I see your trilemma, and raise you a tetralemma!

Over at Cross Examined, Bob Seidensticker has an objection to C.S. Lewis’s Trilemma, and John E_o raised the same question over here.  Bob says, why stay stuck in Lewis’s framework that Jesus Christ must be either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord of all Creation?  Can’t we just pick ‘legend?’

We have no problem with wisdom taken from the Koran or the story of Gilgamesh or the Upanishads or any other book of religion or mythology despite its being wrong about the supernatural stuff. Assuming that the Bible’s supernatural claims are false, why must that invalidate its wisdom, too?

Lewis’s Trilemma is a very narrowly targeted apologetic argument, and it’s often truncated when quoted, so it’s easy to make Bob’s mistake. Lewis is framing his argument for an interlocutor that concedes that Jesus existed, said the things in the Gospels, but thinks that Jesus is basically a Martin Luther King Jr figure.  He taught a lot of wonderful things, but he wasn’t God, so why not just ignore all the theological bits?

And that would work for a fictional character.  A work might be thought-provoking and instructive, but you still wouldn’t want its protagonist to walk out of the pages and demand your fealty.  You take up the teachings as you judge them appropriate, but the character has no authority over you.

But the “Jesus was an amazing, real person, and a great moral teacher” crowd doesn’t have a very coherent place to stand.  Claiming to be God and to have the power to personally forgive sins on behalf of others is more than just a charming eccentricity like handing out lemon drops at odd moments.  If you would defer to this person’s moral judgement (and isn’t that what we’re saying, when we say we want to put on Christ or pattern our lives after his), then you must trust them.

Now, since I raised the MLK parallel, I’d like to use it to head off one other objection.  Martin Luther King Jr was a prophetic voice in the civil rights movement.  And he cheated on his wife.  When we say King is a great moral luminary, we’re not obligated to endorse every action he took or say we want to imitate every aspect of his character.  Why can’t we similarly quarantine Christ’s claims to divinity?

Well, if you asked King about his infidelity, he would probably tell you not to follow him in that.  He would own it as a weakness and he certainly wouldn’t argue it was part of a seamless garment with his activism.  But Christ does claim that all of his teaching flows from his Sonship.  So then, you’re basically trying to follow a teacher who looks a lot like a Chinese room; he keeps outputting true statements even though he contradicts them and can’t explain where his insight comes from.  At that point, you ought to be less interested in this strange epistemological wind-up toy and start getting interested in how it was programmed.

Finally, if you make the case that you believe everything that Jesus said about ethics, but you think everything related to metaethics and theology was an interpolation, you might be getting closer to the legend out that Bob proposes, but I hope you’re awfully adept in Biblical scholarship to be able to sift the text so finely.  If you just have a strong intuition that No one so wise would claim something so foolish! Lewis has you dead to rights.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Mark Shea

    I’ve always though Lewis was pretty good on the “legend” claim too. He remarks that when somebody tell him the gospels are legends, he doesn’t want to know how long they’ve been studying the gospels. He wants to know how many myths and legends they’ve read. Because Lewis read myth and legend his entire life and the gospels are nothing like a myth or a legend. Does the story they tell have resonances with myth and legend? Sure! So does the story of Abraham Lincoln, up to and including a tragic martyrdom on Good Friday, if you please. But you have to be frankly illiterate to read the gospels as something other than reportage of an eyewitness community that was pretty close up to the events it reports. The whole “Jesus never existed” crowd operate entirely on chutzpah.

    • Alan

      I’ve read myths and legends my whole life too and I think the Gospels fit right in. I think you have to be illiterate to read as eyewitness reportage – or just have no idea what eyewitness reportage looks like (that despite having contemporaries to the gospel to look at for examples of such and see the obvious differences).

      The Jesus was the Son of God crowd is the very definition of chutzpah, hubris and idolatry to boot.

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

        Can you give one example of a myth or legend that is anything like the New Testament?

        • Pseudonym

          Walk, don’t dawdle, to a bookstore and get a copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. It has all the examples you need. You should bear in mind that Campbell frames his argument in terms of Freudian psychoanalysis being “correct”. We now know that to be yet another pseudo-religion, which adequately explains the connections.

          I will point out that I disagree with Alan on one point: The gospels never completed the process of becoming pure myth. There are clearly mythological elements, but also clearly historical ones as well. Christianity, of course, took up the slack with the lives of the saints and other non-biblical legends.

          Interestingly, Campbell uses this to conclude that the gospels are thereby inferior to full-blown mythology, in the sense that they are less psychologically useful than the archetypal monomyth. I (along with Karen Armstrong) beg to differ on that point.

          • Ryan

            Pseudonym,
            Rather than be part of the argument, I would like to pick a nit regarding Joseph Campbell…
            Campbell’s work owes far more to Jungian psychoanalysis than Freudian. These things are quite different animals, and the difference is the subject of a different discussion, but Freud was really only influential in Campbell’s writings through the lens of Jung.

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

            I will point out that I disagree with Alan on one point: The gospels never completed the process of becoming pure myth. There are clearly mythological elements, but also clearly historical ones as well. Christianity, of course, took up the slack with the lives of the saints and other non-biblical legends.

            I am not sure what you mean by “mythological elements?” That just means there are parts you don’t believe? There are supernatural elements. But they are treated as supernatural. They are not considered normal like a flying horse is considered normal in Greek Mythology. They are treated like something amazing that nobody has seen before.

            Interestingly, Campbell uses this to conclude that the gospels are thereby inferior to full-blown mythology,

            That does seem to follow. The trouble is why would inferior myth have such a powerful effect on people? So the myth theory has a ton of logical problems and nobody can really find one version that makes total sense.

          • Alan

            Randy – why has inferior science fiction had such a powerful effect on people (scientology)?

            That really isn’t an interesting question at all, any cursory study of human history amply shows that quality of the myth has little relation to its acceptance.

          • Ted Seeber

            Ryan- the only real difference to me is one was created as a recovery from cocaine addition and the other as experimentation with LSD addiction. Neither pertain to anybody willing to live a chaste and sober life.

          • Pseudonym

            Ryan: Fair point on Freud vs Jung. Campbell mentions Freud a lot, but you’re right that Freud and Jung are related, but different.

            By “mythological elements” I mean a number of things, but most notably there are some passages which are clearly later interpolations, in that they don’t fit in the story, don’t appear to use the same language as the main author of the piece and just plain don’t make any sense. It’s not from the gospels as such, but the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 is a good example of this.

          • Ryan

            Ted,
            Could you give a source for Karl Jung’s use of LSD. Sigmund Freud’s cocaine use is well documented, but I have never heard of any drug use by Karl Jung, and I would like to think that you aren’t just slandering a dead man.

            Regarding your last sentence, I find it ironic that you say Karl Jung does not pertain to anyone willing to live a “chaste and sober life”, as alcoholics anonymous was founded by someone who was inspired by his advice to use spirituality as a cure for his alcoholism, so clearly many people trying to lead a sober life would find your statement dreadfully inaccurate…

          • Ted Seeber

            Karl may have never used LSD himself, but he encouraged LSD use in others. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in fact had most of his initial insights under the influence of LSD.

            I did word that wrong though. What I should have said is that neither has anything to offer people who do not have addictive personalities and who actually live lives of reasonable moderation.

          • Michael

            “What I should have said is that neither has anything to offer people who do not have addictive personalities and who actually live lives of reasonable moderation.”

            As a Jungian with an addictive personality (among other issues), I’ll admit you’re probably right. But you seem to be admitting that his work does have value to certain people (like myself). Just sayin’.

          • Ted Seeber

            Psychoanalysis has value, just not universal value. If we’re looking for an objective morality, we have to turn away from psychoanalysis on the fact that it isn’t universal.

        • Alan

          There are many but maybe you can start with The Ephesian Tale.

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

            The Ephesian Tale is an obvious story. According to Wikipedia it was written in the second century so it might have been actually influenced by Christianity. But how much is it really like the scriptures. Do the characters stop in the middle of the story and give long speeches abut morality and theology? Do random people show up, get healed and never appear in the story again? Is there a lot of time spent discussing the relationship between the hero and the existing religion?

            It seems like The Ephesian Tale is all story. I would side with CS Lewis and say from a strictly literature point of view they are not alike at all.

        • R.C.

          Randy:

          I think you have a difficulty in how you asked the question: “Can you give one example of a myth or legend that is anything like the New Testament?”

          I think the answer to that is obviously, yes, there are thousands. Every apologist for the “comparative religion” points out the “corn kings” who die and rise in Greek mythology. I suppose you could count Tyr sacrificing his hand to Fenris. And of course Osiris. There are lots of things that are “anything like” in that sense. And there are thousands of parallels to known real-world events, like Mark Shea’s previous citation of Abraham Lincoln’s death (martyrdom!) on a Friday.

          I think one has to pose the challenge more specifically: Do the myths ever resemble the New Testament in the sense of being clearly written about a known historical figure by persons who were clearly familiar with and likely eyewitnesses of his actual life, and produce a story wherein the events are so on-the-surface pointless or confusing at so many points, so often utterly lacking in obviousness of art from either the poetical or mythological or storytelling point-of-view…which turned out upon further reflection to so richly sum up and elaborate the entire history of a people, and by further extension the human race, in a fashion which seems to leap out of nowhere and then go on producing fresh developments of insights for 2,000 years and billions of pages of commentary and sermonizing?

          Of course the likely complaint is that I’ve made sure the answer is “No” by getting excessively detailed just now. “Well, sure,” one might respond, “one can always, if the question ‘Can you think of another man named Smith?’ produces too many results, whittle these away by saying ‘Can you think of another man named Smith who likes Pastrami on Wonderbread with Ketchup who’s married to a woman named Ethel and lives in Scranton?’” Add on enough irrelevant details and you’ll always whittle the result set down to one, or zero.

          But that’s irrelevant details. It’s entirely above-board to add relevant ones.

          In this case the thesis is that the story of Jesus and the Early Church as depicted by harmonizing the four gospels and Acts, and taken in the combined context of 1st century Palestine, the Old Testament, the varying Messianic expectations of the Essenes, Pharisees, and Zealots (and disambiguated where necessary by the writings of Paul, Peter, John, James, whoever wrote Hebrews, the Didache, Clement of Rome’s letter to Corinth, and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch) winds up being in a category on its own, distinct from myth, from biography with legendary accretions, from philosophical writings, and anything else.

          Such a view acknowledges the similarities between the Christian story and other writings as a matter of course. How could there not be similarities? We are not comparing alien writing to human, but human writing: We would expect the various New Testament authors to write in a fashion influenced by styles then current.

          But it doesn’t read like myth. It doesn’t have half the pathos of, say, the cosmology that says all the universe will eventually decay through entropy to a cold random scattering in the void, or of the one that says we may cyclically collapse back into fire. And it doesn’t read like tall tales, which are the less high-art poetical version of myth, the Paul Bunyan to mythology’s Leda And The Swan. And if it’s legendary, it “legendized” far too quickly: These things typically require some distance and time-separation from those who were closest to the events, but in this case we have Paul clearly preaching all the wildest parts of the story as early as 15 years after the Resurrection. And it doesn’t read like philosophy, either. All over the ancient world the philosophers rarely cared about gods because they were concerned with how to live and what was true, and the priests rarely cared overmuch about ethics because propriety was a lived-out poetry in response to mystery. In the gospels those things overlap in a way fit to make pagan priests and pagan philosophers equally out-of-sorts.

          So it’s really neither fish nor fowl. Every time Jesus does stuff so obviously fraught with meaning that you could write it off as myth, He goes and scribbles in the ground with his finger (why? what’s the poetical art about including that detail?). Every time He seems to be showing off divinity like a baker’s dozen of other stories about avatars of the gods, He goes on to say “Who touched me?” and “No man knows the day or the hour, not the Son, not even Harold Camping, only the Father.” *cough* There is a grand martyrdom, and that’s good storytelling in theory, but the problem is that the dude gets executed in a pretty common, nasty way with distasteful overtones rather than “going down fighting in glorious fashion.” Okay, there’s a glorious triumph: The Resurrection vindicates the Fallen Hero, who then goes on to smash His enemies in triumph…oh, wait. That doesn’t fit, either. Every which way we turn, if we read it like a formula narrative, our expectations are frustrated in a non-artistic kind of way.

          So if you go in assuming the story belongs in Category X, you’re disappointed or even disgusted. There are myth-like parts, but the whole is to myth what “Liz and Dick” is to love stories. There’s a profound, strenuous, unobtainable morality, but the whole is to ethical philosophizing what “Star Trek V” is to sci-fi adventure. There are parts that mirror bits of legendary accretion in the biographies of other individuals, but the whole is to legendized-history what “Ishtar” was to, well whatever it supposed to have been. It’s not that there aren’t parts that could work as other genres, there are! But so much of the other stuff just doesn’t and yet you can’t separate it out without eviscerating the whole. Likewise ethics and history and biography and tragedy.

          In short, it sucks, pretty badly, as a candidate for any of the usual human categories of edification or entertainment. It sucks as anything other than the testimony of a bunch of elated if slightly confused people saying, “Look, this stuff happened, and we think it’s important, because, hey, holy crap! …And after a couple of decades’ reflection on all of it we’re positive we can make certain assertions about why it’s important, but only up to a point, because a lot of it is over our heads.”

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

            I think we are agreeing here. I was not saying there were no parts of the New Testament that were anything like a myth or a legend. I was trying to say that as a whole there is no myth or legend remotely close to the New Testament. It starts out with Jesus. Some religious teachings. Some healings. A few parables. Already way different. Then there is the crucifixion and resurrection. Again Jesus does not die in battle or saving the world from peril. He does not return and defeat those who kill Him.

            That is unlegendary enough. Then we have the letters of Paul. How many legends include writing like that?. We have John writing his gospel and Revelations. Supposedly written later and more legend-like. John has not more gallantry but more theology. Revelation is again a completely different genre. More similar to a legend in other ways but the story is pretty strange.

            Anyway, I should have explained myself more. Alan’s like of “I’ve read myths and legends my whole life too and I think the Gospels fit right in.” just seemed like an empty claim. I did really want to know what he could possible be talking about.

          • Alan

            The New Testament isn’t a single body of work that can be evaluated like the collected works of Shakespeare as if they have shared literary origin. Each of the Gospels resemble types of mythology and legends, the various other parts of the canon resemble other forms of literature as well.

            What I am talking about is simple – the stories that make up the legend of Jesus as portrayed through the various writings, canonized and not, are not particularly original or special to the world (at least as legends and literature).

          • R.C.

            Well, then Alan, I think I have to (with respect) disagree.

            Even taken individually, I really think they don’t fit well in the standard categories at all. The superficial similarities are to be expected, because it’s human writing formed by the genre expectations of reader as well as author. But for any given book it all progresses in a fashion which fits any particular fiction genre poorly. The moment you make the comparison, the inconsistent features become glaring.

            It’s the usual “comparative religion” problem highlighted by Chesterton: You can call up a category like “nomadic peoples” and then put the Jews in side-by-side with the Roma (gypsies), the Bedouins, and the Explorers of the British Empire. They all ranged far and wide throughout history; they all took cultural distinctives with them when they got there. But the moment you say, “Therefore, the story of the Jews and the story of the British are pretty much the same thing happening to two different peoples, which goes to show you how every nation or tribe is interchangeable in history with every other” …the moment you say that, any reasonable person is going to protest that you’re going much too fast and that the superficial similarities between Gypsies and Jews and Brits and Bedouins pale in comparison to their differences.

            I think that the character of each gospel compares to a typical workaday bit of legendary writing in much the same way.

            And I’m nobody particularly, but C.S.Lewis, prior to becoming Christian, felt the same. His view, which presumably he’d have gone on holding had he remained atheist, holds more weight inasmuch as he was already an expert in Medieval and Renaissance literature and conversant in those mythological and legendary forms which form the whole auctour structure of the Medievals, dating back through Boethius and Tacitus to Plato, Scipio, Cicero, Lucan, Virgil, Ovid, Statius, Homer, Horace, and so on. He could read them in the original languages, and various translations, and get the feel for them. He knew the contours of myth and legend and fairy tale. (And, I would say, if there were anything he didn’t know, his buddy Tolkien could supplement him nicely.)

            His take on the gospels was that they obviously shared features which could appear in legends, but at the same time were obviously not written to be taken as legends.

            And that just makes sense to me: Even pre-Christian Augustine of Hippo, as a Platonist, felt that the Christian holy writings were annoyingly lowbrow: travelogues and correspondence penned by secretaries and so on. He felt they did not rise to the conceptual heights of pagan philosophers nor the artistic heights of pagan epic poets (where the best of their mythology was enshrined).

            And I think that’s what we should expect when folk are writing of worldview-shaking astounding events, but writing them after the manner of a police-blotter, knowing they’ll go into immediate consumption among those already familiar with the events…yet coming from a literary tradition that says you’ve GOT to put some large-form structure and parallelism into it because it just wouldn’t be DECENT to have Holy Scripture being written in plain, unplanned prose.

            So you get these weird kluges: The rather workaday and non-native Greek of the gospel of John, which isn’t really of literary caliber…and then you get him using the Semitic style trick of writing his book in two major sections (“Book of Signs”/”Book of Glory”) with seven sections patterned after seven sacraments and the seven biggest year-cycle feasts of the Jews. And he was writing this for an audience that already knew Matthew, Mark, and/or Luke and were hearing them read weekly in worship, which is reflected in the things he doesn’t bother explaining, since his audience is already supposed to know it (otherwise what’re they doing in a Christian liturgy anyway?).

            Having all the peculiar characteristics of the intended audience, the authorship, and the time frame, none of them winds up consistently having the characteristics of, say, the Aeneid, or Gilgamesh, or the Ramayana. For every bit that makes you say, “Hey, there’s something like that in the Aeneid” there’s another bit that makes you say, “Heck, you’d never see someone trying to write another Aeneid doing it THAT way.”

            I think, therefore, that if one wishes to downplay the uniqueness of these books, one’s best bet is to say that they were idiosyncratically bad examples of Writing Style X (where X equals legend or mythology or fantasy)…and you can further safeguard that judgement if you assert that the failure to live up to the artistic norms of your selected genre comes from trying to be of more than one genre at the same time, and failing at all of them because excellence in each is mutually exclusive of excellence in the others.

            That view would fly much farther. You don’t have to take my advice, of course! And I mean no disrespect by suggesting tweaks to your argument. But I think the tweaked version fits the available evidence a bit better.

      • http://decentfilms.com SDG

        Alan: “I’ve read myths and legends my whole life too and I think the Gospels fit right in.”

        Then it’s history you never learned to recognize?

        Myths properly so-called (and, generally, legends) aren’t entangled with living people and living memory in the way that the Gospels were. Jesus’ disciples Peter, James and John were all personally known to Paul of Tarsus, who wrote half the New Testament. Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great and John the Baptist are known to non-biblical historical sources.

        You give the Ephesian Tale as your first proposed parallel. Of which figures in the Ephesian Tale could any of the above be said?

        • Alan

          What nonsense, myths and legends make reference to real historical people all the time, both in modern and ancient mythology. If you want historical legends try Xenophon’s Cyropaedia.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Alan, I see, it’s combox posts you never learned to read. :-) I said “living people and living memory.” Xenophon was born over a century after his subject died.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Also, Alan, Xenophon does not claim to have been writing history, or to have researched his subject thoroughly to vouch for the truthfulness of his account, as for example Luke does in his famous prologue.

          • Alan

            Ah SDG, ad hominem certainly makes you a big man. Like I said, no reason to go through the whole literary critique here, it is well trodden territory and if the blind want to hold on to their beliefs that the gospel is a unique work of history good for you.

          • SDG

            Alan: Banter and jocular trash talking is not argumentum ad hominem, because it’s not an argumentum at all. Mine isn’t meant seriously, and I take yours no more seriously, however it may be meant.

            The classification of the Gospels as sources of real historical information is hardly blindness. It’s mainstream critical scholarship. Even skeptical scholars who debunk the miracles, etc. acknowledge the evidentiary force of the Gospels in offering access to real historical events.

          • Alan

            SDG – except they don’t look at the Gospels as history, and the total lack of corroborating accounts in the actual histories of the days is seen by scholars as quite strong evidence against the Gospels as history. Now, may the gospels offer secondary support for historical events and conditions, sure the same way any literature does – the Great Gatsby offers insight into the historical conditions of a certain class of people in the 1920′s even if Jay isn’t real.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “SDG – except they don’t look at the Gospels as history”

            You’re framing the question in a misleading way. “Are the Gospels history?” is an ambiguous question about genre; the best answer is that they are history, and they are not; they are biography, and they are not. They are documents of faith with roots in both history and biography.

            The best way to frame the question is: “Do the Gospels give us meaningful access to historical events?” And the consensus answer is that they do — and there is a meaningful consensus around a core of historical events that they do give us access to. Beyond that, there is plenty of room for dispute and cross-examination.

            “and the total lack of corroborating accounts in the actual histories of the days is seen by scholars as quite strong evidence against the Gospels as history.”

            What scholars say this? Which first-century historians were paying close enough attention to events in Palestine at the time of Jesus’ life and career to have taken much note of an itinerant Galilean rabbi and prophet who happened to get himself executed by the Romans as a potential insurrectionist?

            “Now, may the gospels offer secondary support for historical events and conditions, sure the same way any literature does – the Great Gatsby offers insight into the historical conditions of a certain class of people in the 1920s even if Jay isn’t real.”

            No no no. As I’ve mentioned, Simon Peter, James the brother of Jesus and John son of Zebedee, intimates of Jesus and major characters in the Gospels, were personally known to Paul of Tarsus, who wrote half the New Testament, as well as to his companions Barnabas and Titus. We are not talking about historical fiction here.

          • Alan

            “Which first-century historians were paying close enough attention to events in Palestine at the time of Jesus’ life and career to have taken much note of an itinerant Galilean rabbi and prophet who happened to get himself executed by the Romans as a potential insurrectionist?”

            Um, Philo? Justus of Tiberias?

            “We are not talking about historical fiction here.”
            Your right, this is hagiographic fiction, not historical fiction (for that you can watch Lincoln hunt vampires).

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Philo? The Alexandrian philosopher? In which of his works does he provide a record of contemporary Palestinian Jewish events in which you would expect Jesus to come to his attention?

            As for Justus of Tiberias…if you’ve read any of his works, please let me know where they can be found. As far as I know, none of them are extant.

          • Alan

            He bothered to write about the Essenes, you’d think the son of god would have come up if there was any truth to it. And while I have not read any of Justus’ work I’ll take Photius’ word that there was no mention of Jesus there – he had strong interest in finding it if it were.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “He bothered to write about the Essenes, you’d think the son of god would have come up if there was any truth to it.”

            Spoken like a product of 2000 years of Christian history, not a Second Temple era Jew. The Essenes were a well-known, centuries-old phenomenon, many thousands strong, when Philo wrote. Even so, he gives us almost no historical information about them, being mostly interested in their worldview. From his vantage point in Egypt, he knows that there are Essenes in Palestine, but doesn’t mention specifically where in Palestine they are. Christianity was only a couple of decades old when Philo died; there is no reason to think that at the time he was writing (some time before he died, presumably) the Christian message would have made such an impact in his neck of the woods as to require comment.

            As for Justus of Tiberias, I read on Wikisource that Photius describes the work in question as a “brief treatment of a subject that had no direct connection with the life of Jesus.” If Photius, a ninth-century bishop whose view of history was obviously colored by the triumph of the Christian worldview, was nevertheless surprised not to find Jesus mentioned, that is unsurprising, but from a historical-critical perspective we need hardly share his surprise.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            P.S. To clarify, a “brief treatment of a subject that had no direct connection with the life of Jesus” is WikiSource’s characterization of Photius’s description — not a direct quotation from Photius himself!

      • J. H. M. Ortiz

        Unlike “Alan”, I’ve not read various myths and legends, so I have this question: Do those myths reflect badly on a group of leaders some of whom are still living or if not, have died in the life of many of the movement’s followers? ’Cause the New Testament (supposing it was written about 1oo C.E.) does that with respect to the pillars of the community:
        The apostle Paul “withstood to the face” the apostle Peter, “because he was in the wrong,” according to Paul.
        The apostles Paul and Barnabas split up because of a disagreement about the disciple John-Mark, IIRC.
        Jesus said to Peter, “Get out of my sight, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to me!”
        Jesus rebuked his disciples, saying, “Let the little children come to me! Stop hindering them!”
        When Jesus asked his disciples what they’d been discussing among themselves on the road, they were embarrassed and said nothing, because they’d been arguing about which of them was the most hot-shot.
        And there are other such instances in the NT. Are other movement-leaders similarly depicted as off-base by the movement’s supposed founder or by one another?

        • http://decentfilms.com SDG

          J. H. M. Ortiz:

          FWIW, absolutely nobody supposes that Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, which recounts the confrontation between Peter (Cephas) and Paul (“withstanding him to his face” because he “stood condemned” — literal translation) in Antioch was written anything like as late as 100 C.E.

          Galatians is one of the central works of the Pauline canon, of unquestioned authenticity, and could not have been written after Paul’s death circa AD 70. It is commonly dated AD 50–60.

          It’s a fascinating episode, because Paul is clearly struggling against the perception that his own apostleship is of an inferior character to that of Peter and the others who knew Jesus personally prior to the crucifixion and resurrection. In that connection, Paul acknowledges having twice met Peter in Jerusalem before the confrontation in Antioch — but so far from boasting of his Petrine connections, he is at pains to minimize them. His encounters with Peter are not a point of pride or boasting; the reality seems to be that Peter was something of a pain in Paul’s ass. (Notably, Paul doesn’t tell us how the confrontation with Peter ended; it is possible that Peter’s prestige prevailed against Paul’s arguments and it ended inconclusively.)

          That Paul, the earliest and most important Christian writer and author of perhaps half of the New Testament, was personally acquainted with Peter, James the brother of Jesus and John the son of Zebedee — a fact he was, again, at pains to downplay — is an important point in the historical credibility of the Gospels. The Gospels are not stories about imaginary characters. Peter and John and James, those who knew Jesus personally and were eyewitnesses of his resurrection, were real people. Paul knew them.

          • J. H. M. Ortiz

            Good points, Sir. My “supposing” was not meant as “conceding”, but was hypothetical. BTW, Jesus was really depicted as angry at the disciples for hindering the kids in Mark 10.14: “Indigne tulit, ho Iēsous ēganaktēsen, Jesus got indignant”.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            J. H. M. Ortiz: Yes, I glommed to what you were doing. Just thought I’d take the opportunity of your post to springboard to some further thoughts. Cheers.

    • Watson Ladd

      There were a lot of false Messiahs. Today I can name at least one with followers in Brooklyn who is dead, and no doubt will return in good time. There is a ward in Jerusalem with no less then 3 at any given time. Mithradic mystery cults often had divine founders return from death to prove their divinity.

      • http://decentfilms.com SDG

        “Mithradic mystery cults often had divine founders return from death to prove their divinity.”

        Which leader of any Mithradic mystery cult returned from death to bodily life?

    • Mythsrule

      There are a lot of legends about people claiming to be half-God, half-mortal. Hercules is one. Greek myth contains many accounts of Gods seducing mortals as well. Leda was seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan. Danaë was seduced by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold.
      Krishna was a god who was born into a mortal body (without sexual union) and had a humble profession as a cowherder. The mother of the Buddha is said to have had a prophetic vision of a white elephant before her son was born and he was born miraculously able to walk. Imhotep was a doctor who was deified after his death.
      It’s easy to see who Jesus could have been a man to whom myths about miraculous birth, divine parentage and so on got attached to after his death.
      There are also gods like Osiris, who was murdered, mourned by his wife/sister and then rose again to become the judge of the dead. Or there’s Prometheus, who suffered so that humans could have fire.

      The gospels aren’t written as eyewitness reportage. Eyewitness reportage would be written in the first person; “I was fishing in the lake and this guy just started walking on water, I couldn’t believe my eyes! He said he was the son of god” . The gospels are written like a story, in third person. There are scenes in the gospel, like when Jesus was in the desert with satan or when he’s praying in the garden, that no other human would have witnessed (the apostles were all asleep). The first gospel is estimated to have been written at least forty years after his death. We don’t know who wrote it exactly, but it’s a good bet they never met him, since it’s in greek. The gospels are at best second-hand accounts and not eyewitness but hearsay.

      • http://decentfilms.com SDG

        Mythsrule:

        “There are a lot of legends about people claiming to be half-God, half-mortal. Hercules is one.”

        Jesus is not claimed to be half-god, half-mortal. Jesus is claimed to be fully human — and also fully divine — and unlike Hercules he was personally known to living human beings who were still alive when the first books of the New Testament were written and were known to the early NT writers, notably Paul of Tarsus.

