Arguing the Truth of the Bible (Fiction)

This is excerpt from my book, Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. These excerpts are a little longer than the usual post, but I think the fiction format is an interesting way to explore apologetics arguments.

Background: Jim is a wealthy, housebound, and somewhat obnoxious atheist, and Paul is the young acolyte of Rev. Samuel Hargrove, a famous pastor, doing his best to evangelize. It’s 1906 in Los Angeles, and they’re in Jim’s study.

Paul remembered that Jim was simply a lost sheep. Jim had understood the truth of the Bible, and he could be reminded of that again. Paul felt confident and enthusiastic as he began. “You argued yesterday that oral tradition is unreliable and that we can’t trust the Gospel story of Jesus.”

“I argued that the evidence the Gospels provide is paltry compared to what is necessary to justify such amazing claims.”

“Yes. I’d like to challenge that—”

Jim held up a hand. “Before you begin, let’s try an experiment. You think that oral tradition is reliable. Let’s simulate a step in that process. I’ll tell you a story, and then we’ll see how well you remember it.”

Paul didn’t expect a quiz. “I suppose, but remember that I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not trained in memorizing stories.”

“And neither would have been an ordinary citizen in Palestine who heard the story of Jesus and passed it along. From Jesus’s death to the first Gospel was thirty or forty years. The story wasn’t confined to scholars—it was passed through ordinary people.”

“I suppose so,” Paul said. Samuel had talked about trained scholars memorizing the story, but the story passing through common people made sense.

“Do you know the story of Circe from the Odyssey?

“No—I’ve only read the Iliad.

“Then you know the context.” Jim got up and walked to the bookcase on his left. The bookcase was densely packed with no apparent order. He ran his fingers across the spines of the books on one shelf, muttering titles to himself. After a few moments, he pulled off a book and leafed through it as he returned to the sofa. “The Iliad is about the Trojan War, and the Odyssey is the story of the Greek hero Odysseus and his ten-year trip home.

“Here’s the story—pay attention.” Jim looked down at the book as he spoke. “Odysseus and his men were lost and they landed on the coast of a strange land. After a few days of rest, Odysseus sent Eurylochus, a trusted friend, with a party of twenty-two men to explore. They found a house in a clearing guarded by lions, wolves, and other animals but were surprised to find the animals tame. They approached the house, and a woman named Circe invited them in. The men were delighted to find so beautiful a hostess and accepted the offer—except for Eurylochus, who suspected a trap. Circe showed the men a banquet and they ate enthusiastically, but she was a witch and the food was drugged. She turned the men into pigs and locked them in pens. The wild animals were men from other expeditions that Circe had also transformed.”

Jim looked up at Paul and then continued. “Eurylochus saw all this and hurried back to tell Odysseus. Odysseus was determined to rescue his men and went alone to Circe’s house. On the way, he met the god Hermes, who wanted to help. He gave Odysseus an herb that would protect him from Circe’s magic, and he told Odysseus that the threat of his sword would beat the threat of her wand. The encounter went as Hermes had predicted—Circe was no match for Odysseus, and she returned the men to human form. Odysseus and his men enjoyed Circe’s hospitality for a year, and she and Odysseus became lovers.”

Jim looked up and set the open book on the sofa. “That’s long enough. The Jesus story is far longer, of course, but let’s see how you do with that. Make sure you got it right—are you unclear on anything?”

Aside from Hermes and Odysseus, the names in the story were new to Paul, and he asked to have them repeated. He checked on the number of men, the kinds of animals in the clearing, and other details.

“Okay,” Jim said after Paul was satisfied, “let’s sit on that for a bit and return to what you were saying about oral tradition.”

“My point is that if the Gospel story was wrong, there would have been people who said, ‘Hold on, now—I was there, and that didn’t happen’ or ‘I knew that fellow, and he didn’t do that.’ A false story wouldn’t have survived.”

“Have you thought this through?”

“Sure,” Paul said.

“I doubt it.”

Paul again felt the punch in the stomach.

Jim frowned. “Think critically about claims like this. You’re smart enough to demand the truth, not just a pleasing answer. First, let’s get an idea of how few potential naysayers there could have been. I’m guessing a few dozen.”

“But there were thousands who saw the miracle of the loaves and fishes. And that’s just one miracle—there were many.”

“That doesn’t help us. A naysayer must have been a close companion of Jesus to witness him not doing all the miracles recorded in the Gospels. He would need to know that Jesus didn’t walk on water and didn’t raise Lazarus. Seems to me that a naysayer must have been one of Jesus’s close companions during his entire ministry. No, there’s no reason to imagine more than a few dozen.”

Odysseus, Eurylochus, Circe, Hermes, Paul thought to himself.

Jim looked up at the ceiling and counted off numbers with his fingers. “Two: the naysayer must be in the right location to complain. Suppose he were in Jerusalem, and say that the book of Mark was written in Alexandria, Egypt. How will our naysayer correct its errors? Sure, Mark will be copied and spread, but there’s not much time before our 60- or 70-year-old witnesses die. Even if we imagine our tiny band of men dedicating their lives to stamping out this false story—and why would they?—believers are starting brush fires of Christian belief all over the Eastern Mediterranean, from Alexandria to Damascus to Rome. How can we expect our naysayers to snuff them all out?

“Three: remember that two thousand years ago, you couldn’t walk down to the corner newsstand to find the latest Jesus Gospel. How were our naysayers to learn of the story? Written documents at that time were scarce and precious things. The naysayers would be Jews who didn’t convert to Christianity, and they wouldn’t have associated much with the new Christians and so would have been unlikely to come across the Jesus story.

Twenty-two men, the food was a drug, the men became pigs, Paul thought.

