Oral Tradition and the Game of Telephone: A. N. Sherwin-White’s Famous Quote

WhisperThe time from the death of Jesus to the writing of the first gospel was about forty years. An exciting story being passed along orally in a world full of the supernatural seems bound to be “improved,” deliberately or inadvertently, as it moves from person to person.

While some epistles were written earlier, the details Paul gives about the life of Jesus can be summarized in one short paragraph (more here). How can we dismiss the possibility that any actual history of Jesus is lost through a decades-long game of telephone?

Christian rebuttal

Christian apologist William Lane Craig says that forty years is too short a period for legend to develop. He points to a claim made by A.N. Sherwin-White in Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (1963).

According to Sherwin-White, the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be “unbelievable.” More generations would be needed. (Source)

Craig’s summary has been quoted widely and was popularized in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (2008), and it sounds like a thorough slap down of the legend claim. However, when we see what Sherwin-White actually said, we find that Craig’s confidence is unwarranted.

(From this point forward, I’ll use “SW” to refer to historian A.N. Sherwin-White.)

SW never said “unbelievable”

Incredibly, the word “unbelievable,” which Craig puts into the mouth of SW, is not used by him in the relevant chapter in this book. If the word comes from another source, Craig doesn’t cite it. Craig also quotes the word in his essay in Jesus Under Fire (1995).

We all make mistakes, but it’s been twenty years. Where is Craig’s correction?

What did SW actually say?

From his Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament:

Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition. (RSRL, 190)

SW proposes an interesting experiment. If we can find examples in history where legend has crept into oral history and we have more reliable sources that let us compare that with what actually happened, we can measure how fast legendary material accumulates.

Notice the limitations in what SW is saying.

  • He cites several examples where historians have (tentatively) sifted truth from myth, but Herodotus is the only example used to put a rate on the loss of historic truth. This isn’t a survey of, say, a dozen random historic accounts that each validates a two-generation limit.
  • He isn’t saying that myth doesn’t accumulate, and he’s not proposing a rate at which it does. He’s writing instead about the loss of accurate history (“the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core”).
  • He is careful to use the word “suggest” above. William Lane Craig isn’t as careful and imagines an immutable law that SW clearly isn’t proposing.

What is SW’s point?

Here is more of what SW is saying.

All this suggests that, however strong the myth-forming tendency, the falsification does not automatically and absolutely prevail. (RSRL, 191)

The point of my argument is not to suggest the literal accuracy of ancient sources, secular or ecclesiastical, but to offset the extreme skepticism with which the New Testament narratives are treated in some quarters. (RSRL, 193)

Craig imagines that myth never overtakes historic truth in two generations. By contrast, SW says that myth doesn’t always overtake historic truth.

Consider Craig’s difficulty. He proposes what may be the most incredible story possible: that a supernatural being created the universe and came to earth as a human and that this was recorded in history. We have a well-populated bin labeled “Mythology” for stories like this. If Craig is to argue that, no, this one is actually history, SW’s statement is useless. “Well, myth might not have overtaken historic truth in this case” does very little to keep Craig’s religion from the Mythology bin.

More limitations in SW’s statement

  • SW gives no procedure for reliably winnowing the myth out of the history.
  • It’s been more than fifty years since his book, which is plenty of time for scholars to weigh in. If they’ve said nothing, that gives us little reason to think that SW is onto something useful. But if a consensus response has emerged, that is what we should be considering, not SW’s original proposal.
  • The examples that SW considers—Tiberius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and others—are all important public figures. Jesus was not. Legendary drift is slow when everyone experienced the impact of the figure directly and might correct a story themselves. By contrast, only a handful of people could rein in an errant Jesus story (more here).
  • SW’s examples are all secular leaders. Is Herodotus a relevant example when we’re concerned about the growth of a religious tale? Consider Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru who died in 2011 with millions of followers. Supernatural tales grew up around him in his own lifetime. (More on the growth of legends here and here.)

SW proves too much!

Craig must walk a fine line since he can’t completely reject mythological development. Myth is his enemy when it comes to the New Testament books written forty to seventy years after the death of Jesus. He must downplay myth to label these as history. But myth is his friend when it comes to the noncanonical books of the second century—the Gospel of Thomas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and so on. Here he imagines the mists of time separating the authors of those books from the actual history.

Worse, the Bible itself documents legendary accretion in just months or a few years. When Jesus asked the disciples who people said he was, “They told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets’ ” (Mark 8:27–8). According to the gospels themselves, there was legendary accretion during Jesus’s own lifetime!

This observation cuts twice. First, it argues for much quicker development of legend than Craig wants. Second, it defeats the Naysayer Hypothesis, the claim that no false statement about the gospel story would last while the eyewitnesses were alive to stamp it out. Apparently not, if Jesus himself can’t stop the flawed rumors. (h/t Robert M. Price)

And incredibly, Craig’s own quote supports the skeptics’ concern about legend creeping into the gospels! Apologists don’t read SW’s chapter directly; they prefer Craig’s quote. It’s a much better data point with which to argue that the gospels are accurate—if you can get past that small issue of it being completely inaccurate.

Sticky, not accurate, is what gets passed along. This is true for Craig as it is for the gospel story.

In the beginning, God created man in his own image. 
Man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.
— Rousseau

References: These sources provided much valuable material for this post.

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 12/30/13.)

Image credit: Jamin Gray, flickr, CC

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Greg G.

    But what if there was no history to overcome and the myth started in Hasmonean times?

    PS: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s take on why Jesus hasn’t returned yet:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/comely

    • Tommy

      This has got me thinking: Has anyone ever done a comprehensive profile on the author of the gospels, especially Mark? A kind of profile such as education, sex, class, means etc.

      • Joe

        They’re not returning their calls.

        • Tommy

          Who is not returning whose calls?

        • Joe

          The authors pf the Gospels.

      • Greg G.

        Randel Helms, Who Wrote the Gospels?
        Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament?

        Helms opines that Luke was an upperclass widow who lost a child. A similar argument is made at http://historical-jesus.info/appf.html . Both give about a dozen reasons for thinking Luke was a woman and I think there is only one overlap.

        But one can only go by what is written and the presuppositions will guide the analysis.

