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).

MadHairDay Tue 05-Mar-13 15:37:59

<pulls up comfy chair>

<gets cuppa>

<chucks ds off computer>

As Ellie said, we thought it would be good to have a discussion about Jesus; whether he existed, who he was if he did, if he really died, if he was really resurrected, and who he thought himself to be. It would be great if we could have a polite and supportive kind of debate - not necessarily to tolerate each others points of view, as such, but to be kind to each other. Like Ellie, I've been called ignorant (and far worse), but for the opposite reason. However, it's an open forum, so whatever goes goes smile

My position: I believe there is an intellectually robust and compelling case of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as portrayed in the gospel and NT writings. I think that there is a surprising amount of evidence with good historicity to show of his existence, and similarly a good case to be built for his self recognition as the son of God, and for his death and resurrection.

I believe that the nativity, miracles, death and resurrection are historical events.

I believe that his actions have had infinite effects upon history and humanity.

There we go then grin

MadHairDay Tue 05-Mar-13 16:54:53

'There is no evidence the man Jesus existed. Discuss.'

OK - where to start? smile

I'll start with the most obvious but the most refuted, the gospels. There is obviously a huge range of scholarly opinion but most scholars are agreed that they were variously written between the 60s and the 90s (there's good evidence that they were written quite a bit earlier, but probably more on that later) smile Now the fact that they were written 40 or more years after the events they detail is often held up as evidence that they were either made up, made up of bits of legend and myth that had been constructed through the years, or simply misremembered and disjointed.

But looking at other ancient historical texts, they are unique in their closeness of dating to the events. Alexander the Great, for example: The first biographies written about him were 400+ years after his death, but are widely upheld as historical documents. Myth and legend about him have developed since they were written, but it seems that this period of years managed to keep the facts intact in historical opinion.

Many more ancient texts have similar gaps between the event and the chronicle of it. 40 years is pretty much contemporary to the event in such terms.

Now, this does not answer any objections as to accuracy, content or consistency - yet. There's a breadth of material and we'll hardly touch the surface...but we can play around the edges a little smile

Now, for more on this issue, there is the authorship of the gospels, the possibility or not of them being eyewitness accounts, the accuracy of what we read now compared to what was first written, and then the whole area of any extra biblical evidence for Jesus. Where to start??? grin

EllieArroway Tue 05-Mar-13 21:05:36

Hi Mary - not ignoring you. Will be back on to demolish address your points in the morning smile

HolofernesesHead Tue 05-Mar-13 22:42:27

Just piping in to say 'Ooooh this looks like my kind of thread!' I'm dead on my feet right now but will check back in when I can.

HolofernesesHead Tue 05-Mar-13 22:43:19

Haha! I'm popping in, not piping in. That's haggises, isn't it?

noisytoys Tue 05-Mar-13 22:49:18

Jesus existed. He is the son of god. I can't prove it but I have faith.

Snorbs Tue 05-Mar-13 22:57:13

whole area of any extra biblical evidence for Jesus.

I would find this particularly interesting. As far as I am aware, there isn't anything even close to contemporary plus what there is often talks more of "Christ" rather than "Jesus". Given that "Christ" is a generic term for "the Messiah" and only became inextricably linked to Jesus long afterwards, that strikes me as somewhat tenuous.

niminypiminy Tue 05-Mar-13 23:00:27

Watching with interest smile

SingingSands Tue 05-Mar-13 23:03:44

How strange to find this thread, I was debating this with myself at the weekend during a long drive! I confused myself though, and couldn't come to a conclusion either way, so probably won't have much to contribute here!

TheDreadedLurker Tue 05-Mar-13 23:16:23

You lot are being totally UNREASONABLE for starting this debate so late !! I gotta get to bed! Humf!
Here's my take .... Rather hurriedly....
I'm not a historian but have always been told there was a fair amount of documented stuff by the Romans to prove he did exist. The whole Pontius Pilate trial, I THINK is on record.
After 10 yrs of convent schooling, I got to know the Bible pretty well and always found so many inconsistencies between what was written and what the church subsequently concluded was the truth.
For instance, this whole "son of god" thing. Nowhere does Jesus ever say that he IS God or divine in any way! He calls himself the son of God, but he says that we ALL are! His prayer..." OUR Father..." Not, "MY Father and ya boo sux to the rest of you"!!
He was an incredible person. A true radical with revolutionary ideas for his time . He was just human though.
The "mysteries " of his half-god, half-human, part of the Trinity thing is all church Dogma and made up by his followers who wanted to deify him.
So in conclusion.... Unless anyone can quote me a passage where he says, I am God... Then I think we can say he was one of the most amazing, world-changing HUMAN BEINGS of all time. I do think he, or at least some guy who came up with his amazing philosophies, DID exist.

LuisGarcia Tue 05-Mar-13 23:19:05

bookmarking this thread with interest

LadyLech Wed 06-Mar-13 01:37:13

It's been almost 20 years since I did my theology degree, so brain is more than a tad rusty, but I seem to remember that...

Scholars consider the likelihood of there being a person called Jesus as historically probable. There are 10 agreed beliefs about this person. Can't remember them all, but one of them is that he was crucified. I have got them written down in my Bible at work. Can look this up tomorrow, if anyone is really interested.

When I studied this, we looked at the two traditions; the Christian tradition and the polemic tradition. His opponents said that he was a sorcerer of black magic amongst other things. I have another list of key beliefs maintained in the polemic tradition too.

Both traditions seem to agree that Joseph was probably not Jesus' biological father. Obviously, Christians believe he is divine, but the polemic tradition said he was the son of a Roman Soldier - Ben Panthera or something (now I really am making this up grin). Some modern theologians believe Mary may have been raped.

Other stories or traditions about Jesus have no historical basis whatsoever. For example, there is no archeological evidence that King Hreod ever took a census of all the people (so Mary and Joseph never had to go back to Bethlehem, and it is very unlikely that Jesus was born in a stable). There is also no evidence of King Hreod killing all the newborn baby boys (am less convinced on this!)

Umm, that's all I can remember. I did a unit in my degree called 'in search of the historical Jesus' in which we analysed all the gospels, including the ones not incorporated in the Bible (like the gospels of Thomas and Mary), we did a comparative study of the gospels and tried to find the oldest traditions from "Q" and studied what his opponents had to say, and other archeological evidence. It was a fascinating subject, and I really enjoyed it. But like I say, I started my degree almost 20 years ago, so things may have changed in that time.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 01:42:27

Yes, please do look all that up if you can, LadyLech - sounds really fascinating actually. Have never heard about this Ben Panthera (or whatever). Excellent stuff.

I'll be back in the morning.

CuriousMama Wed 06-Mar-13 01:50:01

I'm of the same thought as TheDreadLurker. Totally believe the man existed but not that he is the son of God. He did amazing things and was charismatic, kind and also strong willed.
Dogma and inconsistencies are what drove me from Christianity.
I'm responsible for my own sins. No one else is.
Although they are getting less and less with age wink

MadHairDay Wed 06-Mar-13 08:44:17

Some interesting posts since last night smile

Haven't got time this morning but will be back later to join in. Just a quick one to say looking forward to discussing evidence for Jesus outside biblical accounts and also the whole area of whether Jesus believed himself to be the son of God, and divine. I believe there are compelling grounds to say he absolutely did. Good and wise person, yes. But was that really it? A nice bloke who got himself killed in the most derogatory way led to such an explosion of belief in him as the Christ and redeemer?

<wishes had more time now>

grin

MostlyLovingLurchers Wed 06-Mar-13 10:25:21

Talking of evidence outside of the gospels, does anyone have a view on the tradition that Jesus visited India in his younger years and again after surviving the cross?

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 10:36:39

DreadedLurker No, Jesus isn't mentioned anywhere in the rather massive Roman record. Pontius Pilate was a real person but there's nothing contemporary that links him with Jesus, nothing at all. There are two things that are usually used to try and prove their connection - The Acts of Pilate and a series of letters from Pilate to Seneca. The first was written in the 4th century by Christians trying to prove the same thing Christians are still trying to prove today - Jesus' existence, and the second was written in the 1920s as a novel.

And yes, it's open to debate whether or not the biblical Jesus ever really said he was God. Like most of the Bible, it's open to interpretation. I would take issue with you about his "amazing philosophies" though. Not actually that amazing or even original - and in many ways a lot of what he supposedly said can be shown to be morally suspect. The sermon on the mount contains some of the worst advice ever proclaimed. I think we should expect better of God/the son of God.

Morning, Mad. Kudos for going with Alexander rather than Julius Caesar wink. Whenever Caesar is brought up in these discussions I do this face ----> shock because they could not pick a worse example - there's LOADS of evidence for him!

But there's much less for Alexander, so he's slightly more analogous with Jesus, but not by much. There's a lot of debate amongst historians about Alexander because of the lack of source material about him - but there isn't a total absence like there is with Jesus. His biography may not have been written for 400 years, but there's other evidence demonstrating him - archaeological evidence of the burning of Persepolis & the ongoing effects of his conquests for example. He commanded thousands and conquered an enormous empire and it's ridiculous to say that we can find no trace of him - he's woven into the fabric of the era.

There really aren't any historical figures that have no evidence at all demonstrating them but who are accepted as having existed. I can't think of any - only Jesus. Socrates is often offered as one example - we have no direct evidence of him at all, and some people believe he was an invention of Plato (I don't agree with this in case anyone wants to contradict me). But the point is, this lack of evidence HAS brought his existence into question. Evidence, usually, matters.

