Demolishing and Reconstructing the Burial of Jesus (and Christianity Itself)

Demolishing and Reconstructing the Burial of Jesus (and Christianity Itself) March 15, 2012

Sam Alexander has posted a review of my book The Burial of Jesus on his blog {Take and Read}. It is appreciative and yet asks some important questions, most pointedly, what comes after the sort of historical-critical demolition of widely held views, and of certainty in general.

What, in short, should Christianity look like in the aftermath of historical study?

There are those who resist historical criticism in a vain and misguided effort to keep their faith unaffected. It doesn’t work, and often leads to people losing later in life a faith that they could have understood in light of historical scholarship from their tween years if not sooner. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who think that nothing worth speaking of is left of Christianity after historical-critical analysis has done its work.

But what about those of us who believe that there can be a post-critical and post-modern Christianity (by which I emphatically do not mean a Christianity that ignores earlier historical scholarship)?

My focus on the impact, achievements and limitations of historical study in The Burial of Jesus reflects my own personal and professional journey. I studied the Bible academically as an expression of my faith. I initially joined in the attempts to resist “liberalism” and defend my faith while benefiting from a specifically evangelical and conservative form of such study. I eventually acknowledged that such study required me to rethink and change my beliefs. The Burial of Jesus is essentially a book that publicly retraces my steps through that journey, in a manner that others can follow.

One reason why I didn’t focus too much on the reconstructive aspect of building a theology that takes historical criticism of the Bible seriously is because there are others whose work is in the realm of theology proper and who can arguably do a better job. My writing was sparked in part by the controversial headlines about the Talpiot tomb, and focused on my own area of expertise, historical-critical study of the Bible, and relating that to Christian faith.

Another reason is that there are quite a number of different ways that one could formulate a post-critical, post-modern approach to Christianity.

For me personally, being a Christian in light of historical criticism and other scholarly approaches means accepting a high degree of Christian agnosticism. There are things that we simply cannot know, and so we must learn to embrace doubt, not necessarily as an end, but at the very least as a means to exploring our faith and living it. It is crucial to move away from dogmatic certainty to humble service.

In doing so, we can continue to find meaning and inspiration in the traditions and stories of our faith. Everyone tells stories, and everyone has faith, with perhaps a very few exceptions. But most atheists, like most religious people, find ways of persuading themselves that life is worth living, that making the world a better place for future generations is worthwhile. None of that can be proven using scientific, historical, or any academic tools. It is a faith, a conviction.

On the one hand, leaving the matter of an afterlife in the realm of agnosticism, or of at best hope rather than certainty, is something that modern Christianity desperately needs. Many of today’s Christians are only motivated to help others because they believe it contributes to their eternal rewards, and many are demotivated from helping others whom they believe are destined anyway for eternal suffering. We are at a juncture at which progressive Christian voices need to challenge other Christians to genuine self-sacrifice and self-denial.

On the other hand, in the traditional Christian stories, embraced as mythical expressions of our values rather than literal statements of fact, we can find inspiration to value self-sacrifice and kindness rather than power and dominance. It is truly possible to find the former more fulfilling and more rewarding than the latter, and more of a reward than personal immortality.

In adjusting our Christian vision in this way, we are not setting aside the Christian faith. We are allowing some neglected elements of the Biblical tradition to come to the fore once again, and if necessary to displace other elements that had previously taken center stage.

If you are a Christian who embraces the historical-critical study of the Bible, and embraces scientific perspectives on other matters of importance such as the history of the universe and of life on this planet, what does Christianity look like to you in the light of such perspectives? What remains the same, and what changes? How minimal or radical are the revisions you consider appropriate?

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  • Andydood12

    I am not debating that essentially one must be agnostic in terms of actually knowing if the resurrection of Christ actually happened. There’s no way one can affirm or deny the event with certainty because it is a matter that cannot be answered through historical inquiry, but only through faith. My question revolves around your agnosticism about an afterlife. If you are a Christian, doesn’t a central tenant revolve around the hope of experiencing a personal resurrection like Christ and thus hope in an afterlife? Is your belief in the resurrection of Christ untouchable by historical inquiry and thus a matter of faith and faith alone? As Christians, no matter the amount of historical criticism, isn’t this something we can always still hope for even in the midst of uncertainty? Would this reflect your own belief about christs resurrection and a hope for an afterlife? Thanks

  • Sam Alexander

    Yep – I thought we were on the same page. My review was as much a challenge to me as it was to you. The only thing I would add is that since you are obviously a deep believing Christian who has wrestled hard for his faith, (as have I – similar background), you are very qualified to engage in the project of reconstruction – I for one would not say that others are more qualified, (though I get what you mean. Academics do count.) Wishing you well, Sam Alexander

  • David Raber

    Seems to me “historical criticism” means nothing more or less than skepticism as a methodology (with maybe a bit of cynicism added in).  Certainly skepticism has its value, but the term “historical criticism” seems to imply something more, and more prestigiious perhaps, than skepticism with the cynicism about human motives added on.  Am I wrong?

