you want to add that not-a-vacuum to our imaginary story, go ahead.

  • Greg G

    Your lawn furniture story should be more like old stories from the past like a golden goose. Randal Helms has shown that the miracles attributed to Jesus are like exaggerations of the miracles attributed to Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. Some of the miracles have hints from Homer’s Odyssey.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Greg: Yeah, if I added fluff, that would make it my miracle-y. But I was trying to find the most streamlined (and credible) miracle story possible. The paradox is that the fact that it beats the Christian story on every point is, I think, a liability. The Christian seems to (inadvertently) argue that obfuscating details make the gospel story more believable. That makes no sense to me.

  • Kell Brigan

    I gave up when I got to the fifteenth hypothetical. Does anybody know what this person’s actual opinion is?

  • kalimsaki

    Be certain of this, that the highest aim of creation and its most important result is belief in God. The most exalted rank in humanity and its highest degree is the knowledge of God contained within belief in God. The most radiant happiness and sweetest bounty for jinn and human beings is the love of God contained within the knowledge of God. And the purest joy for the human spirit and the sheerest delight for man’s heart is the rapture of the spirit contained within the love of God. Yes, all true happiness, pure joy, sweet bounties, and untroubled pleasure lie in knowledge of God and love of God; they cannot exist without them.
    The person who knows and loves God Almighty may receive endless bounties, happiness, lights, and mysteries. While the one who does not truly know and love him is afflicted spiritually and materially b y endless misery, pain, and fears. Even if such an impotent, miserable person owned the whole world, it would be worth nothing for him, for it would seem to him that he was living a fruitless life among the vagrant human race in a wretched world without owner or protector. Everyone may understand just how forlorn and baffled is man among the aimless human race in this bewildering fleeting world if he does not know his Owner, if he does not discover his Master. But if he does discover and know Him, he will seek refuge in His mercy and will rely on His power. The desolate world will turn into a place of recreation and pleasure, it will become a place of trade for the hereafter.

    From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.
    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#leftmenu=Risale&maincontent=Risale&islem=read&KitapId=499&BolumId=8783&KitapAd=Letters+(+revised+)&Page=262

  • Greg G

    @ Randy

    Becoming a Christian was a huge risk. It was made illegal already in the time of Nero.

    No it wasn’t. Tacitus says there was a fire in Rome and Nero blamed the Christians. Being a Christian wasn’t illegal but arson was. Nero’s henchmen probably got confessions and names of conspirators from every one of them using “advanced interrogation techniques”. Being set on fire or killed by dogs would likely be a welcome relief after the interrogation.

    Religions meeting in caves wasn’t unusual back then, not because the religions were illegal, but because they were “mystery” cults. See Ehrman’s Lost Christianities to see how diverse early Christianity was.

  • arkenaten

    Why would anyone WANT to believe a bunch of Chines crap when they they merely have to open the Bible and read how a Jewish guy could walk on water. How cool is that? ;)

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  • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

    Our first question about the lawn furniture story has to be, how was the transmutation done? All the other parts of the story are ordinary. The one part we haven’t heard before is about steel being changed into gold. What can you tell us about that (other than that it’s impossible)? If you don’t know anything about how it was done, then your story has no content. So it’s not just that I find the story hard to believe. It’s that you haven’t even told me a story. When you say, “I believe the furniture was turned into gold,” you literally don’t know what you’re talking about. And that means that you don’t even have a belief. The gist of your story is “I don’t know what happened.” That’s a report of ignorance, not belief.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      What can you tell us about [the transmutation] (other than that it’s impossible)?

      Yep, that’s the question. Just like how miracles happen is the question that Christians have no answer to (but insist that we be open-minded to).

      When you say, “I believe the furniture was turned into gold,” you literally don’t know what you’re talking about.

      According to the story, I was paid for the gold furniture by a gold expert. No one cares whether I’m an expert; the story brings one in.

      The point of this gold furniture story is that it blows away the gospel story (perhaps after a few tweaks, as discussed in the post). Are we on the same page here?

      (I was just at Yashwata yesterday, tracking down donation information for today’s post–good stuff there.)

      • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

        Sure, we’re on the same page. I agree with your point that the lawn chair story, though far from credible, is less ridiculous than the Christian resurrection claim. My point is different from but compatible with yours. “It was a miracle” boils down to “I don’t know how it happened.” Not a very inspiring testament — but more importantly, ignorance is not the same thing as belief. Therefore, you can’t say “I believe in the miracle of _____” and be making sense.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          And the bizarre thing is, to make the lawn furniture story more credible, you should blur the details. Make it earlier in time, put it before cameras, make sure no one has a personal memory of the event, and so on.

          Who could’ve imagined that removing information would make a story more believable?

        • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

          Relieved of their verifiable details, miracle stories appeal directly to the emotions. That’s why the argument over miracles usually leads to the believer saying, “You can’t tell me I don’t know that God is real. I feel it in my heart.

          To which I reply: “A feeling is not knowledge. It is not even belief.”

  • http://carnedes.blogpost.com LordGriggsSkepticGriggsyCarneadesHume

    WLC believes what unverified writers of discredited in part and uncorroborated tall tales and awful moral advice, especially concerning the Resurrection! His and Alvin Plantinga’s arguments merit gargantuan mockery!
    http://carnedes.wordpress.com

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