This is a blog to discuss philosophy, chess, politics,
C. S. Lewis, or whatever it is that I'm in the mood to discuss.
I think there's hard evidence that within 10-30 years after the alleged execution of Jesus, a group of hard core Christians existed.That's about all there is in terms of hard evidence. From this, my gut says that there's a 95% chance Jesus existed and was crucified. The similarities between Jesus and other deities of that time (as noted by Justin Martyr, IIRC) are good reasons for that number not being higher.I think most of the details of Jesus's life are false. The story of the fisherman catching fish in mystical, Pythagorean quantities is good example of how the stories are obvious corruptions or copies of other mythologies. Astrology, 2012, psychics, 9/11 truth, anti-vax, Elvis sightings, etc. They're all bogus, and yet it doesn't seem to matter how much we call their adherents on their BS. So why should first century Palestine have been so much more skeptical than we are?
Doc, are you surprised at all that parts think? If yes, then reconsider the details of Jesus' life.
I think there is a good chance that an historical Jesus existed and was crucified. I believe that some sayings attributed to him in the *Synoptic Gospels probably were uttered by this man, but I believe that there was embellishment by his followers producing a Jesus that is now more myth than man. Like the findings of the Jesus Seminar, I believe that the Fourth Gospel does not contain Jesus' actual words, but the words of the author(s) placed on Jesus' lips.Like Loftus and Ehrman, I believe that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.
Bob Prokop writing:I guess it depends on your criteria for "hard evidence". After all, I have no hard evidence to proove what I was doing last night - at least none that would stand up in court (Don't worry, I haven't done anything illegal!), but that doesn't alter the reality of what I did (watched a DVD, read a chapter in Kipling's novel "Kim", and ate tortilla chips).It's been my experience that most people who demand an unreasonably high standard of proof for the historicity of the Gospels just don't want them to be true.
I am not sure miraculous draught of fish and it alleged pythagorian counter part has much similarity apart from having a fish context and a certain number, mentioned in john but absent from luke. I have looked at the accounts of Pythagoras' fish story and most accounts are later such as and porphyry 3rd to 4th C. The account in Plutarch is obviously earlier on the mostly accepted dates for Luke however there is little resemblance to the Luke account. The idea of corruption most be quite broad to incorporate the Jesus' and Pythagoras' fish stories in the same line. I think arguments on a lone number despite a claimed of significance for pythagoreans seems somewhat stretched. But I am not trained in this area and so could be wrong.
normajean,Did you mean "link"?Answer: No. The NT isn't a collection of independent accounts. It's a collection of accounts from collaborators. The originators of Christianity were probably illiterate, and their stories probably morphed somewhat as they traveled. Also, it's probable that some of the carriers of Christianity were more obsessed with some parts of the story than with others.
Bob,I guess it depends on your criteria for "hard evidence". After all, I have no hard evidence to prove what I was doing last night...Yes, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that what you did last night wasn't that extraordinary. If your memory of last night involves you stealing all the gold from Fort Knox, sacrificing the gold to Jesus, causing the gold to ascend into heaven, then I'm guessing even you won't believe your own memory unless Fort Knox verifies your story. After all, the odds of your being schizophrenic are far far greater than the odds of your doing what Goldfinger could not.
Vic,I think it makes for a tidy explanation of what we do know to suppose that there was a guy named Jesus who went around preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, claiming to heal the sick and cast out demons, etc, etc. But the fact that it makes for a tidy story about what really happened doesn't change the point that we're dealing with n-th hand reports from anonymous writers. Or that it's silly to talk about something as if it were a fact because we find it in n-th hand reports from anonymous writers.
Bob Prokop writing:Why do some of the people posting to this website keep insisting on labling the Evangelists as "anonymous writers"? They are very clearly and unambiguously identified: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The works are anonymous and never identify themselves. The fact that later Christians put a name to the writers does not change that anymore than the fact that Christians later named the wise men who visited the infant Jesus in 'Matthews' Gospel.