Now, Jesus was supposedly a humble man, a carpenter. Such people have existed in their billions throughout history and we can find no trace of them now, so in one respect it's unrealistic for us to expect to find any for Jesus. Except he wasn't just a humble carpenter, was he? He was God - turning water into wine, resurrecting the dead, healing the sick, speaking to thousands of people at a time. He frightened King Herod to such a degree that he had all the baby boys in Bethlehem slaughtered, he bothered the Romans enough that they hunted him down and publicly murdered him. At the moment of his death, all the graves in Jerusalem opened up and the dead bodies started walking around town!

It is very odd indeed that NOBODY- and I stress this - NOBODY thought to write any of these extraordinary events down while they were actually happening. And yes there were contemporary historians who were right there in the middle of the action who could have told us about it all but who remain very silent. They tell us all about other Messiah claimants (of which there were many), they tell us what the Romans were getting up to and about the various religious cults and their uprisings - but not the tiniest whisper of Jesus.

We have literally nothing from the life of Jesus, or even close to it, that even hints of his existence - no writings, no letters, no accounts, no tomb, no inscriptions, no busts - nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I think that's sufficiently peculiar and begs an explanation - and none that I have ever been offered makes much sense.

And so to the gospels - after I've made myself a coffee.

LadyLech Wed 06-Mar-13 11:01:43

Ellie

Right this is what I have got as the agreed conservative consensus about Jesus

1. He was historically probable.
2. Was Galilean
3. Associated with John the Baptist
4. Gathered followers. The number varies, some sources suggest up to 14, but Jewish sources tend to say that it was 5.
5. Preached the kingdom of God and Judgement
6. Was rejected
7. Had something to say about the apoclytic figure known as the 'son of man'
8. May have implied a connection between himself and the son of man.
9. Climaxed apocolyptic teaching with an attack on the temple
10. He was betrayed
11. He was tried by a Roman Officer
12. There is nothing historically improbable to believe that his followers deserted him.
13. Historically probable that he was killed by crucifixion.

The polemical tradition upholds:

1. Jesus was a magician who learnt spells in Egypt.
2. He gathered around him 5 followers, one of whom betrayed him.
3. His mother was a prostitute named Miriam (Mary)
4. His father was a Roman soldier. He was named by the Jews Ben Panthera 'the panther's son' as a tribute to his father's sexual prowess
5. He was found to be a blasphemer, sentenced to death at Lydda and hung out for display on the eve of passover.
6. His disciples stole his body and declared him risen from the dead.

But I studied this in 1995 ish, so theological theories may have come a long way since then!

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 11:38:58

I wouldn't have a problem with any of the conservative consensus, Lady. I think such things can be inferred quite well - although I stress "inferred" rather than "proven".

The crucifixion is a good example, and one I use a lot. Dying on a cross was a shameful death & not one you would pick if you were writing fiction about a hero figure. A bit like having Superman dying of syphilis. So, it's likely that the writers gave him this death because they had to - because that's what happened.

The polemical tradition is more exciting though wink

Thank you. I'm going to read more about this aspect.

I'll be back later to talk about the gospels, Mad.

LadyLech Wed 06-Mar-13 11:56:03

I would totally agree that none of this is proven. I don't any theologian who would actually say that it was. These agreed beliefs tend to be what theologians occur is the most probable taken from the range of sources available to them.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 12:05:23

Lurchers There have been some interesting books written about Jesus & India and I read one ages ago. Too long ago for me to really remember that much. As far as I recall, there is some support taken from various sources, but it doesn't add up to enough for it to be taken that seriously amongst scholars generally. The similarities between Jesus & Buddha are interesting though & worth considering.

MadHairDay Wed 06-Mar-13 12:23:23

I know that we're always going to come from different positions re the historicity of the gospels and how contemporary these accounts were to Jesus/the early followers of Jesus. I think that a good case can be made that they are accurate and good as historical source material. One thing about ancient historians is that there was no idea of writing objective history in order to chronicle events. There had to be something to learn from what was written. The other aspect, which you picked up on, was that historians only tended to chronicle important figures - political, royal, leaders - and it would have been strange to pick up on an obscure carpenter from an obscure region.

You wonder why more was not written in contemporary historical documents about someone who performed miracles and who was raised from death. But the fact is that at the time, much of what Jesus did was cloaked in obscurity, and with any beginnings of movements it was mostly not until decades or even centuries after that events would be recorded about such movements. The fact that there is evidence, from the NT and from other sources - small and scattered, but there - all contributes to the fact that there is better historical documentation for Jesus than for any other founder of any other ancient religion.

Take Buddha, for example. Writings about The Buddha were not formed until the first century AD, whereas Buddha lived in the sixth century BC. One would not expect there to be a multiplicity of objective historical documentation about an ancient obscure figure, firstly because of his obscurity and secondly because of the way ancient historians operated.

Saying all that, there are several places where Jesus is documented outside of the NT. I am aware of the division of opinion from various scholars, but taking Josephus, for example, even if his secondary reference to Jesus is discounted due to interpolations by the early church, the first reference he makes, about James, the brother of Jesus, is widely accepted by scholars to be genuine. I would argue that his second passage has genuine roots, that there are underlying parts of it that were written by Josephus. He wrote describing the life and death of Jesus, and parts of what he wrote can be easily seen as later additions as they do not fit in with his writing style or his theology, but parts do fit perfectly with his wider writing, and these parts can be taken just as much as evidence of Jesus living and dying under Pontius Pilate.

Now my post is getting too long, so I'm going to leave the other sources, plus the gospels and writings of Paul for now...

LadyLech Wed 06-Mar-13 12:23:47

I know this is from Wikipedia, but the top part at least seems to tally in with what I remember. My brain is very old and rusty now though!

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:04:12

But the fact is that at the time, much of what Jesus did was cloaked in obscurity

Really? If that's the case, then you can dismiss rather a lot of what the NT has to say about him. He performed a miracle in front of 5,000 people, remember. And how many listened to the Sermon on the Mount. Nothing "obscure" about any of this - or the slaughter of the innocents & the zombie invasion of Jerusalem.

You cannot have it both ways. He was either too obscure & unknown during his lifetime to warrant a mention - or he was performing extraordinary miracles in front of lots of people and rattling the Roman authorities.

Occams Razar - all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be correct. What's the simplest explanation for the clear and inescapable fact that not one of the many historians that were in the right place at the right time managed to mention this extraordinary man? It's that he wasn't that extraordinary and none of these miraculous events actually happened.

all contributes to the fact that there is better historical documentation for Jesus than for any other founder of any other ancient religion Jesus didn't really "found" Christianity, I suppose that was St Paul.

What we do have is evidence of early Christians, mentioned here and there in a few extra-Biblical sources. They say nothing whatsoever about Jesus himself, so they are not evidence that he existed....just evidence that there were people who believed he did. So what? I can give you evidence of believers in every single religion conceived of by man. I can give you evidence of people who have been abducted by aliens and had their bottoms probed - and that evidence is BETTER than the Jesus "evidence" because it's eyewitness and these people are still alive.

Early Christians existed and were making a minor kerfuffle - this we know. But it does not prove that Jesus did. Tom Cruise exists - does this mean Scientology is all real?

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:31:12

The gospels are a fairly valuable source, there's no escaping that. When historians are making a judgement about the veracity of any claim they look at all aspects, not just what they can physically see with their eyes.

Who wrote the gospels? Why did they write them? Is this written in the style of fiction or is it purporting to be a factual account. What is known of the times the writer was living in, what might they have been trying to convey. Who would they have been trying to reach with their work - were they trying to entertain, impress, scare or educate? And so on.

So, without going too far into it, a lot of inferences can be made by asking these sorts of questions. The crucifixion example I gave above is quite illustrative of a good inference that can be made, but it's not conclusive. It's not inconceivable that a writer might make up a shameful death for his hero - maybe he was trying to give him a very "humble" death in comparison with his glorified greatness or something - but the most likely is that this is what happened, in some respect.

But in terms of direct historical evidence, the gospels can offer very little indeed for one reason - they are hearsay, and we do not accept hearsay as evidence. It may give us clues ("Officer, my friend's neighbour told her that the milkman's aunt witnessed the brutal murder") but it's not conclusive by itself. The police officer would indeed want to talk to the milkman's aunt, but only evidence directly from her could be presented in court for obvious reasons.

That's where we're at with the gospels. They were written decades after the events they describe by people who had a) never met or heard Jesus themselves and b) had never spoken to anyone who had. They were written in a foreign land in a language that Jesus & his followers didn't speak*. Matthew & Luke make liberal use of Mark's account when telling their own (odd that, if they were independent witnesses) and they all have something different to say about most things. Some of the discrepancies are minor, some are fairly huge. That they hadn't even met each other, let alone Jesus, is rather worrying. Didn't they meet while they were following Jesus around? And why are they writing their accounts decades apart?

It simply doesn't add up no matter how you look at it.

And, here's the thing - if Christianity is true, my immortal soul is in some kind of danger for not accepting Jesus into my heart. I'll either be cast into the pits of Hell to be Satan's plaything, or I just won't get to go to Heaven with the nice folk. Either way, it kind of does matter that I do what God wants me to do - love him and accept Jesus.

And, really, could he not offer me something rather better than this to give me a reason to believe? Some fragmentary, inconsistent accounts of people who were at least 4 times removed from the events they talk about? Gospels that have not survived in their original form, so we can't be completely sure what they actually said? Accounts that have been faffed about so much in the past 2000 years that it's a major puzzle to remove all the fraudulent interpolations and honest mistranslations? Accounts that are so vague it's possible to come up with dozens and dozens of different interpretations depending on your own particular bias?

