The Great Jesus debate. Did he exist at all - and if he did, what reasons do we have to believe he was divine?

(316 Posts)
EllieArroway Tue 05-Mar-13 13:51:59

Madhairday and I have been plotting behind the scenes to have this debate as we think it will be interesting, both for us and for others.

Mad is a Christian & I am an atheist. I will leave it entirely up to her to present her case.

Mine is:

It's impossible to conclude that Jesus actually existed at all given that there's simply no evidence to work with. I am aware that the majority (although not all) of scholars, both secular & religious, have concluded that he did exist, but this is for inferential reasons not evidential ones, so the issue is nowhere near as cut and dried as many people suppose.

While I am generally happy to accept that there was some man, probably called Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus, who lived in the Galilean region at the beginning of the 1st century & who may have died by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans - I don't feel that this is particularly significant or justifies anyone in believing that he was divine.

I also believe that nearly all of the "Jesus story" - the nativity, the miracles, the resurrection etc is complete myth and never happened at all.

I have continually pointed out on many threads that "There's no evidence that Jesus existed" and been called ignorant and so forth. So, this is my opportunity to make my case and demonstrate that this is, in fact, a correct statement.

So, I'm kicking of this (hopefully) interesting discussion with:

There is no evidence that Jesus the man existed. Discuss wink

(By the way, this is an open discussion for anyone to join in, ask questions, make points etc, it's not just for Mad and I).

Absy Wed 06-Mar-13 14:39:26

Shortly after you also had the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans, and many people thought that he was the Messiah (including the highly esteemed sage, Rabbi Akiva).

HolofernesesHead Wed 06-Mar-13 14:44:09

Absy, in the Talmud, isn't Jesus seen as kind of dangerous to Jewish people, as a false teacher / deceiver (in Greek the word is planos, not sure what it would be in other languages) who might seduce Jewish people away from their religion? A scholar called Daniel Boyarin has done some very interesting work on the Talmudic tradition of Jesus as 'forbidden fruits' to Jews.

Snorbs Wed 06-Mar-13 14:45:54

Absy, do these Talmudic stories about a wayward student make any mention of the miracles that Jesus is supposed to have performed?

HolofernesesHead Wed 06-Mar-13 14:52:23

As far as I'm aware Snorbs, the Talmidim portray Jesus as a teacher, not a miracle-worker. It's the message of Jesus that has the potential to seduce, not the miracles (in the Talmudim anyway).

MadHairDay Wed 06-Mar-13 14:53:46

Sorry I ran off in the middle of a sentence. I just realised on time it was DS parent consultation in 10 mins grin <organised mum alert> <he's doing well> smile

Anyway, where was I. Ah yes, your argument Ellie about the fragmentary nature of what's been handed down, I'll copy and paste that last bit.

Your last point is that accounts have been faffed around with so much in the past 2000 years that they are unreliable. Again, this is a myth. Scholars argue that the accounts we read today are remarkably close to what was written down originally. We have a multiplicity of early material, fragments of papyrus dating right back as early as the first century AD. The amount of material we have far, far surpasses any other ancient evidence for anything else. iirc the next in line for the sheer amount of pieces of material belong to Homer's the Iliad, and even with this there are only hundreds of fragments/pieces as opposed to the thousands of early manuscripts with NT material. I think there are something like 5,000 from the original Greek and 24,000 in all including translations. As well as the utter wealth of material there are pieces of manuscript dating from incredibly early on, in ancient historical terms - pieces of parchment from possibly the late 1st century and definitely early 2nd.

As to them being faffed around with, well no. The multiplicity of material we have bears witness to the fact that what we read today, say in the New Revised Standard Version, is remarkably true to what was preserved in the early church. The copies we have which are translations show an amazing likeness to Greek portions. Of course, there are inconsistencies, as there would be across any such breadth of material through time and cultures. But these inconsistencies, much like with the gospel material, are most often secondary points, with the heart of the matter being preserved as utterly consistent, as written in early creeds, as practised by the very earliest Christians. I read that 99.5% of the material across the 24,000 sources is so consistent as to be historically viable in every sense.

