New on Ebon Musings: Dating the Good News

I’ve uploaded a new essay to Ebon Musings, “Dating the Good News“. This essay attempts to fix a date of composition for the New Testament’s four canonical gospels based on documentary evidence, both positive and negative, and draws some conclusions on what this date tells us about the evolution of early Christianity.

This is an open thread. Comments and discussion are welcome.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://zeroanaphora.wordpress.com/ Abbie

    Fascinating article!
    What Papias’ describes sounds suspiciously like the Q document to me…

  • mikespeir

    You should mention dates for Ignatius.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Good idea, Mike. Dates have been added.

  • Alex Weaver

    You mean “second-century Christian” for Justin Martyr, right?

  • Jim Baerg

    When you mentioned certain old papyrus copies of the gospels I thought of Carbon-14 dating them. However, when I checked I found the uncertainty of the C-14 dates would be several decades, & so would not do much to help settle the issues.

  • Amaris

    Excellent article. I am actually trying to debate this issue with a believer in the gospels so I thank you for this!

  • Amaris

    Sorry I should just add he is a believer in that the authors of the gospels were writing them from first hand experience!

  • abusedbypenguins

    Lets see- according to scientists the universe is about 13 to 14 billion years old. Light has been traveling outward to make the universe somewhere in the range of 26 to 28 billion light years across. A really big space filled with billions of galaxies, in turn filled with trillions of stars, uncountable planets, moons, asteroids, comets, clouds of dust and gas(go to Hubble Sight to see). With all of this going on the crazy christians, etc. want us to believe that in all of the immense vastness of space there is a being that is worried about what happens when a sperm cell impacts an egg cell on this tiny little planet we call home. That is either complete lunacy or a very bad scifi flick.

  • Christopher

    Interesting article. Would it be at all possible to provide a bibliography? I’m interested in learning more about the history of the early Christian movement and I’m curious as to what you used for sources.

    Thanks.

  • Adam

    The Ending of Luke-Acts

    Another point often appealed to by Christian apologists is that the Book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, while Christian tradition states that he was put to death in that city around 60 CE. Since Acts does not record Paul’s death, it’s a logical deduction that it was written before that happened….

    However, reasonable as this sounds…”[Some] scholars see in Acts’ plot line a symbolic progression of the faith’s early expansion from Jerusalem to Rome, from a Jewish beginning to a gentile culmination, so the author may well have wanted to avoid ending on a negative note. That symbolic progression would have been somewhat compromised by having Paul get his head chopped off.”

    So this is a better explaination the believing what the Text actually says?? That Luke wrote his book? Does anyone actually believe this besides people that hate christianity?

    Things “Handed Down to Us”

    Another verse from the Gospel of Luke, which I haven’t often seen mentioned, points in a different direction:

    “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

    —Luke 1:1-4 (NIV)
    In Christian tradition Luke was the companion of Paul….

    Actually it’s not tradition, it’s written right in the book of Collosians 4:14 that Luke was a friend of Paul’s. In the Book of Acts, Luke writes in the third person pural “We”, showing that he traveled with Paul.

    This shows undeniably that Luke wrote his book

  • Juan Felipe

    Same here, a bibliography or at least a “further reading” section is quite necesary. Other than that is quite good.

    Lets see- according to scientists the universe is about 13 to 14 billion years old. Light has been traveling outward to make the universe somewhere in the range of 26 to 28 billion light years across. A really big space filled with billions of galaxies, in turn filled with trillions of stars, uncountable planets, moons, asteroids, comets, clouds of dust and gas(go to Hubble Sight to see). With all of this going on the crazy christians, etc. want us to believe that in all of the immense vastness of space there is a being that is worried about what happens when a sperm cell impacts an egg cell on this tiny little planet we call home. That is either complete lunacy or a very bad scifi flick.

    Does size equal importance?, I don’t think so. Your wife/son/mother/friends/whatever are just as tiny as an egg cell compared with the universe, but you certainly care about them.

  • Polly

    It’s not the Gospels that I hear quoted so often as the “creed” mentioned in (IIRC) Corinthians that corroborates the early date that Christians believed JC rose from the dead.
    Just an aside; I’m not making any particular point.