Why do some of the people posting to this website keep insisting on labling the Evangelists as "anonymous writers"? They are very clearly and unambiguously identified: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.Because the four canonical Gospels were first named by Irenaeus of Lyons around 180 CE. When Justin Martyr quoted from the Gospels around 150 CE, he called them the "Memoirs of the Apostles". Justin never claims the texts as Matthew's Gospel or Mark's Gospel, etc.. It seems obvious that no church father before Irenaeus had any names attached to these documents; the original authors did not sign their work. http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/guess.html
Bob Prokop writing:The important thing is that there were no alternatives to the named authorship of the Gospels ever set forth until many centuries afterward (most of them in quite modern times, and far, far from the events and writings themselves). These scenarios are akin to those “scholars” who put forth convoluted and unconvincing theories allegedly proving that Shakespeare was not the author of all those plays. Even, in one case (and I am not making this up!) claiming they were written by someone else with the same name!!!Also, there is overwhelming irrefutable internal evidence within each Gospel that they were indeed written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark’s Gospel is soaked in the Petrine perspective, which is exactly what one would expect from a close disciple of Peter (i.e., Mark). Matthew is imbued with Roman legalism and order - precisely the sort of thing that would be second nature to a former bureaucrat (tax collector). Luke has a marked non-Jewish way of looking at events. And why not, since Luke is the only non-Jewish NT writer? John is steeped in the worldview of the First Century Jewish mystics, and clearly is the product of a long lifetime of meditation on what the author witnessed. This fits in beautifully with the fact of this Gospel being written last, and with John being the only Apostle whose life was not cut short by martyrdom.John explicitly claims (several times) to be an eyewitness to what he is writing about, and there is strong textual evidence that Mark was present at the arrest of Jesus. Luke never claims to be an eyewitness. In fact, he emphasizes that fact in his Gospel’s opening lines. Matthew’s treatment of himself within the narrative is in strict accord with conventions of the time about putting yourself into what one was writing, so no surprises there.
I find it telling that none of these so-called eyewitness accounts are written from a first-person perspective. Odd that an "eyewitness" such as Matthew has to copy verbatim large chunks of Mark's narrative to relay his own "eyewitness" account.
Bob Prokop writing:Nothing odd about it at all. First person narratives were considered bad form until quite recently. As late as the 14th century, Dante felt the need to apologize for naming himself (a single time, mind you) in his Purgatorio. In fact, Luke is quite the unusual case in his "we" passages in Acts. My sense is that he wished to somehow identify which events he was a participant in (i.e., eyewitness), as opposed to merely recording them, and decided that this was the easiest way.
There is also the problem of how the narrator in the gospels is privy to conversations that the disciples were not around to hear. Unless one wants to believe that the resurrected Jesus had Matthew, Peter, and John jot it down so that they could write about it some 30 to 60 years later?
First person narratives were considered bad form until quite recently.I guess St. Paul is guilty of bad form, then?
Doctor Logic, indeed, I meant “parts think,” but I was being funny, kind of. When I read you and a few other here, I get the impression that Biblical skeptics are skeptics mostly because they've excluded the probability of miracles. When I asked you if “parts think,” I was referring to the gushy stuff in our skulls. I wondered if you were ready to agree with me that consciousness was something like a miracle. I’m trying to trick you into the kingdom. Just kidding... =)
Bob Prokop writing:St. Paul was not writing narratives. Sorry for not being more precise.As for relating events they were not around to see, there are only two scenes in the entire gospels for which there are no apparent witnesses. The first is the temptation of Christ in the desert. But one could explain this easily by the fact that Jesus had three years after their occurrence to tell the Apostles about them. The second is Jesus praying in the garden while the disciples slept. But this difficulty vanishes when one considers the role of the unnamed man in Mark 14: 51-52. Here is your witness (he is probably also the Evangelist himself). There are no other instances in the Gospels of anything occurring without at least one witness to tell about it.