        • Tommy

          Here’s my analysis on the background of the author of the gospel of Mark (the first gospel). WARNING: Just my educated guesses and speculations so take with grain of salt.

          GMark was written in urban Koine Greek, a common spoken and written language in the Grecosphere in the urban centers of the Roman Empire. The level of literacy in writing a text such as the G of Mark suggests that the writer was formally educated and a member of the upper class in an empire where an average of 90% of the population was illiterate in any language.

          As you mentioned in another thread, the author of the GMark had some Aramaisms in the text, yet almost always provided the Greek translation next to it – except the name ‘Barabbas’ – the reason he left the Aramaic word untranslated was to let his readers figure out his scapegoat connection. He did not translate the Latin words in his text because he expected his readers to know Latin, and translated the Aramaic words because he did not expect his readers to know Aramaic, even though Aramaic was a literate language and was widely spoken not just in Palestine, but in today’s Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq.

          GMark’s text is filled with Latinisms, which can suggest that either the author’s native language is not Greek but Latin, or he hails from a Grecophone community where the language is heavily influenced by the Latin language and culture. The city of Rome is a good bet where the author is from since the city had a very large Greek speaking community.

          Some of noted parallels to the stories in GMark and the works of Homer, especially the Odyssey. This may reflect on the education of the writer since the Greek classics were a stable in formal education. Or it could be that the writer had access to a copy of Homer’s works from a public library or his or someone else’s private library.

          Many have noted parallels in the GMark and the other gospels with the writings of Josephus, especially Wars the historical account of 1st century Palestine and the Jewish war of 66-70 CE. If the author of GMark used Wars extensively as did the other gospel writers, this may be the case that Josephus is the primary source for the history of 1st century Palestine, which may also mean that the author is far removed in time and place from the story in which he is writing about.

          Josephus’ works were under the Emperor Vespasian’s patronage and sponsorship and thus were written to a high audience. How did the author of GMark get his hands on a copy of such a work? If Wars were written for the upper ruling classes of the Empire, then the author was also in a high place to access a copy of Josephus’ works. Where did he get it? From his private library? Someone else’s library? The Imperial Archives?

        • Greg G.

          I think the way he treated the Aramaicisms and Latinisms indicate that he expected his audience to know Latin but not so much Aramaic.

          I think Mark may have got something from Jewish Wars but I don’t recognize anything that would have been from Antiquities.

          Some of Jesus miracles are from the OT such as Elijah and Elisha stories and some may have been from Homer. But I think the spit miracles were taken from Vespasian propaganda from the temple in Egypt.

        • Tommy

          Right.

          And another thing. The author of GMark’s references to the OT, like the other New Testament works, are from the Septuagint. The author perhaps possessed a copy of the Greek Jewish bible or had access to one from a library just like all the other authors of the NT books. So, one apologetic about Luke or Matthew getting Jesus’ genealogy from ‘ancient Jewish archives’ can be adequately explained by the authors creating Jesus’ genealogy by copying names from their copy of the Septuagint at hand. The authors of GMatthew and GLuke really did get Jesus’ genealogy from ancient Jewish archives – the Greek Jewish bible! lol.

        • Greg G.

          Matthew apparently used the OT to make a list but messed up on a pair of similar names. He makes a big deal about the 14 generations, maybe because David-s name is 14 in Hebrew numerology. The first set matches the OT genealogy but there are four names missing, including 3 consecutive, from the second group. The third group only has 13 names unless he counts the Exile as one. No idea where he got names for that. Also, one king is cursed that his offspring would not prosper.

          Luke rejects that to get 77 generations with God as #1 and Jesus at #77. He obviously used the Septuagint. After the OT genealogy played out, he seems to have used variations of names from Josephus’ genealogy, which was Hasmonean.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Counting God as a generation (therefore *ahem* generated?) is presumably a problem no True Believer in Profound Calculations worries over …

      • Kevin K

        The problem lies in the fact that the authorships of the Gospels were only assigned to those individuals much-much later than the appearance of the texts.

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        Guesses abound, usually based on the guesser’s christology and not much else.

      • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

        Yes. I don’t know about Mark, but they have claimed that Matthew probably lived in Rome due to his familiarity with the area, and he likely never even visited Palestine, as he shows ignorance of the area geographically. If I recall correctly they say he may not even have been a Jew, as he’s apparently ignorant of Judaism too.

        • Tommy

          I strongly doubt that any of the gospel writers were Jews.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Why’s that? Some seem like they could have been hellenized Jews at least.

        • Tommy

          They could be, but the only reason seems to be about their references to the Old Testament – but all the writers had the Septuagint as their Old Testament sources, which you don’t have to be a Jew to read a Greek version of Jewish scriptures but just anyone with an adequate literacy in Greek.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          It could be either way then I guess.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Fair point — it isn’t even necessary for ‘Matthew’ to be Jewish, rather than a propagandist focusing on credulous Jews (and/or anyone who found the ancient-ness of, and reverence for, Hebrew scripture compelling).

  • busterggi

    “The time from the death of Jesus to the writing of the first gospel was about forty years.”

    IF you believe there was a Jesus and IF he lived at the time he supposedly did as opposed to the other Jesii who lived earlier according to Josephus.

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Josephus

    And as far as “William Lane Craig says that forty years is too short a period for legend to develop.” maybe he ought to be told that some legends develope even while the person concerned is still alive.

    http://blog.nyhistory.org/davy-crockett-almanacs/

  • Thomas Goodnow

    Another rebuttal comes through Bauckham (“Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”), where he cites Taylor who, in 1933, wrote “if the Form-Critics are right (the essential basis of the “telephone” analogy) the disciples must have been translated to heaven immediately after the Resurrection”. IOW, the argument about “40 years before the gospels were written down” argument loses much of its force if the disciples who were witnesses continued to live at least into the 70s, and had any interest and power in seeing the traditions transmitted properly.

    • Jim Jones

      Is it just me who sees these arguments as essentially identical to those of the boys who fantasize about comic book characters?

      • busterggi

        No. Real fanboys strive for continuity.

      • Thomas Goodnow

        If the analogy is apt, then we’re all in serious trouble. These are people who have earned PhD’s from some the oldest and best-funded universities in the world. If this is all just fanboy fantasy, then we’re all royally f*cked. These are the sort of people currently running the world that we both live in.