  • Leum

    The guy who blogs at Evangelical Realism (can’t remember his name, Duncan?) sees that as strong evidence against early belief in Resurrection. Why would Paul be arguing so strongly that there was a Resurrection, he asks, if he weren’t arguing against a widely-held belief?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    As it happens, I have a post on Paul’s resurrection creed already written. Since there’s interest, I can make it the next post on DA.

    Actually it’s not tradition, it’s written right in the book of Collosians 4:14 that Luke was a friend of Paul’s. In the Book of Acts, Luke writes in the third person pural “We”, showing that he traveled with Paul.

    This shows undeniably that Luke wrote his book

    Ah yes, the old mainstay of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This is the theological equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, “La la la la, I’m not listening, I can’t hear you!”

    Catholic theologians have done some good textual scholarship in the past. It would be a shame if they all degenerated into this sort of willful know-nothingism that Adam is so eager to put on display.

  • Stephen

    @Adam:

    1) So where does the text of the “gospel according to Luke” or of Acts actually give the name of the author?

    2) Do you really think that there was only one person called Luke in the whole first century? Colossians offers no suggestion that the Luke mentioned there is the same as the Luke of the gospels.

    No-one knows who wrote Luke/Acts, but it was certainly no eyewitness of Jesus.

  • Adam

    Catholic theologians have done some good textual scholarship in the past. It would be a shame if they all degenerated into this sort of willful know-nothingism that Adam is so eager to put on display.

    What?

    We’re not talking about theology, we’re talking Biblical Scholarship: hence using the text. If we can not work with the Text, then what should we work with? It has nothing to do with: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” It has to do with working with the Text we have, then making conclusions from there.

    The text says, Luke wrote his book, then (in so many words) Luke says he wrote the book of Acts, supported by him using third, person pural “we”, then Paul said Luke was a compainion of his a number of different times in his own letters (cf. Philemon 1:24, and Col 4:14) How is stating these facts “willful know-nothingism”?

    To disregard these texts to conclude Luke did not write his book and the book of Acts is “willful know-nothingism”

  • Adam

    Catholic theologians have done some good textual scholarship in the past.

    Can you please provide some so that we can compare and contrast? I fear that if I posted it, it would be deleted.

    Thanks.

  • Alex Weaver

    Adam: Would you believe the claims contained in the Protocols of The Elders of Zion about who wrote it?

  • Adam

    Adam: Would you believe the claims contained in the Protocols of The Elders of Zion about who wrote it?

    I don’t really know what you mean? Is that from the link Adam gave us?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    It has to do with working with the Text we have, then making conclusions from there.

    Adam seems not to have grasped the concept that a book can say things that are not true. Or rather, I suspect his failure of comprehension is a highly selective and narrowly focused one: after all, the Qur’an says that Mohammed was a prophet and the Qur’an is the word of God, but I doubt he believes that.

  • Leum

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a book that purported to be the Jewish master plan for world domination. It was essentially anti-Semite propaganda and was used to incite hatred towards and oppression of Jews worldwide, and still is in some Middle Eastern countries (as in, they teach it to children in their schools).

    Now, when reading the Protocols, a sensible person realizes that a) Jews almost certainly have no master plan for world domination and b) even if they did, it’s a hopeless failure and so concludes that the Protocols were not written by Jews. Even if unswayed by the two compelling arguments above, they might research the Protocols and realize that all the external evidence points to the authors being gentiles.

    Alex is suggesting that, like Protocols, Luke and Acts should not be assumed to be written by a companion of Paul’s simply because they say they are. The analogy isn’t perfect, since Luke and Acts were not written to defame the purported author, but it’s good enough to give the idea.

  • http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/datingthegospels Steven Jones

    Who does the term “Christian apologists” refer to? I.e., is it simply anyone defending Christianity or does it have a more specific meaning?

  • Stephen

    More basically, Adam has not grasped the fact that the four gospels and Acts (unlike the epistles) are all anonymous works. None of them identifies the author, and the names traditionally attached to the gospels are second-century guesses.

  • Adam

    Adam, if you will allow me, I would like to make a long defense, and one or two line defense will not suffice, but I’m not going to do all the work if I’m not allowed to post it. It will have to be long to make my points.

    I will await your reply

  • Mathew Wilder

    @ Juan: we are not gods, so if we have provincial interests it should come as no surprise, especially given what we know about evolution and kin selection.

    For an omnipotent, omniscient being to have the same parochial cares we do seems awfully strange. Perhaps that being shares our interests because it was created in our image?