        “Greek myth contains many accounts of Gods seducing mortals as well.”

        So, you admit you’re coming up empty looking for mythical precedents for the Virgin Birth?

        “Krishna was a god who was born into a mortal body (without sexual union)”

        According to a source which in its extant version dates to a millennium after Christ, and appears to be influenced by the Gospel tradition.

        “It’s easy to see who Jesus could have been a man to whom myths about miraculous birth, divine parentage and so on got attached to after his death.”

        Prescinding from all this, it is not easy to explain belief in His resurrection apart from a) the empty tomb and b) encounters with Jesus alive after his death.

        “There are also gods like Osiris, who was murdered, mourned by his wife/sister and then rose again to become the judge of the dead. Or there’s Prometheus, who suffered so that humans could have fire.”

        Remind me which of Osiris’s or Prometheus’s personal acquaintances were alive and known to historical figures when their life stories were recorded.

        “The gospels aren’t written as eyewitness reportage. Eyewitness reportage would be written in the first person.”

        What ancient account of the events in the life of, say, Tiberius Caesar uses the first-person voice? Do you therefore regard Tiberius Caesar as a mythical or legendary figure?

        • Mr. X

          Never mind Tiberius — Julius Caesar’s “Commentaries” are all written in the third person, but nobody AFAIK has suggested that he didn’t write them.

        • http://decentfilms.com SDG

          Oh, good point, Mr. X.

        • Steve

          While it appears likely that Jesus the character was based on a real person (or persons) in some sense, Jesus the supernatural existing in any sort of meaningful real sense seems highly unlikely. The late Kim Jong Il was said to have shot a round of golf at 38-under par (including 11 hole in 1′s). First hand information, backed up my multiple ‘eye-witnesses’. And that’s in all our lifetime. I’m not suggesting the man never existed, but myths spun around actual people are still myths. Such questionable first hand accounts should be treated with the skepticism you would treat a group of drunkards who claim to have been abducted by aliens.

          “Jesus is not claimed to be half-god, half-mortal. Jesus is claimed to be fully human — and also fully divine —” … 100% human + 100% divine = 200% Jesus??

          “…it is not easy to explain belief in His resurrection apart from a) the empty tomb and b) encounters with Jesus alive after his death.” … like it’s not easy to explain the belief in Kim Jong Il’s round of 38. Perhaps you believe that claim to be true. If not, how might you go explaining that claim? Couldn’t you then apply the same reasoning to claims of the resurrection?

          • SDG

            Steve,

            I can easily posit a plausible narrative explaining eyewitness reports of Kim Jong Il’s amazing golf performance in non-amazing terms, grounded in well-known sociological realities in North Korea, the power at Kim’s disposal and the ways it has been exercised, etc. Narratives imposed from the top down have been well known throughout history.

            Attempts to explain reports of the resurrection of Jesus face very different historical challenges. The biblical historian N. T. Wright has recently written extensively regarding the uphill battle facing the historian who wishes to account for the origins, shape and praxis of early Christianity without including the resurrection of Jesus.

          • Steve

            Couldn’t we apply the same well-known realities of the time of the resurrection to come up with an alternative more plausible explanation of events?? One could then easily posit a narrative based on all available information and come up with a version that dismissed any and all supernatural claims.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            P.S. Steve: “Jesus is not claimed to be half-god, half-mortal. Jesus is claimed to be fully human — and also fully divine —” … 100% human + 100% divine = 200% Jesus??”

            You misunderstand — and it’s not really mathematical mystery religion. :) The traditional view is that Jesus has the full nature of divinity and the full nature of humanity — i.e., he is just as much a man as you or me, and just as much God as the Father or the Holy Spirit. So he isn’t a demigod like Hercules, with half the divinity of his father and half the humanity of his mother. As a very dim, mundane analogy, think of a person who holds dual citizenship, who enjoys the full rights of citizenship to both countries. He isn’t only half a citizen of one country and half a citizen of another.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Steve: “Couldn’t we apply the same well-known realities of the time of the resurrection to come up with an alternative more plausible explanation of events?? One could then easily posit a narrative based on all available information and come up with a version that dismissed any and all supernatural claims.”

            I’ve been reading attempts to do that very thing my whole life. If I ever find a convincing one, I’ll let you know. :)

          • Steve

            I’ve heard the fully human / fully divine before and always find that puzzling. It seems a semantic detail, as if saying Superman was from both Krypton & Smallville somehow had any sort of bearing on the truthfulness of the story.

            Is it inconceivable to think that all or parts of these accounts might have been fabricated or exaggerated? Or that they were partially adopted similar mythical stories of virgin births, man/god, resurrections, etc? Or that the supposed first hand eyewitness accounts might have been altered after the fact? Or that they might have been simply mistaken about what they claimed to have witnessed?

            Highly questionable sources, a few millennia of history, the convenient disappearance of supernatural occurrences that are completely inconsistent with the world we see today… Believe what you will, but regarding these myths without a proper amount of skepticism is intellectually lazy.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Steve:

            “Is it inconceivable to think that all or parts of these accounts might have been fabricated or exaggerated?”

            Could parts of the accounts have been fabricated or exaggerated? Both from a faith perspective and a historical perspective, I can acknowledge that, in principle. But it’s pretty inconceivable, historically speaking, that the accounts were fabricated in toto, yes. The historical burden of explaining the origins, shape and practice of early Christianity becomes basically unsupportable at that point, in my opinion.

            “Or that they were partially adopted similar mythical stories of virgin births, man/god, resurrections, etc?”

            Perhaps you could be specific which earlier mythical stories of virgin births or resurrections you think might have provided a precedent? (The field is much more, ah, barren than many skeptics suppose.)

            “Or that the supposed first hand eyewitness accounts might have been altered after the fact? “

            Yes, of course that’s possible, within limits. To some extent I think it’s necessary to say that eyewitness accounts were shaped in the retelling and recording process. I don’t think the Sermon on the Mount represents a single speech Jesus gave on one occasion, for instance, nor do I think that Matthew’s account necessarily gives us verbatim what Jesus said, even in translation.

            “Or that they might have been simply mistaken about what they claimed to have witnessed?”

            In some cases mistakes might be historically plausible. Dramatic psychosomatic or hysterical healings could be mistaken for miracles. Mental illness might be mistaken for demonic possession. Do I think belief in the resurrection of Jesus can be ascribed to simple eyewitness mistake? No.

            “Highly questionable sources, a few millennia of history, the convenient disappearance of supernatural occurrences that are completely inconsistent with the world we see today… Believe what you will, but regarding these myths without a proper amount of skepticism is intellectually lazy.”

            An easy credulity and an easy incredulity are equally intellectually lazy. I prefer a critical effort to ascertain what can reasonably be posited on the basis of the available evidence. Both skepticism and openness have roles to play in a proper critical approach.

          • Steve

            I find it fascinating that you have no trouble admitting to the possibility of portions of the Gospel being fabricated or exaggerated, yet it’s not the supernatural elements which of course are the portions that should be the subject of the most scrutiny as such fantastic claims require similarly fantastic evidence. I’ve read accounts of people seeing alligators in NYC sewers, people witnessing bigfoot or the loch ness monster and all of this in the 21st century. This is the level of evidence you bring, yet this evidence is some 20 centuries old making it even all the more suspect.

            That there were influences seems beyond doubt. I’ll leave it up to those willing to take the time to check out the wikipedia pages for ‘demigod’ or ‘dying god’ or ‘christianity & paganism’ or ‘Christ Myth’ to cite specific examples, but they’re there. My point was whether or not it was conceivable that portions of the Gospel, specifically the supernatural ones could have been pieced together or at the very least strongly influenced by pre-existing myths. The case for that being possible, if not highly likely is very strong.

            Hundreds of people claim to have seen or even interacted with UFO’s. That’s first hand information, and you might even have the chance to ask an actual person about their experience. Who knows how many authors the bible had, but I’d imagine it’s far less than the number of people with UFO claims. Why is it then that we might easily dismiss UFO claims as mistaken, yet such claims supposedly made by people a few thousand years ago (in a time when their basic world knowledge was infantile compared to ours) could be mistaken? For arguments sake, perhaps the Christ figure simply passed out rather than died. Could you be certain that people 2000 years ago could guarantee a declaration that someone was dead without removing their head or something equally as definitive?

            I disagree with your notion that an easy credulity & an easy incredulity being equally intellectually lazy.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “I find it fascinating that you have no trouble admitting to the possibility of portions of the Gospel being fabricated or exaggerated, yet it’s not the supernatural elements which of course are the portions that should be the subject of the most scrutiny as such fantastic claims require similarly fantastic evidence.”

            You’re asking the wrong questions in the wrong order. You’re beginning with worldview questions, e.g., Do miracles happen? Does God exist? Etc. Before you can get behind the text, you have to interpret the text itself, and then try to work backwards to reconstruct how the tradition developed, what historical circumstances make sense of it, etc. Ascertaining what the text is or isn’t claiming, what is or isn’t central to the author’s purpose for writing, comes before efforts to reconstruct what you think really happened.

            Consider two premises about Jesus’s career: a) Jesus sent out 72 disciples to go two by two to go and preach to nearby towns. b) Jesus performed dramatic healings, and fed vast crowds of people with only a small store of foodstuffs. a) is not extraordinary; b) is. Yet the skeptical historian looking to make sense of the development of Christian tradition could much more easily dispense with a) than with b). The claims in b) present a historical challenge that the claims in a) do not.

            “That there were influences seems beyond doubt.” So many skeptics say this — Bill Maher did a laughably ignorant, error-filled segment on this in Religulous — but the claims largely evaporate under cross-examination.

            You specifically referred to “virgin births” and “resurrections” in earlier myths that might have influenced the gospel stories. I am skeptical that meaningful precedents with real explanatory power regarding the Gospel stories exist. For example, the Wikipedia article on miraculous births provides a decent overview of the subject. As far as I can tell, there are no examples of virgin birth stories in pagan literature until well after the story of Jesus.

            Your question about UFOs is a good one. It is not hard to sketch a plausible narrative that accounts for many UFO stories without much difficulty and without requiring extraterrestrial encounters. The historical attempt to account for the origin, shape and praxis of early Christianity presents very different challenges, and many efforts fail.

            Take your suggestion (an old and familiar one) that perhaps Jesus might not have been as dead as advertised (generally known as the swoon theory). The short answer is, a) Roman soldiers were professionals, and when they executed you, they killed you dead. b) Assuming Jesus could have survived the crucifixion, the picture of a battered, bloodied, barely-alive Jesus somehow crawling out of the sepulcher is not a promising premise for explaining the early Christian conviction that Jesus had triumphed over death and risen to glorious immortal, transcendent new life.

            Your dissent about the equal intellectual laziness of easy credulity and easy incredulity is noted. Cheers.

          • Steve

            Regarding both premises (sending out disciples & multiplication of loaves & fishes)… That anyone might more easily dismiss the one that doesn’t involve a suspension of common sense is simply absurd. It’s as if I gave you scenarios of a man walking through a forest and a giant man riding a giant blue ox and cutting down trees and you’d dismiss the former because that latter presents a challenge to the story of Paul Bunyan. That you label these fables as historical fact rather than at best historical fiction is the very definition of foolish credulity.

            There are plenty of tales in greek mythology of gods impregnating women without haven’t sexual intercourse. Zeus was the father of Helen of Troy who was conceived when Zeus took the form of a goose. Zeus was also the father of Perseus who was conceived when Zeus rained a golden shower (literal gold, not the nasty naughty kind) upon his mother. Reading stories of Dionysus, you’d think Christians at the very least owe the Greeks royalties. None of this of course, while predating Christianity by centuries, bears any matter on the truths of the stories.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “Regarding both premises (sending out disciples & multiplication of loaves & fishes)… That anyone might more easily dismiss the one that doesn’t involve a suspension of common sense is simply absurd. It’s as if I gave you scenarios of a man walking through a forest and a giant man riding a giant blue ox and cutting down trees and you’d dismiss the former because that latter presents a challenge to the story of Paul Bunyan.”

            Evidently you haven’t grasped what is meant in this context by “more easily dismiss.” Perhaps it will help if I note that I’m not saying the Gospels prove that miracles happen, or that they force us to believe in miracles.

            Let me ring a change on your examples. Suppose I tell you two stories: one about an antisemitic violin maker in 19th-century Russia, and another about an English prime minister seeing a ghost in the White House. In terms of subject matter, the first story contains nothing fantastic, supernatural or contrary to common sense, while the second does.

            But if the first story were Chekhov’s “The Bet,” and the second story were Winston Churchill’s reporting sighting of the ghost of Lincoln, the first could be easily identified as fiction calling for no further historical commentary; whereas the second has at least some basis in historical fact, and calls for some sort of explanation — even if the explanation is only “Churchill was making up a story to be mysterious and funny.”

            In a not entirely dissimilar way, the skeptical historian or NT scholar attempting to reconstruct whatever can be known about Jesus’ life has little incentive to pay much attention to Luke’s story about Jesus sending out the 72. While there’s nothing fantastic in it, it is unique to one Gospel, and can easily be considered a bit of biographical fiction. The stories of Jesus’ healings and the feeding of the multitudes, on the other hand, pose a more serious historical challenge, even to the skeptic. These stories crop up in all four Gospels and in multiple strands of Jesus tradition: Mark, Q, special M, special L, John. Even skeptical scholars like Crossan, Funk, Perrin and so forth recognize that Jesus was known for performing dramatic cures. Their explanations may vary: Perhaps the perceived healings involved psychosomatic suggestion, hysterical illness, etc. Perhaps the feeding of the multitudes was really a “miracle of sharing.” Whatever the explanation, there is evidence of a phenomenon to be explained.

            “There are plenty of tales in greek mythology of gods impregnating women without haven’t sexual intercourse.”

            Then why don’t you name one? In the first place, both Leda, the mother of Helen, and Danaë, the mother of Perseus, were married women; by impregnating them Zeus cuckolded their husbands as well as betraying his wife Hera. In other words a) they weren’t virgins (they had had sexual intercourse), and b) if you think Zeus’s shape-changing means he wasn’t getting sex, you really haven’t understood the stories. These are precisely stories about illicit sex, not stories about virgin births.

          • Steve

            ‘More easily to dismiss’ isn’t a terribly complex concept, nor is there any indication I haven’t understood it. When you offer up a story with supernatural claims, whether it be ghosts, or wizards or zombies, those stories or at the very least the supernatural portions of those stories are the easiest parts to dismiss, mostly due to them not having any sort of consistency with reality as we know it. They might offer up insights to the mind of those telling the story or provide a little bit of color to a tale, but those portions are always either incorrect or an utter fabricated falsehood. That Churchill made those claims or whether or not he believed them in any sort of real way, says nothing of whether or not they’re true. One (‘the Bet’) is plausible fiction while the other (Churchill’s claim) is implausible fiction.

            I didn’t name 1 story of a child conceived divinely, I named 3. Whether you feel implied, albeit highly unusual, intercourse of a woman & a goose, or a woman & a golden shower, or popping out of Zeus’s leg let alone that they might have been married (was not Mary married to Joseph?) disqualifies these women from being virgins is ultimately irrelevant to the only point I’ve really been making, which is to the high possibility that some of the accounts of Christ were influenced if not directly derived from previously existing myths and that this provides a far more plausible explanation for the supernatural elements in those stories than believing them to be true. That there are specifics unique to the Christian myths simply makes them Christian myths. That they might incorporate real geographic locations or people who might have really existed or (reality based) events that might have occurred speaks nothing to the truthfullness of the supernatural claims, whether you had one supposed eye-witness or a dozen. See ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ for more clarification.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            The defense rests.

    • Paul King

      To that I say, that anybody who has read the Nativity story in Matthew and DOESN’T see a legend really has no business discussing the issue. It’s as clear an example as you could hope for.

      • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

        Legend as you’re using it is an amorphous genre classification, and understandings of genre condition the authorial process very deeply. Is it likely that the author of the nativity story shared your knowledge of “legend” as genre and wrote his account as a legend? It’s conceivable, certainly, but you’d have to do a great deal of historical and form criticism before you could make that claim justifiably.

        • Paul King

          What difference does the author’s understanding (or lack of it) make ? It’s obviously legend, no matter what the author – who may not be the originator of the story – thought.

      • http://decentfilms.com SDG

        Paul King: I will grant that the Evangelists saw themselves as writing in continuity with the Old Testament accounts of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and Elisha and so on, and that the genre and flavor of their work in places can be usefully compared with legend. They are not writing a neutral history; they are writing important stories in a genre part history, part biography, from a faith perspective. But they give us meaningful access to historical data, including the Nativity stories. Anyway, the Nativity stories are not the nub of the debate.

        • Paul King

          The Nativity stories are very likely ahistorical, since they agree on so little, and have so little historical support. And Matthew’s specifically has the flavour of legend, quite obviously so. If we are able to judge history from legend without hours of onerous and abstruse research as C S Lewis argues, then surely we must admit that much ?

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Paul King:

            The Nativity stories agree on more than you may think. Clearly they are literarily entirely independent of one another, and represent very different narrative traditions — but this only makes their agreements more striking. A few examples: a) Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth where he grew up. b) His mother was Mary, a virgin betrothed but not married. c) Jesus’ foster father was Joseph, of Davidic ancestry. d) The child was conceived by the Holy Spirit while Mary was a virgin. e) The name “Jesus” was given by an angel.

          • Paul King

            And it is very likely that Bethlehem, the Virgin Birth and Joseph’s Davidic ancestry were derived from OT scripture (the Virgin Birth, likely derived from taking a verse out of the Greek version of Isaiah out of context!), while the angel is most likely a legendary embellishment. The names Mary and Joseph and the connection to Nazareth are very probably the only bits of historical data in your list. (In the case of Joseph’s ancestry we even have two conflicting genealogies intended to “prove” it in the Gospels).

            I won’t go into the differences except to note that they are striking enough to reinforce the idea that Matthew’s account is largely legendary, with little basis in fact.

            Again my point is that a simplistic claim that the Gospels are clearly not legends will not do. Matthew’s Nativity account is obviously a legend, and this is a point which should not be overlooked.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            What possible grounds, except for question-begging a priori philosophical bias, could you have for dismissing the angel as “most likely a legendary embellishment”?

            As for the OT resonances with Bethlehem and the Virgin Birth, I think the shoe is more likely on the other foot. Most of the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament was a matter of looking backward in light of the story of Jesus. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a good example. Isaiah 53 was not obviously messianic at all, but the figure whom early Christians had come to believe was the messiah strikingly resembled the figure in Isaiah 53, and so the connection was made.

            Likewise, despite the vignette in Matthew in which the chief priests and scribes assure Herod that the Messian would be born in Bethlehem, it’s not clear to me that Micah 5:2 actually predicts the location of the Messiah’s birth — only that he would be a son of David, who was born in Bethlehem. So I think there is likely a legendary bit here — but it’s the chief priests and scribes’ answer to Herod, not the birthplace of Jesus. Again, I’m not aware of any history in prior Jewish exegesis identifying LXX Isaiah 7:14 as a messianic prophecy; I think the early Christians made that connection only after coming to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

          • Paul King

            An angelic appearance is exactly the sort of thing that might appear in a legendary accretion, and is not so likely in actual history. So I think it quite reasonable to doubt that it is historical.

            I suspect you are also wrong about Isaiah. Isaiah 8:8 is addressed to Immanuel, and could be taken as indicating that Immanuel would rule the land. And you know, I’ve never seen anyone argue for a virgin birth in the reign of Ahaz. Which is really rather odd given that the birth of Immanuel had to occur at that time.

            And I understand that there is some evidence indicating that some Jews did think of Isaiah 53 as Messianic prior to the rise of Christianity. (Although, even if that is true the Christians may have come up with the idea independently. Personally I suspect that the story of Jesus’ burial is derived from Isaiah 53:9, with a good deal of elaboration)

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “An angelic appearance is exactly the sort of thing that might appear in a legendary accretion, and is not so likely in actual history. So I think it quite reasonable to doubt that it is historical.”

            That’s a modest enough statement that I can live with it, actually. It is true that even if angelic appearances happen, they aren’t common, and while the claims made in connection with the life and career of Jesus of Nazareth are of a character that, if accepted, might make actual angelic appearances more probable and less surprising, considered neutrally a story of an angelic appearance with some doubt can, I think, be regarded as a subject of reasonable doubt.

            “I suspect you are also wrong about Isaiah. Isaiah 8:8 is addressed to Immanuel, and could be taken as indicating that Immanuel would rule the land. And you know, I’ve never seen anyone argue for a virgin birth in the reign of Ahaz. Which is really rather odd given that the birth of Immanuel had to occur at that time.”

            I appear to be not wrong about Isaiah 7:14. “No record exists of special attention given to 7:14 in pre-Christian Judaism” (John D. W. Watts, Word Biblical Commentary). As for the virgin birth issue, as I think you implied earlier, it wasn’t until the LXX that the text of Isaiah was clearly seen to be prophesying a virgin birth. The original 8th-century referent in Isaiah 7 is notoriously hard to pin down.

            “Although, even if that is true the Christians may have come up with the idea independently.”

            It appears they did come up with it independently — along with many other connections they made to the Jesus story. There is however no historical reason to suppose that they first applied the idea that the passage to Jesus, and consequently came up with the idea of the virgin birth. The shoe seems to be on the other foot.

            “Personally I suspect that the story of Jesus’ burial is derived from Isaiah 53:9, with a good deal of elaboration”

            There can a prima facie plausibility to this style of thinking in connection with some details in the Gospels — the 30 pieces of silver, for instance, or the centurions casting lots for Jesus’ garment — but in the case of his burial by Joseph of Arimathea I think the case is far from compelling.

            a) First, FWIW, that Jesus’ body was buried (and not, say, left to wild dogs) is attested in the very earliest strata of Jesus tradition, in the pre-Pauline resurrection creed of 1 Cor 15:3ff.

            b) The role of Joseph of Arimathea, and all the notable elements of the story, are firmly entrenched in the earliest part of the Gospel tradition, appearing in all four passion narratives, with close correspondence despite the literary independence of John and the synoptic tradition.

            c) Despite numerous references to other events occurring “to fulfill the scriptures,” etc. throughout the passion narratives, not one of the four evangelists here cites Isaiah 53. Nor, as far as I can tell, is this verse cited anywhere in the NT.

            d) Three of the four evangelists establish that Joseph’s tomb had never before been used — and all four have nothing but positive things to say about Joseph (Mark and Luke say he was seeking for the kingdom; Matthew and John reveal that he was a secret disciple of Jesus). If “He was assigned a grave with the wicked” were their inspiration, they picked a funny way of “fulfilling” the prophecy.

            e) As regards “with a rich man in his death,” while Mark (the first evangelist to write) and Luke both mention that Joseph was a member of the council, only Matthew (traditionally a tax collector!) happens to mention that he was rich. (In my youth it struck me that the passion narratives seem to reverse Isaiah 53:9: Jesus was assigned a grave with a rich man (not the wicked), and was with the wicked (not a rich man) in his death (i.e., the two thieves)! Of course that’s not how Hebrew parallelism works, but if you’re going to break it out, the Gospel writers seem to have made no attempt to make the fulfillment fit the prophecy.)

          • Paul King

            In reply to your points about Joseph of Arimathea.

            a) “buried” is consistent with the – a priori more likely – burial in a common grave. There’s no mention of a tomb prior to Mark.

            b) The possible independence of John is a reasonable argument but while we don’t have direct copying John is late enough for the idea to have been derived from the Synoptic Gospels.

            c) The Gospel writers need not have been aware of the origins of the story.

            d) Selective reading is common enough that that could have been overlooked, or (IMHO more likely) taken to refer to neighbouring tombs.

            e) The NASB directly relates the claim about “a rich man” to Joseph of Arimathea, so at least I’m not the only one to make that connection.

            So I think that it’s a reasonable speculation. We’ll never know for sure.

      • R.C.

        Paul King:

        You need to watch out for arguing from the notion that the geneologies given for Jesus in Matthew and Luke are incompatible. They aren’t, if you make the correct allowances…and they’re entirely reasonable allowances.

        (a.) Both are showing Jesus’ lineage through Joseph (supported by the text);

        (b.) Matthew is interested in showing the legal descent which necessarily hops from one branch to another if the eldest male of a branch dies without having any male heirs who live to procreate (supported by the notion that Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience and interested primarily in the royal line for the “Son of David” title); and,

        (c.) Levirate marriage is allowed for (which it should be; it’s Mosaic Law and a devout Jewish family would have practiced it when it was called for)

        It’s pretty reasonable to assume that Matthew would be most interested in the legal question, but Luke more in family history as reported to him (presumably by Mary, or perhaps by John with whom Mary lived for many years).

        Since the current textual scholarship holds that Luke was aware of Matthew’s gospel (or an Aramaic precursor of it) when writing his gospel, it would be odd for Luke to put out a gospel that flatly contradicted Matthew (with which he was familiar). But there’s nothing extraordinary about him perfectly willing to putting out a gospel that reported the exact same lineage apart from accounting for the bits only of interest to a Jewish audience; that is, the legal details of the royal descent.

        See here for further info:
        http://jimmyakin.com/the-genealogies-of-christ-2

        • Paul King

          As anybody familiar with the two Gospels knows, the author of Luke Luke DID put out a Gospel that frankly contradicted Matthew. So I don’t think that arguing that he wouldn’t contradict Matthew on the genealogy really stands.

          Also you have to assume an adoption and several levirate marriages only one of which is possibly recorded to reconcile the two. The adoption in particular is highly questionable.

          • R.C.

            I’m curious: On what details, apart from the genealogies, do you base your assertion that Luke’s gospel frankly contradicted Matthew?

            As for the genealogies: “Several” levirate marriages? I count at most three…although I suppose “two” is ” a couple” and “twelve” is “a dozen,” so if “several” means more than a couple but less than a dozen, then three barely hits the minimum qualification.

            In any event, the discrepancies we must deal with are: Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, and Joseph: Who’s the correct father of each of these?

            Shealtiel first: Is he the son of Jeconiah or Neri? If he’s the biological son of Neri, but Jeconiah had no biological son to continue the royal line, then the next nearest male descendant of David is presumably Neri’s son, inasmuch as both Neri and Jeconiah are descendants of David. Thus the legal royal line is Jeconiah->Shealtiel and Jeconiah is reckoned the “father of” Shealtiel for those purposes.

            Next, Zerubbabel: As noted in the linked article, if Matthew and Luke are in disagreement here, we have 1 Chron. 3:17-19 and Ezra 3:2 equally in disagreement. But assuming that the Jews took things like the line of descent of the royal house of David in exile and remotely seriously, the solution seems to be the same, again: Shealtiel had no male heir still living when he died; so the eldest/nearest descendant of David was his cousin Pedaiah’s kid, Zerubbabel. So Zerubbabel, as the next in the line, gets the title of “son of Shealtiel” legally although biologically he’s Pedaiah’s kid. (The importance of Z’s lineage and kinfolk explains why a non-priest is mentioned a passage in Ezra about the rebuilding of the altar.)

            So I’m really not seeing why you find this implausible. Why should, over a several hundred year period, in a family self-conscious of being the exiled descendants of David, with a whopping big prophecy hanging over them, not bother to make the royal line pretty explicit among themselves (including the legal fiction of calling X the “father of” Y because Y was the next available heir to the throne when X, the previous heir, died)?

            I grant they probably tried to keep their heads down with respect to the Babylonians, who likely didn’t want to see any of their conquered lands getting uppity with “true heir” claims. But among themselves they had a lingering promise from God that couldn’t possibly work out to be true if David’s line were entirely exterminated.

            Or is the part which seems implausible to you the mere fact that two successive generations had no biological male descendants? That happens enough under normal circumstances. But if you’re a “true heir” claimant living among the Babylonians, and you start getting ideas about restoration of your monarchy, I bet your male-child mortality rates start rising, courtesy of your friendly hosts. I for one would welcome our new Babylonian overlords.

            That leaves Joseph, the only one for which no Old Testament supporting data is available. But we do have it from another source, as Jimmy Akin’s article notes; namely, the second century historian Julius Africanus, a native of Israel.

            And there, the information is exactly as we would expect: Citing information given by Christ’s remaining family in his day, he tells us that Joseph’s grandfather Matthan married Estha, who bore him a son named Jacob. Then…

            …Matthan died, Estha married his close relative Melchi (mentioned in Luke) and bore him a son named Heli. Jacob and Heli were thus half-brothers.

            Unfortunatley, Heli died childless, and so Jacob married his widow and fathered Joseph, who was biologically the son of Jacob but legally the son of Heli (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1:6:7).