If the Bible is God's message to the world then it's a rather shamefully amateur effort, to be honest.

hiddenhome Wed 06-Mar-13 13:36:35

Many of the disciples were executed here Would they have given their lives for someone who didn't exist?

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:37:11

*It's vaguely possible that Jesus & the disciples were bi-lingual and spoke both Aramaic & the Greek dialect that the gospels use. But this is extremely unlikely given their humble, working men backgrounds. And being illiterate, which they almost certainly were, was not a shameful thing then - it was the default for most people.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:38:40

Hidden People don't die for things that are not real or true? Really?

So, the September 11th bombers are in Paradise with their 72 virgins are they?

Christians are NOT the only people to have died for their religion. And I'm assuming that you believe all of those other religions are wrong?

MadHairDay Wed 06-Mar-13 13:41:16

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 grin 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.

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. It was not an overtly political or economic movement. Jewish leaders were far more rattled in terms of Jesus' implicit and explicit claims to be more than a man than Romans were threatened. Jesus showed himself to be not particularly politically motivated - for instance, he told them to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, he didn't stand against the regime in any explicit and threatening manner.

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.

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.

hiddenhome Wed 06-Mar-13 13:44:23

They spent a proportion of their lives with Him. Something convinced them. The 9\11 bombers never met Mohammed or witnessed anything that he supposedly did. Their religion was handed down to them. Jesus' disciples were first hand witnesses and died for what they believed.

It may be all a load of bunkum, but something happened.

I've been through the same questioning and struggles and searches and you never, ever end up with anything concrete. You just have to decide and see where it leads you.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:44:45

Oh, and Hidden. Have you checked the birth dates of those men who are purporting to know what happened to the disciples?

I suggest you do. Unless Hippolytus of Rome died at about 200 years of age, then he hadn't been born while Jesus and his disciples were being executed.

Does he give the source of his information? Nope. So, how do you know he didn't just make it up.

Again.......hearsay.

hiddenhome Wed 06-Mar-13 13:48:25

So, people didn't record events that had occurred in the past? Why would he record that these people had been executed if they hadn't?

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:49:10

You don't know that they died for what they believed, that's the point. There's no evidence for that. And history is littered with people giving up their lives for something they truly believed....The Jonestown Massacre?

hiddenhome Wed 06-Mar-13 13:51:34

But why are you trying to find concrete evidence when you know that none exists? You will never find the answers that you're searching for.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:54:11

Where are the records he used, then? Does he tell us who told him? Why not?

This is like me saying that Napoleon had pancakes for breakfast in 1801. How do I know - it was hundreds of years before I was born. And if I refuse to say how I know this, then you'd be justified in wondering if I was right.

And why would he say that if it hadn't happened? There is loads of evidence of Christians making stuff up to prove their beliefs to others. Or maybe he was mistaken. Maybe his mum told him. Or maybe it's really true. But we don't know - that's the point.

Again - it's not evidence. And we usually need evidence for the things we believe.

BoffinMum Wed 06-Mar-13 13:54:44

Two further thoughts:

1. The NT makes it all sound strangely like Promethean myths.
2. There were allegedly lots of self-proclaimed prophets and sons of god around at the time, but we only seem to have extensive documentation relating to this one, which makes it sound like the Life of Brian.

I am a Christian, BTW!

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:56:23

"But why are you trying to find concrete evidence when you know that none exists?"

Have you read the point of this thread at all? It's a debate.

I'm not searching for evidence - I did that years ago. I am trying to demonstrate to other Christians that my statement "There is no evidence for Jesus" is true - as you have confirmed for me. Thank you smile

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 13:57:36

True, Boffin.

I shall let other people get a word in edgeways now. Back later smile

hiddenhome Wed 06-Mar-13 13:57:41

There is no evidence. You will never find anything. I've been down this route and asked all these questions, but it throws absolutely nothing up. This is how it is.

MadHairDay Wed 06-Mar-13 13:58:01

And, really, could he not offer me something rather better than this to give me a reason to believe? Some fragmentary, inconsistent accounts of people who were at least 4 times removed from the events they talk about? Gospels that have not survived in their original form, so we can't be completely sure what they actually said? Accounts that have been faffed about so much in the past 2000 years that it's a major puzzle to remove all the fraudulent interpolations and honest mistranslations? Accounts that are so vague it's possible to come up with dozens and dozens of different interpretations depending on your own particular bias?

OK. The gospel accounts are not fragmentary, not inconsistent, and they are most certainly not 4 times removed from the events that they talk about.

The accounts, especially the synoptic accounts (John is a different matter grin ) are remarkably consistent for such ancient literature describing events, and yet not so consistent that they are suspect - ie they do not match each other word for word, which would imply a conspiracy and a conference at the very least. Their inconsistencies can be accounted for in their own bias, their literary devices and in the natural differences which usually occurred in oral tradition at the time. The inconsistencies are all secondary points - the accounts have a remarkable consistency with each other when it comes to the most important history and theology.

They are not 4 times removed. Luke, as I said in my last post, was a contemporary of Paul, who was converted very early on and began his missionary work long before the gospels were written down. Luke observed the early church in the making from day one, not from decades after Jesus' death, and observed the consistency of early creeds and ways of living life in line with what Jesus taught. Mark was a contemporary of Peter the disciple, and wrote his gospel the earliest, using Peter as a source - Peter the eyewitness. Matthew is more uncertain, but many scholars make a very good case for the author Matthew being the apostle Matthew - certainly the book was attributed to him from very early on, as documented in some early writings. Many scholars also believe John to have been written far, far earlier than some think and there is archaeological evidence for this. The idea that the gospels were written decades after the events and by authors far outside the eyewitnesses' experience is one that is mistaken, or at least much challenged by many prominent scholars. James Dunn is always a good one to read on this.

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.

Got to go - be back later to expand on this - parent's consulation beckons!!!

hiddenhome Wed 06-Mar-13 13:58:47

Are you trying to prove a point to Christians then?

HolofernesesHead Wed 06-Mar-13 13:59:12

Ellie, the questions you asked about the Gospels in your post of 13:31, are they rhetorical questions, or are you hoping for answers?

Polyethyl Wed 06-Mar-13 14:06:09

Sorry not to have read entire thread.... baby demanding attention. .. but can I check that you are aware of the passage in Tacitus' history, mentioning Jesus. Which is as good an independent historical confirmation of the existence of a Gallilean carpenter as you can hope to find.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 14:08:40

Are you trying to prove a point to Christians then? Well, yes and no. That makes it sound like I'm preaching or something. It's a debate - two differing points of view, two different interpretations of the same data both trying to make a case. Mad is doing the same, in case you hadn't noticed. It's a debate - that's how it works!

As we both pointed out at the beginning, we've been called ignorant by the "other side" more than once - so really this is an opportunity to show that we're not, we've thought about this and both standpoints have value.

Also - it's just interesting, isn't it? I think so anyway smile

Holo Bit of both, I suppose. Would be interested in your answers for sure.

EllieArroway Wed 06-Mar-13 14:10:58

Completely aware of Tacitus, Poly - and I shall be back to annihilate that argument in due course grin

I have a broken boiler & a plumber demanding attention, so must go for now.

TheFallenNinja Wed 06-Mar-13 14:12:10

Woman of science, woman of faith.

Never be solved.

HolofernesesHead Wed 06-Mar-13 14:27:43

Ellie, hope your boiler gets sorted soon!

I think this is a great idea for a thread as some of the 'Is there a God?' threads touch on the historicity of the Bible and of Jesus, but I can't remember seeing a thread just dealing with this one question.

Ellie (and others), can I ask, which is your favourite Gospel, and why? I'm all about Luke at the moment, but every time I read John I'm swooning smile.

HolofernesesHead Wed 06-Mar-13 14:30:20

FallenNinja, I get so bored when I hear the science / religion dichotomy trotted out as fact...! It can be interesting very occasionally with the right conversation partners, but most of the time it's a very thin and non-engaged argument. But that's not what the thread is about, anyway.

Absy Wed 06-Mar-13 14:38:12

I don't know that much about it, but here's some things I've been told by Rabbis - there are a LOT of records in the Talmud about a wayward student of a particular rabbi, around the time that Jesus' is thought to have lived. His name was Yehoshua (Hebrew version of Joshua/Jesus) who rebelled against his teacher, and went off on his. There is a tradition that these stories (which could be allegorical) refer to Jesus, but they were removed from the Talmud during the Middle Ages (due to fears of Christian persecution. Basically Jews at that time rightly thought that if Christians saw these texts which denigrate Jesus, they would be in a lot of trouble) and are now being incorporated into publications, as it is safe to do so.

I think it is likely that a) there was someone with that name, b) at that time. In terms of the time period, it was an incredibly socially and politically unstable time, and around then (c. 70CE) there was mass oppression by the Romans of the people of Judea. In all likelihood you could have someone who takes on a lot of disciples, and would be seen as a political and philosophical leader.

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, so...to 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.

smile

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

Morning

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.

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 15:12:03

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

No, it’s not a myth, and I’m really surprised that you would say that. All of the books of the NT have been subject to considerable amounts of mistranslations, mistakes, forged passages, interpolations, deliberate & accidental textual changes etc etc. This is without question and the result is that there are more differences between all the copies that we have than there are words in the entire New Testament - they run into the hundreds of thousands.