“Four: there was another gulf between the naysayers and the early Christians. The Gospels were written in Greek, not the local language of Aramaic spoken by Jesus and the naysayers. To even learn of the Jesus story in this community, our naysayers must speak Greek. How many could have done this? And to influence the Greek-speaking readers of the Gospels, a rebuttal would have to have been written in Greek—not a common skill in Palestine.

“Five: suppose you knew the actual Jesus, and you knew that he was merely a charismatic rabbi. Nothing supernatural. Now you hear the story of Jesus the Son of Man, the healer of lepers and raiser of the dead. Why connect the two? ‘Jesus’ was a common name. Your friend Jesus didn’t do anything like this, so the story you heard must be of a different person. So even when confronted with the false teaching, you wouldn’t raise an alarm.”

“Six: consider how hard is it today for a politician or business leader to stop a false rumor, even with the press to get the word out. Think about how hard it would have been in first-century Palestine. How many thousands of Christians were out there spreading the word for every naysayer with his finger in the dike?”

Magic plant for protection, sword beats wand, Paul thought.

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

Jim let out a sigh. “That’s a longer list than I expected. I hope you can see that naysayers could hardly be expected to stop Christianity.”

“A lot to consider,” Paul admitted. “But I still think the oral tradition preserves the truth.”

“That’s a poor rebuttal!” Paul looked away as Jim glowered at him and continued. “Think about it—you’re smarter than this. I hold you to a higher standard, one that doesn’t abide by sloppy thinking. Does God exist? If so, he gave you that mind to use. Your mind is an engine to be harnessed, not a vessel to be filled. You must be a truth seeker; don’t blindly follow someone else’s thinking.”

A soft metallic clap came from the hallway. Paul appreciated the break in the scolding as Jim walked to the door. He returned holding a postcard, dropped it in a trash can, and stood over the chessboard.

“You must read awful fast,” Paul said.

“It was a short message: ‘Knight to king’s bishop three.’ I’m playing chess through the mail with an old friend from college. He still lives in Boston, so this will be a long game.” He moved one of the white pieces. “Do you play chess?”

“I know the rules for how the pieces move, that’s it,” Paul said. “Do you know how you’ll respond?”

“Yes. The early moves in a game are rather predictable, but still interesting. They’re the foundation on which your position rests.”

Jim gazed at the board a few moments, then slowly walked back to the sofa and sat. “Do you eat nuts every day?” He pushed a bowl of shelled almonds across the table toward Paul with a bare foot.

“Uh … no, not often.”

“You should. Your body is a machine, and it needs lubrication. Nuts provide oils that are essential to good health.”

“Well, thank you. I didn’t realize that.”

“And I suppose you eat meat.”

“You don’t?”

“I’m a vegetarian—I follow the Battle Creek Sanitarium diet. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And lots of nuts. Nature provides all that we need to be healthy—no need to kill animals for us to live.”

Paul said nothing as he wondered how to get this derailed train back on track.

“And do you enema?” Jim asked.

Paul assured him that he did not.

“You should, every day. And drink lots of water.” Jim described in unnecessary detail how the colon works and the benefits of daily cleansing. “You’d be shocked at what comes out,” he said.

Paul felt vaguely ill as he agreed.

Jim moved on to how to avoid mucus and the need to chew food so thoroughly that it slithered down the esophagus by itself, but this was mercifully interrupted by a knock on the door. “This should only take a moment,” Jim said.

“Groceries,” he said as he walked into the kitchen carrying a small wooden box. “I get a delivery every day.”

Home delivery seemed to be an extravagance when there was a grocery store two blocks away. Paul mused that the rich lived quite differently than ordinary folk.

When he returned, Jim picked up his copy of the Odyssey as he sat and thankfully dropped the topic of healthy living. “Now, pretend that I’m someone who hasn’t heard the amazing story of Odysseus and Circe and that you’re eager to pass it along.”

Paul said a little prayer as he slid to the edge of his chair. He gestured as he spoke. “Odysseus and his men walked into a strange land. Odysseus stayed behind and Eurylochus took the remaining twenty-two men to investigate. They found a witch named Circe in a house in a clearing, surrounded by wild animals that were actually tame. She invited them in for a banquet. All entered, but Eurylochus refused. One of the foods was a drug, and the men turned into pigs after they ate it.”

“Go on,” Jim said, his left index finger tracing the story in the open book.

“Eurylochus went back to Odysseus and reported what happened. Odysseus went to the house to free his men, and on the way he met Hermes, who gave him a magic drug to protect him. When he met the witch, they fought, Odysseus using his sword and Circe her wand. Odysseus won, and he forced her to release his men. She became nice—though I’m not sure why—and they stayed with her for a year.”

“Not bad,” Jim said. “The basic story is correct, but you changed a lot of details. First off, Odysseus and his men were sailors—they didn’t come marching in overland.”

“I didn’t hear ‘sailors.’ ”

“I said that they landed on the coast,” Jim said, looking down at the book. “These are minor changes, but multiplied with the retelling, they soon turn into big changes. You forgot that they rested first … the party of men who went to the house was just part of Odysseus’s crew, not all of it … you forgot the kinds of wild animals—lions and wolves … Eurylochus stayed outside, he didn’t refuse to enter … you said one food was a drug, but I said ‘the food was drugged’ … the food didn’t turn the crew into pigs, Circe did … the wild animals were also men … Odysseus and Circe didn’t fight.” Jim looked up. “Well, how do you think you did?”

“Okay, I guess. That’s a lot to remember in a short time. But the early church was a web of interconnections. If one person is telling the story to a group, another person in the group may well have heard it before. He could correct any errors.”