We're just not talking about some meandering writings written way after the time and lost in the mists of time and legend here. We're talking about reliable accounts, lovingly and painstakingly preserved, with understandable errors (which are in footnotes for all to read in most good editions of the NT), and about an unprecedented amount of material. It just cannot be written off as inconsequential kerygma shaped by the community.

Absy Wed 06-Mar-13 14:56:59

As I said, I don't know that much about it - it was mentioned in relation to a lesson that you shouldn't push people too far. In the story that I was told about (and bear in mind, these can also be allegorical), the student did something wrong (I really can't remember properly, I think they were leching over a waitress, or the that-time eqivalent of a waitress) and their rabbi (teacher) told them off very harshly for it, at which point the student completely abandoned their rabbi and Jewish teachings and became antithetical. The lesson is basically that you should never punish someone too far. It also shows why these particular stories were not published for centuries, given that the Catholic Church stopped accused Jews of Deicide in the 1960s, having a story in the Talmud about someone who is thought to be Jesus, about him leching and being rude to his teacher was pretty much a death sentence.

The Hebrew (which is actually a Greek word) term for someone who is dangerous to Judaism (in a religious sense) is apikoros, which would also be a false teacher.

MadHairDay Wed 06-Mar-13 15:00:43

The Talmud, interestingly does refer to Jesus as practising magic, so supporting the claim that Jesus worked miracles. As Holo says it also refers to him as a teacher and says he had disciples.

MostlyLovingLurchers Wed 06-Mar-13 15:02:53

The similarities between Jesus & Buddha are interesting though & worth considering.

The 'evidence' for Jesus being in India doesn't stand up to scrutiny - if it did and there was any proof there would be no need for this debate! I do, however, think there are some interesting parallels - with Krishna as well as with Buddha, and do think it is plausible that IF Jesus existed he MAY have travelled and been influenced by Dharmic ideas.

The idea of god incarnate has, i think, no foundation in Judaism, but belief in Krishna as god incarnate was widespread in the east. Both are meant to have been divinely conceived. Many of Jesus' miracles such as walking on water are also attributed to Buddha. The whole love and peace ethos certainy has more in common with dharmic beliefs than judaism, as is the idea that we are all children of god or are god ourselves. I can't help but wonder whether Jesus' philosophy was in some part based on this, which it was why it was percieved as so heretical.

Absy Wed 06-Mar-13 15:25:57

Magic would be distinct from miracles, and within the Talmud/Kabbalah there is no denial that people are able to perform "magic".

A true miracle is the distortion (I don't know how to term it better) of natural laws, but not going too far (it would always be within the realms of possibility) and it is very rare and only for a very important purpose that you would have a very "open" miracle. The stuff that Moses did with Pharoah is a good example. The Midrash discusses it in detail - when Moses went to Pharoah's court, the first bunch of "miracles" were all matched by the magicians in court, e.g. turning a staff into a snake, turning the water into blood. It was only when it was an event that could be nature, but in a more extreme form (the plague of locusts), then the magicians couldn't replicate.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 15:55:08

DS is nabbing the laptop for tonight to do his GCSE work.

*Pfffff, I mean, really - priorities!!!

Anyhow - I shall be on much later. Not ignoring anyone in the meantime.

*Joking. Ahem.

LadyLech Wed 06-Mar-13 21:14:50

""There is no evidence for Jesus" is true"

Sorry, can I just clarify - evidence for what about Jesus, exactly?

Evidence that there was a person called Jesus?
Evidence that Jesus was the Son of God?
Evidence that the Biblical accounts of Jesus are true?
Evidence that there was a teacher / preacher guy called Jesus, who may have done something special?