  • Leum

    Steven:

    Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views. (Source)

  • Dave

    Adam:

    We’re not talking about theology, we’re talking Biblical Scholarship: hence using the text. If we can not work with the Text, then what should we work with? It has nothing to do with: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” It has to do with working with the Text we have, then making conclusions from there.

    You might want to consider Robert Price’s book, “The incredible Shrinking Son of Man” for a historical-critical reading of what the text of the gospels say and why they say what they do.

    Price concludes there is almost nothing historical in the gospels. That they were written mostly as polemical tracts to silence opponents and provide a pedigree for the literalist Christ sect of the second century CE. This was the sect that ultimately gained power under Constantine.

    The problem with “working with the text” is that if it is the only text you consider, you miss the circumstances surrounding its development. Price understands the profound contributions of Jewish and pagan writings to the gospels, not to mention the dozens of extant Christian texts not selected for inclusion by the literalist winners.

  • Alex Weaver

    Adam, if you will allow me, I would like to make a long defense, and one or two line defense will not suffice, but I’m not going to do all the work if I’m not allowed to post it. It will have to be long to make my points.

    I will await your reply

    Adam, has Ebon ever actually deleted anything of yours that wasn’t off-topic boilerplate preaching? I would think I’d have noticed, but…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I’ve deleted comments of Adam’s in the past because they either (a) were completely off-topic (he has a habit of treating this site as if it were his personal anti-abortion soapbox) or (b) because they were just chunks of cut-and-pasted text reciting what the Vatican thinks about whatever the topic of the post is. I don’t delete any comments that are on topic, express original thought, and otherwise conform to the comment policy. That’s the only guarantee I’ll give, and if that’s not sufficient for him, he’s welcome to go find another site to post on.

  • John Nernoff

    Also of interest is the complete silence of secular witnesses who would have been there to see the prodigy, God Incarnate, and testify as to its manifestations in Jesus. For example, Philo of Alexandria, a prominent Jewish philosopher and politician who traveled around to Rome and Palestine, or, if not, who in all likelihood would have been THE person to know of the Jewish wunderkind Jesus, said absolutely nothing about him, even though he was an exact contemporary. The official Roman records at the time do not mention Jesus, despite their rule over the Palestinian area. Later writers such as Tacitus and Pliny, the Younger, report only of what Christians were saying, and said so in an unfavorable light, not impressed with his divinity. They were definitely not eyewitnesses to anything. Josephus, similarly was born in 37 C.E. and reported, if anything, only hearsay, these words, doctored by Christian apologists to make it seem impressive. The entire Jesus affair is a sad and desperate spectacle.

  • VorJack

    “We’re not talking about theology, we’re talking Biblical Scholarship: hence using the text.”

    Right, but we need to use the text intelligently. There are loads of ancient texts that were written under the name of someone other than the author; they’re called “pseudoepigraphia.” It was a standard practice, so we cannot automatically accept the word of the author as to his identity. If we did we’d have to accept that the docetic “Gospel of Peter” was actually by Simon Peter, which would do strange things to Christian theology.

    So we date the text. It uses GosMark, which means it must be later than the gospel dated between 65-80AD. It MAY be using Josephus, which would be putting it past 90AD. So if the companion of Paul was writing it, he waited 20+ years before putting quill to parchment. Not impossible, but it seems unlikely. Many scholars look at the theology, which seems to be putting the brakes of the apocolypticism in Paul and Mark, and come to the conclusion that it was written fairly late, maybe even early second century.

  • http://www.ateosmexicanos.com/portal/ Juan Felipe

    As I said earlier, the article is quite good (added to the “must translate” list ;-)But it seems to me that there is an important omission on your part, what about the papyri 7Q5? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7Q5

    The identification of this papyri with the gospel is still quite dubious, but if it was indeed a fragment from Mark it would represent a nearly unsurmountable problem with your thesis, aside from having profound implications for the mythicist view of Jesus. It seems to me that you should dedicate, at least, a little attention to it; either providing a reference for a skeptical treatment of 7Q5 or discussing the implications that a Markan confirmation would have.

  • lpetrich

    John Nernoff, what “official Roman records” are you talking about? I don’t know of *any* that have survived.

    Aside from that, you are broadly correct. Philo had been interested in eccentric Jewish sects and Josephus in self-styled prophets, so both gentlemen would have discussed Jesus Christ and his followers in detail if they had known about them.