“Based on what?” Jim asked. “When I corrected your story just now, I was reading from a book—that’s our authority. There was no book when the Jesus story was oral tradition. When two people’s memories conflicted, whose was right?”

“There were scholars who memorized whole books of the Bible. They would have been an authority.”

“Are you saying that the Jesus story went from scholar to scholar, with a student sworn to secrecy until he could flawlessly repeat the story? That’s not how it was told.” Jim gestured impatiently as if unable to contain his amazement at Paul’s stupidity. “It was a dramatic and exciting yarn that went from fallible person to fallible person, just as stories do today. Society has changed since then, but the basics of storytelling haven’t. When you see two women gossiping over the back fence, you’re seeing something that hasn’t changed in thousands of years.”

Jim leaned back into the sofa, and his voice softened. “You did pretty well, but now imagine that the story was far longer, and you waited days instead of minutes to retell it. Such a story can change dramatically after decades of retelling over and over. What better explains the supernatural elements of the Jesus story—that they actually happened that way or that the story is legendary? Sure, the supernatural claims could be accurate, but why think that? You’ve got a long way to go to show that that’s the best explanation.” Jim grabbed a handful of nuts and ate them one by one. “I’d as soon believe that you could turn me into a pig with magic.”

Paul felt emotionally drained. Empty. His intellectual arsenal was spent as well. He could only pray that Samuel had more ammunition.

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  • epicurus

    Is the story set in 1906 Los Angeles because the birth of the Pentecostal movement and Azusa St. revival were there (I haven’t read the book – but it’s on the list)?

    • Right you are. The Azusa St. church became nationally famous when an LA Times reporter went to check them out. He wrote a front-page story about the church and quoted some nutty guy saying that bad things would happen if people didn’t get a clue about this new Pentacostal movement and worship God correctly and blah, blah, blah … and it appeared on the day of the San Francisco earthquake. True story.

      The novel picks up from there.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        “and it appeared on the day of the San Francisco earthquake”So god punished CA with an earthquake for letting these religious nuts have the front page. got it.. Musta been that.. there wasn’t no gays around in CA back then.See, I can do ‘logic’ too (:

        • Michael Neville

          Enrico Caruso, the most famous tenor of his day, was in San Francisco on the day of the earthquake. But he wasn’t gay.

        • Trivia: many people died in the resulting fire but very few died in the earthquake. One of the few in that latter category was the fire chief.

          Trivia: Once the fire was out, a bank opened its safe (vault?) to start making loans. Problem was, a safe is very thick, and the inside (including the cash) was still heated up to well over the ignition point of paper. With the door open, the cash caught fire immediately. Whoosh–money gone.

          The other banks heard of this and waited until the safes had cooled enough, which took days. Somehow, what became Bank of America was able to steal a march on its competitors, IIRC, because its cash had been elsewhere.

        • Glad2BGodless

          Great story!

        • a famous pastor, doing his best to evangelize. It’s 1906 in Los Angeles, and they’re in Jim’s study.

  • Kevin K

    One of my good friends is a secular (atheist) Jew, who spent some time in the Hasidic community of New York. He reported to me that during services, there would be a cadre of young men standing in one part of the synagogue, paying rapt attention to everything the rabbi said during the sermon. Why? So they could argue about it afterward. Every nuance, every word, every inflection of the voice was argued over. As if the man hadn’t just spoken.

    • They were going to argue with the rabbi afterwards? Or argue about the topic among themselves?

      • Glad2BGodless

        I have heard many a preacher inveigh against “liberal college professors,” but I never had a professor who didn’t take questions from his audience, and I never met a preacher who did.

      • Kevin K

        With one-another. The rabbi is considered inviolate. So…they argue amongst themselves about what he said … without asking the rabbi.

        • Kodie

          It’s like fans watching a tv show to catch all the references and spot goofs, and find inconsistencies with the last season or things only a professional would notice (like medical or legal terminology), and ship characters and love to hate villains or whatever. Almost any tv show you can think of has a forum on the internet somewhere, where fans pick it apart moments after it airs. So these guys’ favorite tv show is temple.

  • Scooter

    All Paul needed to do was to refer Jim to Chapter 3- “Is The New Testament Historically Reliable?” of Josh McDowell’s “The New Evidence that demands a Verdict” text which would clear up much of Jim’s confusion. Note some of the subject headings: Introduction:Tests for the reliability of ancient literature; The bibliographical test for the reliability of the New testament; The number of manuscripts and their closeness to the original; Important New testament manuscripts; Accuracy of manuscripts supported by various versions; Accuracy of manuscripts supported by lectionaries; Accuracy of manuscripts supported by early church fathers; Internal evidence test for the reliability of the New Testament; External evidence test for the reliability of the New Testament; Supporting evidence of early Christian writers outside the Bible; early non-Christian confirmation of New Testament history; Evidence from archaeology; The incredible accuracy of Luke.

    After trying to disprove the Bible McDowell concluded that the Bible is historically trustworthy and if you discard the Bible as being unreliable then you would also have to discard almost all literature of antiquity.

    • Ignorant Amos

      Bwaaahahahaha…yer kidding, right?

      That auld piece of tripe? You’re a funny guy Scooter.

      McDowell’s nonsense was taken apart a looooooonnnnnng time ago ffs.

      The Jury Is In…The Ruling on McDowell’s “Evidence”

      https://infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/

    • Ignorant Amos

      If you think the NT canon is historically reliable, try reading some Bart Ehrman on the problems with it’s authenticity.