Obviously, this is a very wide question, and unless everyone's clear on exactly what is being discussed, people could be talking at cross purposes. It's one thing to suggest there's evidence to believe in someone called Jesus, but it is something entirely different to believe that there is evidence for Jesus being special / God / prophet / messiah etc...

Personally, I think there probably was a person called Jesus. Given that Messiahs were two a penny in those days, (The book on the Jesus Mysteries makes some interesting points on this, but usual disclaimer, its years since I last read it - now collecting dust on my bookshelf!) I think there probably was someone, and he probably did something - something that drew followers and opponents, but beyond that, I wouldn't want to commit.

And Absy, I too have heard of stuff about Jesus being taken out of the Talmud, but again couldn't say what... that sounds familiar to me too.

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 00:30:04

Lady Well, I suppose we're doing both <helpful>

There are two issues - whether the man existed as a historical figure (the historicity) & what we can deduce about him, his life & his teachings (the historical - which presupposes his historicity, in some respect, but not necessarily).

I think we're trying to begin with the first & then letting it evolve into the second.

All of the evidence available regarding Jesus is hearsay. Since we do not accept generally that hearsay is reliable evidence, it's therefore true to say that there's no reliable evidence to demonstrate Jesus' existence. This is in contrast to the oft repeated assertion that Jesus' existence is a proven fact. No, it's not - and that's all I'm trying to show.

I agree with you - I think it's more likely than not that he existed, lived around that time in that place, said a few of the things he's attributed with, had something to do with John the Baptist, was murdered by the Romans & was mourned by a handful of people who, for some reason, thought he'd risen from the dead. But all of these things are not "facts", they are inferences - clever, logical inferences, but inferences nonetheless. And inferences are different from evidence in that they can be drawn even when the basic premise is flawed or wrong and can be subjective in nature.

I know you know all this - but I'm clarifying what I mean for anyone reading and wondering.

Someone upthread asked me about Tacitus. Really sorry, can't remember the name of the poster and if I scroll back I'll lose what I've written, the new mum with the baby....Tacitus.

He was an important Roman historian - not a contemporary of Jesus, so can't provide anything direct. He put together a comprehensive history of Rome and as part of that he wrote (in about 115AD) about the fire set by Nero in 64 which Nero blamed the Christians for. Providing background for his readers, Tacitus explains that the Christians were a religious group who got their name from "Christus.....who was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. He refers to the beliefs of the Christians as "superstition" and said that it began in Judea and slowly spread to Rome.

And that's it. In his fairly massive history written less than a century after these events, that's all Tacitus has to say about the most important figure in human history.

And what he says tells us precisely nothing in the quest for a historical Jesus - nothing that we didn't already know from the gospels. He does not confirm the existence of Jesus, just Christians and what they believe. He clearly didn't have much respect for the beliefs because he called them "superstitions".

So, no, Tacitus provides us with nothing - just a confirmation of what we already know.

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 00:35:19

Lurchers Actually, when I responded to you earlier and said that the comparisons with Jesus & Buddha are interesting, I actually meant Krishna. Sorry blush Although, there are also some parallels between Buddha and Jesus too that are worth exploring, so it wasn't an entirely stupid thing to say (I hope).

I think (when I can be bothered to think about it at all) that among the various rabble-rousers and prophets kicking around in the area at the time, there was probably at least one called Jesus who had the gift of the gab. I also think it's likely that, in one of those fairly random sort of crowd/myth surges that are a bit equivalent to the popularity of the 50 Shades books, he got popular and various cool things that various of the other chatterboxes did got attributed to 'Jesus'. But the concept of a 'king' who is sacrificed and comes back to life is fairly common and basically an agricultural metaphor anyway.

Now my history and mythology are not that great, but I would be interested to know if anyone knows much about the historical veracity of either King Arthur or Robin Hood. Because I have a feeling that they and Jesus Christ have a lot in common ie they are archetypal blank canvases that people can attribute stuff to, but there is some disputed evidence to the fact that there may have been at least one individual human being living at the relevant time who did some of the things attributed to him.