Some of those differences are very small and insignificant - some are whopping. It’s been suggested that anyone who wants to see the contradictions in the gospels should read them horizontally rather than vertically. In other words, look at the birth accounts in each gospel one after the other, then do the same with the next significant event right up to the resurrection. Read it like that and the contradictions become glaring & impossible to ignore. There’s almost no consensus on anything.

This is bad enough, but when you consider that Matthew & Luke are taking most of their information directly from Mark then there OUGHT to be consistency. Why isn’t there? It’s because they were changing the material to fit in with their own personal biases or to make a point of theology. This does not suggest to me that there was one story told by four people - it proves that, when it comes to the gospels, you simply cannot take them at face value. Too many people had a vested interest in presenting the Jesus story their particular way and the gospels prove this. On this basis they could not and certainly should not be offered as sound historical evidence. No way. And don’t get me started on John!

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 15:16:28

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

I’m not sure why you think this is significant. The sheer number of copies there are says nothing at all about the veracity of the claim within it. Even if there were a trillion perfectly preserved copies - so what? Christianity was a fast growing religion, one of the first to use holy books - this says something about the religion, but nothing at all about whether it’s based on anything true. This is an Argument from Numbers……there are gazillions of xyz, therefore it’s all true. No. Sorry.

The fact remains, however, that we have not a single original copy of any of the NT books. Whether it’s reasonable or not to expect to have is neither here nor there - we just don’t. So you cannot know what the originals actually said since none of us have ever seen them. The best guess for the very, very earliest piece we have (and it is just a piece) is that it’s a copy of a copy of a copy. At least third hand.

With other stuff, like the Illyad, this wouldn’t matter quite so much. But let’s not forget what these books are supposed to be - words either written by (if you’re a literalist, and I know you’re not) or inspired by God. His message to the world. If he wanted his message preserved, why not begin by preserving the books?

We're just not talking about some meandering writings written way after the time and lost in the mists of time and legend here

No, we’re not - and I’m not suggesting that. I’m talking about four accounts that give four different versions of just about everything. You’re assuming, by the way, this wealth of oral tradition handed “lovingly down” etc. How do you know this? The very first thing we have is Mark - how do you know that he didn’t get together with the author of the Q source and make the whole thing up, like Joseph Smith did or L. Ron Hubbard? You are assuming that Christians were milling about prior to Mark - why? Who says they were?

There’s a 40 year gap (at least) between the death of Jesus & Mark’s gospel. We have not the vaguest idea what was going on then since there’s no source we can access to tell us. This is an assumption on your part that can’t be properly supported.

I think I've addressed everything. That's me done for the day.

smile

HolofernesesHead Thu 07-Mar-13 17:04:10

Ellie, to go back to the Greek thing - yes, it's a very minor point, but...when I say that scholary opinion is divided as to whether or not Jesus knew Greek, I am stating verifiable fact. I have read about this stuff! You say that you don't think opinion is divided. What are you basing that opinion on? I'm genuinely puzzled.

Which scholars have you read on Luke-Acts? If the honest answer is 'none' that's fine, most people haven't!

Can you tell us about any of the whopping changes that have been made to copies of the NT? Which passages? When were they altered? Why?

And re. the Jesus sacred rites - the obvious answer is 1 Corinthians 11, written in the 50s.

Lurchers, the Arthur / Jesus analogy; so, Jesus and Arthur were not similar people, and their traditions did not develop in similar ways. So how does the analogy work? Surely when you say 'it's an analogy' what you are really saying is 'these two people remind me of each other.' Nothing more precise than that. Some analogies are stronger than others, and I can't see that yours is very strong, tbh. Why Arthur rather than anyone else who lived before about 1000CE? Surely there are very few people indeed from that period of whom we do have any 'evidence'?

MadHairDay Thu 07-Mar-13 17:05:17

Oooh 'eck, Ellie, a lot of stuff in there, I'll have to come back to it, have had a manic day and run out of spoons I'm afraid.

Just a quick one on Tacitus - you're right, he didn't mention sorcery <resolves not to rely on failing memory again> grin That was the Talmud. Your point about his lack of material on Jesus becomes moot really when you consider that we only have a couple of his manuscripts, dated from something like the 9th/10th centuries, and the great majority of his material is completely lost.

Be back when I have some brain power.

I thought there was some record of one of the early English kings having been a King Arthur, but happy to accept I might be wrong on that. And I was thinking of the way Arthur is supposed to be the most special of kings and the one who will rise again, though I don't know how old that superstition is.

BTW I have heard that there is a similar superstition attached to Francis Drake, that he and his boat will pop out of the sea if England is in dire peril. WHich is sort of mildly interesting given that there is a lot of historical evidence for the existence of Francis Drake...

MostlyLovingLurchers Thu 07-Mar-13 18:04:08

I picked on Arthur because he was suggested upthread (and i know more about him than Robin Hood). The point is that when there is little historical fact about someone's life there is scope for that life to become mythologised. Obviously the way in which they become mythologised is going to be different given that they are operating in completely different spheres. Maybe Hengist and Horsa would be a better analogy, or not. Re Drake - i think the legend is that if England ever needs him someone needs to beat his drum (at Buckland Abbey) and he will answer the call (just in case we should be in need of a slave trading pirate!).

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 18:41:21

Holo I can give you dozens of changes in the NT - a long post that I don't have time for now, but rest assured you'll let a rather long list.

I'm faintly offended by your grilling me about what I've read/know. Why does it matter to you? Do my posts strike you as being written by someone completely clueless? I doubt you mean it in that way, but you are coming across as slightly patronising. I am not interested in either yours or anyone else's qualifications, I'm responding only to the points being made. Can you please do the same.

I should think it fairly obvious that I have read quite extensively on this subject and I'm not just making it up as a I go along hmm. If I'm flat out wrong - and I'm sure I am at times, as is anyone, then tell me. But the insidious, "do you know anything about this subject" is rather rude. Yes, Holo, I do.

Literacy in any language at that time was extremely low. Fact. Scribes tended to be contracted to copy things out for people who couldn't write themselves. Fact. The lower down the social scale you were, the less likely you were to be able to read or write since it wasn't a necessary skill like it is today. Fact. A carpenter/fisherman would be a) very unlikely to be able to read and write in his own language & b) exceptionally unlikely to be able to do so in another language. Fact.

The lingua franca of the time is irrelevant. The possible literacy of the disciples is irrelevant. And we know (from the gospels) that Jesus could at least read, which makes him unusual. Could he write? Who knows? If he could - how did he learn? School? That was expensive, how did Joseph afford it? And if Jesus could write, why didn't he?

Your point about his lack of material on Jesus becomes moot really when you consider that we only have a couple of his manuscripts, dated from something like the 9th/10th centuries, and the great majority of his material is completely lost

Mad, please don't go down that route, it's a dead end. If we're going to start hypothesising materials that might exist but haven't been found or did exist but have been destroyed, then I may as well suggest there was a document written by Jesus saying "Ha ha, fooled you all! Suckerzz!" but got burned in a house fire in AD33.

Does anything we have from Tacitus demonstrate an historical Jesus. No. Same goes for Pliny the Younger, Jospehus, Seutonius et al. That's it.

EllieArroway Thu 07-Mar-13 18:45:54

1 Corinthians 11 is widely considered to be a later insertion. As well as 14, by the way.

HolofernesesHead Thu 07-Mar-13 19:01:25

Ellie, I wasn't meaning to grill you - I am genuinely interested in all of this, and how people relate to it, so I am genuinely interested to know whom you've read. I'm not doubting your credentials - I don't know your credentials! But neither am I going to roll over and say 'Oh, Ellie says it so it must be true'. That's not how debate works.

I am still slightly puzzled by the way in which you relate to the question of Jesus' knowing Greek (or not), though; it's a very minor point and would never mnake or break anyone's faith, but to me it's historically interesting and I'd want to try and answer it to the best of my ability. So I read about koine Greek - I know it's a complex subject, people write books and books about it - I read about literacy among Jews and Gentiles in the 1st c., familarity with particular types of Greek (e.g. the Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures), and I read scholars who write about wheter Jesus knew Greek or not, and I find that some think yes, some think no. Both sides can argue their case pretty well, and the whole thing is intresting but as I say not earth-shatteringly important. So this is why I find it a bit odd that you discount so quickly the other side of the argument.

And the changes in the NT - yes, let's talk about them - if you started this thread to debate the historical Jesus, let's do it! Let's take each example and talk it through.

Is it too combative for me to ask you to substantiate your post of 18:45 wrt 1 Cor. 11?

Lurchers, I can't think of a single person, believer or not, who'd want to or be able to deny that Jesus was hugely mythologised. Same with Paul, and the apostles - just read the wonderful but completely apocyphal Acts of Paul and Thecla! Stories sprung up left, right and centre about all the major players in the development of the early Christian tradition. Same with all sorts of people throughout history who have made an impact on their surroundings. I'm not sure whether this observation has any bearing on the historicity of the people mythologised, though.

Gingerandcocoa Thu 07-Mar-13 19:08:52

Ellie I'm also interested in knowing what evidence there is around 1 Cor 11 being a late insertion.

From books that I have read, my understanding is that variations between different manuscripts of the NT are extremely minimal - most limited to spelling differences and mistakes. There are thousands -not hundreds- thousands of very early manuscripts of the NT and again, the variation is very small. Many more manuscripts than, say, there are of the writings of Aristotle. Funnily enough I don't think anyone here doubts that Aristotle ever existed.

Cooroo Thu 07-Mar-13 20:02:19

Am so happy to have stumbled upon this thread and plan to read it all properly when I am on a computer not this little phone!