      • Scooter

        You might not be so impressed with Ehrman in this debate with James White @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moHInA9fAsI&t=4701s

        • Glad2BGodless

          If you want me to watch a YouTube video, then it had damn well better have a cat in it, and that cat had damn well better be up to hijinx.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Nicely cherry picked. So you think that your wee bit of debate presented by a biased James White is going to sway my impression that Ehrman and most critical scholars of high esteem don’t think the NT canon is historically reliable? Seriously?

          Why didn’t you post the whole debate? Or even just his little wee bit for a touch of balance?

          https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=K2Mp4v8VQwQ

          Your honesty hasn’t improved very much ave noticed.

          What about taking McDowell’s best argument and we can disect that one? Or is the historical reliability of the NT canon the one you want to hang yerself up on?

        • Glad2BGodless

          “How did you know the apologist was quote-mining?”

          “His lips were moving.”

    • Otto
      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        Steve’s gotten a bad rep lately (some of it deserved), but those Atheist Reads series are gold. It’s too bad they are coming to an end.

        • Otto

          I watched a criticism vid on something he said or did a bit ago and he was rightly criticized to some extent as I remember. The vitriol was a little much though. I really just watch the Atheist Reads series, he does a great job breaking down the issues imo. I don’t pay much attention to anything else. But I just don’t understand why people think they have to agree with everything about anyone, I get into the most heated arguments and debates with my best friends…why would we expect to agree across the board with someone we don’t know?

        • Glad2BGodless

          I think a lot of the vitriol may come from market dynamics. Once an atheist YouTube vlogger has done the 100th take-down of Pascal’s Wager, they have to gin up some drama to hold onto their status as an “influencer.”

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          This sounds fair to me. Legitimate criticism, disproportionate anti-Shives counter culture.

        • I’ve listened to some of his stuff, and I was pleased at his thoroughness and patience. What have been the complaints? Minor quibbles with his critique?

          And are the complainers atheists?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Mostly on tangentially related stuff (feminism, “silencing” views we perceive as being outdated). The AR vids are generally held in high regard.

          The complaints do come from atheists, but it’s not really his thoughts on theism/atheism that prompted the criticism.

        • Glad2BGodless

          The complaints I have seen have been over his defense of feminist views. I remember one such critique made fun of him for always wearing a ball cap. Another said that he is dominated by his wife, who was described as, “a 3 at best.”

          I haven’t seen any critiques that impressed me very much.

          Edit to add: the critiques I have seen have all come from atheists.

        • Glad2BGodless

          They are coming to an end? I did not know that.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Yeah, Steve announced it at the beginning of this current series. It’s understandable given the redundancy, but each is still a worthwhile listen.

          On the “redundancy” tangent, earlier in the current WLC series, I accidentally listened to an entire video before realizing it was from an earlier series.

          Craig is nothing if not consistent. ☺️

        • Glad2BGodless

          Also, what do you see as some things that give him a deservedly bad rep?

          I haven’t been following his critics very much, but what I have seen seems to amount to personal invective and anger over “social justice warriors.”

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I didn’t say the rep was deserved, just that some of the criticism is. If you want to know what I think was justified, watch this video.

          https://youtu.be/Hkz_39eTcBI

        • Glad2BGodless

          Thanks!

        • Glad2BGodless

          That’s 24 minutes, so I will have to watch most of it later. I have watched and enjoyed Noel Plum on other topics.

        • Michael Neville

          I am not a fan of Noel Plum. He’s convinced of his own rectitude and is not the most intellectually honest person around.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I mainly remember watching his videos about Frank Turek. I may have been disarmed by my enjoyment of watching someone bad-mouth Frank Turek, which is always considerable. I will have to look again with greater care.

        • Glad2BGodless

          That, and there was one about a video game machine he had put together.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          The rebuttals of Lennox are also excellent.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I will give them a look! Steve Shrive, too. I haven’t actually watched all that much of him, but I have liked what I have seen.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Interesting, I think he’s one of the most original and insightful atheists on YouTube.

          Full disclosure, I haven’t listened to a word of his SJW stuff, so he could very well have all sorts of nonsense going on in those. But the atheist stuff is quite good.

        • Michael Neville

          I haven’t heard any of Plum’s atheist stuff but I do know he’s one of the people who whine about SJWs. I’ve heard him on that.

          Disclosure: I am an SJW.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You may he right, as I said before it’s an area of complete ignorance for me. You’ve piqued my interest, but I just don’t have time to invest several hours rooting through material merely for the purposes of this discussion.

          I guess, just like I can enjoy Steve Shives’ material without concern for his other views, I’ll have to do the same for Plum.

        • Michael Neville

          Plum does not understand that free speech does not guarantee an audience, does not provide a platform, and does not protect the speaker from rebuttal, criticism or ridicule.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Where do you get that impression? I may have posted the wrong vid, but the criticism Plum made (in the right video) was about Shives’ desire to silence views that are deemed to lack merit; to euthanize ideas rather than let them die naturally.

          While this sounds attractive when Ken Ham is blathering on, the idea is rife with problems.

        • Michael Neville

          Maybe I misunderstood Plum but he appeared to me to be demanding that people like Milo Yiannopoulos must be given a platform, must be guaranteed an audience and should not be criticized. Unlike Shives, Plum is not well organized or a coherent speaker.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I’ll grant you that his videos are less scripted than Shives, but I find him to be quite eloquent. More pointedly, his perspective is unique; it’s a rare video where he doesn’t give me a fresh nugget to chew on, which is hard when discussing arguments that have been defunct for hundreds of years.

          As for the freedom of speech stuff, I’ve heard Noel state the exact opposite, so I don’t think you have a proper read on him.

    • RichardSRussell

      Also, if you read the collected works of Fox Mulder, you’ll come away absolutely convinced that it was space aliens behind it all. As with Josh McDowell, it’s amazing how much “evidence” you can find when you want to believe.

