Christian Historical Claims Are Surprisingly Fragile: a Case Study

Christian Historical Claims Are Surprisingly Fragile: a Case Study January 15, 2019

weak christian historical claims

I’d like to investigate a Christian claim that’s both trivial and profound and that delivers an important takeaway for all of us.

The claim

The claim is the mid-second century conversation between Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Roman proconsul (governor) of Asia, the Roman province in what is now western Turkey. Polycarp was apparently charged with refusing to honor Caesar as a god. Though he was treated with respect and encouraged that stating a simple oath to Caesar would avoid death as punishment, Polycarp refused and famously said, “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

This is trivial in that nothing of significance changes whether Polycarp said this or not. A Christian saint expresses great loyalty to Jesus—where’s the problem? Can’t we let the Christians have their heroes?

Why this is interesting

I recently listened to a lecture that included this story, and the Christian presenters commented how powerful this story was to them. That got me thinking: how do we know that the story of Polycarp’s martyrdom is accurate? More importantly, how can we trust hundreds of claims made about the early church?

I’ve recently explored the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts on which our modern copies rely (here, here). We’re now turning to the question of the reliability of stories documented outside the New Testament. Checking the weaknesses in the Polycarp martyrdom story is the goal of this post, but we would go through a similar process with any other story from the early church.

I hope that this post will do two things. First, I want to suggest by example some approaches with which you might test other church claims as you come across them. Second, I want to encourage you to be skeptical when claims about the early church are made. These claims are often part of apologetic arguments for Christianity, but those arguments are no stronger than their claims. Taking the supporting claims on faith won’t do.

Does the story hold up?

The story comes from The Martyrdom of Polycarp, a letter written by an unknown author from the church in Smyrna. Our first concern with the reliability of the story comes from the miracle claims in the story itself. When Polycarp was thrown on the fire, “he was within it not as burning flesh, but as bread that is being baked, or as gold and silver being refined in a furnace. And we perceived such a fragrant smell as the scent of incense or other costly spices.” Since he wouldn’t die, the executioner stabbed him, which released his spirit as a dove and enough blood to put out the fire, and still his body wasn’t burned.

The faithful statement of loyalty, “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong,” is by itself easy to believe, but it’s part of a story containing miracles. The challenge to show that the entire story is history (or that a non-supernatural, historical core was corrupted by miracle claims) just got much tougher.

Problem 2

Next, the story parallels Jesus’s Passion narrative. Polycarp was betrayed, and the author wished that “they who betrayed him should undergo the same punishment as Judas.” Like Jesus and Pilate, Polycarp was publicly tried by the local Roman high official. In both cases, that official looked for a way to avoid the punishment of death. The Jews in the crowd were opponents to both Jesus (Matthew 27:25) and Polycarp. Polycarp was affixed to a wooden apparatus, to which the victim was typically nailed. With so many parallels, plus many direct quotations, one wonders how much is history and how much fan fiction.

Problem 3

We don’t know the time gap from the death until the letter was written (Polycarp is variously said to have been martyred in 155 or 156 CE or in 166 or 167). Oral history is no friend of accuracy, and the letter has clues that it was written decades after the event. It makes a clear statement against voluntary martyrdom, though this wasn’t a problem in the church until the late second century. The letter also cautions against venerating human remains as relics (not a problem until the third century) and worshipping martyrs over Christ (not a problem until the fourth century). People don’t usually warn against something that’s not a problem, so the date of authorship is arguably during a period when those issues were problems. (Sources here, here.)

We’ll finish up in part 2 with two more problems with the Polycarp claim. As we move through these issues, imagine applying these questions more broadly. Imagine applying them to other claims about the early church. These might be the claim about Pliny the Younger’s correspondence with the Emperor Trajan about the Christians in his province, for example. Or the popular claim that all disciples except for John died martyr’s deaths.

A skeptical approach and a few good questions can expose the weak foundation in many such claims.

Concluded in part 2.

Atheism must be accounted
among the most serious problems of this age.
— “Joy and Hope,”
one of the four constitutions
from the Second Vatican Council, 1965

.

Image from Wikimedia, public domain

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Another great post Bob. I expect no less. 🙂 H

  • otrame

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh38ygMiY5I
    This series on YouTube discusses the question of how the disciples died in some detail. ProfMTH has not made videos in some years, probably because he just got too busy. He was a Catholic who became an atheist. His approach was often pretty legalistic, but then he was trained both as a Catholic and as a lawyer. He was also pretty damned funny sometimes. This series, and his “Jesus was not the Messiah” series are great, but my favorite of his series is “The book of Job”. Highly recommended.

    • Greg G.

      I followed Mitch when he was active. I second the recommendation.

    • skl

      If the author can show the resurrection didn’t happen, he’ll really have something.

      • sandy

        Hey Christian skl, why do you christians always assume the Jesus story is a real story without any evidence to back it up? Now if you could do that, you’d really have something.

        • eric

          He’s not Christian! He’s merely a skeptic that spends his days on the internet defending Christian miracle claims but no other miracle claims against nonbelievers because…look, squirrel!

        • sandy

          I know. I say that because he likes to pretend he’s not a christian. We all know he’s here for entertainment and is a christian troll imo.

        • skl

          Yes, they obviously have something. At least enough to keep
          them going for the last 2,000 years.

        • Greg G.

          They have also been fooled by “Jesus is coming any minute now” for 2000 years, too. They are gullible.

        • So … Christianity is true for the same reason that Buddhism and Hinduism are true?

          Sounds confusing.

        • Steven Watson

          You’ll not be surprised that Jesus has been a Hindu god for at least a century. Avatar of Krishna apparently. Unsuprising really: their myths are very similar and all Hindu gods are one another dreaming each other and the world. Nice people but mad as a box of frogs.

        • skl

          What would be confusing is treating the truth claims of the
          three as the same.

          Perhaps you’ll do a series debunking the gods of Buddhism
          and Hinduism, if they have such.

        • Let’s stay on the subject. You’re saying that being in existence for 2000 years, like Hinduism and Buddhism, is important evidence for the truth of those religions.

        • skl

          You’re saying that being in existence for 2000 years, like Hinduism and Buddhism, is important evidence for the truth of those religions.

          No. I’m saying what I said – They obviously have something. At least enough to keep them going for the last 2,000 years.

        • Yeah, I got it. Hinduism and Buddhism obviously have something.

        • LastManOnEarth

          They’re got The Beat.

        • LastManOnEarth

          1 billion Hindus can’t be wrong.

          5000 years, bitch.

        • Rudy R

          And they’ve been wrong for over 2000 years.

        • Pofarmer

          Heah, Hindu’s have been going for longer. The cults of Egypt lasted for well over 3000 years. So what?

      • Greg G.

        I have provided a lot of evidence that the Jesus character is an invention on more than one level. No Jesus, no resurrection.

        • skl

          And if you can show the resurrection didn’t happen, you will really have something.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Why don’t you explain just how someone would go about doing such a thing.

        • skl

          I don’t know how. But it must be really hard, because no one has done it yet.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Well, no shit. Maybe because it’s impossible?

          Get back to us when you figure it out.

        • skl

          Maybe Bob S. is chasing the impossible dream.

        • And I would do that … for what reason?