Looks like a rare example of civilised debate. Unless someone got arsey on page 3... Ellie - love your name! (It is from Contact isn't it?)

niminypiminy Thu 07-Mar-13 20:09:36

Was literacy at the time -- certainly among the Jews -- as low as all that, considering that Jewish boys were required to study, indeed to learn, the Torah?

Paul, for example, a tent maker (so not very different in social status to a builder/carpenter/craftsman (carpenter isn't an exact translation of techne), clearly knew all the Hebrew Scriptures very well and wrote some of the letters ascribed to him himself. So I think the question of Jesus's literacy is much more open than you suggest, Ellie. As to why he didn't write, it seems pretty clear that in a ministry of perhaps two or three years most of the time he was speaking, not writing - he wasn't trying to communicate with anyone far away as Paul was, for example.

Gingerandcocoa Thu 07-Mar-13 22:23:41

Literacy in any language at that time was extremely low. Fact. Scribes tended to be contracted to copy things out for people who couldn't write themselves. Fact. The lower down the social scale you were, the less likely you were to be able to read or write since it wasn't a necessary skill like it is today. Fact. A carpenter/fisherman would be a) very unlikely to be able to read and write in his own language & b) exceptionally unlikely to be able to do so in another language. Fact.

Except none of the above is a fact. None of us were there at the time to do a quick survey and find out whether people could read, whether there was scribes doing contract work or whether this one carpenter did not know how to read...

They are all assumptions made based on very old writings of which we probably only have copies now, and based on what historians today have been able to <infer> from the records that are available. I think that if we're not ready to accept what is written in thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament about Jesus as a <fact>, then it might be wise to be a bit more strict with how that term is used.

I am going to bed and unlikely to return to this thread... Mostly because regardless of how much we discuss Jesus remains the most important man of all times, and the Bible the most influential book in human history, so in the words of Charles Spurgeon, who was once asked how did he defend the Bible:

"You might as well defend an uncaged lion"

Gingerandcocoa Thu 07-Mar-13 22:25:17

(Also can I also suggest a brilliant book I'm reading, written for both Christians and non-Christians, about Jesus' influence in today's world: Who is this man, by John Ortberg)

HolofernesesHead Thu 07-Mar-13 22:27:14

Niminy, imo the passage which is really interesting wrt Paul's languages, and the worlds between which he moved, is the end of Acts 21. More on that tomorrow maybe!

Also, why didn't Jesus write? For me the answer has to be that in 1st c Judaism, writing was second best, a poor substitute for personal presence. So to flip it on its head, why would Jesus write? He wS with his disciples all the time, so there was no need to write. Hence also why the gospels were written when they were; the written gospel being second best, a poor substitute for the shared memories of the first generation of Jesus' followers, so the timing of their writing from the late 60s onward makes sociological sense from the POV of the anciient preference of the spoken word over the written word, and also, really interestingly, from the sociological POV of how 'cultural memory' develops and grows out of 'communicative memory.' Oh I could talk about this all night! smile

GingerandCocoa: please bear in mind that there were centuries when more than half the world had not only not heard of Jesus and the bible, but had their own special myths and legends. Large parts of the world have always been resistant to Christianity, because their own indigenous myth systems suit them (eg SIkhism, Hinduism, Islam, Shinto and whatever the Chinese went in for before COmmunism).

And the main reason for the spread of Christian mythology over so much of the world was not that Christian myths are any more special, significant, beautiful or true than (for instance) Hindu or Muslim myths. It was basically to do with the Roman Empire conquering so much of the world and having picked Christianity rather than Islam when someone or a few someones worked out the usefulness of monotheistic systems rather than pantheistic ones as a tool for conquest.

I don't think the Roman Empire could have had much to do with the spread of Christianity in China. Prior to communism there were missionaries in the country but I think the vast majority (if not all) were thrown out during the communist era. the church in China has grown in very large numbers very rapidly, despite persecution.

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 03:06:47

According to the gospels, Jesus could read. If he was the lowly son of a carpenter, this was unusual. But he was unusual in some respect because he was able to travel around the place instead of working - who funded that? Maybe there was some mentor that paid for him to be educated & supported him financially later (just made that up, I don't know).

There are many, many reasons to suppose that the general literacy levels at that time were very low - under 10%, perhaps as low as 3%. Bear in mind the rarity of books and written material - for most people, it simply wasn't a required skill.

The Jewish law did expect people to "read" The Torah - but there's some debate about what this actually meant in practice. It's possible, probably likely, that children were taught chunks to memorise and recite.

But we don't know.

Jesus and his disciples would have spoken Aramaic, with a few Latin & Greek Koine words thrown in. That was pretty standard. If Jesus could read it was probably in Hebrew primarily, given what it is that we are told he was reading. He may also have been able to write in it, we don't know, because no one says. He may have been able to read Greek - again, we don't know.

But we do know that an average working Palestinian man in the 1st Century usually could not read or write. Jesus & his disciples were apparently average working men - you do the maths wink

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 03:10:47

There's one very important reason that Judaism survived & Christianity grew - books. Both religions were unusually bookish (after 40 odd years) so the stories were preserved in a way that nothing purely oral ever does.

The oral traditions died a death, the ones with the holy books thrived. Without the gospel writers, Christianity would have disappeared along with the thousand or so other mystery cults that were around at the time.

And yes, the support of the massively powerful Roman Empire played a key role too.

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 03:16:00

None of us were there at the time to do a quick survey and find out whether people could read, whether there was scribes doing contract work or whether this one carpenter did not know how to read...

There are people who have spent their lives studying this. But let's ignore it all because none of them were there at the time. Ludicrous thing to say.

And how do you know that Jesus was the most important man who ever lived? How do you know he lived? Were you there? Huh?

FFS.

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 03:53:34

From books that I have read, my understanding is that variations between different manuscripts of the NT are extremely minimal - most limited to spelling differences and mistakes. There are thousands -not hundreds- thousands of very early manuscripts of the NT and again, the variation is very small. Many more manuscripts than, say, there are of the writings of Aristotle. Funnily enough I don't think anyone here doubts that Aristotle ever existed

Just seen this.

Erm, there's evidence that Aristotle existed - the least of which is his "writings". What an odd comparison. Beats Julius Caesar, I suppose.

There are 25,000 bits of copies of the NT. I never said there were hundreds of thousands - did I? If I did, it was a mistake.

I said there were hundreds of thousands of discrepancies between them, which there are. Like I said, there are more differences than there are words in the entire NT. This is a well known statistic, look it up.

The Corinthians verse is divisive - some scholars think it was an interpolation, some don't. But I don't know - I wasn't there. Were you?

But we do know that 5 of the 13 letters that bear Paul's name weren't written by him at all. So, Christians weren't above a little, shall we say, creative writing at that time.

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 03:56:38

I'm taking over this thread because I'm trying to address every point made to me. Can we try not to meander too much - let's talk just about the gospels for now & who wrote them, then we can move on to something else. Yes?

But this is keeping me awake which I need to be at the moment - so thanks for that smile

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 08:01:27

Lots there, Ellie!

Before we move on to who wrote the Gospels, let's draw a line under the 'did Jesus know Greek?' question. Martin Hengel (heavyweight NT scholar) thinks yes. You think no. One academic book published last year is called 'Jesus and the Gospel Traditions in Bilingual Context' which deals with the question of how many of the early Christians were bilingual. It's well worth reading if you can. As I've said, it's not a deal-clincher, but to me, it's important that we answer these questions the best we can.

On 1 Cor 11, are you thinking of the passage in that chapter referring to headgear (11:2-16)? If so, yes, you're right, ome people do see that as a later interpolation - but I was referring to the passage later on (11:23-26) on the institution of the Christian sacred meal. We were talking about rites that developed pretty quickly centred on Jesus, to which 1 Cor 11:23-26 refers. I don't think any scholars see this as a later interpolation. Maybe I should have been more precise when I first mentioned this chapterbut yes, I was talking about the sacred meal, not the headwear! (I don't actually think that the headgear bit is later; I think it's often misunderstood).

If you are going to mention the authorship of the Pauline letters, that is another biggish subject and can't just be done away with by saying 'Well he didn't write some of them anyway'. Pseudepigraphy (writing in the nbame of another, usually famous person) was a literary convention that deserves to be understood properly. Maybe we can come back to that, if you are wanting to talk about the Gospels. Also, the fragments of text; another huge, fascinating area of study. Let's talk about them!

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 10:23:41

Lots of stuff here. I'm sorry I didn't come back last night. Not too well, back on antibiotics. Joy.

Will endeavour to address some points - not sure I'll get to them all <brain fry> grin

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?

40 years is not a long time. In our times, 1973 is very clear in memory. Now, it is easy to say that is because of modern media etc, but <and yes, I do keep harping on about this> the oral tradition was the main way of communication in the first century in this culture, and, as I have said above, cannot be compared in any way to a game of Chinese Whispers. People learned great chunks of scripture completely verbatim - hard to get our heads round how this could be possible, but it was done, and likewise the accounts handed down were learned. They were not passed down in scraps and vague memories, or in whispers whereby the listeners were not sure what they had heard - there were checks made at every level and tellers would be brought up on inconsistencies. Added to that was the fact that the gospel accounts were at the most second hand, if not more (will be going into this later) and therefore there was no way in which things could be changed to the degree you are suggesting.

^ 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.^

I didn't say Luke had converted, I was talking about Paul. Some of the passages show how Christians had consolidated their beliefs and practises very early on and how they had even formed early creeds. This was in the time of eyewitnesses, both those who followed Jesus and more hostile witnesses, yet this thing grew and the central claims remained unchallenged by those living at the time and generations soon after.