      • Glad2BGodless

        First Jesus, then Tabby’s Star. I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy van Pelt with that football.

    • Very timely! Amos was looking for a new chew toy.

      • Ignorant Amos

        Scooter surface laid that dude mine and has pissed off, bummer…he’s the worst sort of religious prick, a lily livered cowardly arsehole who doesn’t hang around to defend his indefensible apologist bullshit.

    • This is a Gish gallop of nonsense–a Gishorrhea of nonsense, if you will.

      I suspect that just dropping this steaming pile and running away was your goal, but if you actually want to make a point, pick one and defend it (and “just look at McDowell! It’s fabulous!!” isn’t a defense).

      • Glad2BGodless

        It’s so cute that he thinks none of us have ever read Josh McDowell.

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          Or that none of us has also read/watched multiple take-downs of Josh McDowell.

        • TheNuszAbides

          it’s not so cute after a dozen practically identical dumps. Scooter is consistently chock-full of Old Non-News.

    • Tommy

      All Paul needed to do was to refer Jim to Chapter 3- “Is The New
      Testament Historically Reliable?” of Josh McDowell’s “The New Evidence
      that demands a Verdict” text which would clear up much of Jim’s
      confusion.

      LOL.

      • Glad2BGodless

        Holy shit, you guys! I… I… I just thought of something!

        If Jesus isn’t a liar… and he isn’t a lunatic… he must buh-buh-be…but no! If I let myself start thinking that way, I won’t be able to do whatever I want!

        But…WHAT IF I’M WRONG?!?

      • Glad2BGodless

        If they had a scrap of real support for a god, they would not have to resort to this kind of horseshit.

      • TheNuszAbides

        maybe Scoot thinks that McDowell’s bunk would have been more compelling in 1906?

    • epicurus

      There are lots of issues with the literature of antiquity but people aren’t saying it’s infallible and divinely inspired, so scholars generally don’t bring up the problems to the general public. Scholars would probably dismiss all literature of antiquity if it was claimed that your salvation rests on getting exactly what Plato or Julius Caesar said right.
      From Bart Ehrman’s blog (I can’t link to this quote as it’s behind the paywall)
      “Anyone who says that scholars don’t have any questions about what Plato, Homer, Cicero, or any other author actually (which words they used) is simply ignorant.”

      • Ignorant Amos

        Or Plutarch, or Herodotus, or, or, or any number of ancient historians when they go off piste into the supernatural realms.

        But the NT writers, whoever they were, are not even that.

        The genre of ancient historical prose has key features that are crucial to understanding which works belong to the category and why they are generally more trustworthy than sources that do not. It is not enough for a text to simply talk about things that took place in the past, even when the content deals with real people and locations. A historical text must further investigate and probe these matters, discussing the research process involved, so that it does not merely provide a story, but a plausible interpretation of what took place.

        As someone who studies ancient historical writing in the original Greek and Latin languages, it is clear to me that the Gospels are not historical writing. These texts instead read like ancient novelistic literature. In all but Luke, we do not hear anything about the written sources that the authors consulted, and even the author of Luke does not name them, explain their contents, or discuss how they are relevant as sources. The authors of the Gospels do not discuss how they learned their stories or what their personal relations are to these events, and even when John claims to have an eyewitness disciple “whom Jesus loved,” the gospel does not even bother to name or identify this mysterious figure (most likely an invention of the author). Instead, the Gospels provide story-like narratives, where the authors omnisciently narrate everything that occurs rather than engage in any form of critical analysis. Accordingly, the Gospels all fall short from the criteria that can be used to categorize a piece of historical prose.

        So what are these criteria? The ways in which the Gospels diverge from and fall short of the historical writing of their time are perhaps too numerous to exhaustively treat here, but I will discuss ten relevant areas of distinction that are helpful for understanding how historical writing is different.

        https://infidels.org/library/modern/matthew_ferguson/gospel-genre.html

        • Ctharrot

          “. . . . when they go off piste into the supernatural realms.”

          And not only supernatural realms. Even when considering naturalistic events, actual historians exercise probabilistic and provisional thinking, doubting all kinds of claims from antiquity. My first classical history professor had a catchphrase I can still picture him saying when discussing ancient accounts involving improbable troop numbers, obscure personal motivations, intricate schemes, etc.: “Now, take this with a MOUNTAIN [arms energetically miming the shape of a mountain] of salt!”

          More recently, I’ve been listening to the Emperors of Rome podcast, in which certainty is rarely claimed. The principal academic contributor, Prof. Rhiannon Evans, goes out of her way to tell us what’s reliable and what isn’t, how Suetonius was a bit of a gossip-monger, how Tactitus’ agenda might have colored his depictions of certain prominent Romans, etc.

        • Ignorant Amos

          “Now, take this with a MOUNTAIN [arms energetically miming the shape of a mountain] of salt!”

          Indeed. I’ve been involved in events that have been recorded erroneously.

          My go to example of how stuff gets misrepresented, even in modern times with all the tech available, is the account of the SAS section patrol compromised during the Gulf War, Bravo Two Zero.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bravo_Two_Zero

          Talk about contradictory primary sources.

    • RichardSRussell

      Josh McDowell was born in 1939 and his book you mention was published in 1972. This novel is set in 1906. If Jim or Paul had had a time machine, I would’ve advised them to go back 1873 years to do their research from primary sources rather than forward 66 for secondary speculations.

    • Ctharrot

      “After trying to disprove the Bible McDowell concluded that the Bible is historically trustworthy and if you discard the Bible as being unreliable then you would also have to discard almost all literature of antiquity.”