There are no other instances in the Gospels of anything occurring without at least one witness to tell about it.How about Jesus' appearances before Caiaphas, Herod, the Sanhedrin, and Pilate? Who was the court reporter for these events?I believe it is safe to say that the gospels are stories penned by later followers to give a back-story to Jesus, since Paul was pretty much silent about the life and ministry of his Messiah. People wanted to know more about the central figure in their new religion and "Mark" provided. Just like later authors created fanciful infancy gospels for believers who craved information on what Jesus was doing for the thirty something years before his ministry.OTOH, I do believe that there is some history in the Synoptic Gospels. It's just that the real history is encrusted with legendary accretion from years of Jesus' followers playing Chinese Whispers.
Victor, how can I get in touch?Yours,Mark OppenheimerNew York Timesmark.firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Prokop writing:Walter, you answered your own question. The witnesses at those events were the participants that you named (Caiaphas, Herod, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, plus everyone else in the room). We know from the Gospels themselves that there were members sympathetic to Christ in the Sanhedrin. I have no difficulty in believing there were others in Herod’s palace, Pilate’s offices, etc. My point wasn’t that we knew who these sources were, but that the Gospels did not depict anything that wasn’t witnessed (other than the temptations, and I have already dealt with that issue elsewhere). In every case, there is a plausible eyewitness source upon who the Evangelists could easily have based their accounts.But we’re missing the bigger issue here. Sceptics of the historicity of the Gospels seem to think that Christians (at least today) simply take the accuracy of these documents “on faith”, but are completely blind to their own faith-based assumptions. When you start out by stacking the deck against the narratives, of course your conclusions are going to be prejudiced against their validity. A good example is your out of hand dismissal of the testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons without citing a single reason why we shouldn’t lend at least some credence to what he says. Another is the red herring of the timespan between the events of Christ’s life and the writing of the Gospels. I have elsewhere said that years ago, when I was in my 20s, 3 or 4 decades seemed like a long, long time. Now that I am pushing 60, I can readily believe that one can accurate describe a life changing event that occurred to one 40 or 50 years ago. I brought up the instance of learning of JFK’s assassination. To this day, I can in intricate detail describe where I was, what I was doing, and how I reacted when I heard the news. And that was nearly 50 years ago! Now if I were witness to a miracle, or were I to see someone rise from the dead, you can bet your life I would never forget the smallest, most trivial detail for as long as I lived. So the composition dated of the Gospels should not be an issue.
Sorry for the typo. I meant to write "upon whom". Bob
Bob Prokop writes:"It's been my experience that most people who demand an unreasonably high standard of proof for the historicity of the Gospels just don't want them to be true."Ken writes:If someone claimed to be God in modern times, how high would your standard of proof be?The lowest standard might be if someone from Uganda merely claimed to be God in the year 1980. Of course you would need a good miracle as proof. But then if he performed a miracle, such as being tortured to death and resurrecting, and ordinary non-medical witnesses attested to it in a third world country, all compiled via word of mouth over the last 30-35 years by a group of authors who may or may not have been witnesses -- and subsequently published in a paperback this year -- would that be good enough? Perhaps documentation of the testimony compilation methods would suffice or would you further need medical records that show a definite state of brain death had occurred, followed by a filmed reanimation? I think most Christians would demand a higher standard of proof of a 21st century resurrection claim than they do for a 1st century one. While it may be a matter of raw skepticism, I don't think it is a historian's naturalistic aversion to miracles that is the main obstacle to believing the resurrection.If you look at the gospel discrepancies, you can see the errors creep in from account to account. The composite image the gospels give us -- you must admit -- is at least a little fuzzy. It's not just human memory, it's also a telling and re-telling of stories by different witnesses over the years and apparently in some cases, hearsay. But it's really the process of recording the accounts that gets lost in the black box of 35 years. If all the witnesses had perfect memory and related their story to each gospel writer first hand, I don't see how we would have seen the same glaring discrepancies, such as who visited the empty tomb and what did they see. Even the best historical research regarding ancient times is just too low-res an instrument to prove or disprove grandiose claims from a relatively obscure (at that time) incident.