            So, again, I don’t see what’s so improbable about that. I mean, yes, it’s disappointing to come up dry, if your purpose going in is to find something to debunk either Luke or Matthew by showing them to contradict one another. But if you’re replete with other instances of contradiction anyway, why not just shrug and say that the genealogy one didn’t pan out, and move on?

          • Paul King

            The Nativity accounts and the stories of the post-resurrection appearances are quite different in Matthew and Luke. There are a whole lot of other differences, too, which is why Q was hypothesised as an alternative to Luke being dependent on Matthew.

            You still don’t offer much explanation for Shealtiel. Why should we think that Neri WAS the “next nearest” male descendant of David, after so many generations ? So far all you have is one unlikely hypothesis supported by no evidence whatsoever.

            And what are we to make of Ruth ? Matthew gives Boaz as the father of Ruth’s child Obed, not Mahlon, her first husband, (as does Luke). Why assume that Matthew treated other levirate marriages differently ?

            And how do you know that Julius Africanus’ information came from actual family ? Or that Eusebius reported it correctly ? (Don’t forget that we are dealing with the situation decades after the Jewish revolt, which would have caused extensive disruption throughout Palestine.)

            Finally I have to say that before criticising my motives you really ought to try to understand the context of the discussion. The point of introducing the genealogies is the question of Joseph’s ancestry, not to point out contradictions. So why don’t you accept the fact that the contrived explanation offered is less than satisfactory and walk away ?

          • R.C.

            Paul,

            I don’t know which of “a whole lot of other differences” can’t be accounted for by difference in interest, emphasis, intended audience, accidental conflations by the reader, the usual problems of names and nicknames (e.g. Thomas/Didymus) and so on. (I had thought you would tee up one or two favorites!)

            Given the mutually-exclusive possibilities that Neri was the next/nearest candidate for the royal line, and that he was not, we’d have to ask how likely it is that he’d wind up in such a list if he wasn’t. It would require the Jewish sources from whom Luke obtained his information inserting his name erroneously.

            But what kind of error would the Jewish sources be likely to make, about such a topic? This is a matter of someone in the lineage of Zerubbabel, who is the most famous name of the descendants of David in exile, and was highlighted in the rebuilding of the temple at the return. And even the extra-biblical sources (e.g. Seder Olam Zutta) disagree on whether he was Shealtiel’s son or a relative (nephew?) who got treated as next-in-line.

            Granted, those who say he was a relative don’t say “and the name of his biological father was Neri”; as far as I’m aware no name is given. But that seems more plausible to me than…what? That nobody Luke talked to could remember Pedaiah’s father’s name, so they just made something up? Let’s do the people of the time the credit of thinking they cared about the things they cared about.

            So I’m just not seeing anything scandalous about Shealtiel. Frankly, for a Jew of the time, a recitation of Jesus’ descent from Zerubbabel would probably have been enough inasmuch as his name’s significance wasn’t really a matter of contention. To me, attaching such attention to the matter is a bit like someone a thousand years from now, evaluating a newspaper clipping which mentions Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez being brothers, and saying, “Aha! They don’t even have the same last names, and Estevez’ mother’s name is Templeton; this clipping must be a much-later forgery.”

            And that is likewise how I view the question about Ruth. Off the top of my head, I’d expect Matthew to mention Boaz because he’s a well known figure from a famous story in the Old Testament and Mahlon was a relative nobody.

            And of course it’s a slightly different situation from the Jeconiah – Shealtiel – Zerubbabel thing, because Obed really was Boaz’s biological son. So here we’re not counting X as the son of Y (who is an important figure) even though X isn’t his biological son, because a legal fiction allows us to do so. Instead, we’re counting X as the son of Y (who is an important figure) and X is actually his biological son, and there’s a legal fiction that allows us to do otherwise, but nothing hangs on mentioning it.

            If you thought your audience wouldn’t already know about it, and might care about it, you might mention it gratuitously. But David is, shall we say, a famous figure, and Ruth only slightly less so. If you were a Jew telling all this to an audience of other Jews, and allowed yourself to wander off on a tangent about Mahlon, I think the other Jews would look at you funny and say, “Dude. We know. We got it. Move on.”

            Moving on to Julius Africanus, well, I don’t know his information is accurate. I wouldn’t unnecessarily bet my life on it. But if I had to bet one way or the other, it’s the best explanation going. It’s perfectly plausible, with a plausible explanation of how he came by the information; there isn’t an alternative explanation dating from that time or earlier, and that I have no textual variants to suggest that Eusebius quoted Africanus incorrectly, or that our version of Eusebius is incorrect. What else have I to go on? I don’t know, but it’s the only explanation going that has any possible connection to the folk who did know.

            In reply to your last paragraph: Hmm. Your rebuke may be just…although it seems to me I was criticizing your tactic rather than your motive.

            (To clarify: I would say your intention is what you hope to achieve, your goal. And your motive would be why you think that goal is a good, desirable thing to achieve. And a tactic would be action you undertake to achieve it.)

            I had thought that your intent was to demonstrate that Luke and Matthew were hopelessly irreconcilable (in several ways), and that as a tactic you tried to offer one example: that their genealogies were hopelessly irreconcilable. And I didn’t speculate on any underlying motive for that intent, but I would guess it would be to debunk Christianity, generally?

            Anyhow, my read of the various explanations reconciling Matthew with Luke is that none of them are absolutely guaranteed to be correct, but any of them could be right. I rate some more plausible than others, of course. Some folk say one of them is Mary’s lineage, not Joseph’s; I rate that less likely. But for me to judge that Jesus had no connection at all to Zerubbabel would require that they are all so improbable that the chances of even one being correct are really low.

            But more than one option exists which seems plausible enough to me to pass muster. That would make the two genealogies “plausibly reconcilable” rather than “hopelessly irreconcilable.” And that — if your intent is to present at least one reason why Matthew and Luke are hopelessly irreconcilable, and the genealogies were the first example (tactic) attempted — would make it more fruitful to move on to the second example (tactic).

            Which is why I said what I said. I don’t see anywhere that I implied I confidently knew your motive, and without knowing it I couldn’t criticize it.

            But I did criticize your adherence to that tactic…mildly, I think, especially by the low standards of comboxing, but I don’t want to judge myself by those standards, so: I apologize. No disrespect to you was intended, but as snarky as comment-threads can get, I should have made that clearer.

            As for why I don’t “move on” (and, yeah, you get style points for throwing that back in my face; nicely done!) I think what I’ve written above clarifies that: I don’t feel any need to do so. I’m comfortable being uncertain about what the real explanations are for each of the genealogy discrepancies, provided that for each one there are more-plausible explanations than “it’s all a lie.” I’ve given you my favorite explanation in each case, and in each case I think it’s more plausible than the “it’s all a lie” option.

            Sure, it’d be cool to know the exact details for sure. But the list of things I don’t know for sure is a long one and this doesn’t strike me as critical.

          • R.C.

            Oops, sorry; the phrase you threw back at me was “walk away” not “move on.” My bad, Homer nods and all that.

          • Paul King

            Since the genealogies go back way past David, I think that all that is required for Neri to show up is for there to be a belief that he was the father, of Shealtiel. Which may have been – for all we know – a legend that appealed because it denied that Shealtiel was of the cursed line of Jeconiah (Jeremiah 22). Quite frankly it seems rather odd that if it were the case that Shealtiel had a strong claim to be considered a son of Neri, that it would not be appear in any of the OT books where he is mentioned.

            And how is Boaz known EXCEPT as an ancestor of David ? Surely his position in the genealogy is the only reason for mentioning him. So, you have to assume that there were other levirate marriages and at least one of the two authors treated them differently from the one known example that we do have. That really seems questionable.

            FInally if we don’t have information that would let us judge the reliability of Eusebius it seems a bit premature to judge him reliable…. Not when the obvious bias and problems in getting accurate information are taken into account.

    • Niemand

      But you have to be frankly illiterate to read the gospels as something other than reportage of an eyewitness community that was pretty close up to the events it reports.

      I’m not an expert on the gospels by any means, but I thought they were believed to have been written decades, possibly centuries, after the events described. Not eye witness accounts at all. Anyone care to comment on that (including telling me I’m wrong on the dates, if that’s the way it is)?

      • Darren

        You are on the right track.

        Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for Synoptic Problem regarding the authorship and dating of the gospels.

        • http://decentfilms.com SDG

          Niemand and Darren: The mainstream consensus is that the Gospels were all written within a few to several decades of Jesus’ death, the earliest (probably Mark) some time in the 60s, Matthew and Luke perhaps circa 80, and John circa 90. All first century documents. Mark at least was probably written while a number of apostles were still alive, and eyewitness memory of Jesus lived throughout most if not all of the first century. Moreover, the oral traditions recorded in the Gospels do embody eyewitness testimony, as both Luke and John explicitly attest.

          • Darren

            SDG;

            I was not aware of a consensus, but perhaps I am simply mistaken. Can you define who your “mainstream” is, that they have such a consensus?

            The Wikipedia article I provided was, I thought, a suitable jumping off point for Niemand, should he really want to dive into the topic. I will defer judgment on the article itself, but it does have the advantage of copious links to others articles and thorough source citations. It also does an excellent job of showing that the age and authorship of the gospels is a much more involved question than one might initially think, and the evolution and contemporary state of the “consensus”.

            Niemand;

            Two interesting questions to ponder, in regards to the “eyewitness account” question.

            1. If they are eyewitness accounts, and yet by their own telling all of Jesus’s followers had abandoned him during his trial, how were his words quoted? Similarly, what of Jesus’s soliloquy in the Garden of Gethsemane when all of his followers were asleep?

            2. The gospels where written in Greek, and educated Greek at that. Neither Jesus, nor any of his named followers spoke Greek.

            These are old question and many theologians have addressed them. I would encourage you to investigate the various arguments and counter arguments to those questions and then see what you think.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Darren:

            A few points:

            a) John A. Meier and others have established that first-century Palestinian Jews normally spoke at least some Greek. (It was still a Hellenized world.)

            b) The quality of Greek in the Gospels actually varies widely. Mark’s Greek style is rather poor, and is generally regarded as the work of a writer for whom Greek is a second language. John’s Greek is solid but simple, sort of a grade-school Greek. The most accomplished Greek in the Gospels, that of Luke, is universally regarded as the work of a Gentile who was not an eyewitness of the events he records (though he explicitly says he has researched his material and benefitted from eyewitness and secondary sources).

            c) The mainstream consensus on the dating of the Gospels (Mark in the 60s, Matthew and Luke around 80, John around 90) spans pretty much the entire spectrum of critical opinion, from the most skeptical scholars who doubt whether Jesus even lived to the more conservative end. Of course there’s a tendency in conservative scholarship to prefer earlier dates; John A. T. Robinson argued for dating the entire NT corpus prior to AD 70. Conversely, you can probably find skeptical scholars who might push at least the fourth gospel into the early second century, but that’s a minority view, and no one that I know of would argue that for the Synoptics. The first quotations and references to the Gospels crop up in the early second century, and by the mid-second century (AD 175 at the latest) there’s a literary synthesis of all four Gospels.

            d) Regarding the credibility of the historical evidence for Jesus’ existence and at least a minimum outline biography (I can spell out what I mean by this), I would point to a broad spectrum of scholarship, from comparative skeptics such as John Crossan (who has famously posited that Jesus’ body was eaten by wild dogs) and Norman Perrin (who supports the minimum outline biography but concludes that we can know nothing more than that of Jesus’ life and acts), to middle-of-the-road scholars such as Raymond Brown, to comparative conservatives such as N. T. Wright. I would also include writers and NT scholars writing outside the Christian tradition, such as Rabbi Jacob Neuser and the historian Michael Grant.

          • Darren

            SDG;

            Thank you, a nicely written explanation.

      • TerryC

        The actual dating of the Gospels and other New Testament writings are the subject of a huge collection of writings in their own right, even if you limit yourself to serious biblical scholars (those are the ones who know Latin, Greek, Hebrew and probably Aramaic, as well as possibly the Coptic language) and period historians. Also many like to pretend that the New Testament writings exist in a literary vacuum, when there are many existent text that are contemporary with the probable period of the gospel writings. Some of these works were written in the period between the events of the Gospels and the proposed dates of their writing. A few of these extra biblical sources are found quoted and excerpted in later historical periods and were later found in their entirety by archaeologists in modern times.
        I think term “witness accounts” as referred to here means accounts written by persons who were present at the events rather than accounts as written directly after the events. More like someone writing about their experiences in WWII in the 1960s rather than in a journal or newspaper account in 1943.
        One of the schema of modern “critical” biblical studies in the post Christian era has been to attempt to discredit the Gospels and even the Epistles by maintaining that their authorship was falsely attributed, even though New Testament contemporaries in their writings do not contest the authorship, such as Clement of Rome, writing during the first century.

      • R.C.

        Nobody thinks the gospels were written “centuries” after the fact.

        Best available evidence is something like this:

        1. Someone wrote some kind of overall story, probably in Aramaic, within 20 years after the events. Early tradition says that Matthew’s gospel was originally in Aramaic, so maybe it’s that?

        2. In some unknown order, Matthew and Mark were written prior to the fall of Jerusalem, by authors who (a.) fit the broad biographical and cultural markers for their traditional authorship, and (b.) were aware of the Aramaic source previously mentioned. If the Aramaic source previously mentioned was in fact an Aramaic gospel written by Matthew, then Matthew’s gospel is called “Matthew” because it was intended as a Greek translation of that earlier source. However, one can suppose that other material was borrowed from Mark at the time of translation…IF it wasn’t already in the Aramaic original, and IF Mark had been written by that time.

        3. Luke probably came after the latter of Matthew and Mark, but early enough for all three to have been well-distributed around the Christian world by the time John wrote his gospel. Acts was probably completed shortly thereafter; it’s obviously “Luke Part II” by the same author and there’s no reason to suspect a long gap between the dates they were written.

        4. John wrote last, possibly as late as the 90′s. But some argue that he wrote only his letters and/or apocalypse (Revelation) that late, and that his gospel came as early as the late 60′s. I don’t think that’s a popular view, but I’ve seen it.

  • John E_o

    Omigosh – my first post here and I got a shout-out! Thanks.

    I would like to comment on this bit:
    “But the “Jesus was an amazing, real person, and a great moral teacher” crowd doesn’t have a very coherent place to stand. Claiming to be God and to have the power to personally forgive sins on behalf of others is more than just a charming eccentricity like handing out lemon drops at odd moments.”

    The only thing we know for sure about those claims to Divinity and forgiveness of sin is that there are writings which state that Christ made those claims.

    If one takes the point of view that Jesus was a real person about whom legends were later created, then one can indeed quarantine the claims to Divinity and simply take in and apply the “good ethics” parts of the story.

    Which you seem to address here:
    “Finally, if you make the case that you believe everything that Jesus said about ethics, but you think everything related to metaethics and theology was an interpolation, you might be getting closer to the legend out that Bob proposes, but I hope you’re awfully adept in Biblical scholarship to be able to sift the text so finely. ”

    To which I disagree.

    Sifting the text is not difficult. If the text describes raising people from the dead, regrowing withered limbs, claiming to be God, and claiming to forgive sins – put that on the ‘legend’ pile. If the text describes teachings on how to live in harmony with your fellow humans, put that on the ‘examine for usefulness’ pile.

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

      If one takes the point of view that Jesus was a real person about whom legends were later created, then one can indeed quarantine the claims to Divinity and simply take in and apply the “good ethics” parts of the story.

      The trouble is you have the same problem with the next generation. If they created this divinity thing then they must have been liars or lunatics. Now people who suggest this are always quite fuzzy on who exactly they are talking about. Peter, Paul, John, & co? Are they lying? What is their motive? Are they insane? Is the New Testament a work of fiction written by madmen? The only other option is they are telling the truth.

      • John E_o

        Well, here’s one hypothetical motive – the accounts of claimed Divinity were embraced after the destruction of Jerusalem as a means of consoling the people who experienced that trauma.

        • Pseudonym

          It’s always struck me as interesting that the accounts of claimed divinity are more clear and unambiguous in the books that were written later (e.g. John, Revelation) than in the earlier ones (e.g. Mark). This does suggest that the belief developed over time.

          For completeness, I should point out that it had to be this way whether or not Jesus actually made those claims, and whether or not those claims were true. If Christians had signed on to the whole “Jesus is God” thing early, there would be a significant risk of it not remaining a monotheistic religion.

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

            This is just not true. All the gospels have Jesus as divine. Even the Christmas stories refer to Jesus as Lord. The Greek word kurios that is used about 6000 times in the Septuigent to refer to God. Matthew says “God with us.” Then you have many saying of Jesus that go beyond human teaching.

            If any man loves his father or mother more than me he is not worth of me.

            Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away.

            All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

          • Pseudonym

            I’ll certainly give you that you have sayings of Jesus which appear to state that he is more than human. What I’m interested in is claims that Jesus is God, and it seems to be a reliable rule that the earlier the book was written, the less likely it is for the identification to be made.

            The word kurios is a case in point. In the oldest gospel, Mark, Jesus is referred to as “Lord” exactly twice (7:28, 16:9), and one of those is in the later interpolated “longer ending”. Notably, he is not reported as used the title of himself in Mark. It happens more Matthew and Luke (which were written later), and most in in John (written last).

            I’m not saying that Jesus isn’t God. What I’m saying is that it’s a belief that came to the early Christians gradually, and moreover, that this had to be the case.

        • http://decentfilms.com SDG

          John E_o: “Well, here’s one hypothetical motive – the accounts of claimed Divinity were embraced after the destruction of Jerusalem as a means of consoling the people who experienced that trauma.”

          Pseudonym: “It’s always struck me as interesting that the accounts of claimed divinity are more clear and unambiguous in the books that were written later (e.g. John, Revelation) than in the earlier ones (e.g. Mark). This does suggest that the belief developed over time.”

          Philippians 2, written by St. Paul decades before the destruction of Jerusalem, is about as unambiguous on the divinity of Christ as any book in the NT, though it’s fair to say that the doctrine “developed” or was refined and clarified over time. It cannot be said that the destruction of Jerusalem was the impetus for a belief that clearly existed decades earlier.

          • Pseudonym

            For the record, it wasn’t me who claimed the destruction of Jerusalem as an impetus. Merely that the doctrine developed over time, and this is visible from what we know about when the various books of the New Testament were written.

      • Alan

        So those who followed Joseph Smith and believed his revelations must either be liars or lunatics?

        False dilemmas abound.

        • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

          But you dropped the condition. If you want to take the legend option on Joseph Smith, then you need liars of lunatics later in the chain. But nobody does that. Mormons take the Prophet option (the analogue of the Lord option) and pretty much everyone else takes the liar option on Joseph Smith.
          (Also I think the Mormon version should be called the prophet/perjurer/psychotic trilemma. It sounds really obvious, but Google comes up with nothing.)

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ Two Men

    How would you respond to this?
    Jesus was not a lunatic, nor a liar, nor God. Stories get exaggerated and this can happen quickly, like when you whisper a story in someone’s ear and ask them to whisper it to the next person and so on. The story can become an exaggerated fantasy by the time it gets back to you. This is how we ended up with Christianity.

    • Iota

      > How would you respond to this?

      I’m not Leah, but maybe this will interest you.
      The “they just added divinity along the way” argument never made significant sense to me. For two very different reasons:
      1) Because Christianity started out a splinter from Judaism. I’m not a scholar of the topic but I do get the impression that adding claims of divinity would be a pretty big deal for a Jew (and, as you can see by Orthodox Jewish responses to Christianity, divinity and one’s status as the Jewish Messiah could, in principle, be divorced from each other, so there was no reason for Jesus’ followers to make claims about his divinity in the first place, considering they’d be pretty outrageous).
      2) Even if you wanted to claim there were some heavily delusional Jews who just went ahead and tacked divinity onto Jesus, you’d really have to explain why that theology became increasingly popular. Once we get to Constantine you could make political claims, but before that? Theological systems that are significantly more crazy (i.e. not internally consistent) than others rarely conquer the world. They might survive and even thrive locally, but they have a hard time being exported.

      There seems to be an assumption behind that “Jesus’ divinity as folk legend” that goes something like this: All myths and religions are equally crazy and nonsensical, therefore:
      - it makes perfect sense that a predominantly Jewish community would suddenly ascribe divinity to someone, when they have been brought up on centuries of “Shema Israel…” and would then get a significant following.
      - people don’t really care about the content of the myths they believe in (therefore they are equally likely to believe all things and switch creeds without much problems)

      Personally, having read both about ancient mythologies and various religions other than Christianity (esp. Catholicism), I do think that in they are actually quite complex systems that don’t just freely morph from one thing into another. Adding claims of someone’s divinity was not a big deal in some systems (Roman/Greek mythology) but would be in others (Judaism, Islam).

      There also seems to be a dash of chronological snobbery in that argument (we, moderns, don’t deify people simply because they did cool stuff, but what else can you expect from a bunch of uncouth 1st century people?) Which sort of misses the point that a lot of religious and social systems managed NOT to deify important people, even revered ones (take Confucianism for starters, then you can go and think about all the Greek philosophers who never achieved deity status). It’s not like it was ever universal to claim that all cool people had the power to forgive sins or self-resurect.

      A third argument I don’t expect many non-believers (or even non-Christians) to find convincing but that does have significant weight for me is that one does not freely go to martyrdom for something one does not believe in (and in general I do not find martyrdom being advocated as commonly desirable in, say, Greek/Roman/Egyptian beliefs of that time). And if people did become martyrs for Christ the testimony about him had to make significant a amount of sense to them. Much more than any 1st century equivalent of celebrity gossip would.

      • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

        Even if you wanted to claim there were some heavily delusional Jews who just went ahead and tacked divinity onto Jesus, you’d really have to explain why that theology became increasingly popular.

        The same way Mormonism did, or Scientology, to name two that seem to be doing a gang-buster business. Once a religion reaches a threshold number of followers it becomes self-sustaining: adherents have a vested interest in seeing it continue, children are born into it and raised in it so they don’t question it, a priest caste/hierarchy develops with an even more vested interest in keeping things going, an entrenched institution grows up that makes a ton of money off its congregation (or, in the case of Scientology, its customers), etc.

        Christianity has a thousand years to go before it surpasses the ancient Egyptian religions; I’m also willing to bet that Scientology and Mormonism will be even shorter-lived.

        • JohnE_o

          Can I quote that elsewhere? That is the most succinct and clear answer to that question that I’ve ever seen.

        • http://decentfilms.com SDG

          ” The same way Mormonism did, or Scientology, to name two that seem to be doing a gang-buster business.”

          Neither Mormonism nor Scientology spread like wildfire in spite of being outlawed and persecuted, nor were the first apostles for either religion martyred for refusing to recant their testimony that they had seen what they had seen.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Early Muslims were. Followers of Jim Jones were ‘martyred’ as well.

            “The first believers were willing to die for their beliefs” is both a logically and historically bad reason to believe something.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Jake: Early Muslim martyrs were not killed for refusing to deny their personal experience of an unambiguously miraculous event such as witnessing a dead man return to life. Nor were Jones’s followers.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Also, Jake, the spread of Islam from the start was essentially a matter of military triumph. Muhammad spread Islam through conquest. Christianity spread like wildfire for centuries with no military or political power, at times when persecution and even martyrdom was periodically rampant and systematic. Within decades it was known throughout the world; within a couple of centuries it was the dominant religion, long before becoming the official religion of the Empire, long before having military or political power to project. Islam has never achieved dominance anywhere under comparable circumstances. Mormonism is not exactly on track to take over the world. And of course Jones’s group was a fringe thing from the start, and died quickly.

            Your parallels are unconvincing. :)

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            The level of nits you’re picking is astounding. If you zoom in far enough, of course you are going to find small differences between religions. Saying that Christianity isn’t like other religions because no religion is an exact match to the history of Christianity is like saying someone isn’t human because their genetic code is different from any other human’s.

            Lots of religions include martyrs dying for the cause. Lots of religions include the first adherent’s suffering, being persecuted, and dying for their beliefs. Lots of religions include supposed signs, miracles, and prophecy. Lots of religions spread through peace (almost all of them initially, because you can’t start a war with just a single crazy leader.) Lots of religions grew under persecution.

            If far-spread reach is your criteria, then Christianity looses to Islam (which came around 600 years later). If peacefulness is, then Christianity looses to Buddhism (which surely has some violence in it’s history, but nowhere close to Christianity’s.) If commitment of its adherents is the criteria, then Christianity looses to pretty much every suicide cult. But if you define a heuristic to weight these dimensions in an extremely specific way, Christianity wins!

            If you legitimately don’t see the historic parallels, I would suggest that you have not approached history with a desire or openness to seeing them.

          • Darren

            ”Neither Mormonism nor Scientology spread like wildfire in spite of being outlawed and persecuted, nor were the first apostles for either religion martyred for refusing to recant their testimony that they had seen what they had seen.“

            Actually, the parallels with Mormonism are pretty darn close: Mormonism.

            Rapid growth = check

            Outlawed and persecuted = check

            Martyred = check.

            Mormons consider Joseph Smith to have been a martyr, non-Mormons say he was a criminal that got what he had coming… so, still pretty similar to early Christians, I would say.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Jake: Martyrs dying for a cause is not itself reason to believe that cause. It is only reason to believe the martyrs are convinced. Early Muslims dying for their faith tells me that Muslims truly believed that Muhammad was a prophet and the Quran was inspired. Early Christians dying for their faith tells me that the Christians truly believed that Jesus was risen from the dead and appeared to the apostles. Only one of these scenarios presents me with a truly knotty historical problem if I doubt the veracity of the claim.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            If your claim is simply that the first apostles were tortured and killed for refusing to recant their belief in a different set of premises than the first Muslims were tortured and killed for refusing to recant, then I grant it without protest. They are different religions, after all.

            As you say, all this shows is their belief in their cause, not the veracity of that belief. Why on earth you would think the Christian’s strength of belief any more impressive than the Muslims, I’m not sure. I’m also not sure what “truly knotty historical problem” you see in one of these scenarios (presumably Christianity).

            If your point is simply that Christians were dying for something they had seen with their own eyes and Muslims weren’t, this is patently false. First, almost all Christian martyrs were converts, not eyewitnesses. In fact, my understanding is that the deaths of the apostles are almost exclusively “known” through tradition, rather than any reliable sourcing (though I am open to correction on this sub-point if you have a good source). Second, because Muslims also claimed to have seen miracles and signs with their own eyes in support of Mohammad. The fact that the nature of the purported miracles is different just means that we’re talking about two different religions.

          • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

            Why certainly :)

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Jake,

            A few data points worth noting, some of which I have had occasion to note elsewhere in this combox:

            The earliest NT documents, and the greatest number of them, were written by Paul of Tarsus within decades of Jesus’ death. Paul never met Jesus of Nazareth prior to the resurrection, but he repeatedly mentions having encountered the risen Jesus, and being converted by those encounters. (It’s generally thought that James the brother of Jesus, a skeptic during Jesus’ career, also became a disciple only after, and because of, the resurrection. Your contrast between eyewitnesses and converts is thus at least somewhat misleading.)

            Paul also personally knew and repeatedly those who were disciples and intimates of Jesus, and among the first witnesses to the resurrection, including Simon Peter, James the brother of Jesus and John the son of Zebedee. Peter, James and John were not figments of Paul’s imagination, nor did he make up his encounters with them to boost his prestige. On the contrary, he is at pains to emphasize (apparently to those who considered Paul a sort of second-class apostle compared to those who actually knew Jesus prior to the crucifixion) that his own apostolic credentials are no less than theirs; Simon Peter in particular seems to have been a pain in Paul’s ass, and Paul’s quarrel with Peter on one well-known occasion were apparently an embarrassment that he had to explain away in his letter to the Galatians.

            Using the technical rabbinic language of “receiving” and “delivering” authoritative teaching from those who have gone before, Paul presents in 1 Corinthians 15 a creedal formula about Jesus’ resurrection and its witnesses. This formula, reasonably considered pre-Pauline, affirms that, after being crucified and buried, Jesus rose and appeared first to Peter, then to the Twelve. Paul goes on to note that Jesus appeared to others also, including James the brother of Jesus and, on one occasion, more than 500 “brothers and sisters” at once — most of whom Paul says are still alive at the time of his writing.

            Luke states in the prologue of his Gospel that he has researched his subject thoroughly, having benefitted both from eyewitnesses and secondary sources (Luke 1:1-4). The Fourth Gospel also emphasizes its reliance on eyewitness testimony, particularly with regard to the crucifixion (John 19:35).

            Matthew, Luke/Acts and John all indicate resurrection appearances to individuals other than the Twelve. The cumulative evidence suggests that the experience of encountering Jesus after his crucifixion, while limited, was not confined to only a few. A great many people witnessed Jesus alive after the crucifixion.