      The literature of antiquity is awash with claims of signs, wonders, gods, and spirits, which genuine historians routinely discard. We see these narratives among the Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Greeks, Romans, Incas, etc.–stories about divine conceptions, talking beasts, giants, ghostly encounters, prophecies, healings, resurrections, and any number of other miraculous beings and feats. Does McDowell believe them? Surely not. Like most of us, he confidently disregards these accounts as mythology or legend or folklore–except the stuff written by the Hebrews and (certain) early Christians. They alone got reality right and were simply telling it like it was, apologists like McDowell would have us accept, whereas for some reason the millions and millions of other gullible ancient people around the world were just dealing in works of the human imagination.

      With regard to supernatural claims handed down to us from the past, McDowell has the practice of historiography backwards. If one credits the claims of supernatural events and personalities in the Bible as true, intellectual consistency would require that one likewise accept the analogous (and competing and conflicting) claims from the other cultures of antiquity.

      • Scooter

        I think you’ve misunderstood what McDowell is saying. He’s not saying that the fictitious characters in the stories of antiquity should be believed but rather that the books and the writers themselves would have to pass the same tests for authenticity as the critics would do for the books of the Bible.

        • Ctharrot

          “I think you’ve misunderstood what McDowell is saying.” I don’t think so.

          “He’s not saying that the fictitious characters in the stories of antiquity should be believed . . . .” I agree. He’s saying, rather, that we should believe Joshua’s prayers stopped the sun in the sky, whereas we presumably shouldn’t believe Alexander the Great was a descendant of the demigod Heracles. Even though the documentary evidence for both claims is roughly equivalent.

          ” . . . . rather that the books and the writers themselves would have to pass the same tests for authenticity as the critics would do for the books of the Bible.” I’m afraid I’ve read this three times, and can’t make sense of it.

          Suffice it to say that McDowell is engaged in special pleading–perhaps more elaborate and thorough than is usual, but special nonetheless. If we were to present him an ancient documentary account of Pericles riding a pegasus to the moon and back that met all of the criteria he purports to apply to the Bible, he would naturally chalk it up as a work of human creativity.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Or Mo riding Buraq…

          According to Islam, the Night Journey took place ten years after Muhammad became a prophet, during the 7th century. Muhammad had been in his home city of Mecca, at his cousin’s home (the house of Ummu Hani’ binti Abu Talib). Afterwards, Prophet Muhammad went to the Masjid al-Haram. While he was resting at the Kaaba, the angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared to him followed by Buraq. Muhammad mounted Buraq, and in the company of Gabriel, they traveled to the “farthest mosque”. The location of this mosque was not explicitly stated but is generally accepted to mean Al-Aqsa Mosque (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. At this location, he dismounted from Buraq, prayed, and mounted Buraq, who took him to the various heavens, to meet first the earlier prophets and then God (Allah). God instructed Muhammad to tell his followers that they were to offer prayers fifty times a day. At the urging of Moses (Musa), Muhammad returns to God and eventually reduces it to ten times, and then five times a day as this was the destiny of Muhammad and his people. Buraq then transported Muhammad back to Mecca.

          I’m wondering why Scooter isn’t a Mormon, they’ve got some primary source evidence that is copper fastened…if we are going to be playing silly buggers that is of course.

        • Ignorant Amos

          “Donald Akenson, Professor of Irish Studies in the department of history at Queen’s University has argued that, with very few exceptions, the historians of Yeshua have not followed sound historical practices. He has stated that there is an unhealthy reliance on consensus, for propositions which should otherwise be based on primary sources, or rigorous interpretation. He also holds that some of the criteria being used are faulty.

          He says that the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars are employed in institutions whose roots are in religious beliefs. Because of this, he maintains that, more than any other group in present day academia, biblical historians are under immense pressure to theologize their historical work and that it is only through considerable individual heroism that many biblical historians have managed to maintain the scholarly integrity of their work.”

        • Scooter

          There’s a lot of blarney that comes from the Irish!

        • Ctharrot

          1. Akenson’s an accomplished expat American scholar who teaches in Canada and England. He’s neither Irish, nor a hack who trades in blarney.

          2. Hmm. You could’ve (a) actually addressed the content of the quote, (b) written nothing, or (c) hand-waved the comment away with a lame, mildly racist joke.

          Interesting choice you made.

        • Ignorant Amos

          1. Akenson’s an accomplished expat American scholar who teaches in Canada and England. He’s neither Irish, nor a hack who trades in blarney.

          Scooter is a dopey tit. Incapable of using a search engine.

          2. Hmm. You could’ve (a) actually addressed the content of the quote, (b) written nothing, or (c) hand-waved the comment away with a lame, mildly racist joke.

          Well, (a) never gonna happen, (b) that would be no fun at all, (c) there’s the craic right there, the joke being he made a pig’s arse of himself with that single sentence.

          Interesting choice you made.

          Couldn’t help himself…hoist by his own petard methinks.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Hahahahaaahahahaha…ya dopey tube. So much asininity in ten words.

          Akenson isn’t Irish and in the context you have used the word blarney, I’m going to suggest you are ignorant of the definition of the word.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Akenson

          Using blarney as an attempt at a racist slur and an erroneous fallacy of the ad hominem kind. Way ta go Scoot.

        • Tommy

          You being the expert on all things blarney, you circus reject?

        • Bob Jase

          Are the fictitious parts printed in a different color than the rest? If not then how can you tell which is which?

        • Ignorant Amos

          Take the fictitious parts out and what’s left?

          In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.

          And then what’s left can’t be demonstrated to any originality to the sayings of a single real person with any certitude.