(That there is no really comparable female archetype is probably a discussion for another thread.)

As to Jesus or any of the individuals whose stories may have made up the Jesus archetype being 'divine', well that's rubbish, because there's no such state of being.

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 02:08:22

Dear Readers & Mad.....I must sincerely apologise for the length of the following posts, but I really want to address everything because it's important. It's not just that I like the sound of my own voice although I do.

Cloaked in obscurity in that it happened in a small region in a time things were not generally recorded. They didn't have the Daily Fail in those days What happened was that as the movement of early Christianity gained momentum, very quickly, the documentation of it passed down via oral tradition (we're not talking vague memories of stories your nan told you here) was solidified in the gospels, the writings of Paul even before these, and later on in mentions of Jesus and the movement in Roman, Jewish and then early Christian literature

No, things weren't recorded - but people certainly spoke to each other. If they didn't, the "oral tradition" would have fallen apart. You seem to be using the "oral tradition" to explain how the gospels were preserved, but dismissing it when trying to explain how no one had heard about this amazing man while he was alive. 5000 people watched a man take 2 loaves and 5 fishes (5 loaves, 2 fishes?) and multiply them before their very eyes. This would have been the single most extraordinary thing anyone of them would ever have seen. And 5000 people is not just a few who stopped for a listen - that's an immense number, many of whom would have travelled back to their homes and told everyone who would listen what they'd seen. It's inconceivable that this didn't eventually reach the ears of someone who would write it down - even if they were dismissing it as a silly rumour. It would have spread like wildfire surely?

The Romans would have surely heard about this from someone or other. They didn't investigate? They were cross enough that Jesus had proclaimed himself King of the Jews (although actually, he didn't) that they killed him. How much more alarmed would they have been to hear about someone performing astonishing feats in front of thousands?

And do you really believe that 40 years of people passing on stories they've heard to each other is likely to result in a consistent & reliable account? No one, out of those hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people would have over egged the pudding? Made a mistake? Lied to make it sound more exciting or convince their loved ones? Stories were passed from country to country, language to language - no mistranslations, no misunderstandings? That the story began in this way does not favour your case, it does exactly the opposite. We already know how useless we humans are when it comes to detail - ask any police officer. This is, essentially, a game of Chinese Whispers played with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people. The results when you've got 10 kids sitting in a circle is comical enough - what do you get when you widen the circle that considerably?

I do not think you can apply a modern lens to the situation - you cannot say, for example, that surely the feeding of the 5,000 must necessarily have been recorded somewhere at the time - because this was just not done

I agree. And it's not a question of "recording" - just mentioning it somewhere would do. We have a awful lot of trivial nonsense passed on to us from lots of historians who were right there - none of which was anything like as important as the stuff Jesus was up to. But not a tiny, weeny whiff. This is odd, no matter how you look at it.

I have to go back to the NT accounts as historical sources which hold up under scrutiny. Paul's writings go back to a time extremely soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus. His inclusion of early forms of credal statements point to the fact that early Christianity was formed and organised very soon after the events took place and that there was consistency of belief. Not only that, but the accounts in Luke and Acts, for example, were written by a respected physician and historian who hung out with Paul who was likely to have been converted around 2 years after the resurrection. Hardly accounts that would be based on vague memories lost in the mists of time and made up by a few deluded individuals. They were contemporary enough to be fully refuted by more hostile witnesses living at the time, but they were not

Luke, Paul & Acts is interesting. I'll address it tomorrow when I'm not so woolly headed - also need to look up dates and stuff.

Early Christianity was not nearly so well organised and consistent as you're suggesting. It was pretty blinking chaotic, to the despair of Paul. There were also break away groups who were broadly Christian but who all believed something wildly different from the others - the Ebonites, various Gnostic groups, the Marcionites. There was an early struggle between the competing groups as to which would become the "official" version of Christianity - and the one that won out was the very one we know and love today.