        • skl

          And I would do that … for what reason?

          All I’ll say is that you are doing it.

        • Where did I claim to prove no resurrection?

        • skl

          Where did I claim to prove no resurrection?

          I don’t think you did.

          I think it’s a proof you only dream about.
          An impossible dream.

        • Wrong again. Proving no resurrection is not something I dream about. Maybe speculation isn’t something you do well. Stick with the facts.

        • Who would bother? It’s just a shiny thing that toss out hoping that we’ll go running off and stop shining a spotlight on Christianities enormous oozing embarrassments. Yeah, I know it’s rude to point out these errors, but someone has to do it. You’re certainly not.

        • Steven Watson

          I suggest you read Paul, he makes it quite clear he and all the other apostles were going off ‘visions’ and ‘scripture’ mining. This was probably over two centuries BEFORE the ‘Gospels’ show up.

        • Greg G.

          Even Paul’s revelations appear to be scripture mining. His vision may have been a dream or a waking dream.

        • Steven Watson

          He was probably schizotypal. I think it is about 10% of the population that is prone to, and will a some point manifest, visual or auditory hallucinations. I’ve had them myself, they are indistinguishable from reality. The difference is I know most of the time they are anomalous. I do agree with you though about dreams: I’m pretty sure I’ve incorporated some in memory.

          edit: gods are a normal part of reality: an interior rather than exterior reality, confined to the individual but interpreted through their culture, but a reality nonetheless.

        • Greg G.

          When I was 13 or 14, I was feeling sad one day and didn’t know why. Then a kid rode by on his bicycle, which shocked be because I realized that I had dreamed he was killed by a car while riding that very bike. I cheered right up.

        • Steven Watson

          Dream memories contribute to my chronic depression. That is something I’ve only come to realise in the last 18 months or so.

        • Pofarmer

          So, what’s the chance that the writings of Paul are much earlier than what is generally accepted? I mean, Herod’s court existed for a long time. Isn’t the main way Paul is dated by back dating it off the Gospels mention of Pontius Pilate?

        • Greg G.

          So, what’s the chance that the writings of Paul are much earlier than what is generally accepted? I mean, Herod’s court existed for a long time. Isn’t the main way Paul is dated by back dating it off the Gospels mention of Pontius Pilate?

          That is probably so. 2 Corinthians has a reference to King Aretas. Aretas IV was king of the Nabateans from about 9 BC to 40 AD, which is about the least specific person to be able to date from. But there were two earlier King Aretas’s. Steven Watson had pointed those two out, but in the past few days, he claimed that Aretas IV did not rule Damascus while Aretas III (I think he said) did. I haven’t tried to verify that yet.

          Mark only mentions the name “Pilate” which is what he is called in “Jewish Wars”. The other gospels say “Pilate” where they parallel Mark but Luke calls him “Pontius Pilate” in a unique passage that mentions several names from “Antiquities of the Jews” which also gives his first name.

        • eric

          It is both as hard and as easy as proving monkeys didn’t just fly out my butt. If you’re going to require eyewitness testimony to disprove it and accept nothing less, then it’s really hard to disprove. OTOH if ‘prove’ includes accepting that general empirical knowledge of human biology and anatomy applies to miracle claims, it’s really easy to say with confidence that it didn’t happen.

          So…do you think we should apply what we know about human biology and anatomy to miracle claims?

        • Though skl has his own special view of reality, but in the reality that most of us share, there’s proven false, proven true, and the middle ground. Since we’re not proving anything either way with Jesus, he wants to pretend that he can seize the middle ground for whatever position is his.

          No, it doesn’t work that way.

        • skl

          OTOH if ‘prove’ includes accepting that general empirical knowledge of human biology and anatomy applies to miracle claims, it’s really easy to say with confidence that it didn’t happen.
          So…do you think we should apply what we know about human biology and anatomy to miracle claims?

          That’s a non-starter. Christianity is based, and always has been
          based, entirely on “miracle claims.”

        • eric

          Does this mean
          (a) you don’t think we should apply what we know of human biology and anatomy to any miracle claims, or
          (b) you don’t think we should apply what we know of human biology and anatomy to Christian miracle claims, but we should apply it to others.

          And yes, I do remember that your non-Christian skeptical self is only interested in defending Christian miracle claims. I get that discussing the miracles of any other faith doesn’t interest your non-Christian self. Yet this does not prevent you from telling us whether your position on the subject is (a) or (b).

        • skl

          Does this mean
          (a) you don’t think we should apply what we know of human biology and anatomy to any miracle claims, or
          (b) you don’t think we should apply what we know of human biology and anatomy to Christian miracle claims, but we should apply it
          to others.

          It means they have always applied what we know of human biology and anatomy to the claims. That’s why they
          consider them extraordinary (i.e. miracles).

        • eric

          First, you’re dodging again. I said ‘if we include accepting general biological knowledge…” and you said “that’s a non-starter…” So answer the simple question: do you only consider it a non-starter for Christianity, or do you consider it a non-starter for miracle claims of other faiths too?

          Second, we were not discussing whether faithful believers believe it was a miracle, we were talking about whether people, as a general reasoning strategy, should consider background knowledge when evaluating whether a claim is sufficiently disproven. Should humans in general apply their general knowledge of human biology to deciding whether my ‘monkeys fly out of my butt’ claim? Consider this a form of the ‘outsider test of knowledge’ question. A monkeybuttian may reject the notion that the claim is disproven with high confidence based on our understanding of biology, but should everyone else reject it as insufficiently disproven too? Likewise a Christian resurrection claim – yeah sure a Christian, who has a prior commitment to the doctrine, might say the biology stuff doesn’t prove anything. But should anyone else reject it as insufficiently disproven?

        • skl

          So answer the simple question: do you only consider it a non-starter for Christianity, or do you consider it a non-starter for miracle claims of other faiths too?

          It’s a non-starter for any faiths founded on miracles.

          As to your second paragraph, I think even monkeybuttians,
          if there are any, and the billions of Christians today would agree that their claims are “sufficiently disproven” by our understanding of biology.

        • eric

          It’s a non-starter for any faiths founded on miracles.

          Then how can you claim monkeybuttianism is wrong? You can’t cite understanding of biology for miracle claim A if you claim it’s illegitimate to cite for miracle claim B. And your answer above directly supports that.

          You seem to want to have your cake and eat it too; claim you’re not giving Christian miracle claims any exceptional treatment, while actually giving them exceptional treatment.

        • skl

          Again, I think even monkeybuttians, if there are any, and
          the billions of Christians today would agree that their claims are “sufficiently disproven” by our understanding of biology. That is, they agree that monkeys rising from butts and people rising from graves violate our experience and our understanding of biology.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Apparently there is a lady living in a lake somewhere in possession of a magic sword. True dat…it’s written in books…prove me wrong. //s

        • eric

          Ah, but remember, skl is the professed non-Christian who is only interested in defending Christian miracle claims. I’m sure it’s purely coincidence.

        • Well, yeah. Only Christian miracle claims are so danged compelling.

        • TheNuszAbides

          monkeybuttian

          please accept this shiny Internet in recognition of your coinage.

        • Otto

          So what’s your point?

        • Ignorant Amos

          It never happened, it’s a story in a book…demonstrate I’m wrong.