        • Ctharrot

          Well, we know Adam and Eve and Noah and Moses were real because their stories were written down and copied in antiquity.

          We know Heracles and Athena were fictitious because their stories were written down and copied in antiquity. Plus they appeared on ancient coins, in statuary, in city names, etc.

          Totally different, see?

        • Ignorant Amos

          Well, we know Adam and Eve and Noah and Moses were real because their stories were written down and copied in antiquity.

          And of whom today, only buck eejits believe actually existed.

        • Huh?

          History is no friend of the Christian. As Ctharrot pointed out, historians scrub supernatural claims out of books of ancient mythology or history (or anything in between). There will be nothing interesting left of the Bible after they get done with it.

    • Griffith C

      Whaaat? No, sorry, Josh made no attempt to disprove the bible.

      Are you kidding? Josh makes his (very nice) living metaphorically patting christians on the head and assuring them they aren’t really ignorant for believing nonsense.

      Did Joshy-poo ever honestly present the opposing argument and refute it with evidence?

    • Damien Priestly

      Ughh !!, Josh McDowell is a Christian apologist who obviously cannot come to any other conclusion than the New Testament should be treated historically. But, what is needed is a independent historical analysis based upon evidence — for resurrections, instantaneously turning water into wine, Jesus flying up to heaven “a cloud received him…”. etc.

      This is an atheist-skeptic blog…We are quite capable of investigating biblical claims without the intervention of apologetics. Nobody needs any help from church fathers. The Bible is not really a very well written piece of literature compared with other contemporaneous writing around the world at the time. Early church writers were primitive, ignorant people…just like Jesus’s followers….and that is only if Jesus was a real historical character !! Any moderately educated person can come to conclusions by reading the New Testament– and applying logical analysis.

      Sorry, McDowell and other apologists can continue to preach to the choir…They have no place doing real history !!

  • RichardSRussell

    From Jesus’s death to the first Gospel was thirty or forty years. The story wasn’t confined to scholars—it was passed through ordinary people.

    And why bother to write it down? Big J himself was due back in only a few years anyway. He promised!

    • Otto

      You would think if God (Jesus) thought his message was so all important he would have put pen to paper and written it down himself instead of relying on shitty people to do it. It is almost like he just made himself into a sock puppet on purpose.

      • Glad2BGodless

        Here’s how smart I am: I only just now figured out where “Otto” comes from.

        Shirley I will do better in the future.

        I met Leslie Neilsen once, at a celebrity-amateur charity event. He was a pretty good golfer, by all accounts. I barely know which end of the club to hold.

        We only talked for five or ten minutes, but I don’t think he liked me much.

        Ditto for James Sikking, which really stung, because I had worshipped Hill Street Blues and Howard Hunter.

        Never meet your idols face-to-face, man.

        • Otto

          Do you like Gladiator movies?

          The picture was a give away…;)

          5-10 min…if he was willing to talk to you that long he must have liked you at least a little.

        • Glad2BGodless

          Nah, he was sort of trapped by the context of the meeting. It was more Pepe la Pew and the lady cat than My Dinner with Andre.

        • Glad2BGodless

          In fairness to myself, I couldn’t tell that he was that crazy about anyone else, either.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I kept trying to say something he would find funny or interesting, and failing. I also tried to ask him questions. Apparently I wasn’t the first to ask them.

        • Glad2BGodless

          And James Sikking eventually just pretended I didn’t exist. Literally. As in, refusing to acknowledge my existence.

        • Greg G.

          We only talked for five or ten minutes, but I don’t think he liked me much.

          Somebody should have warned you not to call him Frank Drebbin.

        • al kimeea

          Might have been better to mention Forbidden Planet

        • Glad2BGodless

          Heh.

          I actually did mention Forbidden Planet. IIRC, he grunted in response. I may not have been the first person to mention it.

        • epicurus

          Many people know Neilson for his later comedy work, but for years before that, he was a dead serious actor, not someone you’d ever imagine make a comedy – or at least that’s how a TV bio I saw portrayed him.

        • Glad2BGodless

          That certainly aligns with my brief experience.

      • Kevin K

        I’ve heard some claims that “Jesus” was illiterate. He did not know how to read or write, but instead knew the Torah “in his heart”.

        Of course, my considered opinion is that “Jesus” is fictional, but being illiterate would explain why there are no writings from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

        • Ignorant Amos

          He did not know how to read or write,…

          So much for omnipotence…they never think these things through. A bit of a TV Trope if ya ask me.

        • Kevin K

          Ha!

          Of course, there are some in the evangelical community who will declare that Jesus wrote beautifully … in English … when he penned the King James bible.

        • Glad2BGodless

          You know what could have settled all this? Jesus could have flown to the Moon and written his parables in letters a kilometer wide. Take THAT, Muhammad!

        • Glad2BGodless

          He could read and write whatever was logically possible to read and write.

        • Ignorant Amos

          He just chose not to bother…and surrounded himself with illiterate’s ta boot.

        • Ignorant Amos

          He just chose not to bother…and surrounded himself with illiterate’s ta boot.

        • Otto

          That would bring other problems into the issue. Jesus supposedly knew the Torah better than the other Rabbi’s. If that is the case , and he just knew it by heart, how did he get to know it by heart? If the answer is he was just born with that knowledge, does that mean he was all knowing from a young age? I think you see where I am going with this.

        • Kevin K

          For one, it means Judas got a raw deal.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Judas was the hero of the plot. Without Judas touting to the Sanhedrin, the yarn stops dead.

          Historically, the character of Judas has gotten a raw deal for sure, but he wasn’t real }8O)~

          The Lost Gospel of Judas portrays Judas as Jesus’ best buddy. Judas is just following Jesus instructions after all.