        • Kevin K

          Got news for you … we’re royally fucked.

        • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

          Yes, but they do not represent the majority of people who have earned PhD’d from the oldest and best-funded universities in the world. Surveys have shown that the majority of elite scientists and philosophers are not theists.

        • Thomas Goodnow

          I was thinking more generally: if universities can fund departments for history and New Testament studies and classics, and can be dismissed as just fan-fiction, where does that leave the physicist across the quad? What kind of a reputable person teaches at a university (or is a student there) which supports such things, if indeed they are just departments of fan-fiction?
          I appreciate that the original response wasn’t entirely serious: it’s in-group speech, intended for a knowing wink and a chuckle and let’s move on to cat videos. Sometimes, however, people seem to take it seriously, like having a PhD in New Testament studies is like having an ordination from the Church of Scientology or something. When taken seriously, it either shows that the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or, if they do, then the world is sunk much deeper into ignorance than we suspected (and these idiots are our professors and employers and parents and government officials).

        • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

          One useful to delineation to make, though it doesn’t answer all the problems in biblical studies, is that between seminaries/schools of theology and secular departments of religious studies. The former has built-in faith biases and are privately funded. WL Craig belongs to a school of theology, accredited by an association of theological schools.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          where does that leave the physicist across the quad? What kind of a
          reputable person teaches at a university (or is a student there) which
          supports such things, if indeed they are just departments of
          fan-fiction?

          Actual scientists tend to have their research supported by funding agencies like the U.S. National Science Foundation or similar. Applications for grants are competitive and peer-reviewed, as are the journal articles which support the applications. Jumping to unevidenced conclusions does not go as well when it has to make it through peer review.

        • Thomas Goodnow

          So the problems are only limited to non-hard-science departments? That doesn’t make me feel a lot better.

        • Jim Jones

          We are all royally fucked.

        • Joe

          You haven’t been watching the news recently, have you?

  • Frank G Turner

    WLC cares little about the accuracy of the facts. Give him hard evidence, e.g.: get a time machine and secretly record the events of the day, if an audit turns up nothing WLC will just “rely on faith.” He strikes me as someone for whom if reality is not as WLC proscribes then he will declare reality wrong.

    • Kevin K

      I frankly despise him. This is a man who was told to his face by the actual-and-real physicists he misquoted and misinterpreted to stop it, and yet he continues to use the same false arguments over and over again.

      He wrote a BOOK arguing against Einstein’s well-proven notions of time. A BOOK! All so he could insert “God’s Time™” into the mix.

      A more dishonest, mealy mouthed, shameless liar never existed.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Craig explicitly says that, indeed. There is no reason anyone should bother with him-he’s admitted from the outset his faith is based on his religious experience, not facts.

    • Tommy

      I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so”. WLC has admitted that if he watched Jesus’ be entombed and stood watch outside the tomb to wait for his resurrection but it never happens, he will still believe that Jesus came back from the dead because of faith. Like Mark Twain’s definition of faith, WLC will continue to believe what he knows ain’t so.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Yes, but he couches it so pleasantly in the “magisterial/ministerial” nonsense.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    How soon before that becomes Sherwin-Williams favorite shade of white?

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      My grandfather worked at that company. It always reminds me of this whenever someone brings up Sherwin-White.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    The first gospel, Mark, is assigned a terminus post quem of c. AD 70 because the Little Apocalypse (a.k.a. Olivet Discourse) is generally thought to refer to the razing of the Temple and associated calamities. But if so, it could have been written any time after AD 70. Indeed, compelling arguments have been made that the Little Apocalypse more closely resembles the draconian suppression of the Bar Kochba Revolt in AD 135.

    • busterggi

      That the same Bar Kochba that many Hebrew priests thought was the messiah because they had not seen any previous messiah candidates?

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        If you’ve seen one messiah, you’v seen them all.

        • Jim Jones

          If only that was true.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    Only in the gospels do we find details about Jesus’ life that place him in a certain time & place. We have no mention of the existence of gospels until the mid-2nd century.

    To explain this, apologists must:
    1) Assume that Paul, supposed contemporary of Jesus, who immediately following Jesus’ death persecuted His followers, either knew no details about Jesus’ life, or for unexplained reasons omitted them from his letters, and;
    2) Assume an oral tradition of Jesus’ life & exploits that only belatedly was memorialized in writing, and;
    3) Shove the production of the first gospel as hard up against the earliest time limit as possible, to limit as much as possible the already incredible duration of this oral tradition.

    A much simpler explanation is that Mark was originally written as an exegesis on an ethereal Christ belief, larded with pseudo-historical elements which were later mistaken for actual history. There was no oral tradition, no details that Paul omitted, because there was no historical info in the first place to be passed down or omitted.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      They generally do claim in regards to 1) that Paul was talking about other things, so didn’t go into great detail on Jesus. 2) seems plausible, since they may have only written it down after the end times failed to come. Of course, that leaves lots of room for legends to grow.

      • Greg G.

        In the “authentic” Pauline epistles, “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”. and “Christ Jesus” are used 300 times in about 1500 verses. If pronouns referring to Jesus are included, it’s about one mention for every third verse. Paul loved name-dropping Jesus so there is no reason he wouldn’t have told what he knew.

        Everything Paul says about Jesus can be found in the OT, he insists he did not get his knowledge from human authority but his knowledge is not inferior to the other apostles’ knowledge, and he often connects his revelation to the scriptures. That leads to the conclusion that Paul’s knowledge came from the ancient texts and he thinks the other apostles got their knowledge the same way.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Yes, that also seems plausible. I think they aren’t mutually exclusive necessarily. What you say is plausible in regards to the Epistles. The scenario I laid is plausible in regards to the Gospels. For all we know those were written by completely unconnected people.

        • Greg G.

          I see. I read your reply and Matt’s post on different days and didn’t connect the dots. I agree with what you both are saying.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          That’s okay, and thanks.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Richard Carrier had a recent blog post that showed that not only do myths come about fairly quickly, but also that Christians corrupted existing myths for their own use.

    http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12480

  • Jim Jones

    > The time from the death of Jesus to the writing of the first gospel was about forty years.

