(Ed. Note: This is the 28th post in Frank Zindler’s Speaking Frankly About Jesus blog which is dedicated to the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. This is part T of a mini series debunking “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus“.)
Lies: So short in stating, so long in negating!
As we get closer and closer to the end of our critique of Philip Jenkins’ lengthy blog “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus,” it is important to keep reminding readers that as of yet he has been unable to come up with any evidence at all to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was once a real person. We know, of course, that Jesus of Nazareth couldn’t possibly have existed for the simple reason that René Salm has shown that Nazareth did not exist at the turn of the era. (NazarethGate: Quack Archeology, Holy Hoaxes, and the Invented Town of Jesus, paperback & Kindle editions)
We come now to see how Jenkins deals with the argument that “Jesus left no writings.” As though that were an unreasonable demand, our apologist superciliously replies:
“No, really, I have seen that objection made with a straight face.
“Please give me a list of early first century non-elite individuals who have left actual writings of their own that survive. You should include all messianic candidates and charismatic prophets. How long is your list?”
“Even if we look at truly elite people, it’s depressing to read of the substantial works they wrote that once existed, but no longer do. Just to take one example, in Rome and just this time, the pivotal imperial woman Agrippina the Elder wrote a family history that we would dearly like to read, but it has been lost irretrievably for many centuries. You could actually produce a lengthy catalogue of similar works that we know once existed, but which don’t any more—in fact, they would fill many imaginary libraries. And we wonder that we have nothing from a rabbi from Nazareth?”
Even if it be true that few writings of “non-elite” individuals of the past have survived to the present, it should be noted that in the case of Jesus if there had been any writings of Jesus they most assuredly would have been preserved by the infant Christian Church and we would have as many letters written by Jesus as we have splinters of the True Cross or baby teeth of John the Baptist. If the gospel stories of Jesus reading the scriptures and teaching about them were true, clearly Jesus would have known how to write. Indeed, in the story about the woman taken in adultery—presently found in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, but found in some manuscripts in the Gospel of Luke (and not found at all in the oldest and best manuscripts of the New Testament!)—we are told that “…Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not” [Jn 8:6] and that “…again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground” [Jn 8:8]. The fact that this tale of Jesus writing was a late interpolation into the gospels indicates that, unlike Philip Jenkins, at least some early Christians—including a belated New Testament author!—felt the need to show that Jesus knew how to write. That in turn could have been the grounds on which the forgery of complete letters of Jesus could be based.
While Jenkins thinks it risible to expect to find writings of Jesus, the wily Eusebius—the first major church historian after the anonymous and imaginative author of Acts—not only thought it reasonable, he actually produced some! Let’s let Joseph Wheless tell us all about the “Correspondence of Jesus with Abgar, King of Edessa” [Forgery in Christianity, pp. 106-111]:
“The pseudo-Correspondence of Jesus with Abgar, King of Edessa, is found in Eusebius (Hist. Eccles., I, xiii), “who vouches that he himself translated it from the Syriac documents in the archives of Edessa, the metropolis of Eastern Syria… ‘This,’ adds Eusebius, ‘happened in the year 340 of the Seleucid era, corresponding to A.D. 28-29.’ ”
“We may look for a moment at several of the most notorious of the forgeries perpetrated for the glory of God and for imposture upon the superstitious Christians to enhance Pagan credulity in the tales of Christ. If the Gospel tales were true, why should God need pious lies to give them credit? Lies and forgeries are only needed to bolster up falsehood: “Nothing stands in need of lying but a lie.” But Jesus Christ must needs be propagated by lies upon lies; and what better proof of his actuality than to exhibit letters written by him in his own handwriting? The “Little Liars of the Lord” were equal to the forgery of the signature of their God,—false letters in his name, as above cited from that exhaustless mine of clerical falsities, the Catholic Encyclopedia, which again describes them, and proves that they were forged by their great Bishop of Caesaria” [the friend of Constantine and historian Eusebius].”
Because understanding the dishonesty of Eusebius is so important to understanding the early history of Christianity (including an understanding of why I think he was the forger of the Testimonium Flavianum in the writings of Josephus that we have investigated earlier), it is necessary to quote Wheless at length even though it will probably make this blog installment overly long.