Hostile witnesses such as Tacitus the Roman historian only back up the existence of Jesus, despite him naming him as a sorcerer - again, an implicit accounting for Jesus being a miracle worker

But he doesn't back up the existence of Jesus - he backs up what we already know about the existence of early Christians and what they were getting up to. His hostility is neither here nor there since he doesn't tell us anything anyway.

I'm done in for tonight. I shall get to the rest of your points tomorrow.


EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 02:24:28

Oh, and this is what Tacitus had to say:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind

Nowhere does he say that Jesus was a "sorcerer", so the idea that he somehow provides credence for Jesus the miracle worker is simply not true. The "mischievous superstition" refers to the beliefs of the Christians, not to anything Jesus had done.

Solid Absolutely no evidence of any kind whatsoever for King Arthur - therefore all historians would describe him as a legend, I think.

I don't think there's any evidence for Robin Hood either - but he is interesting in that the earliest stories about him did not mention his habit of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, this evolved later. I think you can draw quite a good comparison between him & the Jesus myths on this basis alone.

HolofernesesHead Thu 07-Mar-13 08:28:04

Morning everyone!

I haven't got time right now to address all the issues raised, but to pick a few relatively minor historical points:

Ellie, you said that you feel it's unlikely that Jesus spoke / read Greek. Scholars are actually pretty divided on this. You might be basing your opinion on common sense (as you understand it), but I can't help thinking that in order to answer this question with any degree of historical integrity, one needs to know quite a bit about the spread and reach of koine Greek in the ancient world. I've met illiterate people in tribal communities who speak four different dialects, so fluency in languages and literacy are not always intertwined. Do you know much about this from a historical POV, or are you just going on what is 'normal' in 2013 UK? (I.e. Education, literacy and fluency in more than one language going together)?

Second, you mentioned the lack of mentions of Jesus in Roman writings. What do you know about the recordkeeping that Romans used of the people they killed? After all, Jesus wasn't the only person to be crucified- many thousands were in the siege of Jerusalem. What kind of records were kept of all these many people, and therefore what sources would be available to a Roman historian writing after the event? Do you know much about this?

Finally, the Talmudim - IMO they are interesting, but from the POV of how Jewish teachers perceived Jesus and the Jesus movent, rather than giving any evidence for the historical Jesus. The Talmudim are much later, anyway. Id never use them in a discussion of the historical Jesus.

These are minor points and certainly not argument-clinchers, but ISTM that it's important to ground what we say in what we know of the first century, and move from there to what might be historically plausible, rather than starting from where we are and retrojecting what we imagine might be historically plausible based on 21st c. Western European common sense (although I consider historical imagination to be a good and useful thing, esp. Wrt periods of history about which we know competitively little, such as the 1st c.)

MadHairDay Thu 07-Mar-13 09:22:09


A very quick one here as I have a manic day ahead rushing round from hospital to music exam so I won't be able to get on very much, but hope to come and address some of your points later Ellie smile

Quick one about the Chinese Whispers one though - it is not comparable in the least to a game of CW as we know it. If you were going to draw any parallel you'd have to say something like the game would halt every 3 people to check they had heard it correctly, to make sure they were getting each word right. CW works because it's whispers, people can't hear properly and deliberately mishear and certainly never check it, so it gets changed. In oral tradition there were stringent checks in place to make sure what was handed down was true to the original, and the inconsistencies therein were to do with individual personality and linguistic devices.

But must rush smile

Absy Thu 07-Mar-13 09:32:43

The other thing to note is with the "Jesus" stories being removed from the Talmud - a lot of things that could possibly refer to Jesus was removed from (at least Ashkenazi - so Northern and Eastern Europe) Jewish books and prayers from the Middle Ages onwards, due to persecution.