        • Dus10

          Prove to me Joseph Smith wasn’t visited by Angel’s, or Mohammed didn’t fly to heaven on a horse, or Peter parker wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. Betcha cant. So according to your logic I should totally believe these things are real.

        • Say it with me: “burden of proof.”

        • skl

          Say it with me: “burden of proof.”

          Maybe in a court of law.

        • Maybe outside as well.

        • skl

          Maybe you mean “outside” as “in science.”
          But science doesn’t offer proofs.

        • Changing the subject again? Obnoxious.

          The null hypothesis is what we start with. In our case, the null hypothesis are things like “the resurrection didn’t happen” or “the supernatural doesn’t exist.” You can move us off that position, but that means meeting your burden of proof.

          Hard subject? I’m glad you came to us. We can help.

        • skl

          That null hypothesis is nil. At least for Christians. Christianity is based, and always has been based, entirely on “the
          resurrection” and “the supernatural”.

        • Otto

          Christianity is based, and always has been based, entirely on “the
          resurrection” and “the supernatural”
          unverifiable bullshit.

        • al kimeea

          xianity offers nothing at all…

        • Neither does a court of law.

        • skl
        • What’s the link for? Does it show that a court of law offers proofs?

          Citation needed. Again.

        • skl

          Maybe I misread the Cornell law contents. Must have said ‘burden of poof’.

        • Correct. Which was not the topic.

        • skl

          Right. I guess when you said “Say it with me: “burden of proof””
          you meant ‘burden of poof.’

        • You said, “But science doesn’t offer proofs.”

          And then I replied, “Neither does a court of law.”

          That’s why doubling down on a reference to burden of proof makes you look duplicitous.

        • Ignorant Amos

          “Stupid is as stupid does” ~Forrest Gump

        • skl

          That’s why doubling down on a reference to burden of proof makes you look duplicitous.

          Looks can be deceiving.

          See you later.

        • ildi

          Looks can be deceiving.

          Well, then, maybe you should think about why you come across as duplicitous and disingenuous… does it make you feel closer to your BFF Yahweh/Jesus?

        • Susan

          Looks can be deceiving.

          Not in your case.

          See you later.

          Never would be too soon.

        • skl

          You’re still following me!

          See me later.

        • ildi

          Nobody is following you, my duck
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMqa-pB-_Pc

        • Ignorant Amos

          You wrote “proofs” ya dickhead.

        • Herald Newman

          Even if we could invent a time machine that can go back to the first century and witness exactly what happened to Jesus’ body, and show that there was no bodily resurrection, at best this would cause Christians to change their claim about the resurrection. This is assuming that they even accept the evidence.

          It seems much more likely to me that even if somebody could disprove the resurrection I doubt that it would do much of anything Christianity. The reason is simple: Evidence didn’t bring people into Christianity, and I doubt that evidence would cause them to leave.

        • skl

          It seems much more likely to me that even if somebody could disprove the resurrection I doubt that it
          would do much of anything to Christianity.

          At least it would get rid of “Pauline Christianity” (e.g. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
          if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
          – from 1 Corinthians 15).

        • Rizdek

          And just like that, Paul would become a heretic and in a few decades folks would wonder why anyone ever believed that crank to begin with. I mean, look at the story…he sees a bright light on the road to Damascus? Who’s gonna believe something like that. The name Dum as cus even sounds made up. And look how he contradicted and argued with Christ’s real apostles. Whole books would be written explaining why those Pauline Christians were all wrong.

        • Greg G.

          I mean, look at the story…he sees a bright light on the road to Damascus? Who’s gonna believe something like that.

          That story comes from Acts, repeated three times. In Acts 9, Paul’s companions heard the voice but in Acts 22, they did not hear it. (Translations blur the meaning but both passages use the same word translated as “voice”, “sound”, or “noise” and the same root word translated as “hear” or “understand”.

          In Acts 26, Paul is testifying in Agrippa’s court, presumably speaking Aramaic or Hebrew, quoting Jesus as speaking Aramaic who was quoting a Greek idiom spoken by the Greek god Dionysus in The Bacchae, by Euripides.

          There is a pattern in there. Peter had a vision and told it three times: Acts 10:9-16, Acts 10:28-29, and Acts 11:4-11. Paul has a vision and tells it three times: Acts 9:1-8, Acts 22:17-21, and Acts 26:12-18. The patterns of parallels like that between Jesus, Peter, and Paul are unbelievable, literally.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Eureka!

          Acts 9 and 22 are sneakily describing the intervention of a babel fish without invoking it!

        • Ignorant Amos

          You do know that the Resurrection is inferred, right? There is no actual account of the Resurrection in the NT.

      • larry parker

        The people claiming a resurrection have the burden of proof. They have failed for thousands of years.

      • eric

        …because disproving a resurrection claim is where the burden of proof should lie [/eyeroll]

      • Doubting Thomas

        “Hey guys. I infiltrated that atheist web site and I think I’ve got them convinced that I’m not a Christian. Quick question….What does it mean when they keep repeating the phrase ‘Burden of Proof?'”

        • Michael Neville

          Burden of proof is determining the percentage of alcohol in a particular liquor.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I’ve been overburdened with proof before. It gives me quite a headache the next day.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I’m fortunate, in that I suffer not from such overburdening.

        • Doubting Thomas

          In the sense that you choose not to overburden yourself or that you suffer no ill effects when you do? Because the latter would be impressive.

        • Ignorant Amos

          The later…I used to suffer the after effects in my yonder years, but these days I can drink myself paralytic and suffer not…or very little…the next day. Not having to go to work the next morning helps when I really tie one on though.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I don’t have to go to work either and it still puts me down when I overindulge. I guess I need to practice more….

        • epeeist

          Complete aside, I was lying in bed listening to the Sunday Programme yesterday. They had a compatriot of yours on, John Lennox. He was moaning about the fact that he was taken aside when he tried to proselytise at a scientific meeting.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Aye…I cringe when I hear him….Alistair McGrath is another that gets my goat up.

      • ildi
      • Len

        Whose resurrection? There are many myths which include a resurrection of one of the main characters. Would you like to show that one of them didn’t happen? Pick one.

        • skl

          Whose resurrection? There are many myths
          which include a resurrection of one of the main characters. Would you like to show that one of them didn’t happen? Pick one.

          Bob S. could pick one. And then write article after article
          about it. Might be a nice change, a breath of fresh air.

          (Maybe you could even pick one for him. Ideally, one that many people today are interested in, and maybe even believe in.)

        • Ignorant Amos

          Ideally, one that many people today are interested in, and maybe even believe in.

          Why should that make a difference if they are all a loada made up ballix?

        • Len

          No, I want you to pick one and prove it didn’t happen. Then we might talk about disproving the Jesus resurrection.

          Or of course, you could just STFU.

        • skl

          Show me your list (“There are many myths which include a resurrection of one of the main characters.”) and I’ll pick one.

        • Len

          Let’s see,
          Attis
          Buddiah
          Dionysus
          Krishna
          Mithras
          Osiris
          Tammuz

          Some were only resurrected temporarily (eg, after descending to hell before ascending to heaven – a bit like Jesus in the gospel of Nicodemus).