            The belief that Jesus was raised from the dead is the sine quo non of early Christian belief and praxis. It is the necessary presupposition for any attempt to explain the genesis, shape and praxis of early Christianity. This belief, and the context in which we find it set forth and defended, is minimally very difficult to account for apart from two historical suppositions: a) an empty tomb where Jesus was known to have been buried, and b) the experience, variously shared by sizable numbers of people who knew Jesus before the crucifixion and also some who did not, of encountering Jesus alive after the crucifixion.

            At the very least, there is a historical puzzle here for which the supposition that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead presents itself, if we can accept the supposition itself, as one satisfactory solution, and which other narratives, in my experience, struggle to account for. The martyrdom of many of the early Christians, including Paul and Peter, is one important piece of the puzzle, though hardly the only one.

        • Iota

          Delphi,

          Once we get to the threshold, your argument makes sense (to the same extent that political interpretations do, for example). What interests me specifically is how do you get TO that threshold. Because, IMO neither Mormonism nor Scientology have done that, outside of their native territories, thus far.

          After all, we all known crazy cults are born probably every year, but somehow they generally don’t end up extremely successful globally (who, outside of religious debates where it serves as ammunition, actually recognizes Jim Jones?)

          > The same way Mormonism did, or Scientology, to name two that seem to be doing a gang-buster business.

          I seem to be getting the impression neither of these is really good at exporting itself outside of the USA (and generally US-influenced territories, culturally speaking)…? I remember some news about Mormonism to the effect that they are the fastest growing denomination and they grow more outside of the US than inside, but AFAIR, if you think having 1 million adherents in Asia is a big deal, it’s good to remind yourself that Asia is almost 4 billion people. Which means approx. 1/4000 would be Mormon. Which is still, IMO, WAY below the self-replication threshold. You still get more social rewards for being a Buddhist, to put it bluntly.

          And Scientology is puny even by official accounts, when compared to Mormonism (claiming “just” 8 million adherents), 5,5 of that in the US.

          • JohnE_o

            (who, outside of religious debates where it serves as ammunition, actually recognizes Jim Jones?)

            The Judy’s
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K74GSl3T7tQ

            Anyone who has said “don’t drink the koolaid.

          • Iota

            John,

            admittedly I’m not American, so maybe Jim Jones is part of the wide shared American consciousness (he sure isn’t one over here).

            But [as a linguistic digression] one thing I’m sort of convinced about is that it’s not necessary for people to actually remember where “don’t drink the koolaid” comes from, to use it. References of this sort eventually develop a life of their own.

          • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

            I seem to be getting the impression neither of these [Mormonism or Scientology] is really good at exporting itself outside of the USA (and generally US-influenced territories, culturally speaking)…?

            Well, Mormonism is less than 200 years old and there are approximately 14 million of them worldwide (5.5m in the US). According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (1982), it is estimated that by A.D. 100 there were 1 million Christians. Going by sheer speed of spread, Mormonism is doing comparatively pretty well.

        • Ted Seeber

          How many people have been killed in the name of Scientology?

          The Mormons you have a bit of a point on, though I think the last Mormon Martyr was Joseph Smith Himself. When the Romneys were faced with the atheists in Mexico, they didn’t stand and fight for faith- they left all that they owned and scampered back across the border. Blessed Jose, 7 years old and Catholic, withstood the pain of having his feet cut up, being stabbed repeatedly, being forced to walk to his grave, being shot, and STILL his final words were “Viva Christo Rey” as he drew a cross in the dust with his own blood.

          What Atheist is willing to die for his non-belief? What Scientologist?

          • JohnE_o

            How many people have been killed in the name of Scientology?

            At least one – Lisa McPherson

            What Atheist is willing to die for his non-belief? What Scientologist?

            As we all know, the intensity with which a person holds a belief is not proof of the truth of that belief.

          • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

            What Atheist is willing to die for his non-belief? What Scientologist?

            Many atheists have died for their religion in Middle Eastern countries. The Economist had a really good article on this in its latest issue, see here. An excerpt:

            Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—a hudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offences.

          • Ted Seeber

            From Wikipedia:
            “Lisa McPherson (February 10, 1959 – December 5, 1995) was a member of the Church of Scientology who died of a pulmonary embolism while under the care of the Flag Service Organization (FSO), a branch of the Church of Scientology.”

            Not exactly persecution by an anti-Scientologist government, is that?

      • dave

        Regarding your statement: Personally, having read both about ancient mythologies and various religions other than Christianity (esp. Catholicism)…

        Catholics are most assuredly Christian. Pretty much all Christians were Catholic up until the Reformation.

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

      This is why people don’t pass truth on by whispering in each others ear. They actually use a method that works. The Jews had such methods. Creating a liturgy with the essential truths in it is one way they did it. There is good evidence the early church did exactly that. Justin Martyr talks about it in the 2nd century. The Didache was likely written in the first century.

      Another method they used was apostolic succession. The apostle John spends a few years teaching everything he knows about Jesus to Polycarp and Ignatius and others. They in turn teach it to others like Irenaus and many more. They end up with a set of leaders who know the faith really well. We have the writings of some of these guys. We know what kind of people they were. They were not prone to exaggerated fantasy. They were very conservative.

  • Steve Schuler

    Whatever Jesus may or may not have been, it’s a damn shame that he didn’t spend a moment of his time as (possibly) God incarnate on Earth at the scribes bench hammering out some enduring literary works that might have proved more compelling and convincing reading than what the New Testament affords humanity. I know, I may be picking nits at His approach to being the Son of God, but still…

    Truly, the Lord does move in mysterious ways.

    • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot
      • Steve Schuler

        Thanks for the link, Elliot!

        It’s always good to expand one’s knowledge of theological speculation, particularly of early and/or original sources such as Thomas Aquinas, who in the piece that you linked to quotes Augustine as well. While my knowldge of theology is quite limited, I do have an interest broadening my understanding of that realm of human enquiry.

        From the webpage you linked to:

        “Since the old Law was given under the form of sensible signs, therefore also was it fittingly written with sensible signs. But Christ’s doctrine, which is “the law of the spirit of life” (Romans 8:2), had to be “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart,” as the Apostle says (2 Corinthians 3:3). ”

        Which I find to be an interesting, but somewhat less than convincing, rationale for the Christ’s decision to rely on word of mouth to convey his teachings to the world, particularly in light of the amount of blood shed, heretics tortured and burned to death, and the like, which has occured through the millenia motivated by groups and individuals apparent differences of opinions or misunderstandings of His message as “written… in the fleshly tables of the heart.” A somewhat striking example of this phenomenon is the fate of the Cathars.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharism

        From the Wikipedia article linked to above:

        ” Arnaud, the Cistercian abbot-commander, is supposed to have been asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics. His reply, recalled by Caesar of Heisterbach, a fellow Cistercian, thirty years later was “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”—”Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own.”[29][30] The doors of the church of St Mary Magdalene were broken down and the refugees dragged out and slaughtered. Reportedly, 7,000 people died there. Elsewhere in the town many more thousands were mutilated and killed. Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice.[31] What remained of the city was razed by fire. Arnaud wrote to Pope Innocent III, “Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.”[32][33] The permanent population of Béziers at that time was then probably no more than 5,000, but local refugees seeking shelter within the city walls could conceivably have increased the number to 20,000.”

        While this massacre occured some 16 years prior to Thomas’ birth, I would imagine that he was aware of it when he wrote:

        “I answer that, With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.” (Also from the Summa Theologica)

        So, I do find it a bit hard to believe that one should take Christianity, Roman Catholic or otherwise, to be a particularly reliable means or vehicle upon which to rely in an honest attempt to discern what “objective” morality or morals might be, despite the (dubious) appeal of it’s metaphysical foundations.

        • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

          “…Christ’s doctrine, which is “the law of the spirit of life” (Romans 8:2), had to be “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart,” as the Apostle says (2 Corinthians 3:3). ”

          Which I find to be an interesting, but somewhat less than convincing, rationale for the Christ’s decision to rely on word of mouth to convey his teachings to the world,…

          Not to mention the fact that both Romans and Corinthians, which Aquinas cites as support for his argument, were written ca 55CE, well after Jesus was gone. It’s not impossible that the authors of those two books were trying to come up with reasons after the fact as to why Jesus didn’t leave anything in writing.

          • Brandon B

            The “written on hearts” bit is foreshadowed by the Old Testament.

            http://www.usccb.org/bible/jer/31:33 “But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days—oracle of the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
            http://www.usccb.org/bible/ez/11:19 “And I will give them another heart and a new spirit I will put within them. From their bodies I will remove the hearts of stone, and give them hearts of flesh, [20] so that they walk according to my statutes, taking care to keep my ordinances. Thus they will be my people, and I will be their God.”

          • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

            I’m sorry, so you’re rejecting my explanation of why Christ didn’t write a book… because you think Christianity is inherently immoral?

        • Zac

          “For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”
          Seems pretty logical. If you live in a jurisdiction where forgers receive the death penalty, then how much more so should those who distort ‘the faith which quickens [gives life to] the soul’? It’d be a bit strange if Aquinas didn’t reach this conclusion based on the premises.
          Also, he offers the following qualification:
          “On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but “after the first and second admonition,” as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.”

          • Steve Schuler

            @Elliot

            I don’t think that the Gospels record Jesus speaking on the matter of why he didn’t choose to write his teachings, including the matter of his divine nature, so any explanation for why he might have chosen not to leave a written account of what he was and what he thought falls into the realm of conjecture and speculation, whether the person proposing any particular hypothesis might be Thomas Aquinas, Elliot, or Steve. I think that ultimately that must remain something of a mystery. While Thomas may have had divine inspiration in discerning his explanation for why it was necesssary for Jesus not to have left a written record, that inspiration being written on the table of his heart perhaps, I think that Thomas’ clearly egregious and immoral support for the execution of heretics helps expose Thomas as an, at best, unreliable exemplar of morality. That is why I chose to include Thomas’ writing on that topic, also extracted from the Summa Theologica. That Thomas was adressing the morality of killing heretics at all suggest that there was contoversy surrounding that practice even during his time, although I am not familiar enough with history to know that to be historically factual. The “Fate of the Cathars” serves as a historical touchstone to remind us of the truly horrific acts of madness that can be perpetrated in the name of preserving “Truth” and should serve as a cautionary tale, amongst many, for ‘believer’ and ‘infidel’ alike.

            “Christianiy” seems to be a fairly amorphous concept as Christianity has manifested itself in so many diverse ways throughout it’s history, and in the present, that I think someone would be making a significant error in charaterizing it in any broad sense as being predominantly moral or immoral. I think that “Christianity” and people who identify as Christians are probably not, on average, particulary more or less moral than “Atheism” and people who identify as Atheists. As a general proposition I think that what people actually do is more important than what people profess to believe and I am confident that there are any number of religious people (Christian and otherwise) I would prefer to live with than some atheists that I know of.

            @Zac

            It’s not Thomas’ logic or reasoning that I have a problem with, it’s his determination that punishment for heresy is a just and moral practice. Would you think it just and moral for heretics in our day and age to receive the same punishment that forger’s are subject to under modern penal codes?

          • Zac

            Steve:
            I don’t think his determination that punishment for heresy is just and moral can be separated from his reasoning. But hopefully in the present day he would recognise that circumstances have changed so dramatically as to make such punishments impractical or unjust.
            That’s how I see it: given the religious pluralism in our society, it would no longer make sense to view ‘heretics’ as analogous to forgers. Or to take the analogy further – its as though there’s already been so much forgery that the monetary system is no longer trusted. Any subsequent attempts at forgery will be ineffectual.

      • Ted Seeber

        I recently had a discussion with a fellow Catholic Software Engineer that the Catholic Church seems to be rather user unfriendly, and lack an interface with the world.

        I used the same quote from John that Thomas Aquinas did- that if you take the proper subject matter of Church teaching to be “All things visible and invisible” from the creed, the universe itself is not large enough to contain all the teaching of the Revelation plus Natural Law (because rightly, science is a subset of the Catholic Faith, and everything that is true in Science, as well as everything that is true in every other religion, is a part of Catholicism (See Nostra Aetate)).

        • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

          the Catholic Church seems to be rather user unfriendly, and lack an interface with the world. — LOL! I like that. And I agree. (One could say the same thing about the current Republican party in the US…)

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

      Maybe he didn’t want us to be overly focused on a few written works. Maybe he wanted the word of God to be living and active. That is not just the scriptures but the body of Christ, the church. So he chose to pour his truth into 12 men rather than write it all down. Then those men could form other men and so on.

  • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

    Just from a pragmatic perspective, the trilemma argument is too glib to actually be effective. Yes, it demonstrates a fault in the pious universalist vision of Jesus as a harmless prophet, or the modern liberal idea of Jesus as the enlightened sage. But it doesn’t come close to demonstrating that he was anything special.

  • Mitchell Porter

    It is easy enough to imagine Jesus as a genius of spirituality who nonetheless misinterpreted his uniqueness (relative to his environment) as a sign that he was a specially favored emanation from the first cause itself. As individuals, we come to knowledge of being as such via knowledge of ourselves; and having come to understandings of reality through his own thinking, conducted in solitude, it would be easy to go further and imagine himself as the avatar of the divine mind itself. And then, “Father, father, why hast thou forsaken me?”

    • Brandon B

      This seems to fall under “lunatic”. There are certainly plenty of people who believe that they are incredibly special, and therefore must be cosmologically unique, but that sort of disconnect from reality is a form of mental illness*, particularly if it leads to things like, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

      * unless he actually is God, of course.

      • Mitchell Porter

        The first part of that statement looks allegorical to me. There are psychological changes which involve identifying the world as your body and causation as your mind (e.g. perhaps “Tat tvam asi”, “Thou art that”). For someone who has made those identifications, “eat my flesh and drink my blood” can be an invitation for others to also recognize the world at large as their own greater body, and “eternal life” a statement that this greater body exists forever, even after the lesser body perishes.

        “Raised on the last day” presents more of a problem. We could view it as a cosmological hypothesis, that the divine mind will materially reassemble the bodies of the dead at the end of time. But a less grand way to continue the allegory would be to interpret “last day” as the last day of the listener’s human body. If you identify yourself with the universe, then as you die, you will not fear extinction, because the universe will go on; and this saving perspective is the “raising up”.

        • http://decentfilms.com SDG

          Mitchell Porter: Your comments make perfect sense to a 21st-century Westerner and perhaps would make sense in other contexts as well. They make zero sense in a first-century Jewish context. One of the most valuable contributions of the most recent wave of Jesus studies (the so-called “Third Quest”) has been the recontextualization of Jesus in his actual cultural context, the symbolic world of 2nd Temple era Hellenic Palestinian Judaism under Roman occupation. Jesus’ words mean what they mean in that context, not what they would mean to a modern-day American or European with exposure to esoteric Eastern religions, etc.

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    A straightforward reading of the Gospels makes it pretty clear that major doctrines other than Jesus’ divinity were changed on-the-fly. Specifically, doctrines like when and where Jesus was born (important because of how well or poorly he fulfilled old testament scriptures), who was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection, when/where/how many times/to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection, and (most importantly, in my estimation) when Jesus was going to come back (The gospels are pretty clear it’s within one generation, but that doctrine changed after, you know…. it didn’t happen.) All this to say, I see absolutely no reason the same cannot be said for the divinity of Jesus. It may be the case that Jesus did make such claims, or it may not- the gospel accounts are so horrendously unreliable (not to mention inconsistent) on pretty much all of their historical claims that we don’t have enough data to say definitively what Jesus said.

    But the part that really raises my hackles is this:

    Lewis is framing his argument for an interlocutor that concedes that Jesus existed, said the things in the Gospels, but thinks that Jesus is basically a Martin Luther King Jr figure

    It’s been awhile since I read Lewis’ argument directly, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t what’s actually happening here. More to the point, if it is what’s happening, then it’s cheating. Nobody in their right mind could accept the gospels as authoritatively accurate and not be a Christian. If Jesus really did perform all those miracles, if God really did open the sky upon his baptism and declare Jesus his one and only Son, then it’s already game over. If this is actually the argument that Lewis is using, then he’s essentially saying “the historical claims of Christianity are true, therefore Christianity is true”. Well… yeah. That’s pretty close to a tautology. But I don’t think that’s how Lewis intended the argument, and it’s definitely not how the argument is used in practice.

    The challenge lies in convincing the non-believer of the absolute ironclad accuracy of second-hand accounts written down 30+ years after the events that contradict history, logic, and each other- not in convincing them that “Jesus is Lord, assuming the gospels are true.”

    • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

      You switch from talking about, in Leah’s terms, “that Jesus existed, said the things in the Gospels, but thinks that Jesus is basically a Martin Luther King Jr figure” to talking about miracles, but this is to miss the point both of the people Lewis has in mind, who would in this case largely have been liberal Anglicans or vaguely spiritual persons of other stripe, and of the argument itself, both of which were making a point about the teaching. And, since you insist on pronouncing on the interpretation of the argument without regard for the actual evidence, here, for instance, is how the Mere Christianity version starts:

      I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

      It’s somewhat pointless to talk about “the non-believer” in this sort of context, as if there were only one kind. There are many kinds, and they should not all be conflated. Making up a character, The Non-Believer, whom all arguments need to satisfy is an interesting fiction but not really helpful when discussing actual arguments.

      • JohnE_o

        Making up a character, The Non-Believer, whom all arguments need to satisfy is an interesting fiction but not really helpful when discussing actual arguments.

        This! – a thousand times – This!

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

        You switch from talking about, in Leah’s terms, “that Jesus existed, said the things in the Gospels, but thinks that Jesus is basically a Martin Luther King Jr figure” to talking about miracles

        Yes, because I’m talking about the historical veracity of the gospels. It makes no sense to say “All the Jesus quotes were strictly accurate, but all that miracle business is hogwash,” because they’re not separable in the text. Jesus allegedly says things while allegedly doing miracles that make no sense if he’s not actually doing a miracle when he says them. My point is that accepting that every quote is verbatim accurate- or even accurate in spirit- is tantamount to accepting the miracle claims as well.

        I am trying here … the Devil of Hell

        Thanks for the quote. I think you/Leah are correct, he does seem to implicitly assume an agreed-upon cannon of what Jesus actually said when he says “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.” I will happily eat my earlier objection.

        However….

        I stand by my objection that this is apologetic cheating. It’s making an argument from an agreed upon standard that no rational non-believer agrees- or possibly can agree- with. If your goal is to convince lukewarm believers to be less lukewarm, then I suppose I have nothing to say in that arena- but again, in practice, this is used as an apologetic tool to non-believers, and in that role fails badly (c.f. the fact that Bob felt the need to reply to it)

        It’s somewhat pointless to talk about “the non-believer” in this sort of context, as if there were only one kind. There are many kinds, and they should not all be conflated. Making up a character, The Non-Believer, whom all arguments need to satisfy is an interesting fiction but not really helpful when discussing actual arguments.

        Wait, what now? This isn’t true about anything else, so I don’t see why it would possibly be true of “non-believers.” It isn’t pointless to talk about “evidence”, even though there are multiple kinds of evidence. It isn’t pointless to talk about “faith” even though there are multiple kinds of faith. Same goes for “believers”, “laws”, “traffic signals”, and pretty much everything else. It’s true that there are a variety of reasons people give for not believing, but it does not follow that demanding evidence- or pointing out when evidence is lacking- is therefore off-limits.

        It is also not the case that every argument must satisfy every non-believers, but it is true that at least one argument must exist to satisfy each individual non-believer if you would like them to become believers. If our made up character “The Non-Believer” is anything like the vast majority of actual non-believers, then he demands evidence which you are unable to produce. You can’t declare talking about general standards of belief off limits just because not all non-believers are identical.

        • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

          I stand by my objection that this is apologetic cheating

          I feel the need to clarify here. cheating is not the right word. More along the lines of totally useless would be better. This argument isn’t the least bit effective on someone who doesn’t already believe the gospels to be the word of God- or at least very, very, very historically accurate (which is a standard pretty hard to get to without divine inspiration)

        • JohnE_o

          Is dialog even possible when one group sees Holy Writ and the other sees a mix of historicity and fanfic?

          The earliest text was codified, what, 35 ish years after the time given for the Crucifixion?

          And by 70 AD or so, were there already various schools of thought about Jesus? The text of Acts suggests that might have been the case. It seems to me less likely that the text is Holy Writ than that it was written to support a specific set of theological ideas.

        • LeRoi

          “I stand by my objection that this is apologetic cheating. It’s making an argument from an agreed upon standard that no rational non-believer agrees- or possibly can agree- with.”
          Check your empirical data! The standard or something close to the standard – “All the Jesus quotes were strictly accurate, but all that miracle business is hogwash” – is one that many non-believers in Lewis’ time and our own did and do agree with. Many folks think Jesus walked around saying wonderful things, but aren’t so sure about the miracles, or think the miracles are supposed to be metaphors (or we should read them as metaphors).

          I agree it’s not a very consistent train of thought. But Lewis wasn’t making these non-believers up. Almost 50% of Britain’s population proclaims non-belief, but the country is still very culturally Anglican – you can be sure many of the church-goers think something like this. In the States, check out any of the major liberal Protestant denominations: Jesus had great God-consciousness, showed us the path to mystical unity in brotherhood, yadda yadda.

          It ain’t apologetic cheating if he’s speaking to a real audience – an audience either recently lapsed, or in a culture recently lapsed, from Christianity.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            First, I know of no empirical data here- unless you know of a 1950′s survey of Anglican believers I’m unaware of? (possible, but I assume not.) What we have is Lewis’ assertion that this is what some people believe. He’s either massively straw-manning, or there was a significant subset of people who accepted Biblical innerancy but rejected Jesus’ divinity. On the basis of his other writings (and his inspiration, Chesterton) I suspect the former, but even if it’s the latter, I don’t actually think it matters. The point (or rather, my claim) is that this is a terrible apologetic for anyone even remotely serious about philosophy.

            Many folks think Jesus walked around saying wonderful things, but aren’t so sure about the miracles, or think the miracles are supposed to be metaphors (or we should read them as metaphors)

            But these people don’t fall into Lewis’ target audience. They don’t agree that the Bible is literally accurate. It is a perfectly tenable position to say that Jesus was a good moral teacher who’s followers got confused about what he meant after his death, and reject that what the gospels recorded Jesus saying is strictly accurate or complete.

            And that’s why I have a problem with this apologetic- it’s trying to trick people into agreement based on a false (unassumed) premise, that the words recorded in the Bible are literally accurate. If the target audience actually believed that, there would be no reason to bother with this discussion. I suppose if they fall for it, then goodonya, but it seems like a better- more honest- apologetic would be to target their rejection of the literal words of the Bible.

            Almost 50% of Britain’s population proclaims non-belief, but the country is still very culturally Anglican – you can be sure many of the church-goers think something like this

            Again, if they’re proclaiming non-belief, then they shouldn’t be part of Lewis’ target audience, right? Religion plays a very important anthropological role, and it’s not surprising to anyone that a country/people group can remain culturally religious while not actually believing the religion. As far as I know, this shows up in pretty much every major religion.

            It ain’t apologetic cheating if he’s speaking to a real audience – an audience either recently lapsed, or in a culture recently lapsed, from Christianity.

            I mentioned in another comment “cheating” is probably not the right word, but it is at least a poor tactic to argue from an assumed premise that your audience doesn’t share. Even if you can convince them they do agree with it, your victory is likely to be a temporary one. Much better, I think, to work to convince them of the premise.

          • LeRoi

            “unless you know of a 1950′s survey of Anglican believers I’m unaware of? (possible, but I assume not.)”
            Fair enough! I used the term loosely. But I stand by the idea that a large number of people think Jesus a good moral teacher, based on his teachings in the Gospels, but don’t think him divine. Remember Ben Franklin’s character experiment: “Humility: Emulate Jesus and Socrates.” That attitude didn’t stop in the Enlightenment, and is rather stereotypical for Anglicans. Check out the TV show Rev for a good send-up, or this (admittedly modern) Barna poll, which includes our friends the Episcopalians: http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/53-religious-beliefs-vary-widely-by-denomination

            That marks out a target audience that doesn’t much care about inerrantism, that blows neither hot nor cold. So Lewis sets out to argue if A, then B: A, therefore B. If we’ll believe Jesus on the moral teacher stuff, then why not the divinity stuff? And cultural Anglicans believed in the moral teacher part, so Lewis thinks they should accept the divinity part.

            “it is at least a poor tactic to argue from an assumed premise that your audience doesn’t share”
            Perhaps we disagree on the premise? I think A is not textual accuracy, except insofar as necessary to get the love-thy-neighbor stuff that good little Anglicans learned in Sunday School – it’s the Jesus-as-moral-teacher stuff. And Lewis and his audience really do share that premise. Which makes it a good argument in my book.

            “a better- more honest- apologetic would be to target their rejection of the literal words of the Bible.”
            I’m not sure inerrantism is necessary for this argument to function. The Gospels don’t have to be perfect – they just have to be good enough to figure out what Jesus stood for. Besides, Lewis addresses historicity/reliability elsewhere. Lewis here is talking about consistency.

            And really, he’s right – if we don’t buy Jesus’ divinity but we still think think his sayings were more-or-less preserved correctly, it makes much more sense to go all Albert Schweitzer with Jesus-as-apocalyptic-revolutionary, or something, than Palestinian Buddha/Socrates/whatever. Buddy Jesus doesn’t fit the gospels very well.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            But I stand by the idea that a large number of people think Jesus a good moral teacher, based on his teachings in the Gospels, but don’t think him divine

            I actually agree with this. This does seem to be a prevalent view at least in modern American society. However, I would point out that these people also reject the idea that the Bible is literally accurate.

            So Lewis sets out to argue if A, then B: A, therefore B. If we’ll believe Jesus on the moral teacher stuff, then why not the divinity stuff? And cultural Anglicans believed in the moral teacher part, so Lewis thinks they should accept the divinity part.

            I think I see what you’re getting at, but I think my problem is is “If A then B” clause is clearly incorrect. His argument is “If Jesus said these things, he is either both a good moral teacher and God, or lunatic/liar” and “Jesus was a good moral teacher”, therefore “Jesus is God.” It sounds like good logic, but it’s not, because of the “If Jesus said these things” clause. Maybe another way to put it: people only accept Jesus as a good moral teacher for cultural reasons. Nobody (very few people) accepts him as a good moral teacher because they read the Bible, decided it was entirely accurate, and that it was claiming Jesus as simply a good moral teacher. They reached that conclusion on the basis of the Bible not being entirely accurate. A better description of the argument would be
            Lukewarm Christian:
            If A then (B & C)
            If !A then C
            !A, therefore C
            Lewis:
            If (A & C) then B
            A & C, therefore B

            <blockquote<Perhaps we disagree on the premise? I think A is not textual accuracy, except insofar as necessary to get the love-thy-neighbor stuff that good little Anglicans learned in Sunday School – it’s the Jesus-as-moral-teacher stuff. And Lewis and his audience really do share that premise. Which makes it a good argument in my book
            Yeah, maybe we just disagree on the premise. Like I said before, I think “Jesus was a good moral teacher who’s followers got confused after his death” is a tenable position, so arguing from the Jesus-as-a-moral-teacher position to the Jesus-as-God position will only work on people who haven’t actually thought through their beliefs. The claim of divinity is much harder to show than a claim of being a good moral teacher. It seems more accurate to say that people think about Jesus’ moral teachings (or at least, their idea of what he taught) and judge it to be good (by some heuristic) on their own, rather than taking his moral teachings to be good because the Bible says so.

            if we don’t buy Jesus’ divinity but we still think think his sayings were more-or-less preserved correctly, it makes much more sense to go all Albert Schweitzer with Jesus-as-apocalyptic-revolutionary, or something, than Palestinian Buddha/Socrates/whatever.

            depends what you mean by more-or-less :) his moral teachings could more-or-less be preserved correctly (beatitudes, sermon on the mount, etc.) while his divinity claims could be added after the fact by devoted but confused disciples (30 years is a long time to remember what someone said…)

            Buddy Jesus doesn’t fit the gospels very well.

            That’s fair. Buddy Jesus doesn’t fit the gospels particularly well (he’s always struck me as much more aggressive than modern day Christianity makes him out to be). But he does fit the cultural idea of the gospels (which ignores certain troublesome statements about leaving your family, bringing the sword, fig trees getting curb stomped, etc.) that most people are presented with. So if you read the gospels closely and reject the claims of divinity, you might wind up with a possibly revolutionary guy who also had some good moral teachings. If you listen to the cultural description you might end up with a buddy who had some good moral teachings.

          • LeRoi

            Well, I think we’re reaching some agreement, and more clarity! Let me bounce a couple of further thoughts off you.