For e.g, there is a prayer called "Aleinu" which has a sentence in it which was removed from Ashkenazi prayer books until recently (and a lot of communities still don't say it) because the church thought that it might refer to Jesus. The transliterated Hebrew is "Shehem mishtachvim l'hevel varik umit'pal'lim al lo yoshia " which means "for the worship vanity and emptiness and pray to a god that cannot save". "yoshia" means to save (and a lot of words linked to saving/redemption have the same root) but many church authorities interpreted it as a reference to Yehoshua (Jesus).

So likewise, the stories about the miscreant in student could have referenced the actual historic Jesus, or someone with the same name and the risk that the church might interpret it as being a slander on Christianity (whether or not it actually was/is) was too great.

MostlyLovingLurchers Thu 07-Mar-13 10:53:21

Solid Absolutely no evidence of any kind whatsoever for King Arthur - therefore all historians would describe him as a legend, I think.

I think King Arthur is a good case to compare. You would think if someone existed who did the things he is supposed to have done that there would have been some record of him, not least in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. The first direct reference to him is not until Nennius in the C9th. There is however a reference in an obscure welsh poem from the C6th, more or less contemporary with Arthur. Most of the sources describing the Arthur we would recognise are written 100s of years after when he was supposed to have lived, and are largely fictional (yes you, Geoffrey of Monmouth).

Most Arthurian enthusiasts would accept that there is very little evidence for him, but would say that there may have well been a minor king at this time who gave rise to the legends. In much the same way most scholars accept that there may have been a carpenter turned preacher around at the time of Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, for who there are glimpses in the historical record, but no concrete proof. The rise of the subsequent religion based on him has as much to do with this man as the tales of Camelot have to do with an Anglo Saxon warlord.

Has anyone read Phillip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ? Yes, i know it is fiction, but it puts forward an interesting scenario of how the words of a preacher could be manipulated with an eye to the future of his followers.

HolofernesesHead Thu 07-Mar-13 11:14:48

So Lurchers, are you saying that it is historically accurate to say that there is a convincing analogy between the ways in which Arthurian narratives developed and the ways in which the Jesus tradition developed? Are you an Arthurian specialist? I'm not, and I know little about the narratives of that period. Let's have a think about it:

Were sacred rites developed based on Arthur within a short time of his death, say, a decade?

were Athurian communities established within the same time peroid, who met in each other's homes to do things centred on the person of Arthur?

Were people reflecting on Arthur's achievements and personality within a decade of his death, and writing letters to other people about Arthur? (If so, would you include these in your assessment of Arthur?)

Did a distinctively Arthturian worldview emerge within a generation of his death?

Were the earliest writings about Arthur given the status of holy writings / scripture, and passed on from place to place?

Was the body of authoritative writings about Arthur complete within a century, and did people later defend this as a defined 'canon' of writings that couldn't be added to?

From that, were some traditions about Arthur deemed authentic and others not? Was there any crisis over which Arthurian traditions ought to be accepted, and which rejected? Or did the stories emerge in a more organic, un-policed kind of way?

It'd be very cool if the answer to these questions were 'yes', btw! But judging from the writers you cite in your post, I'm not sure that it is. If this is so, and if you still want to defend your argument that a cogent historical analogy can be made between the development of traditions surrounding Arthur and the development of traditions surrounding Jesus, on what grounds can you do that? I'm not saying it's an impossible argument to defend, but you'd have to do some fancy footwork, and quite a few ifs and buts to give it any convincing rigour.

I haven't read The Scoundrel Christ - what's his basic argument?

MostlyLovingLurchers Thu 07-Mar-13 11:42:32

Holo - it is an (imperfect) analogy of two people for whom there is little historical evidence. Arthur (if he existed) was a soldier, not a preacher, and so would be an unlikely candidate for hanging any kind of faith from. There is the messianic aspect though - Arthur is supposed to rise again to defend England in it's time of need. And yes, hands up to being an Arthurian nut (not sure that makes me a specialist though!).