    Assuming Jesus existed (he didn’t) the supposed time was about 100 years (after the Bar Kochba revolt). Claims of earlier origins are based on laughable ‘evidence’.

    > Christian apologist William Lane Craig says that forty years is too short a period for legend to develop.

    One day is enough. Example: Cassie Bernall. And this was in our time!

    • Joe

      Craig seems to forget that if there’s motivation behind a myth, it will grow a lot faster.

      • Jim Jones

        People LOVE a good story – like the one about Fred Roger’s car being stolen.

        Great, great story. Totally not true.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Not to mention the legend of Elvin still being alive. That seems to have sprung up almost immediately upon his death.

  • Whiskyjack

    A relatively recent example of rapid legendary spread is recounted in James Hider’s “The Spiders of Allah: Travels of an Unbeliever on the Frontline of Holy War.” Relatively early on in the most recent US war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a photograph showing what appeared to be a giant camel spider was widely circulated. Within months, rumors that Allah had sent armies of giant spiders to combat the Americans were extensive among the mostly-illiterate mujaheddin. It certainly didn’t take one or two generations.

  • Taneli Huuskonen

    Knowing a couple of things about Ron Hubbard and Scientology, I never bought the naysayer hypothesis despite being a born-again Christian when I first heard about it.

  • Kevin K

    Somehow the phrase “a lie travels the world while the truth is putting on its pants” comes to mind.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      That’s why naked truth is preferable.

      • TheNuszAbides

        Aye, don’t give the spin doctors time to dress it up!

  • MesKalamDug

    An interesting case of how a legend can evolve is “El Cantar de mio Cid” which may have been written within the lifetime of some people who knew El Cid and can be contrasted with what we know of him from sober history.

  • Joe

    According to Sherwin-White, the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts.

    I still. hold out hope that giant ants once existed!

    Seriously though, do we have any evidence that this particular oral tradition existed? It’s plausible, but then wouldn’t we see evidence of Christianity in 1st Century society? Paintings, churches/temples and statuary?

    Paul could just as easily started his religion around some bare bones tales of a wandering messianic figure, or made it up out of whole cloth.

    • TheNuszAbides

      Re: giant ants, isn’t there at least slightly grounded speculation that when Earth’s oxygen content was highest, various insects could reasonably have reached greater dimensions?

      • Adam King

        It’s more than slightly grounded. There’s tangible fossil evidence that this was the case.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Yeah, where exactly do they think that other religions come from? Or do they think Buddha and Muhammed actually performed miracles too?

      • TheNuszAbides

        pantheists sure do. But they’re generally just huge fans of any old story, and often quite happy to swallow any old retcon.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          They’re capable of just roping all of it under one mantle. Christians can’t.

  • skl

    In your linked piece on the “Naysayer Hypothesis”, you wrote
    “4. The naysayers had no motivation for dedicating their lives to stopping the false Jesus story. So there’s yet another nut who thinks he has it all figured out—who cares? Your Judaism isn’t under threat from this tiny cult (and it was a tiny cult in the early years).”

    Isn’t it kind of amazing that this tiny cult, under constant threat of persecution or execution, grew to be the religion of the Roman Empire, and today numbers in the billions?

    One might think the cult would most likely have soon dissolved with the death of its leader, in much the same way described toward the end of Acts 5.

    • Herald Newman

      One might think the cult would most likely have soon dissolved with the
      death of its leader, in much the same way described toward the end of
      Acts 5.

      The same could be said of Mormonism, yet the growth rate of early Mormonism is comparable to early Christianity, even after Joseph Smith died.

      • skl

        Were many Mormons martyred or imprisoned?

        • busterggi

          Yes, why do you think they ended up settling in Utah instead of where the church was founded?

        • skl

          Maybe the main difference is that the government wasn’t
          doing the persecution and killing.

          Did the killers and persecutors of the Mormons get caught
          and tried by the government?

        • Greg G.

          Maybe the main difference is that the government wasn’t doing the persecution and killing.

          https://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/mormon.asp

          Old Settler mobs and Mormon paramilitary units roamed the countryside. When the Mormons attacked a duly authorized militia under the belief it was an anti-Mormon mob, Missouri’s governor, Lilburn Boggs, ordered the Saints expelled from the state, or “exterminated,” if necessary. The conflict’s viciousness escalated, however, even without official sanction, when, on October 30, 1838, an organized mob launched a surprise attack on the small Mormon community of Haun’s Mill, massacring eighteen unsuspecting men and boys. Over the next year, around eight thousand church members, often ragged and deprived of their property, left Missouri for Illinois.

        • skl

          That appears to be a case of self defense – a state attacking Mormons AFTER the Mormons attacked it.
          But not a case of a state banning a peaceful religion and
          killing/imprisoning its followers.

        • Greg G.

          Didn’t you read the link I gave before commenting? The other settlers were harassing them.

          In 1831 Smith proclaimed that God had designated western Missouri as the place where “Zion” would be “gathered” in anticipation of Christ’s second coming. His small band of missionaries soon became a steady stream of converts anxious to establish Zion in Missouri.

          Within a few years, the migration and settlement of Latter-day Saints in frontier Missouri led to events that would earn Mormonism a painful place in Missouri history. The state’s “Old Settlers” (usually recent immigrants to the Missouri frontier themselves) characterized the Mormon settlers as fanatics whose clannish behavior made a mockery of republican institutions by placing power in the hands of a single man. The Mormons claimed that they had done nothing wrong, and were attacked for their religious beliefs. Violence broke out in 1833 as the “Old Settlers” under the guise of “extra-legal” justice took the law into their own hands.

          It soon became clear that Missouri non-Mormons and Mormons could not live in the same area harmoniously. In 1836 a “separate but equal” proposal was finally devised to solve this problem, whereby the state legislature created a new county, “Caldwell,” in northwest Missouri as a sort of Mormon “Indian Reservation.” But the booming Mormon population, swelled by the immigration of thousands of eastern converts doomed this to failure, as Mormon settlers burst the borders of Caldwell County and spilled into neighboring counties. Violence broke out again at an election riot in 1838. Old Settler mobs and Mormon paramilitary units roamed the countryside.