          Do I believe any of these stories? No. But they indicate that the Jesus resurrection story is just one of many to have developed over the years. And as the Jesus story was later than many of these, it had to at least include the same super powers to be seen as having a chance.

          But the best option (as I mentioned before) is to just STFU 🙂

        • skl

          OK. I pick Tammuz.

          Bob S. can now write article after article against the resurrection of Tammuz. As I said, it might be a nice change, a breath of fresh air.

        • Rudy R

          And how again is Tammuz negatively affecting the current Western culture? Last I checked, the religious dogma surrounding the worship of Tammuz was not infringing on anyone’s civil rights.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Or how about YOU disprove it? It was what you agreed to when Len said:

          No, I want you to pick one and prove it didn’t happen.

          Or maybe you realize the idiocy of trying to disprove something like that? If not, then at least admit the idiocy of asking someone else to do it? Or just keep being an idiot.

          I’m guessing you’ll go with the latter choice.

        • skl

          Or how about YOU disprove it?

          I already told you: “I don’t know how.
          But it must be really hard, because no one has done it yet.”

          I just said I’d pick a name from the list, and I did.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Nice. As if we needed any more of a reason to think you’re a disingenuous little shit.

        • Len

          Ah yes. Reading and comprehension never were your strong points.

        • Tammuz? Cool! Thanks for shouldering the burden of evidence.

          OK–go ahead and prove to us that Tammuz didn’t rise from the dead.

        • skl

          No call for proofs. They’d be impossible. Just a call for an article or twelve by you about Tammuz’s resurrection.

        • Nope. Do one yourself.

        • Pofarmer

          If you guys are interested, Tim and Neil over at Vridar.org have been tearing it up on this subject lately. They have a couple of really good posts on atonement theology and Martyrdom in Jewish writings, for instance.

        • ildi
        • I’ve written about the dying-and-rising story of Dionysus. Search for it.

        • skl

          The call is for Tammuz.

        • You were challenged: ” There are many myths which include a resurrection of one of the main characters. Would you like to show that one of them didn’t happen? Pick one.”

          You picked Tammuz. Go.

        • Rudy R

          skl is pulling a Rudy Giuliani.

        • skl

          You picked Tammuz. Go.

          I’ll go comment after you go publish your Tammuz resurrection articles.

        • Thanks for the homework assignment. Fuck you.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Just to let ya know, skl is that sort of arsehole everywhere I’ve seen him comment. He claims to be a non-believer, which most doubt given his track record…but if he is, all that demonstrates is that some atheists can be absolute dickheads too.

        • Good to know. I get to a small fraction of the interesting sites out there.

          It takes all kinds, I guess, and our little guy fills an unusual niche. When I think of how far he’s come–from inquiring little boy to passive-aggressive asshole–I get a little … choked up. Sorry …

      • Ignorant Amos

        Yeah…but everyone here other than you, seems to know that isn’t how it works…ya dopey Dime Bar.

      • Rudy R

        Why don’t you float that bit of nonsense over at The Secular Outpost?

    • I don’t think I’ve heard of this guy. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Greg G.

    Or the popular claim that all disciples except for John died martyr’s deaths.

    I am most interested in the apostles who suffered three and four martyr’s deaths.

    • Now that’s a miracle!

    • aCultureWarrior

      Matthew suffered martyrdom by being slain with a sword at a distant city of Ethiopia.
      Mark expired at Alexandria, after being cruelly dragged through the streets of that city.
      Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in the classic land of Greece.
      John was put in a caldron of boiling oil, but escaped death in a miraculous manner, and was afterward banished to Patmos.
      Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward.
      James, the Greater, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
      James, the Less, was thrown from a lofty pinnacle of the temple, and then beaten to death with a fuller’s club.
      Bartholomew was flayed alive.
      Andrew was bound to a cross, whence he preached to his persecutors until he died.
      Thomas was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel in the East Indies.
      Jude was shot to death with arrows.
      Matthais was first stoned and then beheaded.
      Barnabas of the Gentiles was stoned to death at Salonica.
      Paul, after various tortures and persecutions, was at length beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero.

      I know, “Lies! All lies!”, right Gregory?

    • TheNuszAbides

      Third time’s a charm, but four resonates with the seasons the gospels classical elementalism!

      • Greg G.

        Judas Iscariot died by suicidal hanging according to Matthew, died by tripping in Acts, died after being run over by a chariot according to another source, and was stoned to death according to another source.

        Simon the Zealot died by crucifixion in Britain, then died by crucifixion in Samaria, and was sawn in half in Persia. Or maybe he was sawn in half first, then crucified in the other two places. Yeah, that makes more sense. A tradition also claims he died peacefully at Edessa.

  • Polytropos

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And when we have a story with some extraordinary claims in it, the story’s more ordinary elements are called into question as well. There’s no reason to simply take it for granted that stories like Polycarp’s must be based around a grain of truth. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t; the intellectually honest approach is to be skeptical.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      And even if there is a grain, the “truth” may not at all resemble the final outcome. I mean, pretty much every piece of fiction draws on reality in some way or another.

      • Polytropos

        Absolutely. When it comes to religious claims I don’t think it makes much difference if there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere. Fiction loosely based on a real person or event is still fiction.

  • ephemerol

    I was raised in a christian sect, and in my upbringing, I recall all sorts of claims being made by my father, among other church people, which I later realized were dubious if not ridiculous.

    One such claim was that the Nimrod of the bible married a whore named Semiramis, and then told everyone she was some kind of virgin, and then they have a son and found the Babylonian empire. Then Nimrod dies, and on his grave she plants an evergreen tree, and when it sprouts she tells everyone that this is Nimrod reborn, which is the original pagan mystery religion. Later when the boy is of age, Semiramis enters into an incestuous relationship with him, just to put the cherry on top of the christian’s pagan-shit-sundae. This then serves as the explanation for the basis of every pagan religion, a counterfeit madonna and child concocted in advance by “Satan” to throw everyone off the scent of the real virgin birth , and the tree, is the pagan basis for the christmas tree. Of course, most of this was made up by Alexander Hislop in the 19th century by mishmashing together a bunch of superficial glosses on ancient mythologies. He certainly didn’t get it by researching ancient near-eastern texts. I mean, Semiramis wasn’t even Babylonian! Then we projected a few of our own “corrections” onto his story. But why was some guy making stuff up in the 19th century given so much creedence in my church? Because we wanted what he said to be true, and that was enough.

    Interestingly enough, one of the scholars who has taken to the time to refute Hislop is Lester Grabbe. I remember Lester Grabbe and his family from when I was a small child. They were friends of my parents and members of the church before he left and became an actual scholar at the University of Hull. I wonder if the reason why this was a topic that he took the time to debunk is because he used to belong to a church in which Hislop was touted as truth?

    Another such claim was that Simon Magus, the “sorcerer” denounced by Peter in the book of Acts met his death in Rome when he and Peter were having some sort of spiritual duel. Simon Magus, through his Satanic sorcery levitated and started flying around, and when Peter prayed to the real god, the demons carrying him aloft were rebuked I suppose, and he wound up falling. Well, that doesn’t appear in the bible. Turns out that comes from the apocryphal “Acts of Peter.” We didn’t trust any apocryphal works as being reliable for doctrine, but if you want to add a little color to your bible stories, then suddenly they’re totes reliable? Apparently, yes.