          To most Christians, Judas is seen as a traitor, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver. But a newly restored papyrus document dating to the 2nd century AD portrays a very different man. Judas is shown as Jesus’ best friend, asked by Jesus himself to betray his identity to fulfill the prophecy and liberate his soul to ascend to heaven.

          https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5327692

          Bart Ehrman was involved in the recovery and has written a decent book on the exercise.

          https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Gospel-Judas-Iscariot-Betrayer/dp/0195343514

        • Ignorant Amos
        • Ignorant Amos
        • Greg G.

          Luke 4:16-21 has Jesus reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, from the Septuagint in a synagogue in Nazareth.

        • Greg G.

          Luke 4:16-21 has Jesus reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, from the Septuagint in a synagogue in Nazareth.

        • Ignorant Amos

          A Greek reader too…perhaps I spoke to soon.

        • Ignorant Amos

          A Greek reader too…perhaps I spoke to soon.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I would be more impressed by Luke on this point if he didn’t also have Jesus calming storms and feeding crowds with the take-out from Long John Silver’s. I think we’re taking our chances with Luke, accuracy-wise.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Aye, Greg is being a wee bit facetious there…he is the one person, if any on here, who is well aware that Luke/Acts is a fictional yarn plagiarised from all sorts of sources.

        • Glad2BGodless

          D’oh!

        • Greg G.

          I am very skeptical that Nazareth was a place in the first half of the first century, that there were synagogues in Galilee in the first half of the first century, that a synagogue would have a Greek copy of the Isaiah, and that the Jesus of the New Testament existed.

          We can tell that Luke was using the Septuagint because the Hebrew version is about freeing prisoners and does not have “recovery of sight to the blind”.

  • RichardSRussell

    As I post this, it’s 10:50 AM on Sunday March 4 (the only date that’s a complete English sentence), and I have just finished engaging in one of my very favorite atheist rituals: not getting out of bed on a Sunday morning.

    Frankly, I think we should brag about this ritual more enthusiastically and more often, especially in the presence of those poor saps who get all gussied up to subject themselves to a couple hours of sheer boredom every week, rain or shine, snow or cyclone.

    • Glad2BGodless

      The motion is made and seconded. All in favor say aye.

      Aye!

      • Ignorant Amos

        Aye!

    • Bob Jase

      My household gods will not allow too much sleeping in even on Sunday. And they will use their claws to remind me to get up.

      • RichardSRussell

        As I always snarl ferociously at my own, “Yes, your worshipfulness!”

    • sandy

      One of the best things my parents ever did for me was their habit of sleeping in on Sundays. My brother and sisters and I never had to go to church and as a result no childhood indoctrination. Thank you mom and dad!

      • Ignorant Amos

        Lucky you…I had to mitch Sunday School…and get a good slapping into the bargain for doing it too.

  • Ctharrot

    Test post.

    • Greg G.

      Test post.

      This part didn’t come through.

      • Ctharrot

        Everyone who’s not here, please raise your hands so I can get a count.

        (But seriously. My response to Scooter kept disappearing, because Disqus.)

        • Bob Jase

          I wasn’t here earlier and I won’t be here later – does that count?

        • Otto

          Dave’s not here

        • Max Doubt

          “(But seriously. My response to Scooter kept disappearing, because Disqus.)”

          Your post to Scooter will likely disappear between his eyes and his brain anyway. He has worked very hard to develop professional level willful ignorance skills, and he ain’t afraid to use them.

        • Ignorant Amos

          What brain would that be? That dormant organ between his eras?

        • Disqus has assigned you “Low Rep” status. I just un-spammed a few of your comments. Perhaps you’ve been a bad boy in the eyes of the Almighty Disqus somewhere on the interwebs.

        • Ctharrot

          Weird. I honestly can’t imagine why I’d be flagged. Never been banned, never posted spam. Don’t recall even using any of George Carlin’s seven words you can’t (okay, couldn’t) say on television.

          Thanks for the unblocking. Although now I’ll bet there are a few duplicate comments that I’ll want to delete. 🙂

        • I rarely think to check to see if any comments need to be un-spammed, so let me know if it happens again.

          I don’t know how reputation works, but I could imagine a vindictive Christian repeatedly down-voting you somewhere. Maybe that was the cause.

        • Disqus says: 282 comments with 52 spam. I can see how the algorithm made its conclusion. Now you’ve just got to figure out who’s declaring your stuff spam.

        • Ctharrot

          Hmm. Wild. I have had Disqus block comments on occasion before, with no rhyme or reason I could discern. (I can’t think of anyone who’d have a grudge, even at the Christian sites I visit.) If it keeps happening, I might just try a new profile.

          Anyhoo, thanks for the info and assist!

        • Glad2BGodless

          Ctharrot is all cool, but I’ve noticed Han Solo is pretty spammy. Just saying.

        • Glad2BGodless

          Ctharrot is all cool, but I’ve noticed Han Solo is pretty spammy. Just saying.

    • Glad2BGodless

      It’s a fine post. Modest, but it gets the job done.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Shit. I forgot to study.

  • Nos482

    I got your book on monday and finished it by thursday… wishing for the first time my daily commute was longer so I had more time to read.
    Good book… one thing though, why do three of the main characters (Paul, Athena, Samuel) feel the need to get rid of quite a few of their possessions, or at least in Paul’s case, feel better in Jim’s realtively spartanic place? This seems a bit forced in my opinion. Had one or two of them had acted this way, I probably wouldn’t have recognized it… but all three? Fat chance.

    • You’ve made my day! Thanks for sharing.

      Y’know, I hadn’t noticed that there was so much house cleaning. I’ll think about that.