    • Sam Alexander

       I’ll let Dr. McGrath speak for himself, but I don’t think historical criticism is skeptical or cynical. I think it is an honest effort to understand – a search for wisdom. I think some who use it are cynical about what it means, but at its best, I believe those of us who embrace the historical critical method of biblical exploration look at the text and try to understand what truth the author was pointing towards. I do so assuming that the author’s worldview is different than mine and so I seek a way to be faithful to the message offered in the text, while leaving out ancient assumptions about how the world works. That is a positive view of the text, not a cynical one.

  • I agree with Sam, that historical criticism is not merely skepticism. There is an element of skepticism, but no more so than one would quite happily apply to the claims of traditions and views other than one’s own. It is seeking to determine what we can know, and with what degree of certainty, and to the extent that it involves skepticism, it is applied in accordance with the Christian principle of the Golden Rule, applying it to oneself as one would have it applied to others. 🙂

    Andy, I don’t think I in any sense suggested that one must let go of hope as well as certainty. Some may, but I don’t think it is inevitable or a necessary corollary.

  • What changes: literalism is out. The Gospels aren’t literal anyway in their use of Scripture. Proof-texting is out. Any part of the will to power is out. Authority has no intrinsic claim – of tradition, of order, or of text. 
    What is the same: the need to find unplugged ears and eyes opened (a la Isaiah 35, itself uniquely alluding to Genesis – and their eyes were opened).

  • Your book inspired me to do a bit of further reading on the burial and resurrection.

    So far I’ve read an article by James G. Crossley in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Vol. 3.2 pp. 171-186) titled:

    Against the Historical Plausibility of the Empty Tomb Story and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: A Response to N.T. Wright

    Crossley effectively shoots holes in Wright’s statement that the empty tomb and resurrection stories are “in the same sort of category, of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70”.

    I’m now two chapters into Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity by Professor Dag Øistein Endsjø. Endsjø makes a convincing argument (also counter to N.T. Wright claims) that stories of a bodily resurrection of Jesus would have been well-recieved (perhaps even preferred and promulgated) by Greeks with a rich pagan tradition of bodily-resurrection stories.

    I stopped thinking of myself as a Christian a few years ago, but I wouldn’t say that looking at scripture through a historical-critical lens has encouraged me to be cynical towards scripture. Rather, as someone who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian tradition, I find the study of the original contexts of scriptures absolutely fascinating. Why did I never learn this in Sunday School? More importantly, why did I never learn this in the small private Christian college I attended for four years?

    But as far as hanging on to Christianity as a faith, I’m having trouble seeing the benefit.

    James, with the honest way you deal with scripture, I could see how you might benefit from “good” scriptures, while letting go of culturally irrelevant (and even harmful) scriptures. But why?

    The overwhelmingly vast majority of Christians in the world do not see scripture through the same enlightened historical-critical perspective that you have. These days, I mostly just see Christians using scripture to undermine science, politics, and human rights. In my personal experience, I consider the doctrine of hell to be among the most damaging influences of my childhood.

    Scripture will continue to be a fascinating study for me – but as a guide to life it seems to come with too much ugly baggage.

  • goliah

    “What, in short, should Christianity look like in the aftermath of historical study?”

    We maybe about to find out! The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence.

    Thus ‘faith’ is the path, the search and discovery of this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, Law, command and covenant,  while  “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists.

    This is religion without any of the conventional embellished trappings of tradition. An individual, spiritual/virtue/ethic conception, independent of all cultural perception, contained within a single moral command and single moral Law that finds it’s expression of obedience within a new ‘Genesis’ of marriage. It requires no institutional framework or hierarchy, churches or priest craft, no scholastic theological rational, dogma or doctrine, no ones permission and stripped of all theological myth, ‘worship’ requires only conviction, the self discipline and faith necessary to accomplish a new, single, moral, imperative and fidelity to the new Divinely created reality.

    Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question?
    More info at,

  • That tired old canard that “everyone has faith” is patiently dealt with in Tim’s response to our good doctor’s faith-based ignorant assertion in his follow-up post: Leap of Faith or Failure of Reason.

    Of particular interest is the explanation that religionists who tiresomely repeat this mantra are probably lacking a certain quality critical for genuine inter-personal harmony. I personally suspect that this lack is related to faith-based adherence to the judgmentalism enjoined by the Bible against all outsiders to the faith.

  • Jacob Brouwer

    Thank you for your words – both honest and loving.

    • Honesty and love is demonstrated by engaging professionally, without rancour, with the sincere thoughts and feelings of another. I have not seen that in evidence here. I have pointed out the fallacy of Dr McGrath’s mantra (not only his) many times in the past and he has never seen fit to engage with the discussion. How can one hear who has his fingers in his ears?

  • One more thought, James (and this is from someone who admires much of what you have to say):

    When you say that:

    “most atheists, like most religious people, find ways of persuading themselves that life is worth living, that making the world a better place for future generations is worthwhile. None of that can be proven using scientific, historical, or any academic tools. It is a faith, a conviction.”

    Aren’t you using the word “faith” as loosely as creationists use the word “theory”?

    … as in “evolution is only a theory”?

    • Sorry for taking so long to reply, Beau! In reply to your more recent comment, I suppose one could make a comparison with the case of “theory” since I am using the term “faith” in one of its senses while in other contexts it is used in another. But I do not think that I am confusing the meanings in the way creationists do with “theory.” I am not trying to use the range of meanings of faith to allow one to slip in or to attempt to justify having “faith” in the sense of simply believing without evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary. I am merely saying that there is a broader sort of faith – a trust that life is meaningful and worthwhile – which seems to cut across the divide between those who share or reject the other sort of faith.

      • I sort of see where you’re going, James. But the leap of faith required to believe in the supernatural aspects of religion is very different from the faith required to believe that our lives are worthwhile. This is the sense in which most apologists try to compare the faith of Christians and atheists.

        Even if you limit faith to the belief that humanity is meaningful and worthwhile, there is still a huge difference between the faith of Christians and atheists. Christians see humanity as worthwhile in a universal or cosmic sense, indeed many Christians think that the universe was created specifically for humanity. Atheists see humanity as worthwhile in a purely local sense. Humanity is worthwhile to humanity. That’s all. And if our species dies out, we may not like it, but life will go on without us.

        Again, James, I do think your book is great introduction to historical methodology as applied to the New Testament; I really enjoyed. I think it’s a bit funny seeing you “attacked” from two completely polarized sides on this post (Neil Godfrey and ‘Northerm Witness’).

        I wish we could put Neil and Northerm together in a chat room for a while and watch the conversation!

  • Northerm Witness

    ” I studied the Bible academically as an expression of my faith.” “For me personally, being a Christian in light of historical criticism and other scholarly approaches means accepting a high degree of Christian agnosticism.”

    The author seems not to have any transformative Christian experience that would have dispelled all those doubts. He is not able to have such transformative experiences because he maintains himself firmly in dualism and literalism, first as an Evangelical literalist and now as a historical/scientific literalist. He is unmindful that language, logic and sense data are inadequate for knowing the ineffable.

    He is resistant to inner change and justifies that self-imposed resistance by elevating skepticism and negativity to the level of wisdom, when, in fact, skepticism and negativity are based on ignorance,  the opposite of wisdom.

    • You seem not to have read the book. One major feature is the storyof my ownborn-again experience. You also seem to have missed my explanation of the fact that one’s own spiritual experiences do not allow one to bypass historical methods and evidence to answer historical questions.

      • Northerm Witness

         I’m responding to your article.  I wouldn’t waste time on your book.

        Historical questions, methods and evidence that you value so highly have zero to do with the core message of the  Bible and of Jesus. Your evasive switching of the conversation is proof of your desperation as you try to cling on by your skepticism, negativity, and dualism.

        • Which article? I am still puzzled. Why exactly do you think that I would disagree with your statement that historical questions, methods and evidence have zero to do with the core message of the Bible and Jesus?

          On the other hand, without using historical methods at all, how do we know what the core message of Jesus was?