    We did this with all kinds of things. It doesn’t matter if your beliefs are fragile, with zero basis, as long as they’re stories that make you feel good.

    • Fascinating tangents, thanks.

    • I Came To Bring The Paine

      We would call of this ‘fan fiction’ – which is what all the gospels and acts are.

      • ephemerol

        The same process by which my father convinced himself these things were true is also the process by which he convinces himself that things Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Donald Drumpf, and Fucks News spout are true. He wants them to be true, so that means they must be. If he hears it and he likes either the source or the content, then no further scrutiny is either required or desired.

        • On the flip side my mother in law believed a story by the Onion that Mike Pence wouldn’t sit next to an Aunt Jemima syrup bottle because it wasn’t his wife. We pointed out that the story was farcical from the Oniin which is farcical. She still insisted it was true. People believe what they want to believe.

        • Greg G.

          But… but… but… it is easy for a man with lackanookie disease to commit adultery in his heart over a bottle with boobs.

        • Ficino

          These days the Onion is being pushed farther and farther to dream up fictional scenarios, what with the shit happening in reality.

        • So true.

        • epicurus

          The onionization of real life, or at least politics.

      • Michael Cramer
  • Lex Lata

    Strictly speaking, plenty of historical claims are surprisingly fragile. There’s no contemporary account that has Caesar declaring, “Alea iacta est,” when he brought his forces across the Rubicon (even in Caesar’s own writings). Napoleon was of average height for the time. Stories of widespread panic caused by the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds were, as far as we can tell, just hype.

    Practicing historians–especially those who study antiquity–acknowledge they’re engaged in a probabilistic and provisional endeavor that requires skepticism, caution, qualifiers, and as much corrroboration as possible, whether from documents, archaeology, philology, genetics, etc. And it’s not a binary, all-or-nothing exercise. Accepting certain aspects of Herodotus’ history of the Persian Wars doesn’t require us to accept his account of the gods intervening to preserve Delphi from the invaders.

    • epicurus

      What you’ve just said is what many apologists ignore when they go on about how people are critical of early church and New Testament writing but not other material from the same time or earlier.

      • Lex Lata

        Yeah, I remember one apologist commenter here who claimed that no-one disputed the narratives of Homer. Which is wrong on sooo many levels.

        Practically by default, apologists have to ignore many key aspects of historiography. There’s no intellectually rigorous and consistent way, for example, to argue that the documentary and archaeological evidence justifies a belief in the miracles of Moses but not the signs and wonders associated with Gautama Buddha.

        • Polytropos

          Yeah, I remember one apologist commenter here who claimed that no-one disputed the narratives of Homer.

          Wait, what?

        • Lex Lata

          That was about my reaction, too. The comment (and I didn’t exaggerate it) came from an apologist named Robert Clifton Robertson, trying to post incognito.

          Ah. I see he’s given his readers a variant in this 2018 article posted to his website: “Strangely, no one disputes the authenticity and accuracy of the Iliad, while vigorously refuting the New Testament.”

          https://robertcliftonrobinson.com/2018/07/28/atheists-do-not-exist-part-2/

          So apparently no-one disputes that the Greek deities intervened in human affairs, that Achilles was a mostly bullet-proof demigod, that Odysseus tricked the Trojans with a giant wooden horse full of Achaeans being vewy, vewy quiet, etc.

        • Polytropos

          Amazing! And I note at no point in his poorly proofread rambling does he address the implications for Christian theology if, as he says, the Iliad is accurate.

        • Kuno

          I skimmed that comment and I think he just doesn’t know what actually happens in the Illiad…

        • Ficino

          I remember he was on here a while back promoting already-debunked claims about supposed early papyrus fragments of gospels.

        • Ignorant Amos

          A load of huge whoppers being told at that link…most Christians must do no fact checking of their own.

        • Doubting Thomas

          My favorite quote from the author:

          “By 350 A.D., nearly 56 percent of the world’s population believed in the
          resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of the massive evidence that
          existed at that time.”

        • TheNuszAbides

          Howling with laughter … “Nearly 56%” – not just statistica ex culo, he adds the flourish of faking the suggestion of even more precise ancient polling data (sorry … taking a break to laugh again), as though “more than half” (even if remotely verifiable) would be too dumbed-down for his sophisticated readership, hungry for accuracy …

          Not even going to touch “massive evidence at the time” – stomach muscles need a rest.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Well … Apparently, only humans fact-check … But far from all humans have a firm grasp of the concept, let alone a habit of making the effort. (I try to veer away from hypocrisy on the latter score, since I didn’t even become genuinely curious about scientific concepts/work until my 30s, old habits die hard, etc.)

          Add latent credulity and doctrinal/dogmatic de-emphasis on curiosity (let alone explicitly devaluing skepticism!), and the resultant brew may be heady, but it sure as shinola ain’t cerebral.

        • hrurahaalm

          that Odysseus tricked the Trojans with a giant wooden horse full of Achaeans being vewy, vewy quiet, etc.

          No, no, he’s talking about the Iliad. Obviously the Odyssey is a pack of lies.

        • TheNuszAbides

          I recall his previous resistance to identifying himself while copy/pasting from his site; he would probably follow up that all he meant was that the supernatural elements weren’t scrubbed out of the epics (as though this fact has anything to do with the current state of history) … just another non sequitur that he hopes will distract from any meaningful discussion (and likely knowing that it will actually work on most flocks, some lurkers, etc.).

    • Ignorant Amos

      Which is why Richard Carrier is promoting Bayesian analysis as the preferred method…which he asserts that historians subconsciously engage in already, but should approach with more rigor.

      • Lex Lata

        I’d agree there’s a rough, pragmatic Bayesian aspect to history (and certain other disciplines). Not sure that I’m on board with the approach of actually developing and plugging in numbers, as I (perhaps ignorantly and mistakenly) understand Carrier to advocate.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I’ve been having the protracted argument with a christer on another OP here for the past month on this issue.

          https://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2016/02/yeah-but-christianity-built-universities-and-hospitals-2-of-2/

          A lot of the comments on that thread are “story book” length ffs, but there was no other way.

          The thing is, there isn’t much issue with historians and the methods being used outside those who are studying the bible. The argument for the best explanation, for example, is essentially Bayesian. Scholars come to a consensus of what most probably happened from the data and conclude that say, a Roman emperor called Caesar crossed the Rubicon. But the problem with Jesus studies is that the data is sparse on the face of it, and it has been badly corrupted over time through the needs and wants of the cults adherents. This has been widely acknowledged by honest academics.

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

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

          Donald Akenson is a historical Jesus believing Christian btw.

          Assigning numerical values to verbal expressions of probabilties seems to be where the debate lies, and Carrier addresses the problem. As do others…

          https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a339/e74654ff1791c7d1d48df6c728127dd145b2.pdf

          https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166411508621986

          Even the CIA say that there is a way around the issue by using a standardized model.

          https://deusdiapente.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/can-subjective-probability-be-expressed-as-a-number-what-does-the-cia-say/

          The thing is, while probabilities will always be uncertain, the method NT scholars are currently using are much worse. Hence the plethora of different Jesus’s out there…including the ahistorical ones.