        • skl

          Sounds like the Hatfields and McCoys a feudin’!

          But I was talking about executions and imprisonments by the government.

        • Greg G.

          Those martyr stories seem to have been made up. Tradition has five different accounts of the death of Simon the Zealot and multiple accounts for Bartholomew and Philip. It sounds like 2nd century Christians were like the Four Yorkshiremen. They all wanted the leader of their claimed apostolic succession to have the most noble death.

        • Herald Newman

          Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. Sometimes religions are persecuted, sometimes they’re tolerated. If, however, you think that, for some reason, the popularity of Christianity (in spite of possible persecution) is evidence for the truth of Christianity, your arguments fall on deaf ears here.

    • Joe

      Isn’t it kind of amazing that this tiny cult, under constant threat of persecution or execution, grew to be the religion of the Roman Empire, and today numbers in the billions?

      Slaughtering your competition always helps.

      One might think the cult would most likely have soon dissolved with the death of its leader, in much the same way described toward the end of Acts 5.

      Are you referring to Jesus? He wasn’t the leader, Christianity sprung up as a result of his death and alleged resurrection. Which means he (allegedly) didn’t die!

    • Kevin K

      The Unification Church is still going strong.

      The failure of William Miller’s prophecy (The Great Disappointment) in 1844 led directly to the founding of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      Mary Baker Eddy died of her sins in 1910, and her cult is still in existence.

      And on and on.

      • skl

        How many in the Unification Church were martyred or imprisoned?

        • Greg G.

          I see that some Unification Church members are willing to become martyrs in order to spread into North Korea.

          Dying for a lie is common among religious people.

        • skl

          Is dying for what they *know* to be a lie common among religious people?

        • Greg G.

          Religious people are very gullible.

          There were several types of Christianity back then. You don’t know if your type was what any particular one believed except for Paul.

          We know that at least some of the traditions about martyrdom were lies. Here are some with conflicting accounts:

          Simon the Zealot
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_the_Zealot
          One tradition states that he traveled in the Middle East and Africa. Christian Ethiopians claim that he was crucified in Samaria, while Justus Lipsius writes that he was sawn in half at Suanir, Persia. However, Moses of Chorene writes that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Caucasian Iberia. Tradition also claims he died peacefully at Edessa. Another tradition says he visited Britain— In his 2nd mission to Britain, he arrived during 1st year of Boadicean War 60 AD. He was crucified May 10, 61AD by the Roman Catus Decianus, at Caistor, modern-day Lincolnshire, Britain

          Bartholomew
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartholomew_the_Apostle
          He is said to have been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia. According to one account, he was beheaded, but a more popular tradition holds that he was flayed alive and crucified, head downward.

          Philip the Apostle
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_the_Apostle
          According to this account, through a miraculous healing and his preaching Philip converted the wife of the proconsul of the city. This enraged the proconsul, and he had Philip, Bartholomew, and Mariamne all tortured. Philip and Bartholomew were then crucified upside-down, and Philip preached from his cross. As a result of Philip’s preaching the crowd released Bartholomew from his cross, but Philip insisted that they not release him, and Philip died on the cross. Another legend is that he was martyred by beheading in the city of Hierapolis.

          Since not all of the accounts can be true, it puts doubt on every other martyrs’ accounts. The early Christians appear to have been trying to one up the other groups with the noble deaths of their favorite apostles.

        • skl

          Maybe none of the apostles were martyred.

        • Kevin K

          That does that have to do with anything?

          But, the Unification Church did suffer through years of discrimination and such. And if you trace the 7th Day Adventists forward, the whole Branch Davidian thing in Waco is a direct consequence.

          And, of course, Joseph Smith and his brother were killed by an angry mob. Didn’t stop Mormonism; not even a little bit.

          FWIW: There is very, very, very, very little verifiable information on early Christian leaders actually being martyred. “By tradition” is how the stories are usually told — meaning they’re as made-up as the Jesus myths.

          You’re really out of your league trying to defend early church history around here. Might want to quit while you’re behind. Nobody’s buying what you’re selling.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        The failure of William Miller’s prophecy (The Great Disappointment) in 1844 led directly to the founding of Jehovah’s Witnesses 7th Day Adventists.

        Both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists can be traced to the Millerites.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      It wasn’t under constant threat. cf. Candida Moss.

    • adam

      “Isn’t it kind of amazing that this tiny cult, under constant threat of
      persecution or execution, grew to be the religion of the Roman Empire,
      and today numbers in the billions?”

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b6b5240f53deb4a0141b0d9196de29540d1f8931a4c8d5713b9547eca65cbd2f.jpg

      What’s amazing is how many they had to kill to frighten enough people to get to those kinds of numbers

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fa7eb6a996f1d1803edec05ed6940f176a2fae1df66450d6e526122a5c782acf.jpg

    • Kodie

      Oh, I love the scrappy underdog story! It’s the Muslims turn now. Funny how you never hear any negative slurs about the Catholics taking over everything.

      • busterggi

        Not since the dwindling numbers forced the fundigelicals to call them Christains to beef up the Religious Reich.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      Isn’t it kind of amazing that this tiny cult, under constant threat of
      persecution or execution, grew to be the religion of the Roman Empire,
      and today numbers in the billions?

      No. Thanks for playing.

      Next.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      It wasn’t under constant threat-much of that has been exaggerated. Plus, the takeover took about four hundred years. So not quite as impressive.

      • Max Doubt

        “It wasn’t under constant threat-much of that has been exaggerated. Plus, the takeover took about four hundred years. So not quite as impressive.”

        If the alleged constant persecution over the ages was anything like contemporary claims of persecution vs what we know to be true, all that says is Christianity is a religion of lying whiners.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Well, there was some real persecution. Much was made up later though, after Christians started writing up tons of fake martyrologies. One big example is that the Christians being fed to lions in the Coliseum never happened that any legit historians can tell (this had the nice side effect of saving it from destruction though, since the site was viewed as holy). They also don’t mention that when Christianity got more popular and became the state religion, they started in on the persecuting, to the point of outlawing paganism entirely. Before that, some of the martyrs even provoked their own deaths, because it got lionized into the best way to die ever.