A good example is your out of hand dismissal of the testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons without citing a single reason why we shouldn’t lend at least some credence to what he says.Actually, I posted a link right underneath my comment. This site explains why I do not trust Irenaeus' guessing game.http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/guess.htmlYou'll have to copy/paste.
Bob Prokop writing:Ken, I think you and I have a slightly different understanding of the term "historicity", as regards the Gospels. I am using it to mean, "Are the events of Christ's life faithfully recorded in the Gospels, as either eyewitness accounts, or as related to the Evangelists by others who were themselves eyewitnesses?" Discrepancies between accounts are actually evidence of accuracy. If they were all blandly alike, one would rightly suspect that someone had tampered with the record to suppress anything that might raise an eyebrow. The fact that the Evangelists (and those who transmitted their writings) did not do so shows that they had respect for their sources, and were motivated by spreading the Truth rather than engaging in spin.The very legitimate questions you bring up (concerning someone claiming to be God) are a separate issue altogether, which is, "What is the significance of these events?" Before we can get to that point, we must first ascertain whether the events in question actually occurred.
Discrepancies between accounts are actually evidence of accuracyI find the discrepancies between the Jesus of the Synoptics and the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel to be a little too much. Since earlier documents are more likely to be closer in historical accuracy than later ones, my money is on the assertion that the last canonical Gospel is almost pure fabrication. The Synoptic Gospels show obvious signs of literary dependence on one another, so that destroys the theory of eyewitnesses writing separate, independent accounts that validate each other. If one copies another you end up having only one source document to pin your historical hopes on.
Bob Prokop writing:Walter, thanks for the link. I hardly ever go to links that people put in their postings (a character flaw, I guess). I'm quite familiar with everything in there - have been so for years. But I'm sorry, it just doesn't have that "ring of truth" about it. There's way too much Rube Goldberg complexity / borderline conspiracy theory mindset about the whole line of arguement. I'll go with Occam's Razor here - the simplest explanation that doesn't violate logic or physics is probably the correct one.When I actually READ the Gospels (which I've done countless times over the years), rather than just talk about them, their authorship jumps right off the page at me. It would require some pretzel bending mental contortions for me to reject the plain sense of what's right before me, which are four coherent, internally consistent accounts of the same events from differing sources. The individual character of the Evangelists, and the "good fit" with each of the named authors is clear (and, to be honest, a lot easier to swallow than the Da Vinci Code style conclusions set forth in the website you cited).
Bob, Nothing I have written so far is controversial at all. It is widely accepted by liberal Christian theologians who embrace modern historical-critical scholarship on the bible. These believers still manage to maintain faith in God and Jesus despite the fact that the Gospels were most likely written by later followers of the disciples, and not primary eyewitnesses.I'll go with Occam's Razor here - the simplest explanation that doesn't violate logic or physics is probably the correct one. Yeah, that's my argument in a nutshell--against a physical resurrection of Jesus.
Bob Prokop Wrote:Ken, I think you and I have a slightly different understanding of the term "historicity", as regards the Gospels. I am using it to mean, "Are the events of Christ's life faithfully recorded in the Gospels, as either eyewitness accounts, or as related to the Evangelists by others who were themselves eyewitnesses?"Ken Writes:I tentatively accept that the gospels represent historicity of the man Jesus, but that decent historical evidence in general will never be accurate enough to resolve the minutiae of what takes place in ancient times. And minutiae are important to determine what truly happened in particular incidents such as the supposedly miraculous resurrection. The gospels may have roughly recorded what went on, but they will never replace a transparent contemporaneous investigation.To repeat my pointHistorical records of ancient times: Good for major events, bad for anecdotal incidentsBob Prokop Wrote:Discrepancies between accounts are actually evidence of accuracy. If they were all blandly alike, one would rightly suspect that someone had tampered with the record to suppress anything that might raise an eyebrow. The fact that the Evangelists (and those who transmitted their writings) did not do so shows that they had respect for their sources, and were motivated by spreading the Truth rather than engaging in spin.Ken Writes:Discrepancies are not evidence of accuracy of the final product, but merely evidence the earnestness of the Gospel writers and other early Christians. If their sources were inaccurate, then the gospels will be inaccurate. Okay, Matthew didn't make up the story about an earthquake, frightened guards and zombie saints, but his sources quite possibly did if we juxtapose that account with the other gospels which make no mention of Matthew's amazing stories. But doubts about Matthew's sources lead to doubts about all the sources, even when they agree.