          While he wrote two books on the task, Carrier gives a brief appraisal here… https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12742

          Anyway, this is all academic…the Jesus in the book is a myth, regardless of whether built on the skeleton of an actual person.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Thanks for those links … I keep merely finding dorks with an ax to grind like O’Neill, or uninformed (deliberately or otherwise) hand-waving of straw-monolith-mythicism by Ehrmann and various nobodies.

        • hrurahaalm

          He does argue for the use of real numbers, but in effect he says you should assign a range of credible/arguable values rather than doubling down on a point-estimate.

          Carrier is wrong on one premise, I think, but the truth may argue more strongly for the use of numbers. He claims everyone basically has clear numerical estimates in mind when they use terms like ‘probably’ and so on. In reality, nobody sees to know what you mean when you give verbal assessments of probability. I’d bet at even-money that if you took scholars from a single field, who might be expected to share a background, you’d still find that:

          1. they guess widely different numbers when asked what terms such as ‘likely’ or ‘probable’ correspond to;
          2. they describe numerical probabilities using different words;

          and for each of these they overestimate their own correctness or the degree to which others understand them.

          Numbers, meanwhile, can be tested or compared to the number of claims (at a particular level of confidence) which prove true (if you can
          get people to make lots of precise claims). They can, in principle, allow for communication.

        • TheNuszAbides

          After what I’ve read just scratching the surface of Kahneman, Tversky, Dunning and Kruger, I’m with you on that bet.

        • Ignorant Amos

          The thing about the real numbers issue is that a universal grid can be created that all scholars could use once they’d agreed the terms about. This is what the CIA has engaged in doing with it’s analysts.

          Of course the figures will still differ between those scholars of history, because at the end of the day, it’s still about probabilities and history isn’t an exact science. But even a > 0.5 probability works if the scholars are still at odds with each others assessment of the data. It just means a better chance of having happened, than didn’t. And as you are probably aware, BT can use the same data to check the positive and negative hypothesis.

          I was re-reading some of the articles on Carriers blog recently, because James McGrath honored us with his presence last week and it has been a while. He explains it thus…

          We measure uncertainty as margins of error around a probability. If you say “I think x is very probable,” you cannot mean the probability of x is 20%, which is actually improbable, nor 60%, as that is probable, but hardly “very” probable; it’s surely not the kind of probability you mean. So we have the right to ask you what you mean: how far would a probability have to drop to make you no longer refer to it as “very” probable? You can tell us. It’s arbitrary; it’s your own words, so you get to say what you mean. But then you have to be consistent. You can’t start throwing up equivocation fallacies, constantly changing what you mean mid-argument. Unless you’re a liar; or actually want to be illogical. And only a doofus wants to be illogical.

          We can then ask you, well, if you mean it has to be, perhaps, at least 90% to qualify for you describing it as “very” probable, what’s the most probable you can mean? When would the probability cease being just “very” probable and become, say, “extremely” probable? Same rules. You have to mean something by these terms. Otherwise they literally mean nothing. If you mean the same thing by “merely” and “very” and “extremely,” then those words convey nothing anymore. But the only thing they could ever mean differently, is a different range of probability. There is no escaping this.

          So when this doofus [McGrath] tries to claim language can operate without any logical coherence in probability theory, he’s just being a full doofus.

          https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/14352

        • TheNuszAbides

          Having read On the Historicity of Jesus – his detailed follow-up to Proving History – but not the latter (his actual explanation of the methodology) … so far I do still find it a bit awkward to base such numbers on things like [e.g.] a list of legendary specimens flagged by the Rank-Raglan mythotype.

          On the other hand, Carrier gives a broad range to crunch in comparing a minimal-historical J with a minimal-mythical J (and I’ve yet to see a coherent objection or even nitpick to his formulation of each of these) … though I have already forgotten whether the “generous” end of the spectrum is a 1 in 3 chance of historicity, or 2 in 3 (the ungenerous end being 1 in 12,000).

    • rationalobservations?

      All you suggest makes sense and is true.
      The thing about “christianity” is that there is not one single shred of authentic and original, 1st century originated historical evidence of any of the legends of “Jesus” that first appear centuries after the time in which they are set and the oldest/first 4th century fabricated NT bibles are evidence of the evolution of both christianity and of bibles from the 4th century onward to today.

      The oldest/first 4th century founded politico-corporate business and institution of christianity agrees, saying:

      “Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origins of Christianity and its earliest development are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures, the authenticity of which we must, to a great extent, take for granted.”
      (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. iii, p. 712)

      The Church makes extraordinary admissions about its New Testament. For example, when discussing the origin of those writings,

      “the most distinguished body of academic opinion ever assembled” (Catholic Encyclopedias, Preface) admits that the Gospels “do not go back to the first century of the Christian era”
      (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. vi, p. 137, pp. 655-6).

      This statement conflicts with priesthood assertions that the earliest Gospels were progressively written during the decades following the death of the Gospel Jesus Christ.

      In a remarkable aside, the Church further admits that,
      “the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD”
      (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).

      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DHD-FaKUwAAhH7S.jpg

      • Greg G.

        In a remarkable aside, the Church further admits that,
        “the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD”
        (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).

        That was written over a century ago. There have been several manuscripts discovered since then that have been aggressively dated to the 2nd century by comparing the writings to second century writings until they find one that is kinda like the same handwriting while ignoring all of the 4th century writings that are better matches. Brent Nongri has been rechecking the methodology of the dating of those manuscripts and has found it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny so well.

        It’s like they are searching for support for their religious beliefs rather than searching for truth.

        • rationalobservations?

          Indeed!
          All the claims of 2nd century origins of later written legends are being systematically debunked.
          That is without consideration that 2nd century originated myths are not evidence of 1st century events even if any 2nd century texts of significant length could be discovered.

          There remains no historical evidence of the existence of “Jesus” or any of the events attributed to that fictional character.

        • Greg G.

          I go as far to say that the early epistles are evidence that Jesus was made up as they only speak of him in terms of OT scripture. Paul talks about Jesus, by name or title, about once for every five verses but doesn’t give any information about him that doesn’t appear in the OT. He doesn’t claim to have met a first century Jesus but he says his knowledge is not inferior to the “super-apostles” so he must have known that they only knew about Jesus from the OT, too.

          I think the epistle writers thought of Jesus as having existed after David but before or during Isaiah’s time, because they read the Suffering Servant metaphor as a “hidden mystery”.

        • rationalobservations?

          The oldest/first NT bibles were fabricated in the late 4th century ( a few short decades after the Roman religion they called “christianity” was cobbled together from mostly pagan components) and they differ in thousands of ways from later human fabricated bibles.
          There is no historical trace of “Jesus” at all.

          Religious beliefs are based only upon indoctrination and upon no historical evidence whatsoever.

          The belief that an imaginary god/god-man is real does not make it real.
          The belief that an imaginary god/god-man is real does not make it probably real.
          The belief that an imaginary god/god-man is real does not make it possibly real.
          Any personal and unsupported belief has no bearing upon the possibility that any god/god-man (among all the millions of very similar undetected and undetectable imaginary gods, goddesses and god-men) is “real” in any form but the imagination of an indoctrinated believer.