    • Lambchopsuey

      Unless its “leader” never existed (Paul apparently had no knowledge of any human “jesus”), and it wasn’t until the Roman Empire adopted this religion (whatever it was at that point) as its official religion that Christianity (Chrestianity, more likely) began systematically wiping out rival religions and their clerics and adherents, starting a reign of terror that resulted in the genocide of other religions and the coercion of others into subjection via torture and execution. Christianity absolutely spread at the point of the sword. And when the jeez finally enters the religion in the 4th Century CE at the earliest (no crucifixes have been found dating earlier than the late 500s), there was way too much time between the supposed (mythical) “origins” and people’s reality. It was all created WAY later, WAY after the supposed “events” (which were all made up based on passages of Jewish scripture ripped out of context).

      People who convert to Christianity today don’t do so after an exhaustive review of the earliest sources – because if they reviewed those, there’s NO WAY they’d convert! No, people convert because they’re at a vulnerable point in their lives and some Christian predator swoops in and applies pressure to them. Christianity creates weakness and helplessness in people, then presents its chains and burdens as some sort of “cure” for that “illness” its own salespeople created – as well as holding out membership in an exclusive, superior community as a benefit. WHY should we believe that people 2000 years ago, with far less education, far less information, and far less knowledge and understanding, should have been MORE discerning than modern people about Christianity?? There have always been idiot losers who were willing to sign on with fringe cults.

    • Ficino

      There were various elements of early Chrisitians’ organizations that offered more than traditional religion did. I think another strength was its emphasis on texts at a time when literacy had spread considerably.

    • Ficino

      Isn’t it kind of amazing that this tiny cult, under constant threat of persecution or execution, grew to be the religion of a huge swath of the world, decimated some empires and toppled others, and today numbers in the billions? The Prophet pbuh clearly was of God.

      Isn’t it kind of amazing that this other tiny cult started with one guy who was a convicted swindler and today numbers millions all over the globe? … OK I’ll stop now.

      • Pofarmer

        Dammit. You beat me to it.

      • Michael Neville

        Kent Hovind’s cult doesn’t have more than a thousand in it. And he was convicted of tax evasion and money laundering, not fraud.

        • Greg G.

          I was thinking Joseph Smith and the Mormons.

        • Michael Neville

          I know.

    • Pofarmer

      It roughly parallels the Mormon Church in the U.S.

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

      What’s amazing? Every religion starts out small. At any point in history, one will be the biggest. You point to the biggest one and say, “It’s the biggest!”

      Yes it is. What’s remarkable?

      • Greg G.

        Corollary 1: The largest religion will have the most members saying “Size matters!”

        • MR

          And when Islam tops Christianity, it will automatically become true!

  • JedRothwell

    Melanesian Cargo Cults and the John Frum cult developed within a few years of WWII. It did not take generations.

    There are many other examples of religious myths springing up out of nowhere in short time. Absurd myths are often spread by cult leaders who have only been active for a few years, yet these myths are widely believed by followers. For example, cult leaders often claim they can miraculously cure diseases, or that the end of the world is coming.

    • Ficino

      I don’t remember where I saw it, but in a combox somewhere, someone was insisting that John Frum was a real guy, though not nec. named John Frum.

      • Greg G.

        John from Iowa probably never knew he became John Frum to them.

  • eric

    SW proposes an interesting experiment. If we can find examples in history where legend has crept into oral history and we have more reliable sources that let us compare that with what actually happened, we can measure how fast legendary material accumulates.

    Why not use the saints? Many Christians might object that the skeptic who takes it as a premise that Jesus didn’t work miracles in order to measure the tempo of myth-making is engaged in circular reasoning. But I doubt many Christians would go to the mat to defend the notion that in the 17th Century, Joseph of Cupertino could fly. Protestants, in particular, would probably have no issue with seeing such claims as fabrications.

    And if we use the saints, then I think it would be pretty easy to show that miracle claims can become established within just a few decades of the subject’s lifetime. Heck, the last RCC saint claimed to have the power of flight died in 1903 (St. Gemma Galgani), so I’d say that empirically we can be fairly certain that false miracle claims can become established within 114 years of a person’s life.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      But I doubt many Christians would go to the mat to defend the notion that in the 17th Century, Joseph of Cupertino could fly.

      Rush hour traffic in Cupertino is a nightmare, but perhaps he used the commuter lane.

    • http://seerstone.wordpress.com Matthew Jensen

      It’s kind of fascinating how saints stopped flying the same year the airplane was invented.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Also fascinating how Bigfoot went extinct just when cell phone cameras became ubiquitous.

        • Tommy

          Bigfoot is still captured by cell phone cameras. Unfortunately every single owner of these cell phones have low resolution and no zoom.

      • Joe

        They’re nothing if not pragmatic.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      I’ve seen Catholics who do claim Joseph of Cupertino flew, and that many witnessed it (still no evidence though). No idea on Galgani. By that point they could have taken a photograph.

      • eric

        Well in fact there are photographs of her. But not flying…

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Well yes, that’s what I mean.

    • MR
  • D Rieder

    It seems in defending these stories, some apologists seem to discount the possibility that Jesus and a handful of his disciples intentionally deceived…staged miracles, spread stories, etc. for whatever reason. In which case the stories immediately became real life miracles…ie no time at all from fake to real accounts.

    And it discounts the idea that all it takes for what was really a dream to become a real life event is to neglect to include the fact that it was a dream. Exa. “I dreamed Jesus appeared to 500 people.” vs “Jesus appeared to 500 people.” This might happen if the fact that it was a dream was lost in the retelling OR if the person hearing it believed that what happened in dreams were actually real life events so just left off the fact that it was a dream. Seems these kinds of changes could occur with one retelling…It wouldn’t take years of retelling for this to happen.

    • RichardSRussell

      To extend C. S. Lewis’s trilemma of “liar, lunatic, or lord”, let’s not forget “legend”. Or, following the abundant evidence supplied by the celebrities of the 21st Century (if regrettably having to depart from the nice alliterative scheme), “marketing”.

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        One may also add to the list; “fictional character”

        • RichardSRussell

          Yeah, we need to spend more time in the “L” chapter of the thesaurus, don’t we?