The Pullman book is written as a parable of sorts and uses the conceit that Jesus had a twin brother (Christ). The main issue it deals with is how Christ records the teachings of Jesus, and begins (under the influence of some shady sources) to amend the facts to create a more appealing narrative that will ensure the survival of the early church, even to the detriment of his brother during his lifetime. Pullman's ire is very much aimed at the church not at Jesus. Worth reading, whatever side of the fence you are on.

Sorry to be brief - duty calls.

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 13:56:50

Ellie, you said that you feel it's unlikely that Jesus spoke / read Greek Jesus was unusual enough that he could read at all - it's extremely unlikely that he could read Greek, although not impossible. His disciples almost certainly couldn't.....and no sensible scholar thinks that they could write in a foreign language. I don't think opinion is divided on that at all, I'm afraid.

2000 years ago, less than 10% of the population had any literacy at all - and those that did tended to be rich and privileged, not fishermen, carpenters and lowly tax collectors. Also, reading & writing didn't go together like they do now - they were separate skills, so being able to read didn't necessarily mean you could write.

And anyway, so? None of them wrote the gospels (this I'm afraid we DO know) so their literacy is not really relevant.

Holo Do you know much about this* No. I'm making it all up as I go along wink

I'm less bothered by the lack of record from the Romans. I am considerably more bothered by the fact that we have 30 or so historians who were writing about the goings on in the region at the time and who talk about: lots of different messiah claimants, the various religious cults & what they and their leaders were getting up to, the claims of magic and woo, the people the Romans were persecuting etc. No mention FOR OVER 100 YEARS of anyone called Jesus.

You can't dismiss this as irrelevant, I'm afraid, "Oh well, it was different back then" will not wash. Yes, it was different - but we are still talking about the one of the best attested periods in the ancient world. This silence has been bothersome for Christians from the very beginning - this is why the likes of Eusebius was willing to lie & forge things to support the cause (he admitted that and explained why).

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 15:00:13

Were sacred rites developed based on Arthur within a short time of his death, say, a decade? How do you know they were for Jesus, exactly? You are aware that we have literally nothing whatsoever to tell us what was happening with early Christians (if there even were any) before about 70AD. And by nothing, I mean literally nothing, so you're assuming.

And how, exactly, do you think the (at least) 10,000 other religions that we know of evolved? Same way Christianity did - people talking to each other and developing rites & traditions.

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 15:09:17

Not only that, but the accounts in Luke and Acts, for example, were written by a respected physician and historian who hung out with Paul who was likely to have been converted around 2 years after the resurrection. Hardly accounts that would be based on vague memories lost in the mists of time and made up by a few deluded individuals. They were contemporary enough to be fully refuted by more hostile witnesses living at the time, but they were not

No one knows who wrote Luke /Acts, although it’s very likely that it was the same person. Paul mentions a Luke as a physician, but there is considerable doubt now that he was referring to the writer of the gospel & Acts. He might have been, but it’s an unwarranted stretch to say that they were “written by a respected physician and historian” - we don’t know that. And, if he was an historian (more likely than a physician) then he was an amateur one. It’s also highly disputed that he and Paul “hung out together”. This all rests on a few uses of “we” in Acts. Opinion is divided, and many scholars are now of the opinion that the “we” slipped in there from the use of another source. I don’t know how you’ve concluded when Luke converted to Christianity, there’s no indication of when that was that I can find.

There are also several discrepancies between Paul’s epistles (the ones that we know he actually wrote) and Acts, which suggests that Paul did not share information with the author, casting more doubt on the idea that they travelled together.

Acts was written around 90AD - it might have been slightly earlier although lots of scholars think it was later in the first years of the next century. Either way, Luke wrote this a good 20 odd years at least after Paul died - why wait so long if he had a first hand account of the words of the great Paul/Saul to share?

And Luke as a witness is not particularly valuable, given that he was copying most of his information from other sources, mainly Mark & Matthew - and he was also guilty of making up important information (the fake census came from Luke).

You might be right - the Paul & Luke as mates is the traditional view. But you should be aware that there is no consensus on this anymore and hasn’t been for a long time.

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