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).

Hmmm. I'm not sure the fact that Luke may have used Mark and others for source material can be used as a charge that he as a witness was not particularly valuable. There's plenty of extra material in Luke, and as for the census, there's another thing altogether, maybe something we can talk about in a while.

No, it’s not a myth, and I’m really surprised that you would say that. All of the books of the NT have been subject to considerable amounts of mistranslations, mistakes, forged passages, interpolations, deliberate & accidental textual changes etc etc. This is without question and the result is that there are more differences between all the copies that we have than there are words in the entire New Testament - they run into the hundreds of thousands.

I think I used the word myth because I hear this argument quoted so often from people who have not studied anything of this and believe what they hear. I am not in any way saying that this applies to you - I admire your knowledge and know you have studied in a great deal of depth. It does therefore surprise me a little that you think that the NT has been changed around enough to ensure that it cannot be used as historically viable material. A good amount of scholars do not think this is the case.

Let's take the differences that 'run into hundreds of thousands', for example. This number is very misleading. The way differences are counted means that if one word is spelled incorrectly in, say, 3,000 manuscripts, this is then counted as 3,000 variants. It is easy to see how the variants can build up to a seemingly huge number when you take factors like this into account.

It's also worth noting that no actual doctrinal statements are variated, even in these thousands of 'mistakes'. No central tenets are changed. And if we are talking about the changes between the gospels, I think I said something earlier about this - that no central material differed between them - that the differences were secondary points, according to audience, theological interpretation, linguistic device etc etc. I have compared the gospels in parallel, as you suggest, and far from finding too many variants as to make the whole thing untenable, I am struck again and again how much consistency there is, as well as finding the different 'takes' fascinating. I don't find the differences a stumbling block, but do think it is important to examine them and look to why they may be so.

niminypiminy Fri 08-Mar-13 10:33:21

Regarding the oral tradition, it's worth remembering that for several hundred years until the Ancient Greek rediscovery of writing in 7-6th century BC the entire tradition of Greek epic poetry was transmitted orally. So people memorised the whole of the Odyessy, the Iliad, all of Hesiod, and a great deal more, and transmitted them orally. Indeed, learning how to memorise accurately was a vital skill in the ancient world. When we talk about the oral tradition in the ancient world we are emphatically not talking about Chinese whispers - we are talking about cultures who valued their central cultural artefacts and viewed their preservation as essential.

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 10:44:53

I’m not sure why you think this is significant. The sheer number of copies there are says nothing at all about the veracity of the claim within it. Even if there were a trillion perfectly preserved copies - so what? Christianity was a fast growing religion, one of the first to use holy books - this says something about the religion, but nothing at all about whether it’s based on anything true. This is an Argument from Numbers……there are gazillions of xyz, therefore it’s all true. No. Sorry.

But the fact remains that no other work of antiquity even comes close in terms of number of copies preserved. I don't think this can be dismissed as insignificant. The fact that such a multiplicity of material all agreed on so much - across cultures, languages, countries - surely points to the authenticity of the source. The more documents you have, especially the more in agreement with one another, the more that can be cross checked to find out about the originals. Then there is the unprecedented number of manuscripts from very early on, again not to be dismissed - a copy of a copy of a copy, perhaps, but that is very different to thousands of copies over centuries, as in the case of most other works of antiquity. There is something different here.

With other stuff, like the Illyad, this wouldn’t matter quite so much. But let’s not forget what these books are supposed to be - words either written by (if you’re a literalist, and I know you’re not) or inspired by God. His message to the world. If he wanted his message preserved, why not begin by preserving the books?

I think that, given the information we have explored above, there has been a rather good job done in preserving the books. Thousands and thousands of documents, far surpassing any other work of the time? That's not a bad job really grin

You’re assuming, by the way, this wealth of oral tradition handed “lovingly down” etc. How do you know this? The very first thing we have is Mark - how do you know that he didn’t get together with the author of the Q source and make the whole thing up, like Joseph Smith did or L. Ron Hubbard? You are assuming that Christians were milling about prior to Mark - why? Who says they were? There’s a 40 year gap (at least) between the death of Jesus & Mark’s gospel. We have not the vaguest idea what was going on then since there’s no source we can access to tell us. This is an assumption on your part that can’t be properly supported.

But I am not making unfounded assumptions. The Pauline material cannot be discounted. At the risk of being tedious and repeating myself, there are passages describing the practise of early Christianity from well before the gospels were written down. Many scholars think that Paul's letters represent a great deal of valuable verification of the early traditions about Jesus, and of Jesus himself, his life, death and resurrection. We do have a much more than vague idea of what was going on between the death of Jesus and the gospel of Mark (which incidentally could have been closer to 30 than 40 years, but that's an aside) grin

niminypiminy Fri 08-Mar-13 10:55:56

holo yes the end of Acts 21 is fascinating. It shows us that Paul spoke at least Greek and Hebrew, and possibly also some Latin, and that he moved between multiple identities as Jew, Roman Citizen, Christian, part of the Jewish dispiriting world of the Eastern Mediterranean, and that he was able to mix freely in a cosmopolitan and socially, culturally and ethnically diverse world. And not as a person of high rank, but as an ordinary craftsman.

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 11:01:37

But we do know that an average working Palestinian man in the 1st Century usually could not read or write. Jesus & his disciples were apparently average working men - you do the maths wink

Just to throw something a little bit interesting in here, some scholars (not the majority) do hold to the possibility of the apostle Matthew being the author of the gospel so named, and writing it in Hebrew/Aramaic - there is an early document attesting to this from the early 2nd century, and it was the tradition of the early church. Now, whether he did or not (and if we take Markan priority as read he probably didn't), there was still a good possibility that Matthew, as a tax collector, would be to a certain extent literate. It fascinates me that there is a possibility. Obviously Matthew's book seems much based on Mark, but there is some none Markan tradition in there too which doesn't quite tally with Mark being the main or only source. There's Q, of course, which is a different matter again.

The thing is, we don't know, so we cannot say these things are 'fact'. I'd love to know though smile

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 11:05:19

Hi Niminy! Yes, much is made in Acts of Paul's being a Roman citizen, and therefore having certain freedoms and rights, as well as a Jew, and therefore starting his missionary work from synagogues.

Hi MadHairDay! Yes, Paul's letters have got to come into the mix IMO. The 'Christ Hymn' in Philippians 2 is one example of an early undisputed Pauline text that shows that Jesus was considered divine ('equalty with God'...'God gave him the name that is above every name' [i.e. the divine name]). If it were pre-Pauline and used in Christian worship of Jesus, as seems to be the case, this is strong evidence of the worship of Jesus, and the implicit belief in the divinity of Jesus, in the pre-70 period.

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 11:10:36

Morning Holo, and I agree with you about the 1 Cor 11 headgear text being misunderstood. There's another fun area to explore, but maybe not for this thread grin - you're right, the portion from 17 onwards about the Lord's Supper is unchallenged as original. V interesting to realise the reality of what was going on shortly after Jesus' death.

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 11:36:17

Yes, it's interesting, isn't it? So if we put these things together, we have:

The amended Passover meal in which the bread is seen as the body of Jesus - so early evidence that Jesus' death was seen as sacrificial and related to the Passover (Jesus leading people to the new 'Promised Land');

Songs and hymns sung about Jesus that show that people believed he was divine (Phil. 2, Heb. 1:1-3, which is IMO pre-70, Col. 1:15-20, which is later but the song probably pre-dates the letter).

Anything else?

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 12:02:40

1 Corinthians 15 is another interesting one, grounding Jesus as more than a wishy washy divine object of worship - attesting that he died, was raised and describing some resurrection appearances. Most scholars, conservative and liberal, see this passage as an early credal statement. Jeremias refers to it as 'the earliest tradition of all.' Given that 1 Corinthians can be dated to the fifties, and that Paul says that he has already passed on this creed to the Corinthian church, so dating the written form to pre AD51 at least, we can see that it was being used within 20 years of the resurrection. Fascinating.

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 12:06:15

And added to that, there is a growing group of scholars who consider this creed to have been in use within 2-8 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. That's a fairly big difference to 40 years of nothingness until the gospel of Mark was written down. And taken with the fact that Paul, in addition to his own experience of Christ, met with Peter and James - direct eyewitnesses - it's interesting, at the least.

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 12:14:52

Oh yes, 1 Cor. 15:3-5 is pretty well agreed to be the earliest credal statement - also 1 Cor 12:13 //Gal. 3:28 'Jew or Greek, slave or free [male and female]' is thought to be an early baptismal creed.

So, we have:

The amended Passover meal in which the bread is seen as the body of Jesus - so early evidence that Jesus' death was seen as sacrificial and related to the Passover (Jesus leading people to the new 'Promised Land');

Songs and hymns sung about Jesus that show that people believed he was divine (Phil. 2, Heb. 1:1-3, which is IMO pre-70, Col. 1:15-20, which is later but the song probably pre-dates the letter).

Credal statements, often in the context of initation rites (baptism), asserting that Jesus was raised from death.

Anything else, while we're on a roll? grin

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 12:37:00

How about the early sermons in Acts? eg Acts 10:36-43. These are credal statements in themselves - this particular one also attests to Jesus' life of 'doing good and healing'. These report similarly early data about what people believed and practised so soon after the event. Scholars have little doubt that this material is from very early sources.

In fact there are many, many references throughout Acts. There can be no doubt that the early followers of Jesus believed that he was not only God, but also raised from death, and that there were witnesses to the fact.