“It should be mentioned, first, that Abgar was not a personal name of a King of Edessa, but was a generic title of all the rulers of that small state: “By this title all the toparchs of Edessa were called, just as the Roman Emperors were called Caesars, the Kings of Egypt Pharaohs or Ptolemies, the Kings of Syria Antiochi.” (ANF. Viii, 641, note.) With this first check on the forging Bishop, here is what he said in his Church History, Book I, chapter the thirteenth… Note the false fervor of the holy Bishop to sugar-coat his circumstantial and commodious lie and fraud: ‘While the Godhead of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was proclaimed among all men by reason of the astonishing mighty-works which He wrought, and myriads, even from countries remote from the land of Judaea, who were afflicted with sicknesses and diseases of every kind, were coming to Him in the hope of being healed, King Abgar sent Him a letter asking Him to come and heal him of his disease. But our Saviour at the time he asked Him did not comply with his request. Yet he deigned to give him a letter in reply.. Thou hast in writing the evidence of these things, which is taken from the Book of Records which was at Edessa… In the documents, then, which were there, in which was contained whatever was done by those of old down to the time of Abgar, these things are also found preserved down to the present hour. There is, however, nothing to prevent our hearing the very letters themselves, which have been taken by us from the archives, and are in words to this effect, translated from Aramaic into Greek.’ ”“ ‘Copy of the letter which was written by King Abgar to Jesus, and sent to Him by the hand of Ananias… to Jerusalem:’ ”
“ ‘ “Abgar the Black, sovereign of the country, to Jesus, the good Saviour, who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem: Peace. I have heard about Thee, and about the healing which is wrought by Thy hands without drugs and roots. For, as it is reported, Thou makest the blind to see, and the lame to walk; and Thou cleansest the lepers, and Thou castest out unclean spirits and demons, and Thou healest those who are tormented with lingering diseases, and Thou raisest the dead. And when I heard all these things about Thee, I settled in my mind one of two things: either that Thou are God, who as come down from heaven, and doest these things; or that Thoug art the Son of God, and doest these things. On this account, therefore, I have written to beg of Thee that Thou wouldest weary Thyself to come to me, and heal this disease which I have. For I have also heard that the Jews murmur against Thee, and wish to do Thee harm. But I have a city, small and beautiful, which is sufficient for two.” ’ ”
“’Copy of those things which were written by Jesus in reply by the hand of Ananias, the Tabularius, to Abgar, sovereign of the country: ’ ”
“ ‘ “Blessed is he that believeth in me, not having seen me. For it is written concerning me, that those who see me will not believe in me, and that those will believe who have not seen me, and will be saved. But touching that which thou hast written to me, that I should come to thee—it is meet that I should finish here all that for the sake of which I have been sent; and after I have finished it, then I shall be taken up to Him that sent me; and, when I have been taken up, I will send to thee one of my disciples, that he may heal thy disease, and give salvation to thee and to those who are with thee.” ’ ”
And so we can see that the amused condescension of Philip Jenkins in dismissing the inexplicable absence of writings produced by his god-man differs wildly from the embarrassed attention paid by ancient church leaders who had to account for the complete absence of any writings of Jesus—writings that not only should have existed but most certainly would have been carefully preserved as well. It is clear that the short shrift Jenkins accords to the problem is in fact just another means to divert attention from the fact that yet one more piece of evidence necessary for establishing the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is absolutely absent. As I explained in an earlier posting, humor and satire are often effective rhetorical techniques for diverting attention away from arguments utterly devoid of evidence.
Before continuing with my critique of Philip Jenkins’ “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus,” it is necessary to underscore the significance of the fact that the Abgar Correspondence demonstrates beyond cavil that Eusebius was a forger who had no compunction against lying for the Lord. It is clear that Eusebius interpolated the text of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews and produced the Testimonium Flavianum that Jenkins partially defends with great artifice and skillful but fallacious rhetoric. Since Jenkins admits that Jesus of Nazareth left no writings, of necessity he must admit that the Abgar Correspondence is a Eusebian forgery. We know from Eusebius’ Preparation for the Gospel [Book XII, Heading for Chapter 32] that it is okay to lie for the sake of religion: “How it may be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood as a Medicine and for the Benefit of those who Want to be Deceived.” Clearly, then, Jenkins must admit that the Testimonium Flavianum is fraudulent and that even the supposed feeble hear-say evidence of Josephus must be removed from would-be evidence supporting the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the light of the Abgar forgery by Eusebius, we now see that Jenkins’ Cumulative Evidence Score must now be reduced from zero to minus one! Given this amusing outcome, it might be a useful exercise to compute how negative the combined score would be if every alleged bit of apologetic “evidence” favoring the historicity of Jesus were given a score of plus one and each of the frauds catalogued in Wheless’ book were assigned a negative one. By how many orders of magnitude would the negatives exceed the positives? I leave that as an exercise for Professor Jenkins to perform.
Next time: Response to Jenkins’ comment that “Even if we look at truly elite people, it’s depressing to read of the substantial works they wrote that once existed, but no longer do”
Frank Zindler is the past interim President of American Atheists, a member of the American Atheists board of directors, the chief editor of American Atheists Press, and an esteemed academic and activist.
(Photo credit: Eric Lin via Flikr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/phonescoop/214501602/)
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