          Why are you determined to be antagonistic when it sounds like we probably agree on several major points?

  • Northerm Witness

    Are you being deliberately obtuse? Your blog article, of course.

    You cannot have it both ways. You contradict yourself when you agree that “historical questions, methods and evidence have zero to do with the core message of the Bible and Jesus” and in your next sentence claim that those historical questions, methods, and evidence are somehow, magically necessary to know what the core message of Jesus was. They are not only not necessary, they are hindrances to knowing the core message of the Bible and Jesus. That core message is rooted in non-dualism. You are stuck in, in fact, addicted to dualism. Never the twain shall meet.

    You feel that findings that differ from and invalidate your own are “antagonistic”. Actually, those findings are truth, whereas yours are attempts to justify your dualism and your inability to move past it.  I find it unlikely that we agree on anything substantial and your posts prove it.

    • Why do you consider historical study a form of magic? That is a much stranger confusion than mistaking a post on a blog for an article.

      Without the use of historical methods, how does one find out what Jesus taught?

      I suspect that if you were to learn a bit about how historians investigate questions, it might provide some useful tools that would transfer well and serve you well in other issues you struggle with, such as figuring out what someone whom you don’t know and by whom you’ve read next to nothing would or would not consider “antagonistic.” 🙂

  • David Raber

    Beau, it seems like a lot of ex-Christians, what you have rejected is “Christianity” of the bonehead variety.  It’s not the only variety! Thank God.  I’d also suggest that in focusing on the views of some people who very vociferously claim to be Jesus’ true representatives, you are probably not focusing on the words and deeds of Jesus himself as recorded in the Gospels.  But maybe you have also been put off that focus by all the “historical Jesus” debunking–which can make Jesus’ early interpreters, the Gospel writers, seem no more reliable than the TV preachers.  I have come to the conclusion myself that whatever is “unhistorical” in the Gospels is not necessarily out of sync with what the historical Jesus said verbatim or actually did.  And why should I assume that it would be?  I have no problem assuming, in fact, that the Gospel writers generally wrote “in good faith” (pun intended, I guess). 

    • I appreciate the thoughts, David. However, the church minister I grew up with was my father; and though I have rejected his faith, I can assure you, he is no “bonehead.”

      I know the gospels quite well. Jesus has many “sayings” that anyone can promote (the golden rule for example, which Confucius among others said first). However, C.S. Lewis is fond of arguing (in Mere Christianity, e.g.) that one cannot simply believe that Jesus was a ‘good teacher’, because he also claimed to be ‘the Son of God’ able to forgive sins. To Lewis, this understanding of Jesus leads to his famous “liar, lunatic, or Lord” argument – i.e. that one must accept Jesus one of these three – your only options.

      Now, I think that Lewis has failed to present all the options. If we treat the bible the way we treat other ancient documents, then one option is that not everything quotation of Jesus is historical. Another possibility is that Jesus was deluded to the same extent that Harold Camping is deluded – a little crazy, but not enough for society to institutionalize him.

      In any case, it is the apocolyptic Jesus that I don’t believe in. The Jesus who commits self-sacrifice to wash away sins; the Jesus who prepares heaven for the faithful and hell for unfaithful. The Jesus who believed he would return in glory while the 1st century generation was still alive.

      I guess what I am saying is that I don’t simply fail to believe in contemporary ‘bone-headed’ Christians. It is the core Christian beliefs that I find unsupportable, unhelpful, and ultimately harmful to society.

      • Sorry for all the grammatical problems in the above – I typed too fast – :^)

  • Without the use of historical methods, how does one find out what Jesus taught?

    Do these historical methods also enable us to find out what Socrates or Aesop taught?

    I have no problem assuming, in fact, that the Gospel writers generally wrote “in good faith” (pun intended, I guess).

    Do any of us have any problem in assuming that Plato generally wrote “in good faith” to pass on what Socrates taught?

    My point here is: are we approaching the study of Jesus by the same “historical methods” and “assumptions” we apply to other historical figures? Or do we handle Jesus studies with some sort of methodological exceptionalism?

  • Michael Wilson

    Northerm has an interesting perspective, unfortunately when one rejects the rational as a way to understand reality as is done in a number of religious traditions discussion becomes meaningless. Other than some mystical experience I don’t have any reason to share his world view. Neil seems to be both bored and boring.

  • So no one wishes to answer with reasoned civility the questions I pose that challenge the fundamentals of what passes for “methodology in historical inquiry” among historical Jesus scholars.