  • John Nernoff

    Re Official Roman records, I have heard that item from several sources, but since I am not a historian I cannot cite anything, say, comparable to the Congressional Record. Perhaps something by Richard C. Carrier would do. I will look further.

  • John Nernoff

    This may help — from the Wikipedia:

    Acta Diurna (lat: Daily Acts sometimes translated as Daily Public Records) were daily Roman official notices, a sort of daily gazette. They were carved on stone or metal and presented in message boards in public places like the Forum of Rome. They were also called simply Acta or Diurna or sometimes Acta Popidi or Acta Publica.
    The first form of Acta appeared around 131 BCE during the Roman Republic. Their original content included results of legal proceedings and outcomes of trials. Later the content was expanded to public notices and announcements and other noteworthy information such as prominent births, marriages and deaths. After a couple of days the notices were taken down and archived (though no intact copy has survived to the present day).
    Sometimes scribes made copies of the Acta and sent them to provincial governors for information. Later emperors used them to announce royal or senatorial decrees and events of the court.
    Other forms of Acta were legal, municipal and military notices. Acta Senatus were originally kept secret, until then-consul Julius Caesar made them public in 59 BC. Later rulers, however, often censored them.
    Publication of the Acta Diurna stopped when the seat of the emperor was moved to Constantinople. [Circa 330 C.E. --JN]

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Actually, I’d never heard of 7Q5. That’s very interesting, Juan – thanks very much for bringing it to my attention. I definitely should update my essay to include a section about it.

    On the whole, though, I don’t think it’s too problematic for my argument. This papyrus literally consists of no more than a few letters. As the Wikipedia article notes, its identification with part of the Gospel of Mark is rejected by most scholars, not just on textual grounds (some of those letters are wrong for the verse it’s claimed to be part of), but on historical grounds as well (what would the Essene Jewish community at Qumran be doing with a gospel of the New Testament?). Even if that identification were correct, this papyrus would suffer from an even worse version of the problem that afflicts P52: a text so small and fragmentary tells us nothing about whether its parent document agreed with the gospel as we now have it, nor does it tell us who was regarded as the author.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Following Juan’s excellent suggestion, I’ve updated the essay to include a section on 7Q5.

  • Adam

    I think there is strong evidence, both external and internal, for St. Luke being the author of his book and the book of Acts. I think there is strong evidence to date St. Luke’s book in the 60′s AD. I’ve done my best to summerize some class notes:
    http://www.houseofformation.com/History_of_Lukes_Gospel.doc

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Adam finally contributes an on-topic comment expressing original thought! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

    Having looked over his essay, my opinion is that all its main arguments are either just rehashing of apologetic claims already answered in my essay, or patently beg the question. I’ll consider his major points in turn.

    First, Adam argues that if the gospels were written late, we’d expect to see arguments over their attribution, as various factions within the church fought to claim them as their own. This is an argument from silence of the most fallacious kind, because as even Adam admits, the first extra-biblical witness to the gospels which quotes them and calls them by name only shows up around 180 CE, a hundred and fifty years after the events the gospels claim to narrate. There’s a massive chunk missing from the historical record, and we simply don’t know what may have been written during that time that is now lost. (We do know that the Christian church waged an organized effort to suppress “heretical” writings, and that other anti-Christian polemical works, such as Celsus, have come down to us only in fragments or were stamped out altogether.) Adam’s argument on this point, that “there never was variation”, is based on assumptions about the contents of documents that we do not have. It’s even contradicted by some evidence that we do have, such as that Marcion was using an altered version of the Gospel of Luke that doesn’t agree with today’s canon, or Papias’ citation of documents authored by “Mark” and “Matthew” that are clearly not the same as the gospels we have today.

    Second, Adam argues that Luke’s gospel was written by Luke because it says it is. This is despite the fact that Adam quotes one of the key passages from my essay, yet manages to ignore its point:

    In general, internal evidence is not a reliable marker of when a text was composed. After all, there is always the possibility that a text which was composed late was written to seem early. This is a known problem in the biblical world, where many apocryphal documents were attributed to famous past figures to give them greater authority…

    And aside from a few dates in extra-biblical documents, which as I previously mentioned are quite late, that’s all he has to offer. His case for the traditional authorship of the gospels is threadbare and based largely on assumption and circular argument.