          There are millions of undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men among which the originally Canaanite god “Yahweh” and Roman’s god-man “Jesus” appear nothing special and there is no evidence of the existence of any of the millions of undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men among which the originally Canaanite god “Yahweh” and Roman’s god-man “Jesus” appear nothing special.

          It’s not that we atheists pretend to know that any particular god does not exist.
          We observe there is no evidence of the existence of any gods, goddesses and god-men, and simply do not pretend to “know” that any of the undetected and undetectable gods do exist.

          Christians are often baffled how atheists could deny the existence of their originally Canaanite god, “Yahweh” and Roman god-man “Jesus”, but they really shouldn’t be. Christians deny thousands of the very same undetectable and undetected gods, goddesses and god-men that atheists deny. Atheists just deny one more god than Christians do (or is that three gods and countless demigod “Cherubim” “angels”, “saints” and other ridiculous imaginary assorted beings, maybe?).

          It’s not that we atheists are “anti” any of the many millions of gods and goddesses that have been invented by men to gain power and wealth for themselves down the ages. We simply do not believe in any and all of them. I wonder if any unreconstructed religionists are “anti” Zeus, Odin, Apollo, Quetzalcoatl, Pratibhanapratisamvit, (Buddhist goddess of context analysis), Acat, (Mayan god of tattoo artists). Or Tsa’qamae, north american god of salmon migration, or any of the millions of other undetectable and undetected totally imaginary deities among which the Judaeo/christian gods appear nothing special and about which there is nothing unique or original?

          Atheists and religionists are not so different, after all! Let us celebrate our vast agreement on the non-existence of millions of undetected and undetectable gods and other hypothetical and imaginary beings!

        • Greg G.

          Gotta shovel snow so I gotta make this quick.

          Sure, when Christianity was made official, there would be government support and lots of writings after that so we would expect more evidence after that. But we have Eusebius and his writings. He tells about Origen and his writings. Origen’s writings include a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and Contra Celcius, which was apparently written before Origen’s time (3rd century) and it argues against Christianity. Matthew apparently used Mark, John, and the Epistle of James. Mark apparently used some of Paul’s epistles, especially Galatians, which is sarcastic toward James and his group. The Epistle of James appears to be an answer to Galatians, and Romans has some responses to James. So that pushes the origins back further.

          The only thing in the early epistles that give a clue about when it was written is a reference to Aretas in 2 Corinthians. Aretas IV ruled a long time from the late first century BC through the first four decades of the first century. But Steven Watson pointed out that Aretas IV apparently didn’t control Damascus, though Aretas III did in the early first century BC. (I haven’t verified Steven’s claim.) So Paul and James might be a century older than the New Testament believers think.

          Mark seems to have used the writings of Homer, Philo, Paul, and Josephus’ Jewish Wars, which would be available in the first century. I haven’t identified any writings later than that as possible sources. Matthew and Luke used Mark and Antiquities of the Jews, but I haven’t identified any sources later than that. It would be remarkable if those could have been written much later using only writings as sources that were available in the first century with nothing from the second or later.

          I got an extra snow shovel if you aren’t busy…

        • rationalobservations?

          Thanks for the invitation to join you playing in the snow but there’s no snow here – yet.

          I have read through your entry looking for any hint of actual tangible, authentic and original, 1st century originated historical evidence of the existence of “Jesus” or any of the remarkable and news worthy stories that first appear centuries after the time in which they are set.
          You reference folk who lived and died long after the time in which the “Jesus” legends are set and reference texts that first appear in extant form centuries after the time in which the legends of “Jesus” are set – but fail to offer any single item of authentic and original, 1st century originated evidence of the existence of “Jesus” or any of the fantastical tales that first appear centuries later.

          The oldest extant texts merely attributes to Josephus date from origination centuries after Josephus died and the interpolated and out of any context sections that appear in the texts that were actually written by anonymous scribes have long been accepted as forged interpolation.

          You may be interested to read a detailed and scholarly assessment of the Josephus fraud here:
          http://www.truthbeknown.com/josephus.htm

          Kind regards and take care in the snow, buddy.

        • Greg G.

          I have read through your entry looking for any hint of actual tangible, authentic and original, 1st century originated historical evidence of the existence of “Jesus” or any of the remarkable and news worthy stories that first appear centuries after the time in which they are set.

          Documents are dated by the things they talk about giving an indication of the earliest possible time. If what they quote or reference can be dated, then the earliest possible time is specific, else it is merely after the date. The latest possible date it when said document is referenced by another document. For all we know, the ink might not have been dry when it was referenced so there is a lot of latitude and the information is likely to have been available at the latest date as the earliest possible date.

          You reference folk who lived and died long after the time in which the “Jesus” legends are set and reference texts that first appear in extant form centuries after the time in which the legends of “Jesus” are set – but fail to offer any single item of authentic and original, 1st century originated evidence of the existence of “Jesus” or any of the fantastical tales that first appear centuries later.

          I showed that Eusebius, in the 4th century, referenced Origen who wrote a detailed commentary on the Gospel of Matthew in the third century, so the latest possible date for Matthew is before Origen wrote about it. gMatthew used gMark so gMark the latest date for gMark is before gMatthew. There are similarities between gMatthew and gJohn that are best explained by gMatthew being dependent on gJohn (I think John 7:40-43 presented a conundrum that Matthew tried to solve with his genealogy and nativity stories. John’s conundrum wouldn’t make much sense if Matthew has already “solved” it.) gJohn seems to have been dependent on gMark for several stories, so that pushes gMark even earlier. That each gospel has a different underlying theology would widen the time gaps between them.

          Justin Martyr, in First Apology, Chapter 66, quotes the gospels (plural) about the Eucharist meal. He is dated to the early to mid first century (c100 – 165AD). It just occurs to me that he doesn’t cite 1 Corinthians as a source. I think there is a big interpolation that includes the last part of 1 Corinthians 10 to 1 Corinthians 11:30, which includes the Eucharist, which I think was invented by Mark, modified by Luke, and Luke’s version found its way into 1 Corinthians. I haven’t read much of Martyr and have mostly focused on that one paragraph for a different argument.

          Now my reasoning gets subtle. Mark wrote in Greek but used some Aramaic words, which he usually explained, and Latin words, which he never explains. The implication is that Mark’s intended audience were educated readers who spoke Greek and Latin, so probably Romans. In the passage where Legion introduces himself, the Textus Receptus has the word for “said” immediately followed by his name and the words are similar with just one added letter in the name, a Greek word followed by a Latin word, followed by a phrase that emphasizes that “Legion” refers to many. I noticed that in The Odyssey, the Cyclops name is “Polyphemus”, which means “famous” as it is literally “many (as in “polygon”) speak of (as in “blasphemy”) so I expect Mark intended for his readers to pickup on the visual similarity of the bilingual pun to recognized that the demonaic is a reference to Polyphemus.

          The moral of the story of The Odyssey is about seeking honor instead of fame. Odysseus first told Polyphemus that his name was “Nobody” but after defeating the Cyclops he told him his real name and told him to tell everyone who defeated him. Polyphemus told Zeus’ brother, the god of the sea (the name escapes me at the moment), who put many obstacles in his way home. (I need to map out where Jesus tells those he healed not to tell and where he starts telling them to tell. I know he told the ex-demonaic to tell.)