        • Matt Cavanaugh

          Alliteration is overrated.

        • RichardSRussell

          Nobody believed that in one of my favorite college organizations, the Palpably Perpetrated Purple Platoon of Pixilated Professional Parcheesi Players and Perplexingly Persistent Poster Pasters.

        • Greg G.

          Alliteration is overrated.

          Them’s fightin’ words. You’re just jealous because you don’t have any alliteration in your name.

        • Matt Cavanaugh

          It was my own fault for posting such an hasty response. After all, proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performance.

        • Pofarmer

          That’s my personal favorite.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      Mark originally ended without Jesus appearing to anyone post-resurrection. How such an astounding occurrence, even if only dreamt, was not preserved via the ‘oral tradition’, is inexplicable.

      • TheNuszAbides

        Or at least inconvenient.

      • Tommy

        It’s amazing that apologists keep harping on ‘the eyewitnesses’ to Jesus’ resurrection since according to the gospels no one actually saw Jesus come back from the dead.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Yes, we don’t even have to assume people lied. Back then, dreams were believed to impart real things many times. So somehow might well have dreamed they saw Jesus, honestly thought they it was a sighting, and told others. In fact, Paul only had a vision according to the Bible itself. Among a sympathetic group of fellow believers few likely would question this.

      • Greg G.

        Paul only said he had a vision of the third heaven.

        Acts gives three conflicting stories of Paul seeing Jesus. The third account is when he was in Agrippa’s court. Paul uses the Jews as a character witness that he was not crazy (when he could have also used them to verify the empty tomb and those things) but then gives a crazy story written in Greek about Jesus speaking to him in Aramaic but quoting the Greek god Dionysus using a Greek idiom from the Greek play The Bacchae “Why do you kick against the goads”.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Well, that’s even worse then.

        • Tommy

          In Acts, Paul never mentions any activity of Jesus’ ministry, not even in Jerusalem or in the temple as depicted in Luke. There’s not even a peep about the women going to the tomb story in Acts. Strangely in Acts, after Jesus ‘flies up to heaven’ all talk about Jesus Christ is purely from the OT and general wisdom, NOT any word about the ministry of Jesus that just happened or even an ’empty tomb’.

          Even though it’s just my opinion, but I strongly doubt that the GLuke and Acts were written by the same person. All we have to go on is the intros of the two books, but a redactor could have easily written those to make it seem they came from one author.

        • Greg G.

          There is also a heavy reliance on Antiquities of the Jews and Vida in both of them, more in Acts but in gLuke, it is only in the parts not copied from gMark and gMatthew.

        • Pofarmer

          but a redactor could have easily written those to make it seem they came from one author.

          And there’s the rub, isn’t it? We’re arguing over texts that no one knows the authors of, and no one even knows what the original versions even said. And we know that there were additions and “corrections.” Hell, Christian copyists even changed and corrected Josephus and who knows how many other texts. The whole thing is a fucking mess, and the only reason “biblical studies” is in the state that it’s in is because gullible people assumed that the stories were true.

        • Greg G.

          Strangely in Acts, after Jesus ‘flies up to heaven’ all talk about Jesus Christ is purely from the OT and general wisdom, NOT any word about the ministry of Jesus that just happened or even an ’empty tomb’.

          That is a good point. On the one hand, the full title is “Acts of the Apostles” and maybe it was written to one person who had already received a tale of Jesus, but there should be more discussion of Jesus in it. The speeches in Acts follow a certain formula but they do not say anything about a historical Jesus.

          All we have to go on is the intros of the two books, but a redactor could have easily written those to make it seem they came from one author.

          I think we can take the intro to gLuke at its word, because the sources are apparent. He used gMark, gMatthew, gJohn (mostly to reject it), Josephus, the Septuagint especially Deuteronomy, Greek literature, and was influenced by Greek theater. That accounts for the bulk of the gospel and it is remarkable that we have so much of it. Very few of his minor sources seem to have been lost to history.

          Even though it’s just my opinion, but I strongly doubt that the GLuke and Acts were written by the same person.

          I think there may be some subtle details that might be hard to have imitated because they would easily be overlooked. For example, gLuke (11) and Acts (10) each use the Greek word for “woman” more than the other three gospels (8) combined.

        • Greg G.

          Even though it’s just my opinion, but I strongly doubt that the GLuke and Acts were written by the same person.

          Counter to my argument that they have the same author, gLuke likes to use the numbers five and ten, even when his source does not but we don’t see that preference in Acts.

        • Greg G.

          Even though it’s just my opinion, but I strongly doubt that the GLuke and Acts were written by the same person.

          gLuke has Jesus eating a lot. I wanted to see if that continued in Acts but it doesn’t seem to hold. But a search yielded:

          https://books.google.com/books?id=1HPBnzffpmMC&pg=RA1-PT155&lpg=RA1-PT155&dq=banquets+in+acts+of+the+apostles&source=bl&ots=MKOBHDHzq_&sig=HFKni0Vgg74jA7vzln9ck5n5Qqk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjioL3x_7PUAhWk0YMKHYttCF0Q6AEIOjAF#v=onepage&q=banquets%20in%20acts%20of%20the%20apostles&f=false

          The book discusses certain events in Acts in order and then has a Chiastic Parallel with Luke. From my brief inspection, it looks like as Acts progresses, the parallels in Luke are going backwards. I have looked at a few in Acts 15 and 16 which is the reverse in Luke 13.

          But the topics of Luke 10 to Luke 18:14 depart from the Markan order of events and follow topics in Deuteronomy.

          The section of Luke at New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash, by Robert M. Price, shows the parallels for the Central Section.

          This might be an interesting investigation.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Haven’t you kickstarted a database/blog yet? 😉

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

          Nusz has a good point–you’ve got a big database in your head. Is a blog in your future?

        • Greg G.

          It’s not in my head. I collected several references, like the one from RM Price, added HTML links and anchors and took the gospels, Acts, gThomas and put links and anchors in that page so I can go to a verse and link to different topics about it and click back to different verses. Mostly I did it with Javascript routines. It started out as a small project to make copyrighted material easier to look up, cause I’m lazy.

          I tried to write a few blog-like columns but when I tried to proof-read it, it was, like, TL;DR.