            I think we’re circling around the issue of separability – separating moral stuff from divinity stuff. To what extent can we separate them? Since a few generations of biblical scholars (Schweitzer/Wellhausen to the present day – cf. Tom Wright’s “three quests” history of Jesus studies) have debated this topic ad nauseum, it’s not surprising we might have a certain divergence of views.

            I agree that Lewis assumes the two can’t (or at least won’t) be separated. I’m not sure where I come down. If the Gospels are reliable sources for the morality stuff, maybe for some of the divinity stuff too. As you point out, folks have cultural reasons for accepting the moral teacher status as well. (I also agree the dominant cultural description tends toward Buddy Jesus, which, divinity aside, doesn’t grapple with the possibly revolutionary side of Jesus, “not peace but a sword” and all that).

            “It seems more accurate to say that people think about Jesus’ moral teachings (or at least, their idea of what he taught) and judge it to be good (by some heuristic) on their own, rather than taking his moral teachings to be good because the Bible says so.”
            Yeah, I agree; and for these people, our historicity discussion will fall by the wayside. So some though not all of these folks may form part of Lewis’ target audience.

            From what I recall, first-century scholars have a couple of criteria for authenticity of Jesus quotes. One is whether the saying cuts against the early church’s interests – like “my god, why hast thou abandoned me”? Not a very helpful quote, so probably not fabricated. Another criteria is whether the saying is the sort of short, punchy story that oral cultures were very good at remembering and passing on. Jesus’ temptations by Satan does not fit into this category; the Sermon on the Mount does.

            I think at least some of the divinity stuff fits those criteria (there may be other criteria that don’t come to mind now). Like where Jesus says I and the Father are One, and they try to stone him, but he passing through the midst of them went his way (mad crowd control skills). But then, the divinity quotes are hazy at best, which is why Arius and Athanasius (among many other heretic v. orthodox duos) fought over Jesus’ exact status.

            The haziness of the divinity quotes changes, I think, any picture of disciples just adding stuff in later. Surely it would have been more gradual, a revolutionary bringing God’s kingdom who came to be identified as the source and ruler of that kingdom? Tom Wright is really the best here, and he seems to think the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ divinity was a slow dawning in the years after the Resurrection.

            At the end of the day, I agree it’s not so simple as Lewis made out. But I don’t think he was being dishonest; Lewis was a brilliant guy, but with a penchant for rather broad logical distinctions and a thoroughly moral analysis, and he thought the Gospels were mostly reliable.
            And for our wishy-washy cultural follower, asking how Buddy Jesus jives with claims to divinity is a good question. If it’s not that simple, the guy won’t be harmed by wising up. If he wants to keep it simple, then, well, Lewis wants him to be consistent.
            (I’m afraid I didn’t quite follow Lukewarm’s A/B/C – I wasn’t sure of the referents, if that’s the word I want)
            I hope we are able to dialogue in future.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            If the Gospels are reliable sources for the morality stuff, maybe for some of the divinity stuff too

            I think this is where we diverge. I don’t think the Gospels have to be reliable sources of morality in order to get some of morality right. The Koran gets lots of stuff right too, especially if you’re willing to cherry-pick verses out of it. Saying that the teachings of Jesus as presented in the gospels are “good moral teachings” just means that you agree with the specific teachings- not that you accept Jesus’ (alleged) claim of divinity.

            At the end of the day, I agree it’s not so simple as Lewis made out. But I don’t think he was being dishonest; Lewis was a brilliant guy, but with a penchant for rather broad logical distinctions and a thoroughly moral analysis, and he thought the Gospels were mostly reliable

            Oh, I don’t think he was being dishonest either; I just think he was wrong (read: using a bad argument). He was an excellent writer, and he had a pretty unique (in a good way) view of the world. But a rigorous philosopher he was not (by his own admission, I believe)

            I’m afraid I didn’t quite follow Lukewarm’s A/B/C – I wasn’t sure of the referents, if that’s the word I want

            Let me substitute the values, just for completeness’ sake- parentheticals added for clarity:

            Lukewarm Christian:
            If [The Bible is inerrant and literally accurate in its description of Jesus' life and sayings] then ([Jesus was Lord] & [Jesus was a good moral teacher])
            If ![The Bible is inerrant and literally accurate in its description of Jesus' life and sayings] then [Jesus was (probably) a good moral teacher (who's disciples got confused and deified him after his death rather than a liar/lunatic)]
            ![The Bible is inerrant and literally accurate in its description of Jesus' life and sayings], therefore [Jesus was (probably) a good moral teacher (who's disciples got confused and deified him after his death rather than a liar/lunatic)]
            Lewis:
            If ( [The Bible is inerrant and literally accurate in its description of Jesus' life and sayings] and [Jesus was a good moral teacher]) then [Jesus was Lord]
            [The Bible is inerrant and literally accurate in its description of Jesus' life and sayings] and [(you already believe) Jesus was a good moral teacher] therefore [Jesus was Lord]

          • LeRoi

            “I don’t think the Gospels have to be reliable sources of morality in order to get some of morality right.”
            My fault, I was unclear – I meant, if the Gospels are reliable sources for the morality teachings of Jesus (the reason, after all, our Lukewarm Christian thinks Jesus is a great moral teacher), then they may be reliable sources for the Jesus quotes about divine status. Or, put another way, if some of Jesus’ morality teachings are authentic, maybe some of the divinity sayings are as well. Far less than inerrantism, merely a cautious assessment of historical reliability.

            Thanks for fleshing out your Lukewarm Christian argument – that brings much clarity to our disagreement. If that is the way the dialogue goes, then I agree Lewis’s argument is exceedingly poor. I think I’ve already said enough to indicate how I think the dialogue goes (Leah’s original post says pretty much the same thing, I think), so I suppose our readers will just have to read Lewis for themselves, and decide which premises are and are not essential to it.

    • http://decentfilms.com SDG

      Jake,

      “A straightforward reading of the Gospels makes it pretty clear that major doctrines other than Jesus’ divinity were changed on-the-fly. Specifically, doctrines like when and where Jesus was born (important because of how well or poorly he fulfilled old testament scriptures), who was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection, when/where/how many times/to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection, and (most importantly, in my estimation) when Jesus was going to come back (The gospels are pretty clear it’s within one generation, but that doctrine changed after, you know…. it didn’t happen.)”

      With the arguable exception of the last issue, this is all transparent nonsense.

      Where Jesus was born: There is no evidence of any “changing doctrine” here in the NT. The NT mentions only one location as his birthplace, Bethlehem. Mark doesn’t mention Bethlehem, but also offers no evidence of any other location either., so there is no “change” of “doctrine.”

      Who was the first to see Jesus: A facile argument could be made that 1 Cor 15 says that Peter was the “first,” contradicting Gospel accounts which clearly indicate that Mary Magdalene or other women saw Jesus before Peter; but 1 Cor 15 only affirms that Peter was the first of the Twelve to see Jesus. None of the other accounts offer any “doctrine” regarding who witnessed the risen Jesus “first.” Nor is there any “doctrine” regarding the number of times Jesus appeared after that, or any exhaustive account of to whom he appeared.

      Your comments about the “second coming” require more in-depth discussion…but I’m guessing you aren’t familiar with the relevant considerations, based on the way you conflate things that aren’t conflated in the gospel texts.

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

        *Note: all the links here link to subsections of the same page, which is actually the free online version of this book

        Where Jesus was born: There is no evidence of any “changing doctrine” here in the NT. The NT mentions only one location as his birthplace, Bethlehem. Mark doesn’t mention Bethlehem, but also offers no evidence of any other location either., so there is no “change” of “doctrine.”

        Matthew says Jesus was born in Bethlehem under Herod’s rule and continued to live there until the wise men came (~2 years later is the consensus I’ve heard, but feel free to correct me) before fleeing to Egypt because of Herod’s (historically unsupported) massacre of males under 2 years old, and returned to Nazareth only after Herod died

        Luke says Mary and Joseph were brought to Bethlehem by a (historically unsupported) census when Quirinius was governor of Syria (10 years after Herod died). He says Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in any inn , and they immediately returned to Nazareth after they had completed the appropriate temple rituals, and never actually lived there. He makes no mention of Herod, a massacre of 2 year olds, or fleeing to Egypt.

        Mark and John essentially say nothing about his birth.

        These discrepancies are generally attributed by skeptics to the attempted harmonizing of several old testament prophecies after-the-fact with the historical Jesus, whom everyone knew as “Jesus of Nazareth”. These prophecies predicted the Messiah would be called out of egypt (Hosea 11:1) and Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The fact that the only two accounts we have are so wildly divergent- only really agreeing that Jesus was, in fact, in Bethlehem at one point, but not agreeing on whether or not his family lived there, when they moved to Nazareth, whether they were ever in Egypt, and the dramatic yet unrecorded historical events surrounding his birth- is quite good evidence that they are both wrong. At the very least, one of them is blatantly wrong, and that’s enough to qualify as a significant “change in doctrine” in my book. (See here for a more in depth discussion of the problems with the conflicting gospel accounts)

        Who was the first to see Jesus: …Nor is there any “doctrine” regarding the number of times Jesus appeared after that, or any exhaustive account of to whom he appeared.

        Matthew records Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” meeting both and angel and Jesus at the tomb. Mark records them meeting only an angel, and Jesus only later appearing to Mary Magdalene (though this section of the manuscript appears to have been added later, meaning that in the original version Mark makes no actual mention of Jesus appearing to anyone after his resurrection.) Luke records two angels rather than one, and he also does not record them meeting Jesus at this point. The first mention in Luke of Jesus appearing to anyone was when he appeared to two of “them” (apostles) on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). John records only Mary Magdalene going to the tomb, and finding it empty (rather than seeing any angels or Jesus). She flees and gets Peter and the other disciple (presumably John), and once they accompany her back does she see two angels and Jesus (it’s not clear where Peter and John are at this point- possibly they had already left?)

        Further, Mark and Matthew place Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples in Galilee, while Luke and John place it in Jerusalem. Mark says the women who saw Jesus risen were afraid and said nothing (Mark 16:8), while Matthew says they were filled with joy and ran to tell the disciples (Matthew 24:8). There are discrepancies through all the gospels for the number of times and places Jesus appeared. For a more in depth discussion, see here, where the author does an excellent analysis of why these changes were important and (in my estimation) how they constitute major doctrinal changes.

        Your comments about the “second coming” require more in-depth discussion…but I’m guessing you aren’t familiar with the relevant considerations, based on the way you conflate things that aren’t conflated in the gospel texts.

        I’m more familiar than some, less familiar than others. You can see Ken Daniels’ discussion here if you are interested in a skeptic’s viewpoint.

        TL;DR
        this is all transparent nonsense.

        • http://decentfilms.com SDG

          Jake: I never said there weren’t discrepancies in the Nativity accounts. I challenged your statement of “changing doctrine” regarding the “place of his birth.” You’ve provided no such evidence.

          Likewise, I am more than familiar with the discrepancies and difficulties in the resurrection appearance stories. (FWIW, I have a graduate degree in religious studies, sacred scripture major, and am currently involved in additional graduate studies precisely on the Synoptic Gospels.) None of that changes the fact that your statements about “doctrine” regarding to whom Jesus appeared, or how many times he appeared, are unsubstantiated by anything in the text.

          The only real difficulty regarding “changing doctrines” you’ve produced so far has to do with Jesus’ prediction about “this generation.” For Christians who know the doctrine of the Second Coming the reference to that doctrine in the “this generation” sayings seems too obvious to need argument. But many sayings look different in a post-resurrection and post-ascension context than they would have looked to Jesus’ original hearers.

          For example, take Jesus’ various parables about a master or a king going away for a long time and then returning to reward or punish his servants. To us this naturally suggests the doctrine of the Second Coming. We don’t understand the 2nd Temple era Jewish expectations to which Jesus was originally speaking.

          The Jews of Jesus’ day lived in expectation of the imminent visitation of Yahweh. The Lord would return to his own to vindicate his people and establish his kingdom. In Christian belief, this is what God accomplished through the life and career of Jesus on earth. Jesus embodied the return of the lord and master to judge his people — judgment that included his pronouncements against the Temple and Jerusalem itself, which ultimately got him killed, along with (again, for Christians) the actual destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem less than four decades later.

          We also easily misunderstand references to the “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” as pointing to life after death, or to a world after this one. Neither is exactly incorrect, but neither is what Jesus and his hearers originally understood by those terms. In a first-century Jewish context, they referred to an imminent reality that Christians believed had actually been brought about on earth through the life and career of Jesus. The liberal cleric Loisy’s complaint — “Lord, you promised us the kingdom…but all we got was the church!” — illuminates the interpretive issue as clearly as any apologetic.

          Ken Daniels seems to be aware of some of this (he engages the evidence that the saying in Matthew 16 refers to the Transfiguration), though obviously he’s disposed to be skeptical. It is too difficult a question to engage in depth in a combox where I seem to be fighting on several fronts at once. :) But I will acknowledge that it is one of the knottier biblical problems.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I challenged your statement of “changing doctrine” regarding the “place of his birth.” You’ve provided no such evidence.

            I suppose we’ll have to disagree. I’ll leave it to the reader to make their own determination.

            None of that changes the fact that your statements about “doctrine” regarding to whom Jesus appeared, or how many times he appeared, are unsubstantiated by anything in the text.

            How, when, where, why, and if Jesus appeared after his resurrection are essential to any formulation of Christianity- particularly the historically-backed one you seem to be pitching. I believe I’ve provided references where the specific gospel accounts contradict each other, my own (albeit brief) analysis of why it matters, and a link to a much more in depth analysis. I’m not sure what else you want to substantiate my statements that the doctrine (read: the belief of Christians as to the facts about reality) changed between gospels.

            Ken Daniels seems to be aware of some of this (he engages the evidence that the saying in Matthew 16 refers to the Transfiguration), though obviously he’s disposed to be skeptical.

            Just the opposite- he was disposed to believe. His desire for truth got the better of his faith. If you haven’t read the book, there are some very moving prayers he recorded in prayer journal that speak to his desire to believe (though obviously you’re under no obligation to read them)

            It is too difficult a question to engage in depth in a combox where I seem to be fighting on several fronts at once. :) But I will acknowledge that it is one of the knottier biblical problems.

            Fair enough, there’s no obligation to engage with it in this forum. But I will say that my position- and the position I expect any honest investigation to lead to- is that hand waiving abounds in any argument that tries explain away Jesus’ claim of immanent return. For such a claim to stand, you are required to do such interpretive gymnastics that your doctrine can no longer be meaningfully said to be falsifiable, because you can account for any possible historical fact by “interpreting” the scriptures in a particular way.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Jake,

            I am happy to leave the question of “doctrinal changes” regarding Jesus’ birthplace to the reader’s judgment. The facts are clear.

            If Jesus appeared after his resurrection is certainly of the essence. How, when and where He appeared are also important — within limits. It is a point of faith that Jesus appeared to the Twelve, and also that prior to appearing to the other disciples He appeared first to Peter. Whether there were one angel or two, or whether Peter ran to the tomb alone or accompanied by John, are not points of doctrine.

            I think you may be bringing to ancient historiography expectations applicable to later conventions. For example, Luke’s Gospel describes Peter running to the tomb to confirm the women’s report with no mention of John (Luke 24:12) — but then in the very next pericope, on the Emmaus road, the two disciples report that “some of our number went to the tomb and found everything just as the women said” (Luke 24:24). Luke knows perfectly well that he mentioned only Peter a few verses earlier; he doesn’t see a contradiction in later acknowledging that Peter may not have been alone. These are not the kinds of questions the NT writers were interested in.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            These are not the kinds of questions the NT writers were interested in

            If accuracy was not their interest, then I see no reason to trust their accounts.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “If accuracy was not their interest, then I see no reason to trust their accounts.”

            This is a polemic, and, I think, a polemical attitude, that no premodern history ever written would survive. Cheers.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            …Well that’s kind of my point. You’re acting like because it’s ancient, it’s somehow ok that it gets facts- really really significant facts- wrong. And then you’re asking us to believe it anyways.

            If no premodern history ever written would survive the standard of being factually accurate, then you have your answer as to why atheists are utterly unconvinced by yours.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Gotcha. So Jesus is a myth…along with Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Hammurabi and everyone else we know about only from ancient historical sources.

            Or you can recognize that ancient historical sources offer meaningful access to real historical events even though they are not written in the same way as modern histories. There were no tape recorders, no photographs or video in ancient times. Ancient sources generally don’t offer us word-for-word transcriptions of exactly what people said. Ancient biographies may record real events in a person’s life, but not necessarily in the order in which they actually happened.

            That certainly seems to be the case with the Gospels. They don’t offer us a chronology of Jesus’ career. The Sermon on the Mount is not a transcription of a speech that Jesus gave on a single occasion; it is a compilation of many things that Jesus said, probably many times and in many ways, and not without some interpretive shaping by Matthew or his sources. But the Sermon on the Mount does give us meaningful historical access to things Jesus of Nazareth actually said. It isn’t a matter of Matthew “getting facts wrong.” It means he wasn’t interested in writing a modern history.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            So Jesus is a myth…along with Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Hammurabi and everyone else we know about only from ancient historical sources.

            No, they all probably existed, with different levels of confidence depending on how much historical attestation they have (Julius Ceaser > Jesus). But I definitely don’t accept that Julius Ceaser was a deity despite the historical claims, if that’s your question.

            Or you can recognize that ancient historical sources offer meaningful access to real historical events even though they are not written in the same way as modern histories

            You’re casting the argument too strongly. What they actually do is offer insight into what certain cultures passed down. Yes, there is generally a correlation with the truth, but I know of no one who would bet there life on a historical fact with such poor attestation as Jesus’ Resurrection who isn’t religiously motivated. I’m not willing to bet my life on any of the specific facts of Julius Ceasar’s reign- especially the ones that violate reason, laws of nature, and other recorded histories.

            Belief is not binary. We don’t simply either believe or not believe a historical source- we believe it with a certain level of confidence. A historical source makes it more likely to be true, it doesn’t make it true. Conflating the two- saying “historical sources are useful therefore Jesus rose from the dead!”- isn’t terribly convincing.

            There were no tape recorders, no photographs or video in ancient times. . Ancient sources generally don’t offer us word-for-word transcriptions of exactly what people said. Ancient biographies may record real events in a person’s life, but not necessarily in the order in which they actually happened.

            So because they didn’t have the ability (or desire) to reliably pass down factual information, we should trust what they wrote? And whenever a historical source makes a miraculous claim, we should default to trusting it, even if the text itself is contradicted by other historical sources? Even when there’s clear bias on the part of the author? That’s the opposite of the conclusion you should be drawing. I think you need to apply your standards to the Koran and see what happens.

            It isn’t a matter of Matthew “getting facts wrong.” It means he wasn’t interested in writing a modern history.

            Yes, it is a matter of him getting the facts wrong. All you’ve said is that he wasn’t interested in getting them right.

            No one is arguing that the Bible should be rejected on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount being possibly a compilation instead of a single speech. I’m arguing that Matthew and Luke present entirely different and factually contradictory (both with each other and with non-religiously-motivated history) accounts of the birth and Resurrection of Jesus. They appear to have manipulated to stories to better fulfill both old testament prophecies confirming Jesus as the Messiah and their own religious motivations. If that doesn’t both you, so be it. It should.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            Jake,

            Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Hammurabi only probably existed? Okay, at least you’re consistent in your comparative hostility to ancient historiography. I recognize, of course, that “different levels of confidence” gives you a lot of wiggle room.

            To your rather silly reductio straw man — “historical sources are useful therefore Jesus rose from the dead!” (nothing like what I think or what I have said) — perhaps it will help if I say I don’t think that any conceivable historical evidence could possibly prove that Jesus rose from the dead. (And, even if they could, it still wouldn’t follow that Christianity was true.)

            What I do think historical evidence can credibly show is this. (HT: N. T. Wright.)

            First, nothing about the life of Jesus of Nazareth is more certain than that he died by crucifixion.

            Second, the origins, spread and praxis of early Christianity as we find it attested in the historical data are inseparable from a foundational belief in Jesus’ resurrection as an empirical fact (not just his divinity, a nonempirical thesis whether we’re talking about Jesus or Caesar).

            Third, as a matter of historical analysis and interpretation, it can be argued that attempts to account for the origins and character this belief as we find it attested in the historical data fail if they omit either of two experiences attested in the New Testament: a) the experience of encountering Jesus alive after the crucifixion; and b) the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. Absent either of those experiences, it becomes difficult if not impossible plausibly to explain the rise and spread of early Christianity as we find it attested in the historical data.

            Finally, accounting for the discovery of the empty tomb and the experience of encountering Jesus alive after the crucifixion at least poses a challenge to the skeptical historian whose worldview excludes the possibility of resurrection as a matter of principle.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Hammurabi only probably existed? Okay, at least you’re consistent in your comparative hostility to ancient historiography. I recognize, of course, that “different levels of confidence” gives you a lot of wiggle room

            I’m not hostile to ancient historiography at all. I just have a healthy skepticism of humanity’s ability to accurately record and disseminate historical facts, particularly in the absence of proper tools and training. It sounds like you don’t have a good understanding of what I actually mean when I say “probably” (or maybe we’re just using different vocabulary.) Zero and One are not probabilities. I also think evolution only probably happened, but with a much higher confidence level than anything we find reported by ancient civilizations not terribly interested in getting all the facts right.

            perhaps it will help if I say I don’t think that any conceivable historical evidence could possibly prove that Jesus rose from the dead.

            I agree. But I’m not the one trying to convince people of God-in-human-form on the basis of historical evidence- it seems like you are.

            Though I admit to now being a little confused as to your intention. You say you don’t think we can historically prove X, but then go on to argue X from history. Are you just saying that “proof” is too high a standard for history, but the gospel claims pass some other bar (“likelihood”?) that other religions fail? If so, I agree that “proof” (in the way we talk about scientific proof) is too high a standard for any historical event . But I disagree that Christianity passes any sort of “likelihood” threshold that other religions fail.

            First, nothing about the life of Jesus of Nazareth is more certain than that he died by crucifixion.

            Nothing is much too strong a word here. Jesus’ crucifixion is a dependent fact on Jesus living in Jerusalem under Roman rule, for example. Or trivially, that “Jesus was alive”. But I think the spirit of your argument (as I read it) is that our confidence that Jesus died by crucifixion is relatively very high compared to our confidence in any other fact about his life. I don’t actually buy this- there’s really only three extra-Biblical references to this fact that I know of (Josephus, Tacitus, and a pagan letter), and one of them (Josephus) appears to have been modified by later Christians, one is writing almost 100 years after the fact, and the other doesn’t actually mention Jesus by name. I think there are other facts about the life of Jesus that are better supported, but I will grant the stipulation that it is likely- though not sure- that Jesus was in fact crucified.

            Second, the origins, spread and praxis of early Christianity as we find it attested in the historical data are inseparable from a foundational belief in Jesus’ resurrection as an empirical fact (not just his divinity, a nonempirical thesis whether we’re talking about Jesus or Caesar).

            Well I’ll grant that the early church fathers (~2nd century) did seem to believe in a bodily resurrection. But the Gnostics didn’t (depending on your definition of resurrection). All this says is that the sect of Christianity that did believe it was ultimately the one that won.

            Third, as a matter of historical analysis and interpretation, it can be argued that attempts to account for the origins and character this belief … fail if they omit either of two experiences attested in the New Testament: a) the experience of encountering Jesus alive after the crucifixion; and b) the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. Absent either of those experiences, it becomes difficult if not impossible plausibly to explain the rise and spread of early Christianity as we find it attested in the historical data.

            No, it’s actually really easy to explain. We explain it the same way we explain the rise and spread of Mormonism, or Islam, or any- any- religion that claims the first believers were converted by supernatural events. This standard of belief you’re putting forward passes almost any old-enough religion who’s claims aren’t easily verifiable. If you’re trusting in the reliability and accuracy of allegedly eyewitness testimony 30 (actually, 50, per my below comment) years after the fact to convince you of a miracle… I guess it’s a good thing you’re already a Christian, because if you were a Muslim, you’d have absolutely no reason to leave your faith.

            An ancillary point I’ve already covered, but is worth mentioning again – the earliest gospel Mark only attests to bodily resurrection/Jesus being seen by the apostles in a section that is believed to have been added later, after the initial writing. That means that at the time of Mark’s writing, it is plausible- even likely- that the bodily resurrection/appearance of Jesus doctrine was not yet established in a meaningful mainstream way. Over the next two decades (as memories faded and witnesses died off), it was gradually incorporated into the gospel accounts, and later added back to Mark. This is a totally reasonable natural explanation that requires no appeal to miracles- and happens to fit the historical facts better than the supernatural version.

            Finally, accounting for the discovery of the empty tomb and the experience of encountering Jesus alive after the crucifixion at least poses a challenge to the skeptical historian whose worldview excludes the possibility of resurrection as a matter of principle.

            No, it really doesn’t- unless you think all religions are correct. Of course historians reject miracles. You’re acting like “miracle” is just another category of historical facts, like “birthplace of an important figure” or “year event X happened.” It’s not. A miracle is a claim that reality stopped working for a short period of time. Faulty or confused witnesses are always a more reasonable explanation of a supposed miraculous event than an actual miracle- and thank heavens we have so many mutually exclusive miracle accounts! If there were only one, your reasoning might be compelling (because it really does sound compelling! It’s just empirically true that human beings are wrong about miracles all the time). Humans are deeply flawed creatures who have evolved to look for patterns even when there are none. I, for one, trust observable reality a whole lot more than I trust your particular flavor of miraculous event, which happened 2000 years ago, was recorded by a society who didn’t place a whole lot of importance on (strict) factual accuracy, is recorded in multiple contradicting accounts, wasn’t written down until 30 years later, and then was modified after the fact to look more like the versions that were written down even later. Call me a cynic, I suppose.

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “You say you don’t think we can historically prove X, but then go on to argue X from history. Are you just saying that ‘proof’ is too high a standard for history, but the gospel claims pass some other bar (‘likelihood’?) that other religions fail?”

            That’s not how I would put it, no.

            For one thing, I’m not sure any other major religion is essentially predicated upon historical and empirical claims that could be compared and contrasted with those of Christianity in the way that you suggest. (See below for perspective on the disparities of the cases of Islam and Mormonism, per your comments below.)

            Most religions are traditional/mythological religions growing organically in a culture, not religions with a single founder. Of founded religions, not all claim to be founded on an act of divine revelation. Most revealed founded religions are essentially ethical monotheisms, whose central claim essentially boils down to: a) There is one God; b) So-and-so is his prophet; and c) try to be a good person. To ask whether Zoroastrianism, Islam or Jainism is true is essentially to ask a) whether Zoroaster, Muhammad or Guru Nanak was the true prophet and b) which scriptures are divinely inspired. These are nonempirical issues, interpretive claims about spiritual, invisible, unmeasurable realities.

            Christianity is different. Its central claim is that God has acted definitively in the visible world to reveal himself (and to save us), not by speaking to a prophet or inspiring a book, but through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. More precisely, this claim is partly interpretive and partly empirical, though of course how we evaluate the evidence we have and how it relates to the empirical claims is of central importance.

            So here is how I put it. I think that the historical record around the origins, spread and character of early Christianity presents historians seeking to explain them with significant challenges. I think many attempts to explain why and how Christianity started, and why it took the shape it did, fail to resolve the central problems on their own terms. I think that, for those willing to entertain it, the supposition that Jesus was raised from the dead has significant explanatory power in resolving these historical problems. And I think that this supposition, if accepted, makes it (along with other things) reasonable to believe, though of course it cannot prove, that the Christian interpretation of Jesus’ life is the right one, and that in his life, death and resurrection God is in fact at work revealing Himself and in some sense bringing salvation to the world.

            “I think there are other facts about the life of Jesus that are better supported, but I will grant the stipulation that it is likely- though not sure- that Jesus was in fact crucified.”