    There are also a few amusing places where he undercuts himself without noticing. I especially like this one:

    Here is a point worth reflecting on that was made by F. F. Bruce: “It is noteworthy that, while the four canonical gospels could afford to be published anonymously, the apocryphal gospels which began to appear from the mid-second century onwards claimed (falsely) to be written by apostles or other persons associated with the Lord.” In other words, if the Gospel of Luke is a second-century forgery, we would expect that the forger would have claimed authorship by one of the apostles, not by some obscure companion of Paul.

    By Adam’s own argument, therefore, we should reject the gospels of Matthew and John as forgeries. After all, they “claimed to be written by apostles”, and as Adam concedes, there is no testimony to their existence prior to the mid-second century.

  • Adam

    First, Adam argues that if the gospels were written late, we’d expect to see arguments over their attribution, as various factions within the church fought to claim them as their own. This is an argument from silence of the most fallacious kind…

    The evidence suggests that everyone knew that the Gospel’s were written by the people we think of today because, no one even questioned it outside the Church until around 180′s AD, when St. Irenaeus then testifies to the authorship…and don’t forget, he was acquainted with Polycarp, a disciple of John, who was one of the 12 original Apostles.

    We do know that the Christian church waged an organized effort to suppress “heretical” writings, and that other anti-Christian polemical works, such as Celsus, have come down to us only in fragments or were stamped out altogether.

    A world wide conspiracy theory? Or a Church that is getting rid of works that are false teachings?…if the Church is supposed to teach about God and salvation, then we have the right to get the correct teachings, not the false teachings that the Bible tells us that the early apostles snuffed out. (cf. Acts 6:9-13; 13:6-8). But obviously they continued, which is why the Church got rid of the stuff.

    Second, Adam argues that Luke’s gospel was written by Luke because it says it is. This is despite the fact that Adam quotes one of the key passages from my essay, yet manages to ignore its point:

    In general, internal evidence is not a reliable marker of when a text was composed. After all, there is always the possibility that a text which was composed late was written to seem early…

    Another conspiracy theory, I would like evidence…in any case, I did cite something about it:

    Response: This argument appears to reflect an anti-supernatural bias, denying, in effect, that Jesus could have accurately predicted the circumstances of Jerusalem’s fall before the event. In fact, Jesus’ predictions about the fall of Jerusalem are remarkably vague and employ standard first-century language for siege techniques. The siege of Jerusalem was described in horrific detail by the Jewish historian Josephus, and his description does not appear to be reflected in Luke’s versions of Jesus’ predictions. Also, it takes a very rigid view of Lk’s use of his sources. In this case it explains Lk’s text as a modification of Mk instead of a record of a separate tradition preserved by Lk.

    In 1947 C.H. Dodd, a British New Testament Professor from Cambridge University, published a now famous article entitled: “The Fall of Jerusalem and the ‘Abomination of desolation,’” Journal of Roman Studies 37 (1947) pp. 47-54. The article has been reprinted multiple times, which shows its popularity and influence. Dodd studied two passages in Luke that have been repeatedly charged with being Vaticinium ex eventu (Latin for: “prophecies after the event”). These passages are:

    Luke 19:42-44 And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, [42] saying,
    “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from
    your eyes. [43] For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank
    about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, [44] and dash you to the ground,
    you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you;
    because you did not know the time of your visitation.

    And:

    Luke 21:20-24 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its
    desolation has come near. [21] Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let
    those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it; [22]
    for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. [23] Alas for those who are with
    child and for those who give suck in those days! For great distress shall be upon the earth and
    wrath upon this people; [24] they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive
    among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the
    Gentiles are fulfilled.

    Cf. Mk 13.14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains;”

    Dodd argued that the picture given here in Luke and in the other Synoptic accounts is very general and uses language borrowed from the OT books of Jeremiah (16.4; 41.1; 27.29; 52.4-5), Isaiah (3.25-26) and elsewhere to describe the destruction of Jerusalem. To surround a city with an army was a commonplace in ancient warfare. Dodd further noticed that the most important details given by the Jewish historian Josephus of the Roman capture of Jerusalem are not mentioned at all in Jesus’ predictions, for example the fantastic faction-fighting inside the walls of Jerusalem between the Jews, which continued throughout the siege and resulted in tens of thousands of Jewish deaths at the hands of other Jews; the horrors of pestilence and famine (including cannibalism); and finally the conflagration (fiery inferno) in which the Temple and a large part of the city perished.