        • MR

          I tried to write a few blog-like columns but when I tried to proof-read it, it was, like, TL;DR.

          That’s what’s known as a rough draft.

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

          OK. If you do find some interesting ideas that you want to expand into a guest post, let me know.

  • RichardSRussell

    Man, that video ad that causes this page to jump to the place where it’s playing is annoying! I hope Patheos is charging triple for that kind of “ya gotta look at me!” service.

  • RichardSRussell

    Heck, legends about Donald Trump sprang up 10 seconds after he hit the last “e” key in “covfefe”.

    PS: Please notice that I used the correct past tense of “spring”.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      Yes, but they were all true.

      • Maoh

        Except the one where it was part of a diabolical grand strategy. Donald Trump doesn’t have the attention span to form even a rudimentary strategy.

        • Matt Cavanaugh

          I saw an op-ed describing his brain as “six fireflies blinking randomly in a jar”.

        • MR

          Ha! Reminds me of Vicente Fox’s slam about the “bee’s” in Trump’s brain.

  • RichardSRussell

    Man that domineering video ad is a PITA!!!

  • GubbaBumpkin

    If we can find examples in history where legend has crept into oral history and we
    have more reliable sources that let us compare that with what actually
    happened, we can measure how fast legendary material accumulates.

    You mean like 9/11, where multiple legends formed almost instantaneously?

    • blogcom

      And that in spite of a monopolistic press controlling the narrative.

      • carbonUnit

        Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication, but did they have conspiracy theorists?

  • blogcom

    Quote: If we can find examples in history where legend has crept into oral history-I wonder how’d that would even be known let alone able to be confirmed.

    Tales of antiquity in some cases were only recorded hundreds of years later- in some cases even up to a thousand- so postulating about the 40- 70 year timeline of the New Testament seems ridiculous.

    In fact the timeline from oral to written record in the case of the Gospels appears to be a feat of some magnitude all things considered.

  • sandy

    It just doesn’t make sense. A written record should start to exist not just after Jesus’ death but also during his ministry if he was the man the gospels depict. Of the thousands he preached to and performed his miracles in front of, surely some of those people would have started writing stories, even if only 10% of the population were literate. Why wait for 40 to 100 years to write the story and just the one by Mark to kick it all off. What makes sense is the story only became real when Mark wrote the story.

    • Greg G.

      When we see writings with the mere mention of something from the gospels being preserved and touted as historical evidence for Jesus, we would expect some from the first century to be preserved as well. If Paul’s letters were preserved, why not eye-witness testimony?

      • MR

        In high school I ran the mile in 3 minutes flat, but they forgot to record it. Tons of witnesses, though. The crowd was yuge. Bigger’n the women’s march.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Holy shit! The same thing happened to me! What a coincidence!

        • Otto

          That was pretty cool, I will never forget that day.

      • sandy

        Yes why not. Strange how non of Paul’s 500 eye witnesses have a name or any details as to who they might be. And of course not one of them wrote their own account. Not one person who met Jesus, heard him speak or saw him ever wrote about him. He either never existed or he just didn’t leave that great of an impression on anyone.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Also, why was it written in Greek?

      • https://www.jonmorgan.info Jon Morgan

        Because the scriptural fulfillments came from the Septuagint wording rather than from the Hebrew wording.

        Oh, and to make it accessible to more people.

      • Maoh

        Because its a Hellenic Mystery Religion.

        • Greg G.

          The curtain in the temple had a lot of astrological art on it.

    • carbonUnit

      And the illiterate ones could certainly narrate it to someone who could write it down. A literate person who got interested in these stories would very likely have sought multiple witnesses.

      • sandy

        We should have many stories, dozens if not hundreds of written references about jesus…if he existed.

      • Greg G.

        Why not something written by Jesus, too? If Paul’s letters from a decade and a half later were preserved, why not Jesus’ own words?

  • Chuck Johnson

    The presence of supernatural occurrences (miracles) is verification that the Jesus stories were heavily contaminated by fraud, fabrications and fantasies.

    The religionists are too ignorant, dishonest and gullible to be able to use this fact as a way to measure the deterioration of the stories through the retelling processes.

  • G.Shelley

    Why should we even believe heredoctus anyway?
    Perhaps he is right, but simply saying that 2000 years ago someone made a claim is hardly good evidence it was correct.
    And this would still rely on the stories being basically true with exaggerations that crept in rather than made up for literal or theological reasons

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      For starters, Herodotus doesn’t make supernatural claims.

      • G.Shelley

        That’s not much of a reason to believe he had thoroughly documented enough oral tradition to establish that legendary embellishments always take more than a couple of generations to develop.

  • MR

    As a teen I had a scary dream about a dog, which I recounted to an adult friend who was an elder in the church. Believing that I had the gift of prophecy and that my dream was a sign (this was all unbeknownst to me), my dream led to some in the church going to an abandoned property and exorcising the place because they suspected witchcraft. None of this was told to me until sometime later. From my dream about a dog, the makings of a legend about a witch sprang up, boom, just like that. The superstitious mind doesn’t need generations to develop a legend.

  • RichardSRussell

    Do you ever wonder how William Lane Craig and his ilk manage to sleep at night?

  • Maoh

    A lot of evidence points to Christianity originally having been a cosmic mystery religion, with the very IDEA of a physical Earthly Jesus having been a post-Pauline addition… which means that the development of Chrstianity might not have started in Roman times AT ALL. Judaism had been mixing with Hellenic culture since the time of Alexander the Great.

    • Robin

      Moah…….sigh!!! That is really offbeat thinking.

  • Sophia Sadek

    The cuneiform literature from centuries before Jesus recognized the ease with which written works could be corrupted. It is not just oral tradition that can fail. In fact, there are a variety of Christian texts with discordant versions in the same language, not to mention the corruptions that happened during translation.

  • JP415

    Speaking of Herodotus:“When all had passed over and were ready for the road, a great portent appeared among them. Xerxes took no account of it, although it was easy to interpret: a mare gave birth to a hare.”— Herodotus, The Histories, 7.57This was written about four or five decades after the Persian Wars. That’s too short a time for a myth to have formed, so therefore we must accept this account as factual.

    • MR

      Amen!