            The premise that Jesus was crucified enjoys the highest degree of historical confidence for a number of interrelated reasons. Any critical attempt to reconstruct a primordial Jesus tradition, or even to propose threads of such a tradition, excluding the crucifixion is, I am confident, doomed to failure. A brief summary:

            a) The crucifixion is central to every strand of NT tradition: Pauline, Mark, Q, special M, special L, Johnannine, Hebrews, etc. It is almost the only notable element of Jesus’ biography (other than his ancestry and a few other points) that appears in Paul at all — along with the Last Supper account, which uniquely ties together Paul and the Synoptics and is essentially bound to the passion narrative. Furthermore, the crucifixion is central to the two most notable fragments of potentially pre-Pauline Christianity in the NT: the confessional formula of 1 Corithians 15:3ff and the Christological hymn of Philippians 2.

            b) It is widely recognized that the passion narratives were the earliest portion of the gospel traditions to take shape, and far and away the area of i) most exact and extensive harmony among the synoptics as well as ii) greatest overlap between the synoptic and Johnanine traditions. Mark’s Gospel, the first to be written, is widely characterized as “a passion narrative with an extended introduction.” Foreshadowings of the crucifixion likewise infuse the narratives of Jesus’ career, including the infancy narratives. Taken together, these two points constitute the strongest argument that could be hoped for that the crucifixion not only belongs to the earliest strata of Jesus tradition, but is central to it from the start.

            c) Finally, for a would-be messiah, crucifixion was almost the epitome of a discrediting refutation. A crucified messiah was almost by definition a non-messiah. It is the one end that no messiah-cult would ever invent for their leader — or, if that claim is too strong, the likelihood of a messiah-cult inventing the crucifixion of their founder can be described as approaching zero. Such an end was an enormous obstacle both for potential Jewish converts and for Gentiles. It would have been like sending out missionaries wearing nametags saying “Don’t Join Our Group.” No plausible account of such an invention has ever been proposed (I’m not even aware of any serious attempt to do so).

            “Well I’ll grant that the early church fathers (~2nd century) did seem to believe in a bodily resurrection. But the Gnostics didn’t (depending on your definition of resurrection). All this says is that the sect of Christianity that did believe it was ultimately the one that won.”

            This could not be further from the truth. Okay, hyperbole again. Rephrased: The supposition that resurrection-Christianity and non-resurrection Christianity were simply two competing Christianities coexisting in the early days, and eventually one of them won out, is crashingly ahistorical nonsense of a particularly rarefied order. If anything, the judgment that Christianity was from the start a resurrection-cult, and a resurrection-cult centrally predicated from the start on proclaiming the bodily resurrection of its founder, is more historically certain even than the crucifixion of Jesus, perhaps even than the existence of Jesus. (For a survey of the relevant evidence, see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, some day when you have nothing better to do than wade through 800-odd pages.)

            “That means that at the time of Mark’s writing, it is plausible- even likely- that the bodily resurrection/appearance of Jesus doctrine was not yet established in a meaningful mainstream way.”

            Absolutely incorrect. The bodily resurrection and appearances of Jesus were fixed points of Christian proclamation long before Mark wrote. While the locus classicus is 1 Corinthians 15:3ff (which, again, Paul locates in pre-Pauline credal tradition), the larger context is far-reaching and extends throughout the entire Pauline corpus as well as the rest of Mark (which clearly attests the bodily resurrection of Jesus, even without appearance-stories) and the whole background of 2nd Temple era Jewish eschatology (a cultural context in which “resurrection” never meant anything but bodily raising). Again, I refer to you to Wright.

            “No, it’s actually really easy to explain. We explain it the same way we explain the rise and spread of Mormonism, or Islam, or any- any- religion that claims the first believers were converted by supernatural events.”

            These cases are so utterly different as to be useless. The earliest Muslim tradition — indeed, the entire Quran as we have it today — does not explicitly recount Muhammad performing any miracles at all; certainly miracles were not central to Muhammad’s case for Islam. The surpreme “miracle” in Islam is no empirical prodigy, but the Quran itself. Later Muslim tradition includes miracle stories, but these are in no way foundational to Islam, as the resurrection of Jesus is foundational to Christianity. There is no historical basis for saying that Muhammad’s first founders were converted by miracles.

            Joseph Smith is credited with performing healings and exorcisms similar to some of the miracles attributed to Jesus and many other figures ancient and modern. Such claims are far from unique, and are not a sufficient basis for establishing a singular claim of unique religious authority — and in fact these healings are incidental to the central claims of Mormonism. The Mormon faith could survive the debunking of any number of putative healings; it is not these that Mormonism centrally proclaims, or that are the basis of any Mormon’s faith. The central claims of Mormonism are a) Smith’s status as a prophet and b) the inspired character of the Book of Mormon and Smith’s other prophecies. The most central empirical claims, the golden tablets and the Urim and Thummim, Smith notoriously hid from his followers.

            “Of course historians reject miracles. You’re acting like ‘miracle’ is just another category of historical facts, like ‘birthplace of an important figure’ or ‘year event X happened.’ It’s not. A miracle is a claim that reality stopped working for a short period of time.”

            Either you aren’t reading carefully or there’s some other problem. “You’re acting like ‘miracle’ is just another category of historical facts, like ‘birthplace of an important figure’ or ‘year event X happened’” is about as straightforward a reversal of the actual implications of the sentence quoted as I can imagine.

            “Of course historians reject miracles” is simply factually inaccurate; some historians reject miracles, others don’t. It’s an epistemological/worldview issue, not a disciplinary one. Finally, “Reality stopped working” is an absurd, question-begging definition of miracle; a miracle is a claim that “reality” is larger than what empirical scrutiny normally observes.

            “I, for one, trust observable reality a whole lot more than I trust your particular flavor of miraculous event, which happened 2000 years ago, was recorded by a society who didn’t place a whole lot of importance on (strict) factual accuracy, is recorded in multiple contradicting accounts, wasn’t written down until 30 years later, and then was modified after the fact to look more like the versions that were written down even later.”

            All well and good. But this doesn’t get you any closer to a plausible historical reconstruction of the origin and praxis of early Christianity. Not that you are on the hook for such a reconstruction. But that’s where the locus of my argument lies.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I suspect we’ve both said our peace on the major points. There’s just a few I would like to respond to before disappearing into the night.

            The bodily resurrection and appearances of Jesus were fixed points of Christian proclamation long before Mark wrote. While the locus classicus is 1 Corinthians 15:3ff (which, again, Paul locates in pre-Pauline credal tradition), the larger context is far-reaching and extends throughout the entire Pauline corpus as well as the rest of Mark (which clearly attests the bodily resurrection of Jesus, even without appearance-stories)

            This doesn’t solve your problem (or rather, invalidate my objection). I don’t contend that Paul didn’t argue for a bodily Resurrection (after all, his conversion claim is based on an encounter with the resurrected Christ). I contend that mainstream Christianity (may) not have settled the issue of Jesus appearing after his death, as evidenced by the fact that it doesn’t appear at all in the earliest gospel (I grant that bodily resurrection is in there).

            That Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, advocated for it, and it was eventually accepted as doctrine, is not evidence- how could it be any other way? If mainstream Christian doctrine had gone the other way, Paul’s writings would not have formed the basis of the New Testament. It could quite easily be the case that Paul simply won the argument, rather than there being no argument in the first place (since we have good evidence- by my estimation- in the total silence of Mark that this issue was either not yet settled, or far from central to any account of Christianity at the time of Mark’s writing)

            Put it another way: The probability of the eventual doctrines of a faith matching the doctrines held by the author of that Faith’s holy book approaches one, regardless of whether that author’s views were mainstream before or during his period of writing.

            “Reality stopped working” is an absurd, question-begging definition of miracle; a miracle is a claim that “reality” is larger than what empirical scrutiny normally observes.

            Well I’m happy to change it to “observable reality stopped working”, if that would satisfy you. But let’s not pretend that miracle claims are so pedestrian as “something happened that we don’t normally observe.” Rather, they are “something impossible happened.” It’s not an indication that reality is bigger than we thought, it’s an indication that our view of reality- which we have tremendous amounts of evidence for- is fundamentally wrong.

            “Of course historians reject miracles” is simply factually inaccurate; some historians reject miracles, others don’t.
            No, historians reject miracles. All the ones that aren’t religiously motivated anyways. I don’t know of any historians who accept miracle claims from any culture or religion other than their own.

            And really, even if they didn’t, what would that prove? Miracles are not suddenly more reasonable because some subset of people are gullible. The content of the argument is that historians should reject miracles, because there is always a more reasonable natural explanation- not as a matter of faith, but as a matter of practice.

            But this doesn’t get you any closer to a plausible historical reconstruction of the origin and praxis of early Christianity

            I believe there are several plausible historical reconstructions that account for this, many of which I’ve detailed in this thread. You obviously disagree. I doubt we will be reaching consensus anytime soon :)

          • http://decentfilms.com SDG

            “I don’t contend that Paul didn’t argue for a bodily Resurrection (after all, his conversion claim is based on an encounter with the resurrected Christ). I contend that mainstream Christianity (may) not have settled the issue of Jesus appearing after his death, as evidenced by the fact that it doesn’t appear at all in the earliest gospel (I grant that bodily resurrection is in there).”

            Not so. While the original text of Mark’s Gospel as we have it lacks resurrection stories, it still clearly attests the reality of the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples:

            And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Mark 14:27-28)

            And he [the young man, or angel] said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7)

            One of the more notable literary devices of Mark’s Gospel is the pattern of prediction and fulfillment. Every prediction Jesus makes is later seen to be fulfilled. There is no doubt that Mark’s Gospel affirms that the resurrected Jesus met the disciples; Mark is just as clear about that as Paul. The absence of appearance stories, while an interesting literary problem for which various theories have been proposed, in no way detracts from this.

            It’s perhaps worth noting, again, that Paul presents the resurrection formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff precisely as catechesis which he “passed on” to the Corinthians only after first “receiving” it after his conversion (perhaps from the other apostles in Jerusalem, or from the first Christians who received him in Damascus, etc.). It may also be worth noting that the terms Paul uses here for “receiving” and “passing on” are technical language from rabbinic usage referring to discipline of passing on oral tradition.

            Taking Paul at his word, then, the creedal formula of 1 Corinthians — that “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” is not Paul’s personal view, but the normative confession in which he was instructed after his conversion. (This conclusion is perhaps strengthened by the fact that Paul was probably not personally inclined to single out Cephas, or Peter, for special distinction in the way that the formula does, for reasons we have already seen and which are manifested elsewhere in the Corinthian correspondence.)

            “That Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, advocated for it, and it was eventually accepted as doctrine, is not evidence- how could it be any other way? If mainstream Christian doctrine had gone the other way, Paul’s writings would not have formed the basis of the New Testament.”

            There is zero evidence in the NT for any primitive Jewish Jesus tradition without the bodily resurrection of Jesus. There is, indeed, zero evidence that the word “resurrection” ever meant anything but bodily raising in a first-century Jewish, Christian or pagan cultural context. Not until, I think, the latter part of the second century was the suggestion floated that “resurrection” might mean something other than bodily raising.

            “Put it another way: The probability of the eventual doctrines of a faith matching the doctrines held by the author of that Faith’s holy book approaches one, regardless of whether that author’s views were mainstream before or during his period of writing.”

            That seems facile. The NT bears ample witness to numerous controversies in the early Christian community: the circumcision/Torah controversy in Galatians and elsewhere; the controversy over eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere; controversies over libertinism in Corinthians, 2 Peter and Jude; and many more. (Beyond that, various books of the NT manifest diversities of opinion and emphasis on a number of subjects. At times these rise to the level of knotty difficulties for the Christian exegete.)

            The very text we’ve been looking at, 1 Corinthians 15, establishes the existence among Gentile Christians at Corinth of a dispute about the resurrection. Unhappily for your case, the question seems to have been not whether Jesus in particular was raised, but whether the dead would ever raised at all — in other words, these Gentiles had never fully accepted even the Jewish eschatology assumed by Jesus and his disciples — and Paul’s rebuttal essentially begins, “How can you possibly be unclear whether the dead are raised? What did I pass on to you about Jesus in the first place?”

            There is thus no a priori probabilistic basis for saying that any evidence of controversy among the early Christians on the question of Jesus’ resurrection would likely have been suppressed in the record. On the contrary, had it been a point of contention, the controversy might well be a matter of record, as many other controversies were.

            “Well I’m happy to change it to “observable reality stopped working”, if that would satisfy you. But let’s not pretend that miracle claims are so pedestrian as “something happened that we don’t normally observe.” Rather, they are “something impossible happened.” It’s not an indication that reality is bigger than we thought, it’s an indication that our view of reality- which we have tremendous amounts of evidence for- is fundamentally wrong.”

            Well, okay — I’ll accept that my initial antithesis to your opening thesis was overly modest, but we haven’t yet arrived at a mutually acceptable synthesis. Unless you’re redefining “impossible” to mean something other than “something that can’t happen,” saying “something happened that can’t happen” is not going to cut it.

            If someone posited, say, that Mary were both a virgin and not a virgin at the same time and in the same respect, well, that would be impossible. A virginal conception (taking “virgin” to imply a sufficiently inviolate state) may be impossible by any agency available to scientific scrutiny, and it may be absolutely impossible, if there is no agency in existence beyond the scrutiny of science capable of bringing about such an event. But to exclude absolutely the possibility of such an agency and such an event is by definition beyond the capacity of science (which is why even adamant atheists often have the epistemological caution to say things like “There is almost certainly no God,” etc.).

            “No, historians reject miracles. All the ones that aren’t religiously motivated anyways.”

            All human perception, opinion and interpretation is conditioned by presuppositions of worldview and methodology, whether religious or irreligious. Humans can of course recognize this and engage in an iterative, critical process of challenging and refining their views, or they can blindly allow their presuppositions to control the range of opinions they will or won’t consider. I’ve noticed both tendencies at work among religious and irreligious thinkers.

            “I don’t know of any historians who accept miracle claims from any culture or religion other than their own.”

            Have you looked? Examples can be found. For instance, meet Pinchas Lapide, the Orthodox Jewish historian and theologian who credited the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

            “I believe there are several plausible historical reconstructions that account for this, many of which I’ve detailed in this thread.”

            Have you? I’ve noticed you gesturing toward (IMO facile and unpersuasive) analogies to other religions, but I haven’t noticed any actual historical reconstructions set in the actual events of the first-century ANE. That said, I admit I haven’t read everything carefully, so I could have missed some things.

            “I doubt we will be reaching consensus anytime soon :D”

            On that, at least, we can agree! :D Cheers.

  • orgostrich

    Leah, this argument would presumably not have convinced you before you converted to Christianity (as I’m sure you heard it before and dismissed or rebutted it.) Is there anything you know/understand now that you didn’t then that you think would make this argument convincing to non-Christians? (I’m not just looking for Christianity is true, therefore the Bible is true. What about the logic of the tetralemma are all of the atheists and non-Christians missing or misunderstanding?)

    • orgostrich

      small edit: “atheists, non-Christians, and year-ago-Leah”

    • leahlibresco

      No, I don’t see any reason why this argument would or should be convincing to atheists. It’s targeted to a very particular Christian heresy.

      • JohnE_o

        It’s targeted to a very particular Christian heresy.

        I apologize for this blunt reply, but I do not think that Lewis’s written words support that assertion.

        I am repeating the quote in Brandon Watson’s post above:

        I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.

        I don’t see how anyone could make the above out to be a particular Christian heresy.
        I welcome the opportunity to learn why I might be mistaken about that.

        • JohnE_o

          My bad, Brandon posted in reference to Mere Christianity not the trilemma.

          Although I would appreciate knowing more about the inherent heresy.

  • Benjamin

    Why can’t Jesus be a lunatic who got some things right?

    That is, we can say the Golden Rule was correct (also endorsed by Rabbi Hillel and Confucius), but we can still say he was insane.

    It is the same things for any eccentric, crazy scientist. So Nash heard voices, but Game Theory is still pretty nice.

    To put it into a thought experiment,

    A mad scientist says ‘I’ve discovered that heat and work are forms of energy transfer.”

    You ask for evidence and he points to a lamp, which he says has been talking to him, giving him all his good ideas.

    Yet, the scientist is correct. We know this in part because his work has been corroborated (by Kepler, for example) and tested. But it would be wrong to call the scientist a ‘good, amazing man.’

    Similarly, Jesus was right about some things. We know this in part because his theories have been corroborated (by prior existing moral scholars like Confucius and Rabbi Hillel) and tested.

    So we don’t have to take the line that Jesus was a ‘fine, amazing man.’ We can instead say that Jesus was a madman who got some things correct. The moral science equivalent of Tesla, perhaps, if Tesla were even somehow more crazy.

    Now, of course most people on this board will disagree with the idea that Jesus is a lunatic (I’m not arguing whether or not he actually was one), but what I think I’ve done is shown C.S. Lewis’ trillemma to not really capture the possible intuitions we can have about Jesus.

  • Benjamin

    Let me explain one more time if I was unclear.

    A brilliant pulmonologist can eat fried chicken for every meal and smoke a pack a day, or think that the human body is actually a vessel responsive to Chi and Chakras. He could even have his entire understanding of the heart and lungs fit under the framework of Chi and Chakras, if he’s willing to do the work. And he is. Crazy people are always willing to do the work.

    A brilliant moral teacher could be insane and think his moral theory is the result of him being a divine figure. He could make his moral theory fit under this framework if he’s willing to do the work (Ptlomeic epicycles and all that, but with morality).

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

      CS Lewis has no problem with people saying this. He knows some will. Remember he died in 1963. The book was published a few decades before that. At that time few people would say Jesus was a madman or that Jesus never existed or even that Jesus existed but was completely unlike the man described in the New Testament and by Christian tradition. These are options that are common and even trendy today. When this was published they were unthinkable to most people.

      • Benjamin

        Perhaps. But then so much the worse on C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a brilliant man, and i’m surprised he didn’t think of this particular objection.

        i’m saying if Lewis mean the trillemma as an actual, serious bit of theology, then well, here’s an objection.

        But if we are going to now say Lewis was only speaking to a small group and didn’t write outside of the prejudices at the time, then Lewis’ work loses content. What’s more, as Lewis was an Oxford man, he’d have to be pretty familiar with the atheism growing at the time. Ayer and Russel were going strong.

        I think this is sometimes a problem with the ‘consider the times’ objection. It’s better, I think, to simply say the position someone espoused was incorrect. So Lewis’ trillemma fails: it does not account for our possible intuitions about Jesus. Better to treat Lewis like a moral scientist, that is take it that some of his theories are wrong and need be improved, than try and make excuses for him, treating him like some silly grandfather stuck in the olden times.

        Utmost apologies if I misunderstood what you’ve said.

  • grok87

    Today’s gospel is perhaps interesting in these discussions (liar, lunatic, legend, or Lord):
    Gospel Lk 21:12-19

    “Jesus said to the crowd: “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

    I think one way to understand what was going on in Jesus’s time is “Civil War”. We see this clearly in Acts and in Paul’s letters, when Peter and Paul are going around preaching in the Synagogues, and occasionally but not always getting thrown out of them. To me it must have been like the period of the US Revolutionary war. Families torn apart, some tories, some revolutionaries, some in the middle. One thinks of Ben Franklin (revolutionary) and his son William Franklin the last tory governor of New Jersey.

    So I guess where I’m headed with this is that I think the idea of “Legend” is very suspect. It just doesn’t play.

    • JohnE_o

      Amazing how people can see the same things and come to different conclusions.

      I see the same set of facts as evidence for The Gospels being religious propaganda for a specific theology of Jesus during a time when – as described in Acts – different things were being said about Jesus – that guy who had been killed a decade, two decades, three decades – perhaps someone more knowledgeable than me could expand on that – ago.

      Of course – I would say – you’ll have legends in that sort of environment.

      • grok87

        @JohnE,
        I guess perhaps we’re not really disagreeing as much as one might think. When I said that “Legend” doesn’t play in my view, I was meaning the idea that Jesus was a legend, i.e. that he never existed.
        The New Testament has many stories about Jesus in the 4 gospels and they all differ slightly from each other. So there were differences in what people remembered about Jesus- if you want to call that the legend making process, fair enough. It doesn’t mean that there’s not truth there though.

        • JohnE_o

          Oh, thanks then.

          Is there a better word than “legend” to describe “person who actually existed but about whom possibly fictional miraculous events and related sayings are associated”?

          Because all of the above is also a definition I would associate with “Legend”.
          I’d like to differentiate between all that and Leprechauns, for example.

          So there were differences in what people remembered about Jesus- if you want to call that the legend making process, fair enough.

          Can we agree that the opening of The Gospel of John has less to do with what people remembered about Jesus and more to do with promoting a theology about Jesus?

          I have trouble imagining someone recounting their experience along the lines of, “Jesus? Let me tell you about Him. He was the Word, yes he was. And He was with God – yes He was. Never saw another fellow who was with God like He was. They were inseparable. You saw One, you saw The Other.”

          • grok87

            @JohnE,
            Thomas Cahill in “The Desire of the Everlasting Hills” has some interesting theories on the Gospel of John, that you might find helpful/insightful to the sort of questions you are asking.
            http://www.amazon.com/Desire-Everlasting-Hills-Before-History/dp/0385483724
            I would try to recap it but I’d probably get it wrong.
            As far as
            “the opening of The Gospel of John has less to do with what people remembered about Jesus and more to do with promoting a theology about Jesus?”
            I think ALL the gospels are like that. They all have their own theology. The gospel of John sort of hits you right between the eyes with it at the outset. But the others all have their slant, their theology of Jesus, their audience, their point of view as well even if it is less overt. For example Mark says “Kingdom of God” whereas Matthew says “Kingdom of Heaven”…
            This is the way things are. As humans, we cannot express absolute truth easily but only our point of view. And God had to work through us flawed humans even to write the Gospels.
            Have you ever studied Einstein’s theory of special relativity? You have to know your frame of reference (your inertial frame). That doesn’t mean that absolute truth does not exist and that “everything is relative”- far from it (“the speed of light is constant!”) But that how we see things depends on who and where we are.
            Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Brideshead Revisited:

            Charles Ryder:
            “I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions – with the aid of my five senses.”
            I have since learned that there is no such world; but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue. (1.6.218-20)

            cheers,
            grok

          • Willie

            I believe you guys just like to see your writings in print on the internet, but aren’t truly interested in believing in anything! Quite a few years ago there was a man like several of you here who just loved to argue Christians on the university campus and really show them up – and their ignorance – until he decided to really look into the scriptures so he could argue more successfully against those “ignorant and easily manipulated Christians”.
            Guess what? He spent a couple of years researching the Bible as a non-believer, and found the real truth! Then he began to write books – “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and eventually wrote the story of what he experienced in his own life, i.e. how he found Truth and what it did to him! So in case you’re really serious – wanting to know about Jesus – was he the Son of God or some demented character for whom legends are created – I invite you to read the book of one who has done all that research for you – BTDT. In brief I suggest you get a copy of the easy-t0-read “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell. In it you can probably find most of the answers you are concerned about today in the 21st century. I challenge you to read some intellectual honesty, and get the facts, not someone’s empty opinions. Check it out; you’ve nothing to lose!

  • JohnE_o

    Hey grok,
    Serious question here – what do you make of the account in Matthew of dead people coming out of their graves in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion and that those same raised from the dead folks visited their kinfolk in town?

    I will grant in advance that this is not any more unlikely than Jesus rising from the dead in the first place.

    • grok87

      @JohnE,
      I see you referenced this passage from Matthew below as well. I’m not sure why you are focusing on this particular miracle as opposed to other miracles in the Bible. I agree with our last sentence.

      • JohnE_o

        I focus on that because it – to my way of looking at the text – has the ring of something made up so as to parallel Old Testament texts. The text is terse in a way that a description of something like that really happening should not be. There should be descriptions of who those folks were, who they spoke with, and what happened to them – did they die immediately or did some of them live another thirty years?

        Not just ‘dead people walked around and people saw them’.

        I also focus on that because I’d like to see if anyone is willing to say that – yes, they believe this account because it is in the text. I think you’ve indicated that, grok87, but in a roundabout manner.

        On the other hand, if anyone is willing to say that – yeah, that part might not have really happened, then where do you stop?

        So that, grok87, is why I focus on that particular miraculous narrative – it brings a lot of things into sharp relief.

        • grok87

          Hi John_E,
          Well the consensus is that the gospels were written a few decades after Jesus’s death and resurrection. So they are not contemporaneous accounts- i.e. they were not written at the exact same time the events were happening.

          You ask a good question “then where do you stop?” I am a christian and a catholic, I am not a fundamentalist. So I don’t believe everything in the Bible is literally true- e.g. that all the species of animals in the world today were on the Ark with Noah. I believe in evolution, etc.
          I do believe in miracles though. I used to be less sure about miracles when I was younger. But then I took quantum mechanics in college!- you should check out some of the things that Quantum Physicists believe!
          cheers,
          grok

  • Shelama

    Personally, I find CSLewis to be mildly interesting but non-contributory.

    I think there’s a good reason why the gospel narratives, and so many of the words of Jesus, read so much like the contorted and contrived attempt, using Hebrew scripture yanked out of context, to create a successful, living, Christian messiah from out of a failed, dead, Jewish messiah. I think there’s good reason why it was successful among Paul’s pagans, ignorant of Hebrew scripture and messianism, and why it was such a flop as a Judaism, within Judaism.

    I see no reason to consider Jesus a legend or a myth. I can find no good reason to doubt that Jesus of Nazareth existed or that his Jewish life and Roman death led to the invention of the Christ myth and Christianity. I see no reason to doubt that some 1st and 2nd tier followers of Jesus believed and hoped that Jesus was “The Messiah.” Perhaps even Jesus himself. Perhaps John the Baptizer even put that idea into his head (when I think of John and Jesus I always think and wonder also about Nathan of Gaza and Shabbetai Zevi).

    I see no reason to doubt that some of those closest to Jesus came to believe, after Rome had killed him, that he had, in some sense, been resurrected. I find nothing credible in the “empty tomb” stories and even less credible in the post-resurrection appearances of a literal, physically resurrected Jesus. I don’t believe Paul believed in (or had ever even heard about) and empty tomb stories of any encounters with a physical, bodily resurrected Jesus. . I don’t believe Paul would have ever need either an empty tomb or a walking, talking corpse to believe that Jesus had been resurrected and that he had encountered him in light and sound. For Paul, Jesus could just as easily have been resurrected if he had been killed and consumed by Roman fire or Roman lions with nothing left to bury.

    I would add a couple of things to Lewis’ trilemma and vote for either one: Jesus was just simply wrong or, more likely, Jesus the Jew, even if he had his own messianic consciousness, never said anything at all about “Lord” unless he was referring to Abba Yahweh.

  • Chris Hallquist

    “Lewis’s Trilemma is a very narrowly targeted apologetic argument…”

    This.

    I’m more or less in agreement with what I think was Lewis’ actual point with the Trilemma. Unfortunately, Lewis’ less-competent imitators tend not to use it in a narrowly-targeted way.

  • Val

    Even the tetralemma is a falsely rigid categorization. The legend of Jesus could very well be of a moral teacher relevant mostly to his own tribe and time, who was also a bit of a lunatic, as most charismatics are.

    • R.C.

      A respectable view. I think Lewis’ trilemma, or even the tetralemma, is helpful inasmuch as it eliminates the possibilities of Jesus being merely and simply a con man, or merely and simply a lunatic, or merely and simply a popular moralist, a 1st-century Steven Covey or Dr. Phil, trying to navigate a middle road between Hillel and Shammai. He just wasn’t, and it’s useful to eliminate options that don’t fit the evidence.

      But it’s respectable to say that the evidence supports Jesus being some peculiar combination of these things: Maybe a brilliant but very idealistic moralist who decided to start a con and laid its foundations so well that it held for the long term, during which he began to get too wrapped up in it and went a little nuts, but reverted to his original idealism in the face of death? It’s a very improbable arrangement of character traits, to be sure…but at least it has the advantage of trying to cover all the observed evidence, of trying, in the Medieval phrase, to “save the phenomena.”

  • Aaron

    The problem with Lewis’s arguement isn’t that Jesus is a myth, it’s that we have very good scholarship showing that Jesus most definetly did not claim he was God.
    It is very hard to reconcile statements made in John with the messianic secret attitude in mark.
    So Jesus keep secret his identity while at the same time declaring himself on par with YHWH?
    Highly doubt it.

    • R.C.

      And yet, oddly, people who knew the text far better than anyone commenting here does, who were from that culture and had its cultural expectations and familiar with the language and the literary style of each gospel and the events of the day and thus could put it all in context, were unperturbed by all these things which we moderns, disconnected from that world by 2,000 years and a span of cultural changes, find so problematic.

      I think we do not have “very good scholarship” showing that Jesus did not claim deity. I think we have very good anachronisms that Jesus did not claim deity. Any re-interpretation we do in hindsight, to pass the smell test, needs to be plausible in the context of what the other New Testament books are saying, and Ignatius of Antioch’s take, and Polycarp’s take, and the Didache’s take, and Clement of Rome’s take, and the witness of the early gnostic/Jewish/Roman opposition. It is no good interpreting Jesus to say something perfectly palatable and then have no explanation why half his hearers couldn’t stomach it and the other half ranged from bewildered acceptance (“where else shall we go, Lord?”) to exultant worship.

      The best explanation of all the available recorded attitudes is that Jesus was claiming what Christians say He was claiming, or something very close to it, but (until the latter part of His ministry) saying it plainly only among his closest disciples while keeping it pretty vague in public, answering questions with questions in the rabbinical way and leaving hearers chewing their way to their own conclusions…presumably to prevent His being either arrested or hailed as king before He was good and ready.