    Moreover, Josephus, who was an eyewitness to the catastrophe, says nothing about the conquerors “dashing children to the ground,” a detail that is found in Jesus’ prediction. Dodd’s intention in pointing out this discrepancy is not to say that Jesus failed to predict the event accurately, but that that the language Jesus uses in these predictions is drawn from OT descriptions of warnings of Jerusalem’s imminent destruction given to Israel by the prophets. Hos 10.14, for example, speaks of mothers being “dashed to pieces” with their children in a coming war. Dodd argues that these prophecies by Jesus of the coming destruction of Jerusalem give a generalized picture of the fall of Jerusalem borrowing the language of the Hebrew OT prophets. Dodd writes: “So far as any historical event has colored the picture, it is not Titus’s capture of Jerusalem in AD 70, but Nebuchadnezzar’s capture in 586 BC. There is no single trait of the forecast which cannot be documented directly out of the OT.”

    An implication of Dodd’s argument is that the prophecies of Jesus in the gospels about the coming destruction of Jerusalem should not considered determinative for dating the Gospels after AD 70, since that event is never described in the NT. If the early Christians had no inhibitions about fabricating prophecies about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and then inserting these prophecies into the mouth of Jesus, after the historical event had taken place, pretending that Jesus had foreseen it all along, surely they would have at least made the prophecies agree in the details with Titus’s actual destruction of the city. But the agreement is only in very general terms that reflect typical OT language: that an army would surround, burn, and tear down the city and dash the children to the ground. The prophecies do not reflect many of the specific details that are recorded in Josephus’s eyewitness account.

    Just because you don’t agree with it, or did not read it, does not mean I didn’t talk about it.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Are you arguing that the gospels must have been written before the sacking of Jerusalem because Jesus couldn’t get his prophecy right? Um, even if that is so, isn’t that a bit of a pyrrhic victory?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    The evidence suggests that everyone knew that the Gospel’s were written by the people we think of today because, no one even questioned it outside the Church until around 180′s AD…

    This is just a repetition of your earlier fallacious argument from silence, so I won’t belabor the point.

    …and don’t forget, he was acquainted with Polycarp, a disciple of John, who was one of the 12 original Apostles.

    What evidence do you have for this?

    We do know that the Christian church waged an organized effort to suppress “heretical” writings, and that other anti-Christian polemical works, such as Celsus, have come down to us only in fragments or were stamped out altogether.

    A world wide conspiracy theory? Or a Church that is getting rid of works that are false teachings?…if the Church is supposed to teach about God and salvation, then we have the right to get the correct teachings, not the false teachings that the Bible tells us that the early apostles snuffed out. (cf. Acts 6:9-13; 13:6-8).

    Thank you for demonstrating my point with your spirited defense of censorship. You would find much common ground with the Islamic mullahs who reason, the same as you do, that Islam is the one true religion for humankind and they therefore have the right to outlaw all criticism and contrary opinion.

    Response: This argument appears to reflect an anti-supernatural bias, denying, in effect, that Jesus could have accurately predicted the circumstances of Jerusalem’s fall before the event.

    I’m sure you’d find it very convenient if that was actually my argument, but as it stands, you’re inventing straw men that you find easier to attack. Here’s what my essay actually said:

    Conservative Christians naturally take this passage as proof of Jesus’ miraculous powers of foresight, and an indication that the gospels were written before the events they foretell. However, an equally possible interpretation is that this passage was composed after these events, and was written to “foretell” them in order to make it seem as if the author had access to a source of supernatural insight. …Since no internal evidence of this passage can decide between these alternatives, by itself it is of little help in dating the gospels.

    Whenever we’re faced with a text that apparently foretells a future event, there are two possibilities: either it came from supernatural insight (or shrewd guessing), or it was written after the fact. But the text itself can never adjudicate between these possibilities, since either hypothesis explains its content equally well. Even if prophecy does exist, the only way we can prove that any particular text is a prophecy is by external, empirical evidence definitively placing its composition prior to the events it foretells. And, as we’re agreed, you have no such evidence for the gospels.

    If the early Christians had no inhibitions about fabricating prophecies about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and then inserting these prophecies into the mouth of Jesus, after the historical event had taken place, pretending that Jesus had foreseen it all along, surely they would have at least made the prophecies agree in the details with Titus’s actual destruction of the city.