Keep going Holo!

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 13:35:28

Acts is later, isn't it? Are the sermons thought to be earlier / reflect earlier traditions? I'll check this out next time I'm in a library.

A question: do we think that the Gospels are 'better' evidence for Jesus than this Pre-Gospels material? If so, why? Off out now but I'll check back in later. smile

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 15:16:32

Many scholars think Acts was written in early 60s, but it's more the description therein of what was happening in those years iyswim. It's more that the author has obviously preserved material from very early on, so accounting for what was happening. So yes, the sermons and other references throughout are widely held to reflect early traditions.

Good question, will ponder.

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 16:37:55

Holo - I am completely disinterested in whether or not Jesus could or could not read Greek. It has no bearing at all on the evidence for his historicity which is what this debate is supposed to be about. If he was "God" in some form, which presumably the Christians on this thread believe, then he could read anything in any language - since he could do anything (that's what omnipotence means).

If it makes you happier, OK - he could read Greek. I don't know and I don't care. Sorry to be dismissive of something that clearly matters to you, but it's taking this debate off at a tangent and achieves literally nothing.

Has not escaped my notice that of all the things I've said, this is all some of you feel able to try and contradict wink

With regards to Paul - it's established pretty conclusively that he didn't write 5 of them, that's the consensus amongst scholars. Yes, you can find a few that don't believe that, but the majority do, for very solid reasons that I don't need to go into here. The research is available to anyone who'd care to look, and you'll see why it's considered almost a certainty. The ones we know that he did write are known as "The Undisputed" ones.

It was extremely common for writers to produce work that had someone else's name on. Just look at the gospels (although the writers almost certainly never called themselves Matthew, Mark, Luke & John).

The disputed passages in Corinthians are 11 2-16 and 14 34-35. They have moved themselves around within the text, casting doubt on their authenticity and they are internally inconsistent with other things that Paul says.

"Pseudepigraphy" - No, it doesn't need to be discussed here. It's enough to know that it happened & probably did with rather a lot of books within the NT. Please remember that I am arguing against the idea that the NT provides historical proof for Jesus's existence - and, sorry, but documents that claim to be written by one person but weren't must be dismissed as evidence.

If I were investigating (for example) whether or not Oswald killed Kennedy and found a letter from him saying "Yeah, it was me, I did it" - but subsequently discovered it was written by someone else entirely, I would have to disregard it completely. Doesn't matter why that person wrote it, or how often people write letters like that - the fact that it is fraudulently signed and can only amount to hearsay means that it cannot possibly be admitted as evidence.

Evidence matters here & the standards of that evidence matters.

Holo So that I know where you're coming from - who do you think wrote the canonical gospels?

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 16:43:45

Mad

Oh no! I hope you're OK. Please don't over do it. I think all of us on here would rather you were sitting with your feet up getting better than feeling you had to weigh in to something like this. If you need to take a break, then do. We'll be here when you feel better smile

I will address the points you made today, but will understand if you can't get back on for a while.

Have some brew and flowers.

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 16:55:36

Hello Ellie! Mad, are you okay? Hope so.

Ellie, as I've said several times, the bilingualism of Jesus is a minor issue. It's not going to convert anyone. The reason I picked up on it was that you asserted very confidently that Jesus didn't know Greek, and to my mind, that kind of assertion needs substantiating to be taken seriously. As you say, evidence matters! Assertions need to be backed up by evidence, otherwise the whole debate becomes pointless. I've said that I'm happy to talk about the manuscript variants, and other issues you've raised.

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 17:03:30

Sorry to double post: am I right in thinking that you discount the Pauline corpus as evidence of the early Jesus movement? If so, I think you need to be able to articulate why you think it us not to be taken seriously. It's odd that you think that pseudepigraphy is irrelevant; do you think that all ancient literary genres are irrelevant? If so, why?

I'm fairly conservative (academically, not Christian-wise) on the writing of the Gospels. My way of understanding them is to think more in terms of communities, not individual authors; talking about 'Matthew's community' is more fruitful and meaningful than talking about Matthew, IMO. Why - what do you think? And as I asked earlier, which one is your favourite? Same question all round really - which Gospel do we like best? (I feel a bit sorry for Mark because no-one ever says Mark!)

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 17:14:08

Thanks, Ellie and Holo. I am ok, though somewhat brain-fugged. I am putting my feet up good excuse for mning - I know I'm not going terribly downhill because I can still face a computer screen grin

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 18:26:16

My way of understanding them is to think more in terms of communities, not individual authors How strange. They did have individual authors, and who they were is infinitely important to this discussion. Who do you think sat down and physically wrote them?

And I think you're indulging in special pleading somewhat. I'll explain what I mean later.

I have my work cut out here, but I shall be back later with some mega posts addressing everything Mad has said, looking at why Paul is not a good witness and shouldn't even be part of a debate about the physical existence of Jesus, the many and monumental discrepancies in the gospels & why they can't be trusted as evidence (using the nativity as an example) and I'm going to try and dispense in one fell swoop with the idea that's there's any extra-Biblical, non-Christian evidence we can use to prove Jesus (there ain't).

That is a lot, I know. But it all matters.

I don't really have a favourite gospel - I've never thought about them in those terms. The ones I like the best are the ones that never made it into the canon - they're blooming hilarious!

(Anyone reading, if you think Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are the only gospels, you're wrong. They're the only ones that were selected by church elders to be part of the canon - the others were simply too embarrassing. Jesus the child killer anyone? Jesus the giant whose head touched the clouds? A walking wooden cross the followed Jesus out of the tomb! Brilliant stuff wink)

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 18:34:23

Ellie, as I've said several times, the bilingualism of Jesus is a minor issue. It's not going to convert anyone. The reason I picked up on it was that you asserted very confidently that Jesus didn't know Greek

Well, OK....I don't know if he did or not. No one does. The more important issue, and what I was actually getting at, is whether his disciples knew Greek and were likely to write accounts about their experiences in it. This is extraordinarily unlikely and I would be amazed if you could find any respected, credible Biblical scholar/expert who took any other view.

I lumped Jesus in with the disciples because we're meant to, aren't we? All humble, poor men - Jesus was one of them, just an ordinary Joe. Except he could walk on water and make decomposing corpses come back to life, of course.

niminypiminy Fri 08-Mar-13 18:40:49

As far as I'm aware the view that the gospels were authored by communities is fairly widely accepted among biblical scholars.

The non-canonical gospels have some interest, it's true, but most of them are far later than the canonical gospels, which were written very close in time to the events they narrate.

My favourite gospel. Hm. I do actually like Mark, in fact, though perhaps not as much as Luke and, in a different way, John. The one I struggle with more is Matthew. I like the 'secret Messiah' aspect of Mark.

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 18:41:30

Oh, hold on, Holo

I said:

*It's vaguely possible that Jesus & the disciples were bi-lingual and spoke both Aramaic & the Greek dialect that the gospels use. But this is extremely unlikely given their humble, working men backgrounds. And being illiterate, which they almost certainly were, was not a shameful thing then - it was the default for most people.

How is this a confident assertion that Jesus couldn't speak Greek? I didn't dismiss it entirely, I acknowledged it as a possibility - I just said it is unlikely. Which it is.

hmm

EllieArroway Fri 08-Mar-13 18:42:31

As far as I'm aware the view that the gospels were authored by communities is fairly widely accepted among biblical scholars

Absolutely 100% not true. Sorry.

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 18:49:36

Ellie, you said, 'Absolutely 100% not true. Sorry.' Could you back that up please?

THe Greek question: it is minor. But to my mind it'sd a usefui; one as it's enabled me to set out my methodological stall - to say 'this is how I find things out, these are the people I read, etc etc.' I'm not sure you've done the same, yet, unless I missed it. So using the question of 'Gospel communities', e.g. 'the Johanine community' as an example, can you tell us how you go about finding out why you think it's 'Absolutely 100% not true' that communities are a fruitful way of understanding the Gospels?

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 18:54:30

And to me, this saying how you find things out and reach your conclusions is the really important thing you need to do to be persuasive.

HolofernesesHead Fri 08-Mar-13 18:58:03

This was your confident asssertion: 'They [the Gospels] were written in a foreign land in a language that Jesus & his followers didn't speak*. ' (6 March, 13:31).

MadHairDay Fri 08-Mar-13 19:21:58

Ah yes, the other 'gospels' like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary. Certain scholars of Jesus Seminar fame would like to include the former in the canon, but I've always found it difficult to understand on what grounds. These works were written down far later than the original gospels - they could much more bear the charges often given to the four gospels, that of them being made up out of vague legend. I read that the amount of time passing between the events and these works being written was the same amount of time scholars would say that myth and legend could creep in, whereas the four gospels would not fulfil such criteria.

The reason why the gospel of Thomas, for eg, was not accepted into canon was that it did not meet the standards set by canon - those of wide usage among the christian community, and consistency of character to the rest of the canon and to what Christians believed, among others. It contained some strange passages - the walking cross as you mentioned Ellie, and the delightful passage about males only attaining salvation. This was totally unlike any other sayings of Jesus and so out of step with anything he would say that it was obviously not canon material. If you were going to say anything about unsubstantiated, cloaked in myth documentation, this would be a good example. Interesting though!

BigSpork Fri 08-Mar-13 19:47:02

Not accepted by the canon of the Roman/European Christian church, when discussing canon and theology we need to remembered that it spread and established into Africa a long time before it spread through Rome but, through various factors, the Roman church's version ended up as the finalised version (with many new sections that had never been in the original African versions such as divinity) and denounced/oppressed other groups until they agreed and a lot of the original stuff that disagreed was destroyed by them.