      That view integrates all the data, and preferentially prefers the interpretation of the nearest and best-informed observers over that of a postmodernist Westerner, with a Strong’s at his right hand and a Thayer and Smith at his left, looking for something innovative to say. Look at how depressed Standard Model physicists are, now that the LHC found the Higgs and nothing else: It’s dull reaffirming the conventional wisdom.

  • Todd

    I think we have to distinguish the claim that Jesus was uniquely divine from the claim that he was God. By “uniquely divine” I mean related to God in some way that is different from the way in which all human beings might be said to be related to God. The God claim, on the other hand, is an identity claim.
    I think what we see in the NT is a gradual movement from the divinity claim to the God claim. We can read the gospels as tracking the same movement in how Jesus presented himself to those around him. We can also easily appreciate that the followers of Jesus, including those who wrote the gospels, had difficulties wrapping their heads around this, so some were more cautious than others. All four present material that indicates a divinity claim, as do the epistles, but not all the documents work it out to a God claim. The divinity claim is sufficient for the “Lord” horn of the trilemma. That is, in word and deed, Jesus was presenting himself as something other than a mere mortal.
    It’s not necessary to deny that there are legendary accretions in the NT to accept the texts as evidence for the divinity claim (i.e., the claim that Jesus made a divinity claim).

    • R.C.

      That’s a little bit tough, though, don’t you think? The context of “divinity” might allow identification with someone other than YHWH in other cultures, but for the Messiah? In Israel? “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is One/is God alone.”

      Jesus presents Himself as summing up the entirety of the Old Covenant in Himself: That YHWH is the author, in an artistic sense, of history, and He is what a thousand details of the Old Testament were cleverly foreshadowing. He is the fulfillment of “seed of the woman”; He is the fulfillment of “God will provide the lamb,” He is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham of worldwide blessing, He is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and David of a kingdom that will never pass away, He is the fulfillment of Moses as lawgiver and of Aaron as priest and of Melchizedek as priest still earlier, He is the fulfillment of the sin offerings and the Passover lambs and atonement sacrifices, He is the fulfillment of Joshua leading the People of God into the Promised Land, He is the everlasting “todah” or thank offering, He is the bread from heaven, He is the son of David who builds the temple in record time, He is the prophet-to-come foretold by Moses, He is the fulfillment of Elisha, the “son of man” of Daniel who sets up a worldwide kingdom. He’s all that, and twice on Sundays. These were real historical events, but Jesus in the gospels depicts YHWH as allowing or causing them in history as a way of “telegraphing” (in the sports sense) His long-term plan.

      Now, you can say all that, and still not say, “and He is claiming to be Adonai Elohim El Elyon YHWH Frikkin God.”

      But it is a gigantic bold thing for a man to say about Himself: “Your whole history? Yeah, that’s me.” And it is tough thing for a man to act like He really believes it, which Jesus does. There’s Jesus on the mountain, encountering Moses and Elijah in the shekinah and chatting amiably with them about the “exodus” He’s about to lead in Jerusalem. There’s Jesus picking out the stewards for his kingdom, and selecting one of them to be the al beit (the “head of house” or “chief steward”). There’s Jesus, casting the Pharisees in the role of Saul’s spies, and his own apostles in the role of the priests who were loyal to David, who ate the consecrated bread from the temple. There’s Jesus, gathering the “lost sheep” of Israel.

      And it leads to the question: How could a the shoulders of a mere man bear the weight of all that? Moses could not, Abraham could not, Joshua could not, Solomon could not.

      Then Jesus starts saying things like, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” And, “if the Messiah is David’s descendant, why does David call him ‘Lord?’” And, “before Abraham was, I am!” …and so on, and so on. And people seem not to note the significance of the parables: He is the Bridegroom, the Son of the Landowner, the King away on a journey who will be returning to judge how His stewards handled that which He entrusted to them. And when He speaks eschatologically, it is Himself who will be judge of the world, or those He puts in charge.

      I think people don’t get the claims to divinity because they’re expecting a guy to say, “O, BTW, I haz Godh00d LOL!!1!” every other page. But the gospels do not depict that as being His style; rather, they depict Him as doing or saying things with potentially weighty implications, then turning to the observers and sort of saying, “Didja see what I did there?” and leaving it at that. In that sense, the claim very nearly is on every page.

      And yet Jesus very clearly is not trying to redefine the word “God” in doing so: He is coming in as a Jew, meaning what Jews mean about God, except in a one way: The Fatherly and Creator-ly role, Jesus largely ascribes to “my Father who sent Me,” and the Judge and King and Husband role, Jesus largely ascribes to Himself. And then there is the “Spirit,” which Jesus has the Father sending, but with Jesus also involved in the sending. To a Jew, these are all YHWH; Jesus is adopting some of YHWH’s roles, but with some blurriness around the edges.

      I am not saying that the only possible interpretation of all of this is the Christian view, which confusingly seems to give God a sort of solid, three-dimensional personhood in contrast to our own one-dimensional, flat, truncated, contingent personhood. But I do argue that the Christian view at least embraces the whole character of Jesus’ words and actions and their implications and the reaction of those around him in a way that I haven’t seen in alternative interpretations.

      The best complaint one can make against it is that the Trinity is incompatible with “Hear O Israel” and thus violates the Jewishness of the setting. But Christians say that, no, God is One and that the Trinity doesn’t violate this principle. Others might complain that it has to, but there is a difference between blaming people for what you think are the implications of their view, and what they themselves grant to be the implications of their view.

      Respectfully, Todd, it seems to me that your idea, Jesus claiming to be “divine” but “not God” is a step or two yet farther away from the Jewish requirement of God being One. If the Trinity’s compatibility with the Sh’ma Yisrael is questionable, then that certainly is: It would be explicitly polytheistic. And in the context of everything else, I think “that dog won’t hunt.”

  • Kristen inDallas

    I find it interesting that when people talk about the trilemma (or tetralemma here) they almost always focus it on the person of Jesus alone, as if he were the only one making the claims of dvinity. Someone commented above on the followers of Jesus, who repeated the stories having to be either liars, lunatics, or people who actually believed it was true. (I’d say liar is very unlikely as repeating that sort of story tended to get you crucified in those days). But more specifically I’d like to know about the people making wild divinity/messiah claims even before Jesus was, John the baptist and Mary.
    I mean, what can you say about the woman who at some point probably told her son about how he was concieved while she was still a virgin when an angel of God came to her? And after his death, when she’s still around, and all these stories start going around about the guy with the virgin-mother, it’s hard to imagine someone wouldn’t have asked her about all that.

    • guest

      The virgin birth is not found in the earliest gospel (Mark) and is probably a later invention. Miracle births are common in myths and they could have got the idea from the old testament.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miraculous_births
      There’s no outside corroberation of a virgin birth or even a claim of a virgin birth. Mary never made in into history chronicles and she disappears from the gospels after Jesus’s death.

  • Erick

    There’s a big problem I find with all the analysis so far. I think some of the defenders of the faith here have touched on it, but only lightly.

    The problem is the audience of the New Testament.

    Yes, if we were to take the NT in a vacuum and analyze what it means about Jesus, Lewis’ trilemma is unconvincing. If the NT existed in a vacuum.

    However, the NT was not written in a vacuum. It was written with particular audiences in mind… most specifically, they were written for Jews and for pagans in the Roman empire. Setting aside whether Jesus was a historical figure or not, success within these two audiences entail certain things.

    For Jews, you do not achieve success in your legend’s message by claiming that God became man, or that God needed a uniquely divine assistant like Jesus, or that God exists as three realities in one, and on and on all the claims made by the NT. These claims do not a successful legend or guru make among Jews.

    For the Romans, you do not achieve success in your legend’s message by usurping Caesar’s authority, by highlighting his death by crucifixion, by making Jesus a Jew, and on and on with the claims made by the NT.

    So, now we have a problem if Jesus is not God; and he is not a liar; and he is not a madman…

    If Jesus is just a legend or a guru, how did his message become so successful among Jews and Romans when the NT specifically claims all the things that would make it a disaster with the Jews and Romans? After all, there were plenty of Christ figures in the time of Jesus. All of them are failed, now tread upon by history, with barely a historian or two who still know their names.

    As a legend/guru, the stories in the NT offer nothing for the two primary audiences they were written for, unless the claims being made were historically true! Which leaves us once again with just three choices… either Jesus was God… or he was a liar… or he was a madman.

    • JohnE_o

      If Jesus is just a legend or a guru, how did his message become so successful among Jews and Romans when the NT specifically claims all the things that would make it a disaster with the Jews and Romans?

      Perhaps the message spread quickly amongst the subset of the population that were antagonistic towards the Jewish and Roman leaders and/or were not in a position to benefit from religious or political orthodoxy.

      Religion as a rebel political identity – is that really so uncommon even today in authoritarian nations?

      • Erick

        JohnE… if that were the case, then the analysis falls back under the liar part of the trilemma.

    • Shelama

      The claim that NT, or even pre-NT Christianity, was a success among Jews is highly questionable. First, there’s no good reason to believe that any of the earliest Jesus Jews would have even subscribed to much in the NT. Paul’s Christians were largely pagans and Paul’s message to them was not carried thru the words of the Gospels and, indeed, was essentially devoid of any words or claims made or alleged by Jesus himself.

      It’s impossible to say how many Jews ever bought into the NT, or how much they would have bought in, since by the time Mark was composed Christianity was well on it’s way to becoming a pagan religion.

      The anti-Jewish polemic and propaganda so explicit in both Matt and John was not a strategy for success among the Jews.

      Closer to the truth, it appears that NT Christianity was a major flop among the Jews, not surprisingly given the violence that it did to Jewish scripture and messianism.

      The NT/Christianity was successful among the pagans precisely because they were ignorant of Hebrew scripture and messianism. The intimation that, in practice and public proclamation, that it was overtly anti-Roman or anti-Caesar is also not born out. The persecutions, such as they were, were infrequent, scattered and limited. Nothing in Pliny’s letter or in Seutonius or Tacitus or anywhere else suggest a Christian agenda that would have been threatening or terribly offensive to Rome. Perhaps not offering the correct sacrifices to the correct gods?

      • Erick

        Shelama,

        This would depend on your definition of “success”. Shooting just 30% in basketball might be considered failure, but batting 30% in baseball is very successful.

        Regardless, I don’t think you’re addressing the argument properly. Legends last, because they are borne in a conducive environment for them. Assuming Jesus is a fiction, neither the Jews nor the Romans are conducive environments for a Jesus legend. Jesus as he is presented in the NT runs contrary to Jewish and Roman cultural norms and sensibilities. Not anti-Jewish or anti-Roman per se, but unacceptable nonetheless. For the Jews, you’ve clearly stated enough on your own. For Romans, Jesus is a powerless figure. He is unimpressive to both those in power and those not in power in Roman society.

        So I’m not really talking about success in itself. My entire point is that if Jesus is fictional (as the legend argument makes) then it would be the dumbest legend ever made, because the audience they were written for would not have accepted the legend.

        Similarly, if Jesus was just a guru, he would be the dumbest guru story ever because the audience his lessons were written for would not have accepted the lessons.

        The only way to make NT work for the audience they were written for is if Jesus actually existed. And if Jesus existed, this puts us squarely back in Lewis’ trilemma — Liar, Lunatic or God.

        • Shelama

          When Constantine strategically conquered Christianity without firing a shot it was a counter-cultural minority that can reasonably be estimated to be less than 5% of the entire Roman Empire.

          At that time the intellectual Christian elites were still engaged in theological debate (without consensus) while compassionate, Christian community lived and died on the ground, as it had done in various forms (without consensus) for nearly three centuries.

          The intimation that “Roman Culture” was monolithic across place and time and socio-economic strata, and that it put the rigid constraints on novel, benign counter-culture that you seem to imagine, I don’t believe bears scrutiny.

          That somehow, sans some astounding self-declaration of divinity by Jesus, it would have been impossible within the Roman Empire for small and variable (by the time of Paul there were already multiple Christianities and we know there were even more to follow), benign, counter-cultural Christian community to arise makes zero sense to me. Especially given that it embraced a dying and rising savior born from the conjunction of the human with the divine and which, regardless of his own self-proclaimed divine status, promised eternal life and riches in heaven to the illiterate poor, downtrodden, dispossessed and persecuted.

          Never mind the fact that we don’t know for sure what the original community of Jesus Jews believed, especially when compared with what we know the followers of Paul’s gospel believed. And regardless of what Paul conceived about the pre-existent and divine status of Jesus, he makes almost no use whatever of any of the “words of Jesus.” He quite obviously and simply just doesn’t care: a self-proclamation by Jesus of his own divinity had no importance to Paul so it’s hard to imagine that it did in his church. Only decades later come the Gospels with the ambiguity that required never-ending discussion and disagreement by the intellectuals.

          So what, then, better explains the original and the modest growth and the persistence of Christianity(ies) as benign, tolerated, seldom-persecuted, counter-cultureal communities within the Empire??

          Intellectual elites discussing and arguing (without consensus) about words attributed to Jesus which claim some ambiguous form of divinity and a “Lordship” for himself? About ὁμοούσιος v. ὁμοιούσιος? About the pre-incarnate Jesus as the Logos of God v. God himself v. “with God”?

          Or, compassionate Christian community on the ground where the most prominent words of Jesus were probably the Sermon on the Mount and, of Paul, were “Christ Jesus resurrected” and “faith, hope, charity”? And where persecution and hardship and the expectation of an imminent eschaton and heavenly reward is witness to your own blessed status? And regardless of whether elites somewhere were arguing about scripture that you, yourself, did not even have access to and couldn’t read if you did? And where most of the remaining 95% of the Roman Empire largely didn’t care?

          Today the intellectual elites continue disagreements & discussions while 2+ billion common Christians entered into their Christianity almost exclusively either by childhood indoctrination or in rather profound ignorance of the Bible. While the large majority may nominally be Trinitarian, I think it hard to argue that the meticulous parsing of scripture regarding Jesus’ self-description as divine Lord is the key to their compassionate community. (And if it’s not compassionate community is it really even Christian? Or does it really matter what it is instead? Now or then?)

          While religiosity in general decreases in the world, Catholics and Evangelicals and Mormons have found relatively fertile soil for converts, and for compassionate Christian community, in the developing world where, even when already Christian, critical ignorance of the Bible is endemic. It obviously doesn’t take much from the missionaries to persuade them one way or another or elsewhere altogether about the nature of Jesus and his claims. But Christian community is there. What is going to be more compelling, the Sermon on the Mount? Or elitist, scholars parsing words of Jesus or discussing the Logos and the Prologue? Now or then?

          There’s a whole lot in the NON-monolithic Roman Culture that seems to allow, and in fact certainly did witness, the appearance and growth of non-elite Christian community where Jesus claiming to be divine (let alone the “Trinity”) was probably not the biggest blip on the radar. For the intellectual elite minority, I agree, a different story: …they recline in glorious splendor on couches at the Emperor’s table.

          • Erick

            Shelama,

            Let me get this straight, since I think we are talking at cross purposes. You’re argument is basically Leah’s last paragraph to this post?

    • Blah

      Roman and Jews were not the only potential audience. The first testaments were written in Greek. The Greeks were a conquered people and would not have minded a god who defied Ceasar. All the word/logos stuff is borrowed from Greek philosophy. The crucifiction is a red herring. Obviously it would be embarrassing to say that your god had died on a cross. But Jesus isn’t supposed to have died, he came back to life. That’s not embarrassing, it’s magic that the pagans would be happy to get on board with. And if you can convince them that he’s magic then no pagan will care that he’s a jew. The greeks and the jews were both oppressed at that point, after all.

      Then there’s the Egyptians. Another potential audience (there was an early church at Alexandria). Another conquered people who might have enjoyed defying Ceasar. Their own myths contain Osiris, whose body was torn apart by Set, who fed his penis to a fish. What’s crucifiction compared to that? And why would Egyptians care he’s a jew, they were a cosmopolitan sort.

      Besides, I’m not sure I agree Jesus would be unpalatable to certain Romans. Most Ceasars made many enemies through their reign. Julius Ceasar’s cult was sneered at by some fellow Romans. The Romans valued self-sacrifice. Horatius Cocles is an example, his heroic stand was celebrated. If Jesus’s death could be spun in that light, it would have appealed to some of them. As for him being a jew, the Romans adopted Celtic (Epona), Egyptian (Isis), and Greek(everyone) deities, so there’s no good reason they wouldn’t accept a jewish one.
      All you need is a few people who are good public speakers and any cult can get off the ground.

      • Erick

        Blah,

        None of your points remove you from Lewis’ trilemma, so I won’t address your argument. But I offer a consolation:

        The first testaments were written in Greek for a good reason… Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire. It had nothing to do with Greeks in particular.

        • Blah

          I wasn’t actually addressing Lewis, I was addressing your arguement that the Romans and Jews would never have taken up Christianity. They weren’t the only people around.
          Do we know that the first testament was written by a Roman? There were many greeks in the Roman empire, both slave and free.
          If I have to address the trilemma. I’d pick lunatic. There are even a few lines in the gospels that suggested he was mad at the time. I think Lewis shows unwarrented predjudice towards the mentally ill. My brother has had bouts of psychosis and he’s still a hard-working, kind and intelligent man. We don’t have to ignore everything someone ever said because they have a mental illness.

          • Erick

            Blah,

            If you weren’t addressing Lewis, then you weren’t addressing my argument.

            The argument is not whether Romans and Jews never would have taken up Christianity. They did. It happened. Period.

            The argument is that Christianity is not an “innocent, mistaken” legend.

  • A Philosopher

    As a few people are noting, the “simply wrong” option is illegitimately excluded from the tri/quadrilemma. What’s the argument against the view that Jesus sincerely held more or less the views that are attributed to him in the typical sources, but that the views he held were just incorrect?

    This option tends to get swept into the “lunatic” category, but I don’t see the argument that one has to be in any interesting way rationally impaired to hold these views. After all, what’s supposed to count as evidence for or against the thesis that one is fully human and fully divine, anyway? Absent general philosophical arguments against the existence of God, I don’t think I could come up with any good arguments that I myself am not the Second Person of the Trinity. Details are going to depend on difficult and controversial details of one’s Christology. (Example: some views hold that Jesus was in some sense not fully aware of his Incarnational nature until the appearance of the Holy Spirit at his baptism. But then it’s possible to be the Second Person and be unaware of that fact.)

    In general, I think people are far too quick to move from “holds wrong view” to “irrational”. One of the pleasures of my occupation is that I get to interact regularly with some of the very smartest people in the world. It turns out that some of these people also hold some of the weirdest views. I know incredibly brilliant people who believe that they don’t really exist. They believe this on the basis of decades of careful consideration of complicated arguments. I think they’re completely wrong, but I certainly don’t think they’re crazy. I don’t see why a belief in one’s own divinity is importantly different. (Especially, of course, once that view gets properly contextualized within the details of Jewish theological schools of the time.)

    • JohnE_o

      One of the pleasures of my occupation is that I get to interact regularly with some of the very smartest people in the world. It turns out that some of these people also hold some of the weirdest views. I know incredibly brilliant people who believe that they don’t really exist. They believe this on the basis of decades of careful consideration of complicated arguments.

      Try taking their stuff – then you’ll see just how strongly they hold to the belief that they don’t really exist.
      Or, alternatively, you’ll have their stuff.

      • A Philosopher

        Well, it turns out that they also believe that they don’t have any stuff.

        But again, views aren’t that easy to defeat. They have well-constructed positions on which it’s reasonable for them to act in defense of their stuff. (Of course, they don’t think that that’s what they’re doing (how could they? They don’t think they really exist. But they think it’s reasonable for things to happen that I would describe as them preventing me from taking their stuff.)

    • Erick

      Remember that the context is always Judaism. Sure Jesus could be simply wrong as an individual, but there is no way that a Jew teaching “the way, the Truth, the life” of Judaism can be simply wrong about claiming Godhood. That claim cannot be unintentional in the Jewish context. Rmember Jews are strictly monotheistic, not believing at all in the Christian definition of monotheism.

      • A Philosopher

        there is no way that a Jew teaching “the way, the Truth, the life” of Judaism can be simply wrong about claiming Godhood.

        I don’t see why you would think this. Suppose a Jew claims that he is numerically equivalent to God. What’s the argument, drawn from Judaism, that’s available to use against his claim?

        • Erick

          Start with the Shema and the first two commandments.

          • A Philosopher

            I don’t see anything close to a decisive argument there. If (for example) I’m numerically identical to God (for the record, I’m not), then there’s no threat to the oneness of God, because the numerical identity preserves uniqueness.

          • Erick

            Except that you are a human person… and God is not a human person according to Judaism. The Shema translates “one”, not just to mean the quantitative number. It also translates to alone and unique, i.e. there is nothing else like God. In other words, there is no other thing/conception that is numerically identical to God. The whole idea of numerical identicalness is blasphemy.

  • Hanan

    Hi Leah,

    I enjoy your writing but I have a private question for you. Is is even possible to send you an email with a question? thank you

  • keddaw

    “he keeps outputting true statements”

    How do you judge these statements to be true? If he is son of god then he is pulling from a realm we don’t have access to and so cannot judge their truth. If he is not son of god then he is getting them from his mind which his lack of sonship shows to be faulty in at least one area so we must judge their truth based on our own views. Only many don’t. They believe first and judge reality based on that accepted truthiness. And if Leah looks at Christ’s teachings and judges them to be true for her then who needs Christ? Leah is enough in herself.

  • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

    I’ve read through the thread thus far, and am more interested in the claim that stuff was just made up, or that people created legends during the lifeimt of eyewitnesses.

    Instead of using the usual apologetics, I’m going to use an analogy: Manetho’s Kings lists were writtenover 1000 years after many of the people on them are supposed to have lived. Manetho quite possibly had an motive to paint Egypt as the world’s oldest civilisation. We have no originals, only fragments from about 300 years later, so we don’t even know if this is what Manetho wrote, or that the lists were intended to be arranged in a straight line. Since this, along with the rather weakly supported sothic cycle are the fundamentals of early mid eastern dating, we could arrange the lists differently (so that during certain periods there are 2 kings, which we know was actually the case), and admit that we probably don’t really know much about sothis, & conclude that Biblical history squares with the Kings lists & the subsequent dating that comes with it.

    This is a YEC argument for the validity of post flood Biblical history, you don’t have to agree with it, in fact the argument is stronger if you don’t. The reasons normally given for rejecting this are that the starting point is a preconcieved idea, & that evidence would be required to overturn the documents and the popular interpretation. So, if a burden of proof is required to overturn these, then a burden of proof is required to overturn the gospels, that burden of proof is shifted, Christians must do something that isn’t reuired of a large number of historical, non-eyewitness documents. The point is, if you reject the New Testament on most of the grounds normally given, then it’s not unreasoable for a YEC to reject the current interpreatation of the Kings list, or even that they are valid at all. If you don’t take the YEC argument seriously, your argument against the New Testament probably deserves the same response. This is the double standard of the non-believer.

    • JohnE_o

      So, if a burden of proof is required to overturn these, then a burden of proof is required to overturn the gospels, that burden of proof is shifted, Christians must do something that isn’t reuired of a large number of historical, non-eyewitness documents.

      The answer to that, of course, is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      Those other historical, non-eyewitness documents you reference don’t describe events such as raising people from the dead, restoring withered limbs, and formerly dead people leaving their graves, walking around Jerusalem and visiting their living friends and relatives.

      • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

        These are historically unique, not a particularly alien concept to Evolutionists, so to continue the YEC analogy, claiming that a missing ape from 4 million years ago is the common ancestor between chimps; bonobos & gorrilas, is a pretty extraordinary claim, and would require pretty extraordinary evidence, something other than that it seems to be the missing link in a sequence or set based on ink blot type reasoning.

        • JohnE_o

          Perhaps I am misunderstanding your assertion, but are you claiming that because some biologists have made claims about human ancestry, then it is unreasonable for me to not take at face value Matthew’s claim (Matt 27:52-53) that after the Resurrection, the graves of Jerusalem opened up and dead saints walked about the city?

          Because I don’t think that follows.

          Surely I must be misunderstanding your intent. Would you please clarify this for me?

          • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

            Yes, you are misunderstanding, I’m simply pointing out that evolution makes extraordinary claims, but let’s just examine it to see why someone might be willing to reject the biologists assertion. Things have similar DNA, or look similar, or have similar organs, therefore they are related, this is an enthymeme, perhaps you could provide the premise the makes it valid, ie, the premise that tells us similarity proves relationship. You could say that because Rorsharch’s first card resembles a dog or wolf, it is a picture of a dog or wolf, not just a blob of ink, this hardly seems like extraordinary reasoning to argue an extraordinary claim.

            My point was, the Bible makes extraordinary claims about unique unrepatable events, so does evolution, in both cases, extrairdinary evidence would be required, to reject one purely because it is extraordinary yet accept the other, is inconsistent, it comes down to subjective feeling, you feel the biologists have met a satisfactory burden of proof for evolution, while the YEC does not. The Christian feels that the apologists have met a reasonable burden of proof, you do not.

          • JohnE_o

            you feel the biologists have met a satisfactory burden of proof for evolution

            Do I?

            How do you know that I feel that way?

          • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

            =D Touché

    • G

      I’ve never heard of this list before but Wikipedia says there are other, older annuals they can compare it with.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manetho
      in which case you’d also have to throw out those sources to follow the bible chronology.

      • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

        There are remaining texts that support what, exactly? His lists? The myths & legends he claimed to use? Real stories about lives of the Kings? What? Your source doesn’t really help. It doesn’t really tell us. The YEC need make no argument against all the information, just anough to call the Chronology (up to about the 8th century BCE I think) just as the NT critic only needs to contest the miracle stuff, & maybe that Jesus claimed to be God. So even if list fragments remain, the question about assembling them still remains.

  • Ted Seeber

    As a rule, any history older than 80 years is a legend. Maybe 300 now that we’ve invented the printing press, but in that time, language itself changes so much that it is hard to tell truth from fiction.

    Unless, of course, like many Catholics you believe evolution *also* affects culture and information.

    In which case, it doesn’t matter if Jesus Christ is a legend- the part of him that is God and Man survived the process, the Church and in fact all of Western Civilization itself is the proof, and to ignore all of that history is to remove yourself from rational consideration (for the same reason many Catholics ignore Protestants “Where was your church at the Council of Constantinople?”)

    • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

      Sorry, I’m not quite sure I understand, are you giving belief as evidence for the truth of that belief? Or are you just using popular belief as the evidence for the belief and combining circular reasoning with an appeal to poular opinion? I’m really interested, what is your argumen? Oh, sorry, you used the word proof, not evidence.

      • Erick

        I believe what he is saying is this:

        1. All of us are stuck in a mist when it comes to history.

        2. While atheist believe that their logic and reasoning are superior to believers (and this is what makes their opinion sounder), the truth is that we are all of equal ability in general. There is no innately superior logic and reasoning belonging to anybody.

        3. Most atheists, when analyzing Jesus, come from a POV disconnected with the past in every way possible.

        4. Catholics, when analyzing Jesus, actually have a chain of eyewitness linking them to Jesus, so whatever or whoever Jesus actually was, what is true is that there were people in the past (a majority in fact) who believed what we believe today.

        5. Hence, who can really claim superiority with the competing claims?

        6. Catholics, since we have another source of evidence independent than just our own interpolation.

        • Ted Seeber

          Thanks for putting it better. I am so fed up with #3 being a factor in these discussions that I get a bit emotional.

          Also, though, I’d add 7. It doesn’t matter if the history becomes a legend, so long as that legend allows us to form a coherent worldview (and I join with the atheists in cases where it fails to, like with Biblical Literacy and using popular legend based history as a science textbook).

        • Alan

          Except #4 is just untrue. You have a chain of stories created after the fact that manufactured legends around one of many messianic preachers in first century Israel. There is no chain of eye witnesses to the supposed events themselves. And of course, the people then did not have a single set of beliefs, the beliefs that have become Catholicism were formed and culled from many options over the course of several centuries.

          #3, despite Ted’s whining, is also false. Well, I won’t speak for most atheists because I haven’t taken any poll, but most atheists I know approach it not disconnected from the past but with a critical approach to understanding what actually happened in the past, not just the myths and legends that have developed over time. If anything, it is the Catholics that take an exceedingly narrow approach to the past through a selective lens that has deliberately pushed out competing perspectives and than are thrilled when what they are left with conforms to what they believe (as if it would be any other way when they selected what perspectives remained).