Bob Prokop writing:Ken, I'll concede your point that narrative discrepancies should not be considered (by themselves) to be evidence of accuracy. I probably overstated my case there in the heat of typing. But they ARE most definitely evidence of a lack of tampering with the accounts, and as you in turn conceded (if I understood you right), of respect for the source material.
But they ARE most definitely evidence of a lack of tampering with the accounts, and as you in turn conceded (if I understood you right), of respect for the source material.Only up to a certain point. We can't really say how much the story elements were "tampered" with, or purposely arranged to further a particular view, before the Church began to reach a critical enough mass to sustain a leadership that began to collect these works, venerate them, and then begin to ensure that they were copied.It's what is happening in that indeterminate period that most skeptics are uneasy about.John's story about the adulterous woman is not found in the earliest manuscripts available.Mark's ending, 16:9-20, isn't found in early manuscripts either.Clearly someone either added these stories to the gospels....or, assuming the authors actually wrote them...purposely left them out of manuscripts.Either way, we are left with the realization that copyists/editors had their way with the text sometimes.....which sort of eliminates the notion that nobody would ever do such a thing in the first place because of their reverence for the text.
there is a good chance that an historical Jesus existed and was crucified.OK, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was the son of God, or performed the miracles, or was born of a virgin, etc. Crucifixtion was a common method of execution, for one. Why would the Almighty (assuming that He ..exists for a few nanoseconds) set the Golgotha production in, well, the backwaters of judea? Why not the Messiah appearing before the Roman senate, or in Coliseum , or for that matter, some massive revelation across the skies, with like "LOVE" written in the clouds?? Etc. It's far more likely that not that Christ was a mortal (assuming he existed. Hume and Gibbon even had doubts about that). That doesn't mean the ethical teaching's worthless, but human, all too human.
Bob Prokop wrote:Ken, I'll concede your point that narrative discrepancies should not be considered (by themselves) to be evidence of accuracy. I probably overstated my case there in the heat of typing. But they ARE most definitely evidence of a lack of tampering with the accounts, and as you in turn conceded (if I understood you right), of respect for the source material.Ken writes: It's a double-edged sword, sloppiness instead of dishonesty. On the one hand discrepancies don't rule out tampering (I'll grant that the gospel writers were completely honest compilers for the sake of argument) and provide slight evidence of using nothing but sources, but it may be more of an indication that the compilation of testimony was indiscriminate and careless. They might have accepted a variety of hearsay accounts of the same incident and might have done their best to include all of them in one narrative of their own composition, thus giving the appearance of a purposeful redaction. That alone could account for a lot of variation, especially the additions we see in later gospels.
I think one's approach to the NT depends upon one's antecedent probabilities. If one is fairly cerrtain that God does not exist, then one will dismiss the miraculous accounts and claims about Jesus's divinity with not too much difficulty. If one thinks that God probably exists, and one is looking for places in history where God has tried to reveal something aout Himself, then the NT accounts take on a great deal more plausibility.And if one is just sitting on the fence, I think there is something (all miraculous claims aside) extraordinary about the person of Jesus that should help one decide to hop down and start heading in a certain direction.
Chris: I think most of what we know about ancient history came from writers would could be accused of being anonymous, if you are going to call the gospel writers anonymous. If people used the same skeptical methods with respect to the rest of ancient history that people use for the Bible, we would be in doubt about virtually everything from antiquity. Is Tacitus any better off than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Why?
Victor, I don't know a great deal about Tacitus, but among other things some of our sources from the ancient world wrote their accounts as first hand accounts, and actually put their names on their books, while the gospel writers didn't write their accounts as first person accounts and even Evangelical scholars agree the names were later additions to the texts. So your complaint is pretty silly.
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