    I’m always amused by these heads-I-win, tails-you-lose arguments. So prophecies are more likely to be true when they’re less detailed? Devotees of Nostradamus will be overjoyed to hear that, I’m sure.

    If Jesus’ prophecies had contained precise detail about the destruction of the city, would Christians have discarded them as fabricated after the fact? Of course not: Christian apologists would just be trumpeting them all the more as witnessing Jesus’ supernatural powers of foresight. This is the same kind of reasoning you used to argue that the non-canonical gospels are late forgeries because they first appear in the second century and claim to be written by apostles, although you accept the canonicity of Matthew and John, because they first appear in the second century and claim to be written by apostles.

  • Adam

    …and don’t forget, he was acquainted with Polycarp, a disciple of John, who was one of the 12 original Apostles.

    What evidence do you have for this?

    Saint Irenaeus (Greek: Εἰρηναῖος), (2nd century AD – c. 202) was a Catholic Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire (now Lyons, France). He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus_of_Lyons

    This speaks about St. Irenaeus and Polycarp as well:
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08130b.htm

    As I stated in my essay, when “dating the good news” we all would do well to listen to people who were there.

    For me St. Irenaeus is enough. He knew Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John, who lived with Jesus. St. Irenaeus tells us who wrote the gospels. This fact, along with the Church, gives me all the evidence I need.

    The rest of the stuff we can argue until we are blue. But I would think that this is hard for anyone to get around.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I asked for evidence, not just a repetition of your previous assertions. What original written sources exist for this claim?

  • Adam

    I asked for evidence, not just a repetition of your previous assertions. What original written sources exist for this claim?

    Here is the evidence.

    I trust someone who was there to tell me who wrote the gospels.

    Eusebius, History of the Church 5.20.4-8 (English translation slightly modified from that in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers):

    Εν η γε μην προειρηκαμεν προς τον Φλωρινον ο Ειρηναιος επιστολη αυθις της αμα Πολυκαρπω συνουσιας αυτου μνημονευει, λεγων·

    In the epistle to Florinus, of which we have spoken, Irenaeus mentions again his intimacy with Polycarp, saying:

    Ταυτα τα δογματα, Φλωρινε, ινα πεφεισμενως ειπω, ουκ εστιν υγιους γνωμης· ταυτα τα δογματα ασυμφωνα εστιν την εκκλησια εις την μεγιστην ασεβειαν περιβαλλοντα τους πειθομενους αυτοις· ταυτα τα δογματα ουδε οι εξω της εκκλησιας αιρετικοι ετολμησαν αποφηνασθαι ποτε· ταυτα τα δογματα οι προ ημων πρεσβυτεροι, οι και τοις αποστολοις συμφοιτησαντες, ου παρεδωκαν σοι.

    These doctrines, Florinus, to speak mildly, are not of sound judgment. These doctrines disagree with the church and drive into the greatest impiety those who accept them. These doctrines not even the heretics outside of the church have ever dared to publish. These doctrines the presbyters who were before us and who were companions of the apostles did not deliver to you.

    Ειδον γαρ σε, παις ετι ων, εν τη κατω Ασια παρα Πολυκαρπω, λαμπρως πρασσοντα εν τη βασιλικη αυλη και πειρωνμενον ευδοκιμειν παρ αυτω. μαλλον γαρ τα τοτε διαμνημονευω των εναγχος γινομενων, αι γαρ εκ παιδων μαθησεις συναυξουσαι τη ψυχη, ενουνται αυτη, ωστε με δυνασθαι ειπειν και τον τοπον εν ω καθεζομενος διελεγετο ο μακαριος Πολυκαρπος, και τας προοδους αυτου και τας εισοδους και τον χαρακτηρα του βιου και την του σωματος ιδεαν και τας διαλεξεις ας εποιειτο προς το πληθος, και την μετα Ιωαννου συναναστροφην ως απηγγελλεν και την μετα των λοιπων των εορακοτων τον κυριον, και ως απεμνημονευεν τους λογους αυτων, και περι του κυριου τινα ην α παρ εκεινων ακηκοει, και περι των δυναμεων αυτου, και περι της διδασκαλιας ως παρα των αυτοπτων της ζωης του λογου παρειληφως ο Πολυκαρπος απηγγελλεν παντα συμφωνα ταις γραφαις.

    For when I was a boy I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp, doing brilliantly in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approbation. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it, so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the word of life, Polycarp related all things in harmony with the scriptures.