          So with #4 exposed as nonsense, and #3 as bs the correct answer to #5 is…

          • Erick

            Alan,

            #4 is untrue how? Because you say so. Because you interpolated so from your own interpretation of the evidence. I could ask the same of you: how do you know it was made up when you weren’t even there?

            You can’t as pointed out by #1.

            At the very least, Catholics can say we lie in a chain of people who are of a tradition that Jesus is real and is God. Sure, it may have been culled from amongst a variety of opinions (we don’t deny it), but at least we know the belief existed even back then. It wasn’t invented out of nowhere to claim dominance within a group that didn’t believe it. People did believe it and they came to be dominant. You cannot deny that. And as long as that point is valied, #4 is valid.

            The Pope can say he learned it from JPII who learned it from JPI who learned it from Paul VI who learned it from John XXIII and on and on. Any Catholic can say the same. Can you?

            You say #3 is BS, but you have said nothing I haven’t said already. You go with a critical approach. Everyone goes with a critical approach. But where is your link to the past? Where is that chain of tradition from you to your teacher to the teacher before him all the way down to Jesus’ time? Where is your connection? Nada.

          • Alan

            #4 is untrue because the best literary scholarship demonstrates that there in no unbroken chain of eye-witness testimony recorded.

            Catholics can say a lot of things, as can Buddhists, Hindus, Mayans, Jews, Zoroastrians, Mormons and every other beliefs that happens to persist – and until they perished so could all the beliefs that came before. Since they can’t all be true (given that they contradict one another) that you can say you lie in a chain of people with a traditional doesn’t really mean anything in terms of truth.

            And my chain of tradition is the chain of evidence, literature and scholarship of that evidence and literature. What is so special about a chain of teachers? Nada, nothing zilch. What do you have other than your superstitions, nada, nothing, zilch.

          • Ted Seeber

            Believing #4 to be untrue is a sure sign of #3 being true. Not sure if the reverse is also true, but if you refuse to see the chain of eyewitnesses that the Church has painstakingly documented all along, isn’t that a sign that you are denying that the Church has a history?

            I’d extend the same to certain Protestants as well as Atheists; New Atheism is a child of the reformation.

          • Ted Seeber

            Erick- the Catechism is only a small part of Catholicism, as is Scripture. Very little gets written down unless it needs to due to an *overt* attempt to change it.

        • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

          I agree with Alan, number 4 is false, but as a Christian,I disagree with him on why. Let’s come from the same point of view, the Gospels are eyewitness accounts, or at least close to that, of the life of Christ, nothing was made up, blah, blah…

          What, is “a chain of eyewitness”? You can have eyewitnesses whose reports are passed on, but there isn’t a chain, as if the subsequent generations actually somehow became eyewitnesses. Since we have these “eyewitness” accounts in print, we actually don’t need the catholic church whose doctrines (contrary to what you claim) did not believe exactly what you believe today, or you wouldn’t have to update the Catechism, ever.

          • Alan

            That is a better way of getting there (at least a likely more productive one). There is a Jewish midrash that claims all future Jew’s souls were present at Sinai when the Jews accepted the yolk of the law – of course the purpose of the legend is to assert a true unbroken eyewitness chain and accountability to the past for Jews of the future.

          • Erick

            But we are not arguing about truth are we, smidoz?

            There are two things in this thread being argued. One the OP topic of Lewis’ trilemma, which in itself admits to the possibility of falsity (liar, lunacy). Two is the question of who has stronger foundations of evidence to stand on.

            No one can guarantee that their version of history is the ultimate truth, which I take we all agree on because of #1. #4 does not deal in truth. It deals in strength of evidence. What #6 can be sure of is that the foundation of the Catholic historical argument is stronger, because the argument is a tradition with actual links to the past (#4). Anything else Ted says is beyond point 1-6 that I make (see his point 7).

            FYI, the Catechism is not updated to change the beliefs as you would say. The Catechism is updated so that 1) the current culture can understand what the past culture meant and 2) to address what the belief would say about new circumstances that the past never had to think about. I guess you could say the interpretation would have varying degrees of sticking to actual truth, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that people are playing off what came before them.

          • Alan

            Erick – How is the Catholic historical argument stronger than the Oriental Orthodox argument? Or than the Jewish argument which has an unbroken historical narrative that says the legends of the new testament never happened at all? And on what basis does tradition with links to past become stronger evidence than historical, archaeological and analytic methods of today?

          • Erick

            The Catholic historical argument is equivalent to the Oriental Orthodox. But then, that is not at play here is it? We’re talking Catholics vs Atheists. Ted alludes also to Catholics vs Protestants. Nope, nothing about Catholic vs Coptics or Orthodox or Nestorians there to me.

            Judaism usually does not deny Jesus’ historicity. It denies the NT. But what would you expect a Jew to say exactly? If he admits Jesus is God, he’s no longer a Jew. The Christian definition does not fit the Jewish definition of monotheism. This goes with my argument above that the context of Jesus is not being included enough in the analysis. The idea that Jesus is a Jew is a striking, important fact.

            This means Jesus’ claim to Godhood is not him “being mistaken”. Because while a Roman may be mistaken about Godhood, no moral Jew would ever, ever make the claim to Godhood.

            Which goes to the guru thing. A Jew could not be a morally reliable guru if he claimed to be God.

            Jesus’ claims are so non-Jewish that if he was a legend about a fictional figure, he could not have appeared from a Jewish environment (which negates the whole fictional legend idea).

          • Alan

            Judaism is usually indifferent to Jesus’ historicity – he may have existed, lots of people were running around claiming to be the messiah in 1st century Israel, none of them were. But with regards to the claims of the historical account in the new testament, clearly Judaism has no record of it happening. Of course, Jesus would not have been the first Jew to claim divinity, or the first to claim resurrection, you might need to look more into the history of the Essenes and their founder – the basic legend of Jesus isn’t unique among second temple era Jews, though it is certainly true that some of the legend was more clearly borrowed from mythology common to the pagans certain authors were targeting.

            By the way, fictional legend isn’t an idea, it is the absolute truth, the sooner you accept that the better off we will all be.

          • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

            Erik, the best possible interpretation is the question here, to try to make it about Catholicism is actually avoiding all other possibilities, which is falacious reasoning, even if you could prove the atheist wrong beyond any shadow of a doubt, doesn’t prove that what you are saying is anywhere near valid. Ted put protestantism on the table, Leah claimed it wasn’t addressing atheism, but a mistake amongst believers, so any possible interpretation must be valid. If you think it’s good enough to say catholicism is better than atheism then that’s your laziness, but I get the picure that the world, and this thread don’t see it as that simple.

        • Alan

          Teddy – sure, sure. And Smicha is an unbroken line of rabbinical authority going back to Moses.

      • Ted Seeber

        No, I am giving the results of belief as evidence for that belief.

        I realize that atheists are not good at meta-philosophy (or else they wouldn’t be so reductionist as to eliminate 99% of the historical record of the human species from consideration), but do try to keep up.

        • JohnE_o

          No, I am giving the results of belief as evidence for that belief.

          Hinduism seems to have done pretty well – is that evidence that Hinduism is true?

          • Ted Seeber

            As is claimed by the Church in Nostra Aetate, yes.

        • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

          You’re giving the results of the belief as evidence, those results include the crusades; the inquisition & the repeated cover up of child rape cases, all endorsed by the infallible moral authority, nice evidence, or do you just forget that your church has a long line of murders and peadophiles.

          You could try that “where was your church…” Stuff, but we all know that if anyone held beliefs different from Catholics regarding the Bible, they were massacred and their literature destoryed, it’s no real surprise that no other notciable Christian churches could form with the power of the Roman; French & spanish armies behind them. So you can sit smug in that bad argument, or just acknowledge it is no argument at all.

          • Erick

            This is a nice try, but there are plenty of institutions in the past who disagreed with the Roman church that are still extant today. You need only be more global in your outlook.

            Eastern Orthodox
            Oriental Orthodox
            Nestorians
            Jews
            Muslims

            And that’s just to start. So spare us….

          • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

            Consdiering the actual event given by Ted, the Eastern Orthdox Church started pretty late, to be relevant, it was also a huge schism, where both sides had powerful backing in those days, so they hardly comparable to a different version of Christianity when Rome was trying to build a state religion that removed the apostolic pacifism that was contrary to empire building. That was the first schism, so it doesn’t help with Ted’s arguement, as the later schisms, or groups that were beyond Romes influence are also irrelevant.

            Of course, the Eastern Orthodox could argue that they are the true doctrinal line, & they’d have as good a claim by the reasoning I’ve seen here.

          • Ted Seeber

            Then why do Gnostics still exist?

          • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com smidoz

            Ted, Gnostics may have survived, it may be because the Catholic church just failed. The fact is it can’t be denied that the Catholic church has a History of trying to silence opposition through violence, which was also part of the criticism, one that both you and Erik chose to ignore. If we want to look at evidence of the validity of your claims, I doubt that Christ would have endorsed most of Catholic history. Since you’ve decided it’s irrelevant if He was a legend or not, then you seem to have decided that it’s probably irrelevant whether he existed, then I suppose it makes sense to support the church over the God they allegedly worship.

  • http://truthseeker-lamont.blogspot.com Lamont

    Have you ever wondered why Jesus healed so many people? Why he raised some from the dead? Why he changed water into wine and multiplied the loaves and fish? Why he walked on water and calmed the storm? There are some who think most if not all of these miracles did not happen, but were made up by his disciples in order to create the myth of the god-man. The skeptics and the modernists think that Jesus was just a good man who tried to teach others how to be more kind, more generous, more forgiving, etc. They think that everything else that we find in the gospels is pure fiction.

    If these people are correct then the apostles were a strange bunch who were willing to travel to the ends of the earth and eventual die for a story they knew was not true. I think that there is a better way to understand the gospels that makes far more sense, at least to me. I believe that Jesus knew from the very beginning of his ministry that his mission in life was to do something far more than to tell people that they should be nice to one another and try to get along. The reason why Jesus came into this world was to bring salvation to a world that was lost in sin. Everything that Jesus said and did was directed toward the goal of demonstrating the fact that he had the power to bring new life to those who were dead in their sins.

    When Jesus healed people it was not just because he felt sorry for them and did not want to see them suffer. Every miracle that Jesus did was done so that people in everyplace and for all time would know that he was who he said he was. He was the Son of God who through his death and resurrection would take away the sins of the world and give eternal life to everyone who believed in him.

    There is one catch to all this. If you think that you have not sinned and do not need to be forgiven; or, if you think that you are basically a good person and that going to church once in awhile is enough, then I would suggest that you need to read the gospels and find out what Jesus actually said to the walking dead who thought that they did not need a savior.

    • Shelama

      Have you ever wondered why so many people, including those who believe that Jesus did exist (and including some who consider themselves to be Christian), did NOT actually heal anybody of true, physical ailments at all, or raise anyone from the dead?

      Have you ever wondered why, with the possible exception of James, the brother of Jesus (and thanks to Josephus), we don’t have a reliable clue as to when, why, where or how anybody who actually knew Jesus died? Or what they actually believed, other than, possibly, that Jesus was the Jewish messiah and had, in some sense, been resurrected as the first fruits of a general resurrection (an “end-time” event, btw) and was, in some sense, with his “Kingdom of God” vision and program, a manifestation of the Jewish God himself?

      Have you ever wondered why people don’t see any credible reason to conclude that those original followers died “for a story they knew was not true”? Whatever they believed, it’s probable they did believed it was true but, is there a good reason to conclude that what they believed is what is portrayed in Gospel narratives that appeared decades after Jesus was dead?

      Have you ever wondered why, given that the post-resurrection appearances would have been the most incredibly, astoundingly memorable events in all of human history, that the Gospels show no evidence of any such common memory? Have you ever wondered why or how there’s a reasonable chance that original Mark had only the empty tomb and no appearances at all? The various endings that are now appended to Mark seem, by a relatively strong consensus, to be later additions by another hand that include a pastiche of elements from the appearance stories of the other Gospels. Which, themselves, are all over the chart and show no evidence of a common memory of the most memorable events ever.

      There’s no doubt, and it’s a wonderful thing about the Bible, that there’s a lot of things to wonder about.

      • Erick

        No. Why would I wonder when none of us are God?

        No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Why would I take “absence of evidence” as proof over eyewitness Tradition?

        There are lots of people in the past who we have no proof of death for. It doesn’t mean they didn’t die, or that they didn’t die a horrible death. If that was the standard, then there are a lot of things we wouldn’t know simply because there was no video then or the printing press then or whatever technology then. It’s a fallacy to believe that eyewitness and word of mouth was ineffective in a time lacking technology considering that many indigenous cultures now use those practices accurately to preserve their records. It’s ineffective for us today for one simple reason… we don’t use and need it anymore.

        And finally no. It’s not about who got the details right, it’s about what details they got right. And those details are the same. Resurrection. Even Mark’s empty tomb ending implies it.

        • Shelama

          No doubt there was a belief in a resurrection (hard to see how Christianity could have been invented without it) but there’s little or no reason to believe it had anything to do with an empty tomb or the appearance of a walking, talking corpse.

          There could have been belief in a resurrection had Jesus died by Roman fire or Roman lies with nothing left to even bury.

          There could have been belief in a resurrection if the body of Jesus had rotted away on the cross as carrion meal for crows and dogs.

          Something interesting about the loved ones of fishermen and seamen who come to grief: not uncommon for them to “see” their dear, dead, departed walking about their New England towns after their deaths at sea. (see “The Perfect Storm” and “Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do During the Blizzard of 1978.”

          • Shelama

            …Roman fire or Roman LIONS with nothing left….

          • Erick

            But this post is not arguing about whether you should believe or not.

            The facts of the matter is that Christians do have evidential grounds to stand upon in their beliefs. I’m sure atheists also have evidential grounds of their own to stand upon in their beliefs. The afterlife will judge which side is true.

            I think what the trilemma is trying to show is that, with regards to Jesus, we are all faced with the very simple yes or no choice. We must follow him or we must not follow him. There is no middle ground for Jesus. That’s all it means.

          • Alan

            Erick – that isn’t at all what the Trilemma means. Of course it is true that you either follow Jesus or you don’t – it is also true you either follow Islam or you don’t, you either worship Vishnu or you don’t, you either like Diet Coke or your don’t. The Trilemma is setting up a false choice among the option that either Jesus was a liar, lunatic or lord – it ignores other possible options like the stories attributed to him being legend.

          • Erick

            Alan,

            I am not ignoring it. I am discounting it.

            Basically you are saying Leah’s last paragraph. You would have to claim that the Godhood claim is an innocent mistake by its Christian interpreters.

            You could make the case that you have a better interpretation, but the problem is your trustworthiness will always be handicapped by the fact that you as a person interpreting the evidence are about 2000 years disengaged from the culture in which these stories came from. The NT writers were only 20-100 years disengaged. The first councils were only 300 years disengaged. Your case will always be weaker, because they will always be closer to the culture, to the stories and its tellers, to the language, to all the context of the story THAN YOU.

            This is what I meant earlier by the chain of eyewitnesses (although the better word is probably interpreters). Catholics could be wrong in our interpretation, it’s true. But as a matter of evidence and understanding, who would someone trust more?

            You, 2000 years away. Or the councils, 300 years away?
            You, 2000 years away. Or the gospels, 50 years away?

            Your historical argument makes no sense to me, because your basic argument is that your interpretation of the past is better than the people who actually lived in the past.

            As an analogy, let’s take evolution. If we had access to a homo sapien 50 years removed from the point of the arising of homo sapiens, I would trust his account of evolution more than I would trust the account of a scientist today.

          • Alan

            But discounting it doesn’t remove it as an option – and frankly, you discounting carries no weight with me at all (nor for that matter does Lewis). Its not like Lewis, and you, don’t discount the possibility that Jesus truly was a lunatic but you manage to include that in the sophistry here.

            And despite your pleading I don’t have to claim that the Godhead claim was an innocent mistake – I can claim it was wishful thinking much the same way other sects deified their founders after they died, that only one of these sects managed to grow to such importance doesn’t change that.

            And no, my trustworthiness is no more hampered by 2000 years of distance than it would be for offering alternative explanations to any other faiths miracles or explanations for earthquakes – we can now definitely demonstrate the volcano did not erupt because the girl that was sacrificed wasn’t a virgin and time doesn’t challenge that at all. And of course we don’t have a person 50 years removed from the tales to trust today, we have legends written by and about people 50 years removed from the tales – if you had ever studied anything on the veracity of eyewitness testimony even when immediately following an event you wouldn’t hold up a trail of written records supposed, but unverified, of eyewitness testimony as anything particularly strong.

          • Erick

            Alan,

            ==Its not like Lewis, and you, don’t discount the possibility that Jesus truly was a lunatic but you manage to include that in the sophistry here.==

            Now you are just mangling words.

            I don’t discount lunacy (I won’t speak for Lewis even if I think we’re on the same track), because from the evidence available I consider arguments about lunacy to be an equal possibility to the argument for truth. Same with the liar argument.

            Whereas the argument for legend has much poorer evidence to stand on.

            ==And despite your pleading I don’t have to claim that the Godhead claim was an innocent mistake – I can claim it was wishful thinking ==

            And perhaps this is where your confusion about my argument is. If you claim that wishful thinking is not an innocent mistake, then it is a lie or a lunacy. If people lied or were crazy, then to me Jesus is no longer “a legend being claimed”. He is a lie/lunacy being claimed. Which puts us within Lewis’ trilemma.

            ==And no, my trustworthiness is no more hampered by 2000 years of distance==

            Again, if you don’t believe this, then give me the historical evidence that proves it. 2000 years of Church history upon which much of Western civilization’s historical knowledge is based is wrong according to you. Prove it. Where is your evidence. Historically, you don’t have one. And I have yet to see all these other proofs you say you have about the past that trumps the historical record.

            At this point, all you have is your own conjecture. Your own interpretation. Your own extrapolations based on some infallible scientific knowledge you claim you have that applies to everything with no exceptions.

            ==if you had ever studied anything on the veracity of eyewitness testimony==

            If you have ever been to India with the Agni ritual, where they have priests that pass on chants via word of mouth from one generation to another over and over and over accurately, you would understand why I believe in exceptions to your scientific rule.

            The knowledge has been passed on so accurately since before written language came to being in India, that some scholars think many of the unknown sounds made are from before humans had language… they think it’s the human equivalent of bird song. Check it out. Nat Geo. The Story of India.

  • James H, London

    The Christ Myth myth has been ably addressed here, by a Catholic:
    http://agentintellect.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/christ-myth-myth.html
    And here, by an atheist historian:
    http://armariummagnus.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/nailed-ten-christian-myths-that-show.html

    • Shelama

      The Christ Myth is not that Jesus of Nazareth was a myth but that this Jesus was “the Christ”.

      The Christ Myth is Christianity. The Christ Myth is the NT. It’s the Gospels. It’s the creation by literate intellectuals of a living, successful, divine Christian messiah from out of the Jewish life and Roman death of a failed, dead, mortal Jewish messiah. It’s a theological invention, created from the novel use of Hebrew scripture by people who believed or hoped that Jesus was the messiah and propelled by the belief that he had been resurrected.

      It’s the wholesale invention of a brand new and totally non-Jewish type of messiah. It was powerful and seductive for pagans ignorant of Hebrew scripture and messianism. It was a flop within Judaism and came to totally supplant whatever it was that Peter and James and the Jerusalem community of Jesus Jews – the people who actually had known Jesus – believed and lived and taught (only hinted at in Acts).

      The trilemma may be relevant to faith but it’s not relevant to reality.

      The Christ Myth is not the same as Jesus as myth and it’s more than just semantics.

      • J. H. M. Ortiz

        There’s probably a sense in which it’s true that belief that Jesus was the Messiah “was a flop within Judaism”. However, I daresay a qualification to this is afforded by two 20th-century Jews who expressed their conviction that Jesus was and is the Christ, the Messiah, even though neither ever requested or received Christian baptism:
        The French Philosopher Henri Bergson died in 1941. In his will (dated Feb. 8, 1937) he “declared that his reflections had led him ‘closer and closer to Catholicism, in which I see’ he said, ‘the complete fulfillment ["l'achèvement complet"] of Judaism’, and that he would have asked to be baptized had he not ‘wished to remain among those who tomorrow will be persecuted’. In conformity with the request expressed in the will, a Catholic priest came to pray over his mortal remains.” — Jacques Maritain, in his book Moral Philosophy, p. 423, note 1.
        The Austrian poet and novelist Franz Werfel (author of the novel The Song of Bernadette), who died in 1945, publicly expressed his conviction that the Catholic Church was true, though like Bergson, he had a hang-up about receiving baptism, apparently under the impression — false, I think, but understandable psychologically in view of the centuries-long persecution of Jews by knavishly imbecilic Christians — that for a Jew to get baptized was to betray his people. Even so, thru a dispensation by the bishop of Los Angeles, he was given a Catholic burial although unbaptized.

  • Rain

    “I prefer a critical effort to ascertain what can reasonably be posited on the basis of the available evidence. ”

    That, and crackers are flesh and wine is blood. After the necessary incantations and waving of hands of course. It’s all very reasonably ascertained.

  • Name

    About the trilemma applying to Jesus’ followers as well…
    I stumbled over this link today and it seemed relevant:
    http://lesswrong.com/lw/lr/evaporative_cooling_of_group_beliefs/
    Jesus had twelve apostles but not all of them are mentioned after his death. It’s possible that some of them simply stopped believing in him and the others went on to found Christianity. Although there are stories about what they did and how they died, I don’t think these are historically grounded, except for Peter and James, and even then there’s no corrobarating sources for the manner and reason of their deaths, or for most of their lives. I know you shouldn’t expect sources for most people, especially poor people, who lived in those times, but it does add a lot of doubt as to what actually happened back then.

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    I agree that the writings of the gospels are not legend-like writings. c.S. Lewis was in a much better place to defend that one than me, but I do agree that the LLL argument is too simple. I live in an reincarnation background. Many of Jesus’s words fit right in with the eastern mysticism. For example, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father but through me,” sounds very eastern. aka, if you see Jesus as the seed for enlightenment, the seed within each of us, then in this way, he is the only way. I am still a Christian, but I do see and understand that argument.

  • Erick

    @ smidoz, you said:

    ==Erik, the best possible interpretation is the question here,==

    No, the thread we were on dealt specifically with Ted’s point that using historical analysis, the atheist and Protestant positions on biblical interpretation are at a severe handicap compared to the Catholic position.

    ==even if you could prove the atheist wrong beyond any shadow of a doubt, doesn’t prove that what you are saying is anywhere near valid.==

    I think you are confusing something here. I have no intention of proving atheists wrong beyond any shadow of a doubt. They are entitled to follow Jesus or not. BUT,

    if atheists (and here is where Protestants also come in) intend to forward an interpretation of the bible that goes against Catholic/Orthodox/Coptic/Nestorian/ancient historical Church interpretation, then actual historical analysis is not their friend.

    Contrary to popular opinion, even with the gnostic gospels, there is a considerable lack in the historical record of works claiming atheistic interpretations of the bible as merely legend mistakenly formed from bad interpretation.

    It might be true that biblical writers were already secondary and tertiary sources in their time and the councils even further back. But any atheistic scholarship on the matter is even further back than that. So again, do I trust a secondary source more? or do I trust the atheist’s exponentially further back source?

    == If you think it’s good enough to say catholicism is better than atheism then that’s your laziness,==

    You’re right that I do believe this, but I wouldn’t call it laziness. It’s been well thought out. The Catholic position, while I consider best, certainly has its own gaps and weaknesses. I’m merely stating that analysis of the historical record is not one of those gaps/weaknesses.

  • Rain

    @Erick “Jesus’ claims are so non-Jewish that if he was a legend about a fictional figure, he could not have appeared from a Jewish environment (which negates the whole fictional legend idea).”

    Pretty neat and tidy negation there. It would require that Jews would be so utterly devoid of all imagination that they couldn’t think up anything that is “so non- Jewish”, whatever that is, and for whatever reason they would never do that. Good job I guess. You’re such a totally impartial intellectual.

    • Erick

      ==Pretty neat and tidy negation there. It would require that Jews would be so utterly devoid of all imagination that they couldn’t think up anything that is “so non- Jewish”, whatever that is, and for whatever reason they would never do that. ==

      Rain, stop being lazy and actually read the entire argument.

      What argument is NOT:
      1. Jesus must be historical figure.
      2. Jesus cannot be fictional.
      3. Jew talking about non-Jewish things are impossible.

      What argument IS:
      1. Jew talking about non-Jewish things is not a morally reliable guru to audience of first century.
      2. Jew talking about non-Jewish things is not innocent or simple mistake.
      3. Jew talking about non-Jewish things is not misinterpretation of New Testament.

      It’s an argument for Lewis’ trilemma, not proof for Christianity’s truth.

  • Rain

    A couple of corrections to my comments:

    “utterly devoid of all imagination and intellect” and “such a totally objective intellectual capable of the slightest amount of abstract thought”.

    Sorry for the corrections. (Was typing too fast.)

  • Noe

    I think anyone chasing the di/tri/quadrilemma should read Brazier’s “‘God…or a bad, or mad, man’: C.S. Lewis’ Argument for Christ – a Systematic Theological, Historical and Philosophical Analaysis of ‘Aut Deus Aut Malus Homo”;
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2265.2010.00625.x/abstract
    Maybe also his “CS Lewis & Christological Prefigurement” and “Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth”, on Pullman, Lewis and others.
    Also Boyd and Eddy’s “Jesus Legend”. Even Ehrman had doubts about the simplistic ‘myth’ dimissal of the Gospels in his defense of the historicity of Jesus.

  • lackinininsight

    I like arguments that challenge my understanding, because that understanding too frequently keeps me from the Truth. If I lose myself in thoughts of Jesus that do not lead to Him, I am encaged in the retelling of a legend.

  • http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/ Robert Oerter

    “Claiming to be God and to have the power to personally forgive sins on behalf of others is more than just a charming eccentricity like handing out lemon drops at odd moments.”

    Coming late to the discussion here, but I think it’s worth pointing out that Biblical scholars agree that Jesus did NOT claim to be God, and that forgiving sins doesn’t imply divinity in 1st century Judaism. On the latter point, there is a passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q 242) where a Jewish exorcist claims to be able to forgive sins. For further discussion see
    http://mysite.verizon.net/vze12av71/id6.html

    • Erick

      It’s far from a consensus that Jesus did not claim to be God. Indeed, many of the biblical scholars who say this agree that they fly in the face of centuries of near unanimous scholarship that states Jesus did claim to be God.

      Further, the translation of that Dead Sea Scroll passage you mention is NOT agreed upon. There is at least one other translation stating God forgave the sin with no mention of a Jewish exorcist. And the reason for this uncertainty is simple. The scroll is fragmentary; the words extremely difficult to decypher.

  • J. H. M. Ortiz

    Perhaps it can be said that before his resurrection, Jesus did not explicitly claim to his *disciples* to be God. “I and the Father are one”, is to me not in itself a definitive claim, since in the same breath he prays that his disciples be one, where he does not mean to pray that they may have in common one individual nature.
    But to *enemies* of his, he claimed, “Yes, yes, I tell you: PRIN ABRAHAM GENESTHAI, EGŌ EIMI.” “Before Abraham’s coming-to-be, I am.” And they picked up stones in a gesture expressing that he deserved death by stoning for blasphemously claimimg to be God. (As I remember reading somewhere, falsely claiming to be the Messiah, altho punishable in Jewish law, did not carry the death penalty, whereas public blasphemy did.)

  • Nicole Urgo

    But mad men can sometimes say wise and insightful things. So I think it can make sense to believe in Jesus’ moral wisdom and not believe in the theological stuff at the same time. Mad men are not one dimensional characters.

  • Pingback: Google

  • Pingback: *ALL NEW!* Systematic Six Figures Formula - MASTER RESALE RIGHTS INCLUDED!! - InstantDownloadNow

  • Pingback: самолеты огонь и вода онлайн

  • Pingback: picture fram

  • Pingback: fifa 15 easy trading method

  • Pingback: enso Strom

  • Pingback: gold plated jewellery wholesale

  • Pingback: Australian shepherd puppies Arizona

  • Pingback: male waxing

  • Pingback: cleaning companies

  • Pingback: Professional DJ Jacksonville NC

  • Pingback: male strippers melbourne

  • Pingback: http://www.adsbeta.net/uHFGY

  • Pingback: garage door repair

  • Pingback: HITRUST

  • Pingback: Formation

  • Pingback: dried food storage

  • Pingback: free

  • Pingback: bathroom remodel Los Angeles

  • Pingback: news updates

  • Pingback: make money online surveys

  • Pingback: Pinganillo

  • Pingback: travel

  • Pingback: commercial window cleaning perth

  • Pingback: how to loose weight

  • Pingback: vinyl car wraps perth


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X