          When the nameless woman came to wash Jesus feet knew him, recall that Odysseus was recognized by his nanny by a scar. That woman’s name meant “anti-fame” while his mother’s name meant “good fame”, IIRC. The following verse makes more sense with that bit of knowledge.

          Mark 14:9
          Most certainly I tell you, wherever this Good News may be preached throughout the whole world, that which this woman has done will also be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

          An educated reader of Greek would certainly understand the parallel.

          There are no spit miracles in the Septuagint or the Apocrypha or the Homeric Epics. I suspect that they come from Vespasian’s propaganda. Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio Cassius mention it and how useful the stories of the healings in Egypt were to Vespasian, who was not from an elite family. The appearance that he had the favor of the gods would have given him credibility to be emperor in the people’s eyes. I think Suetonius and Dio imply that much.

          So if Mark’s readers were Romans, they would have heard that propaganda and recognized it. But propaganda has a shelf life. If Mark was written more than a generation after the Vespasian dynasty, very few would get the reference. How many people know what “Remember the Alamo” refers to nowadays beyond Texas? I have vivid memories of being told about the JFK assassination, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11. If they call receipt number “867” at McDonalds and you respond with “5309”, only old people with laugh with you.

          So I suspect that a reference to Vespasian propaganda is evidence that Mark was written to Romans within living memory of the Vespasian dynasty.

          The oldest extant texts merely attributes to Josephus date from origination centuries after Josephus died and the interpolated and out of any context sections that appear in the texts that were actually written by anonymous scribes have long been accepted as forged interpolation.

          I agree that Eusebius is certainly the forger of the Testimonium Flavianum. Many scholars think it was written in two events, one by Josephus with another layer added by an overzealous Christian. Gary Goldberg makes a good case that the bottom layer is based on the conversation in the Emmaus Road narrative of Luke 24, but his conclusion is that Josephus and Luke used a common source. The Emmaus Road narrative is a summary of the story of Luke, and Luke got the story from Mark, so Luke did not need an additional source. Goldberg doubts that anyone back then would have the skill to imitate Josephus. But Ken Olsen shows that Eusebius used many of the examples said to be Josephus-like language in his other writings, which means that the whole TF was forged, almost certainly by Eusebius.

          I’m going to read that Acharya S article again. It’s been a long time.

          I left half the driveway for you. No hurry, I can get my car out.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I’m going to read that Acharya S article again. It’s been a long time.

          I read it again…it “smashes” KD’s hero, that arsecrank O’Neill’s Josephus fuckwittery right outta the park.

        • epeeist

          Gotta shovel snow so I gotta make this quick.

          Snowing here on the edge of the Derbyshire High Peak. So far no need to dig the car out.

        • TheNuszAbides

          *Celsus

        • Greg G.

          Of course it is. I would like to blame Spellcheck but that looks like something I did on the computer without it.

  • Even if we accepted this it doesn’t make Christianity true, moreover.

  • epicurus

    Anyone read Candida Moss’ book on the myth of Christian persecution? I keep coming across it at my local library but I have so many other books to read it keeps getting pushed down my to read later list.

    • ThaneOfDrones
      • rationalobservations?

        Persecution perpetrated by christians upon others is real and continues today.

    • Polytropos

      I read it a couple of years ago, and remember enjoying it. Her claims seemed fairly solid to me, but it isn’t an area of history I’m very familiar with so I don’t have the best framework on which to critique her arguments.

      • epicurus

        Thanks!

  • ThaneOfDrones

    How different things are today, with Alexa recording every fart you make.

    • Greg G.

      Except for SBDs.

      • Otto

        Until smellovision…

        • Greg G.

          Smellexa?

    • Phil

      My wife changed her name to Alexa. Now the neighbors think we have all the latest gadgets when I say thinks loudly like “Alexa change over to channel 4” or Alexa Make a cup of tea.

  • rationalobservations?

    The major problem for all things “Jesus cult” is that there is no authentic and original, 1st century originated historiccal evidence that any man named “Jesus” existed and no historical record at all that validates any of the diverse and very different, confused and contradictory legends of “Jesus” that first appeared centuries after the time in which they are set.

    The belief that an imaginary god/god-man is real does not make it real.
    The belief that an imaginary god/god-man is real does not make it probably real.
    The belief that an imaginary god/god-man is real does not make it possibly real.
    Any personal and unsupported belief has no bearing upon the possibility that any god/god-man (among all the millions of very similar undetected and undetectable imaginary gods, goddesses and god-men) is “real” in any form but the imagination of an indoctrinated believer.

    There are millions of undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men among which the originally Canaanite god “Yahweh” and Roman’s god-man “Jesus” appear nothing special and there is no evidence of the existence of any of the millions of undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men among which the originally Canaanite god “Yahweh” and Roman’s god-man “Jesus” appear nothing special.

    It’s not that we atheists pretend to know that any particular god does not exist.
    We observe there is no evidence of the existence of any gods, goddesses and god-men, and simply do not pretend to “know” that any of the undetected and undetectable gods do exist.

    Christians are often baffled how atheists could deny the existence of their originally Canaanite god, “Yahweh” and Roman god-man “Jesus”, but they really shouldn’t be. Christians deny thousands of the very same undetectable and undetected gods, goddesses and god-men that atheists deny. Atheists just deny one more god than Christians do (or is that three gods and countless demigod “Cherubim” “angels”, “saints” and other ridiculous imaginary assorted beings, maybe?).

    It’s not that we atheists are “anti” any of the many millions of gods and goddesses that have been invented by men to gain power and wealth for themselves down the ages. We simply do not believe in any and all of them. I wonder if any unreconstructed religionists are “anti” Zeus, Odin, Apollo, Quetzalcoatl, Pratibhanapratisamvit, (Buddhist goddess of context analysis), Acat, (Mayan god of tattoo artists). Or Tsa’qamae, north american god of salmon migration, or any of the millions of other undetectable and undetected totally imaginary deities among which the Judaeo/christian gods appear nothing special and about which there is nothing unique or original?

    Atheists and religionists are not so different, after all! Let us celebrate our vast agreement on the non-existence of millions of undetected and undetectable gods and other hypothetical and imaginary beings!

    https://monicksunleashed.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/99-percent-atheist.jpg
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DHD-FaKUwAAhH7S.jpg

  • Blacksheep

    “Christian historical claims Are Surprisingly Fragile”

    Growing up in and around Evangelical churches, and later at various other non-catholic denominations, I never once encountered the Polycarp story. In fact (and you likely know this) there is zero mention of any martyrdom of any “saint” whatsoever.
    This is not a general “Christian Historical Claim” it’s strictly a Catholic one.

    • Greg G.

      You seem to be reasonable but Christianity is diverse. Different Christians make different claims. There is very little that is claimed by all Christians. Bob very seldom says “All Christians claim…” so when you see “Christians claim…”, understand it as “Some Christians claim…” Many Christians define “omnipotent” to mean “the ability to do anything that is logically possible to do” while others tell us that God creates logic so he can do things that are logically possible, that God can make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it. Some tells us God is an entity while others say God is bit a being but “the essence of all being”.