    James will call me insane for expecting him to address the question, of course, or for failing to believe that he has addressed it when it is what I have been looking for ever since I raised the question, Beau will see in my questions “an attack”, and Boobs finds the questions “boring”.

    Any response will do except facing up to the question head on.


    • Well Neil,

      My guess is that there is a lot more historical inquiry into Jesus, than there is applied to any other ancient figure. And the sheer quantity certainly has something to do with the bias of religious interest. Even many who have rejected religion invest in the historical question, in part because the institution of Christianity has had such an enormous effect on our history.

      As to the question of whether we are “approaching the study of Jesus by the same ‘historical methods’ and ‘assumptions’ we apply to other historical figures”, isn’t that a rather broad topic? Doesn’t that depend upon what historian you are looking at?

      I would concede that theologians who publish papers on Jesus or scripture certainly have an apologetic bias. An advanced degree in theology does not qualify one as a historian.

      Among NT historians, though, you’d have to make separate arguments about each one. There are quite a few atheist NT historical scholars, who believe in a historical Jesus. I think you’re arguments would have to be about their specific methodology – not their religion, politics, or philosophy.

      • Hi Beau,

        I agree with most of what you write. I certainly have no problem with the idea of a historical Jesus. If I wanted to go on an anti-Christian crusade the last thing I would do would be to argue against the historicity of Jesus. That would just turn off the audience I wanted to reach. John Loftus has made the same point himself on his Debunking Christianity blog.

        And I agree that yes, of course there has been a lot of historical inquiry into Jesus.

        And my interest in the historical inquiry is exactly the one you yourself pinpoint: it is because “the institution of Christianity has had such an enormous effect on our history” that Christian origins is such a worthwhile historical study. This is the grounds of my own historical interest in the question of origins.

        As for your suggestion that my question is “a rather broad topic”, it appears I may have had much more background in historical studies than you — though I stand to be corrected. I have read many historical biographies and studies of historical figures and I can say that they all follow the same sorts of techniques of historical research. The exception really is in the study of Jesus. There really is a circularity at the foundation of Jesus studies that is simply not found in the study of other ancient figures.

        And I agree, that my arguments clearly would have to be about specific methodology, and that is why I have avoided arguments about their religion, politics or philosophy. And it is a methodological argument that I raise in my question. It is methodological arguments that I have addressed consistently.

        I suspect history is not well understood by many readers here on this blog. Even Dr McGrath had not read the sources he has in the past advised me to read on historical methods, and I am confident of that claim because I quoted to him from those sources the very methods that fly in the face of how Jesus scholars work and his response was less then civil or rational each time, unfortunately.

        Schweitzer himself acknowledged that the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus is theoretically zero, and it is instructive to set beside the reasons for his claim the evidence for other historical persons of ancient times. A few reputable modern scholars have also acknowledged that historical Jesus scholars have assumed the existence of Jesus. Dr McGrath has summed up their methods well when he says that we can only know about someone from the evidence of what they do and say. The fallacy there is that this is exactly the methodology used in literary analysis of dramatic and fictional characters, too. It does not address the question of historical evidence.

        Perhaps my questions about historical method are avoided because few readers really do know much about how history works. But I have attempted to fill such a gap with posts like:

        Comparing the evidence for Jesus with other historical persons

        Confusing character and plot setting with historical fact

        Historical facts and the very unfactual Jesus: contrasting nonbiblical history with Jesus studies

        Lazy historians and their sources

  • David Raber

     Beau, you write, “I guess what I am saying is that I don’t simply fail to believe in
    contemporary ‘bone-headed’ Christians. It is the core Christian beliefs
    that I find unsupportable, unhelpful, and ultimately harmful to society.”

    When asked what the first commandment is, Jesus answered, “Love God, and your neighbor as yourself.”  How could society possibly be harmed by an individual or group acting on that admonition?  And this was Jesus’ own summation of his teaching.  So if you think Christianity harmful to society, it still seems to me that you are rejecting some form of deficient “Christianity.”  Put in another way, if “Christians” are doing things harmful to society, they are not truly following Jesus.

    Of course, if you’ve been bitten by the historical bug, you can skeptically ask, What did Jesus really teach?  And who says so?  But looking at the big picture, what Jesus taught is hardly ambiguous–it is summed up in the commandment I just mentioned, and almost every saying and parable attributed to him is in full accord with this message.  “He who has ears, let him hear.”