    Ταυτα και τοτε δια το ελεος του θεου το επ εμοι γεγονος σπουδαιως ηκουον, υπομνηματιζομενος αυτα ουκ εν χαρτη, αλλα εν τη εμη καρδια· και αει δια την χαριν του θεου γνησιως αυτα αναμαρυκωμαι, και δυναμαι διαμαρτυρασθαι εμπροσθεν του θεου οτι ει τι τοιουτον ακηκοει εκεινος ο μακαριος και αποστολικος πρεσβυτερος, ανακραξας αν κα εμφραξας τα ωτα αυτου και κατα το συνηθες αυτω ειπων· Ω καλε θεε, εις οιους με καιρους τετηρηκας, ινα τουτων ανεχωμαι, πεφευγει αν και τον τοπον εν ω καθεζομενος η εστως των τοιουτων ακηκοει λογων.

    These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through the grace of God, I recall them faithfully. And I am able to bear witness before God that, if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard any such thing, he would have cried out and stopped his ears and, as was his custom, would have exclaimed: O good God, unto what times have you spared me that I should endure these things? And he would have fled from the place where, sitting or standing, he had heard such words.

    Και εκ των επιστολων δε αυτου ων επεστειλεν ητοι ταις γειτνιωσαις εκκλησιαις, επιστηριζων αυτας, η των αδελφων τισι, νουθετων αυτους και προτρεπομενος, δυναται φανερωθηναι.

    And this can be shown plainly from the epistles which he sent, either to the neighboring churches for their confirmation or to some of the brethren, admonishing and exhorting them.

    Ταυτα ο Ειρηναιος.

    These are the things that Irenaeus wrote.

    http://www.textexcavation.com/irenaeus.html

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. So we have no surviving writings from Polycarp, or from Irenaeus that directly mention Polycarp, which attest to his having personally known John. The earliest link in the chain of documentary evidence is Eusebius, who quotes an otherwise lost writing of Irenaeus’ in which he makes these claims. Correct?

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html#6

    Eusebius is also infamous for saying that it was necessary to lie for the cause of Christianity. In his Praeparatio Evangelica 12.31, listing the ideas Plato supposedly got from Moses, he includes the idea:

    That it is necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a medicine for those who need such an approach. [As said in Plato's Laws 663e by the Athenian:] ‘And even the lawmaker who is of little use, if even this is not as he considered it, and as just now the application of logic held it, if he dared lie to young men for a good reason, then can’t he lie? For falsehood is something even more useful than the above, and sometimes even more able to bring it about that everyone willingly keeps to all justice.’

    As Richard Carrier notes, Eusebius is the first or the only author to quote several notorious forgeries, including the Testimonium Flavianum and a letter supposedly written by Jesus (!). In fact, a 1999 article in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly by Ken Olson makes a strong case that Eusebius is himself the forger of the Testimonium Flavianum, noting that it contains several phrases that are distinctively Eusebian.

    So, to sum up: Your source for the claim that Polycarp knew John personally is a writer who defended the idea of lying for a good cause, who’s known to have accepted several obvious forgeries, and who’s suspected of being a forger himself. You may want to look for better evidence before you so confidently assert these things.

  • Adam

    You may want to look for better evidence before you so confidently assert these things.

    First,
    The debate about the Testimonium Flavianum is on going:
    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/testimonium.html

    Second,

    You may want to look for better evidence before you so condidently assert these things, Richard Carrier, then one you quote, has been quoted as saying that he is “no less a philosopher than Aristotle or Hume.” Someone who makes such a leap is a little off center, there fore all of his claims are off center:
    http://www.answeringinfidels.com/answering-skeptics/answering-richard-carrier/richard-carrier-equal-to-aristotle.html

    This is the same reasoning your using for Eusebius.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    As anyone who actually read Carrier’s words for themselves would know, he was not claiming that his influence is equal to Aristotle or Hume, but that his qualifications and ability to do philosophy are equal to theirs. Furthermore, even if he was the most arrogant person in the world, that would not excuse the necessity of responding to his arguments. Nor would it automatically detract from his credibility, as it does from Eusebius’ when he advocates using deception to advance the causes he believes in.

    Also, personal attacks in lieu of addressing the evidence is a good sign that the religious apologist has run out of answers, and therefore that it’s time to close this thread.