    • Hi David

      You’re certainly right that Jesus has a softer side than the God of the Old Testament, commanding the Israelites to decimate tribes and stone rebellious children. 

      I have more problems with Jesus’ harmful belief system than with his commands.

      His belief in hell:

      Matthew 5:22
      But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

      Matthew 5:29-30
      If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

      Matthew 7:18-19
      A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

      His belief in his own self-importance
      Matthew 10:37-39
      Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

      Matthew 11:27
      All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

      His belief that his own rules don’t apply to him:

      Matthew 5:38-39
      You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 

      Matthew 10:32-33
      Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

      His belief that he would return in glory within the lifetime of his disciples:

      Matthew 24:30-34

      Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

      I could go on and on. Beliefs in the afterlife, beliefs in blood sacrifice, beliefs in demon possession. All beliefs perpetuated throughout Christendom for 2000 years, and all causing irreparable harm.

      I can get behind “Love your neighbor as yourself” – but “Love your neighbor as I have loved you” is meaningless to me.

      … and I haven’t even gotten to Revelations!

  • Ed Jones

    Present historical methods and knowledge concludes: “We now know that none of the writings of the New Testament is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient reason for this point is that all of them (the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT) have been shown to depend on sources, oral or writtnn, eariler than themselves and hence  not to be the original and originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging in judging them to be apostolic. The witness of the apostoles in still rightly taken to be the real ‘Christian” norm, even if we today have to locate this norm not in the writings of the New Tsetament but in the earliest stratum of  Christian witness accessible to us, given our own methods of historical analysis and reconstruction.” (Schubert  Ogden).  

  • Ed Jones

     A more complete treatment of my above comment.

    A viable historical solution to the Jesus puzzle has taken
    place within the Guild of NT studies, the only discipline capable, not only of
    identifying our primary Scriptural source of apostolic witness, but of
    appropriately interpreting this source as well.  However, “few are they who find it” even among
    well-known NT scholars. Finding it, this historical solution, is “a task to
    which specialized knowledge in the areas of philology, form and redaction
    criticism, literary criticism, history of religions, and New Testament theology
    necessarily applies.” (Hans Dieter Betz). “Over the last two centuries, there
    gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made available through objective
    historical research.” (James M. Robinson). 
    Under the force of present historical methods and knowledge this new
    access was brought to a highly creditable understanding during the 1980’s.  Schubert  Ogden: “We now know not only that none of the
    Old Testament writings is prophetic witness to (Jesus), but also that none of
    the writings of the New Testament is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early
    church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient  evidence for this point in the case of the New
    Testament writings is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources,
    written or oral, earlier than themselves, and hence not to be the original and
    originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to
    be apostolic. [“the sufficient evidence” without the agonizing detail of what they
    do contain which now supplies the grist for the blogosphere mythicists’ mill]  – – the witness of the apostles is still
    rightly taken to be the real ‘Christian’ norm, even if we today have to locate
    this norm, not In the writings of the New Testament but in the earliest stratum
    of (Scriptural) witness accessible to us, given our own methods of historical
    analysis and reconstruction. Betz identifies this earliest stratum to be the
    Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27). “This source presents us with an early
    form – deriving from (the Jerusalem Jesus Movement)  –  which had direct links to the teaching the
    historical Jesus and thus constituted an alternative to Gentile Christianity as
    known above all from the letters of Paul and the Gospels, as well as the later
    writings of the New Testament.  [All are
    written in the context of imaging the Christ of faith, not the man Jesus]. If
    the Sermon on the Mount represents a response to the teaching of Jesus critical
    of that of Gentile Christianity, then it serves unmistakably to underline the
    well-known fact of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons
    for our lack of knowledge are of a hermeneutical sort and cannot be overcome by
    an access of good will (apologetics). 
    The Gentile Christian authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that
    part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves understood, they handed on
    only that which they were able to translate 
    into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and which they
    judged to be worthy of transmission.” (More to the point they included no more
    than they felt to be sufficient to lend historical credence to their Pauline Christ
    of faith myth). This calls for a new reconstruction of post death Jesus traditions.  Ed Jones Dialogue  – Vridar is such an attempt, it is in the
    form of a letter to R. Joseph Hoffmann about the now defunct Jesus Project. It
    is based largely on extracts from works of Ogden, Robinson and Betz.