EllieArroway Sat 09-Mar-13 06:27:09

I think we need to draw a distinction between evidence & apologetics.

If I say, for example, there's no mention of Jesus anywhere until 70AD, you are NOT providing contrary evidence by saying, "Oh, but that's to be expected, there was no Daily Fail back then, and it was all oral tradition" - you are merely providing an explanation (apologetics) for why you think that might be. You are not contradicting me, or proving me wrong, you are acknowledging that I'm right - just putting your spin on it.

Evidence demonstrating that I'm wrong would be "Actually, he's mentioned by x person in y record in 49AD". Do you understand the distinction? Every single time you try to explain away one of the facts I present rather than contradict it directly and show that I'm wrong, you are merely confirming that I'm right.

I already know that you feel you have an explanation for why there's a lack of information about Jesus. I expect every Christian agrees, more or less, with your explanation. But I don't accept your explanation because you are not backing it up with verifiable data - evidence. And that is what this debate is SUPPOSED to be about - whether there's actually any EVIDENCE that Jesus existed - not whether there's a convincing explanation of why there's no evidence.

Right - for clarity, let's look directly at what we know regarding Jesus. This is what the "evidence" amounts to:

Christians generally claim two sources of evidence that Jesus existed - the Bible, in particular the NT, and a few non-Christian, extra-Biblical sources.

I'll come back to the Bible - but let's look outside of it for now.

We have a lot of Greek and Roman sources from the period - because of this we are talking about one of the best understood eras in the ancient world. It's is absolute rubbish to try and suggest no one was writing anything down because they really, really were. We have the works of religious scholars, historians, philosophers, poets & natural scientists. We have thousands of private letters, inscriptions on buildings & tombs etc.

From all of these people we learn about the different religious cults that there were (and there were many), all of the people who were claiming to be able to do miracles, messiah claimants riding into Jerusalem on asses to fulfil the prophecy in Micah, uprisings being stamped out by the Romans. We are very fortunate to have so many rich sources of detail.

So, if we look directly at the period Jesus lived in - up to the end of the 1st century, what mention can we find of him? The answer is truly staggering. We can find nothing. Absolutely nothing. He is never discussed, challenged, criticised or laughed at. There are no records of his birth, accounts of his trial & death, disputes about his teachings. No passed on rumours about miracles, believed or not - nothing. No mention of any kind from anyone.

Now - is it enough to say, "But they didn't keep records back then, No one wrote anything down"? No. As I have said, the sheer volume of literature produced at that time and in that place is enormous - they WERE writing things down. Lots of things.

Does this all prove that Jesus didn't exist? Nope. It doesn't prove anything - except my assertion that there's no evidence that Jesus existed. If you are opposing me on that, name the extra-Biblical source that names Jesus, or even refers to him in passing, in the first century after his birth? Explanations such as "They kept no records back then, y'know - and no one had heard of him" etc are not relevant to this discussion. Remember please, that I am not trying to prove Jesus didn't exist merely that there's no evidence demonstrating that he did.

WHATEVER the explanation is, the fact remains that there is no source that even hints at, let alone demonstrates, the existence of this man Jesus of Nazareth (no trace can be found of Nazareth either, by the way).

So, we have to wait until about 112AD before we start hearing vague mentions (and they are very vague indeed). There's an immediate problem - the authors of the sources were not actually alive at the time Jesus was and they don't tell us where they are getting their information from - so it's hearsay. This is not evidence and should therefore not even feature in a discussion about the historicity of Jesus - but because Christian's literally have nothing else, they are forced to keep bringing them up.

The second problem (if hearsay isn't enough of one) is that they don't tell us a blessed thing about Jesus anyway. The most they do is confirm what we already know - that there was a religion called Christianity in the second half of the first century. Big deal.

Oh - and if you're going to try and suggest that this is enough to prove Jesus existed, then I'm assuming you believe Mithras did too? People worshipping him were around in far greater numbers than the Christians. As were thousands upon thousands of believers in Pagan gods - does their very existence prove that the god they worshipped was true & real? Of course not. And it doesn't prove that for Jesus.

So, in 112AD Pliny the Younger, who is the governor of a Roman province wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan asking how to handle a group of Christians who were meeting illegally. He explains that these people "worship Christ as a God". That's it. Pliny says nothing about Jesus, never even names him. This is evidence that Christians existed. That's all. NOT evidence that Jesus ever did.

Tacitus is next (in 115AD), and I've dealt with him further up. Again, not a contemporary of Jesus and not passing on anything he's witnessed personally - so not providing evidence of anything. In a tale about Nero in a history book he's writing, he explains that Christians get their name from "Christus...who was executed by Pilate". He calls their beliefs "superstitions".

These two above are the best, believe it or not. The rest are frankly embarrassing:

In 110AD, a Roman historian called Seutonius is writing a biography of the emperor Claudius. In it he says that Claudius drove the Jews out of Rome because they, at the suggestion of Chrestus, were constantly rioting. Christians have always tried to say that actually, he meant, "Christos". Even if they're right, Jesus was in Rome telling Jews to riot? Really? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Chrestus was actually a very common Christian name. Seutonius was not talking about Jesus, clearly.

The Talmud: Discussed briefly above, I know, but for those who aren't familiar The Talmud is a collection of Jewish religious and civil laws which includes a commentary on The Torah. There's a briefly mentioned character in there called Yeshua which some Christians have taken to mean Jesus. This is divisive amongst scholars - firstly whether they mean someone else altogether (and there are a couple of likely candidates) and secondly whether the passages are original. In any event, the Talmud did not come into existence until the 3rd century, and it took about 300 odd years to write!
It's truly amazing that anyone thinks this is evidence that Jesus existed - 3 to 600 years earlier!!!

The last one is Josephus - the most important & the one that's quoted the most. It's not evidence for one really good reason - it's an outright forgery. We even have a really good suspect for who the forger is.

Now, I know with 100% certainty that you'll all pile on me and say, "But not all scholars believe that - most think it was only partly forged" (like that makes it better!). No, there's little doubt that it's a complete fabrication. There are some wonderful quotes from Christian scholars writing it off completely, my favourite is Bishop Warburton - "It's a rank forgery and a very stupid one too". He's right.

I will provide an abundance of evidence for this, I promise. Not a single Christian will leave this thread and use Josephus as evidence ever again - the case is that watertight. (Not saying it'll shake faith or anything, to be clear).

So - that's it, outside of the Bible, that's the only "evidence" that's presented for a historical Jesus. Not only is it lame and vague, it's evidence that proves precisely nothing.

Which leaves us with the Bible - specifically the NT. And what's the Bible - books & letters written for Christians by Christians. It's "in house" literature produced to shore up faith or covert others. Hardly what you'd call unbiased then? But the bias doesn't matter. The gospels demonstrate in a myriad of different ways that they are not historically reliable. But I shall get to that.

But before I do, let's thrash this lot out.

HolofernesesHead Sat 09-Mar-13 08:08:25

Tbh Ellie, I'm not particularly interested in apologetics. I'm not very good at apologetics, either. I am aware that apologetics isn't just a Christian thing though -'The God Delusion' is, IMO, an atheist apologetic work (a bad one at that). But that's a digression. I am interested in historical veracity / plausibility though, and that's what I'm interested in on this thread.

So, yesterday we had a (pretty conservative) list of evidence for Jesus in the pre-Gospels period; here we are:

The amended Passover meal in which the bread is seen as the body of Jesus - so early evidence that Jesus' death was seen as sacrificial and related to the Passover (Jesus leading people to the new 'Promised Land');

Songs and hymns sung about Jesus that show that people believed he was divine (Phil. 2, Heb. 1:1-3, which is IMO pre-70, Col. 1:15-20, which is later but the song probably pre-dates the letter).

Credal statements, often in the context of initation rites (baptism), asserting that Jesus was raised from death.

Now if you choose to disallow this, you need to be able to say why you think it's not useful. Otherwise it stands as a pretty strong body of evidence that, soon after Jesus' death, all sorts of things were happening in memory of him. Saying that some of the Pauline corpus is post-Pauline (and then not wanting to talk about why that might be so, or how thatworls, or whatthat means in a 1st c. worldview) doesn't cut it - 1 Cor. and Galatians, the two letters which we talked about yesterday, are both undisputedly Pauline, and undisputedly early (same as Philippians, which could also come into play here).

So your argument, if its foundations are going to be sound, needs to get around this somehow. Bear in mind that saying that the Bible is in-house is a completely anachronistic statement - 'the Bible' in the 1st c. was the Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures, not Paul's angry letter to the fledgling church in Galatia. What do you do with texts like 1 Clement, written in the 90s but not in the Bible, or the Didache, which some scholars date to the 1st c? Are they disallowed, too?

Two quick last points for now: you said, 'Explanations such as "They kept no records back then, y'know - and no one had heard of him" etc are not relevant to this discussion.' Now that needs unpicking. Surely, if it's true that record-keeping was done differently then to how it is now, it is relevant? Personally I don't think that record-keeping wasn't done, but I do think it was done differently. Now if hthis is a historically accurate statement, surely it is to be borne in mind? If not, whyever not? This is what I mean abuot methodology - if you decide that Paul can't be part of this discussion, you need to say why, and how you arrived at that viewpoint. If you say that record-keeping methods aren't to be part of this discussion you need to say why, and how you arrived ta that that viewpoint. Otherwise any of us on this thread cuold say anything and none of the others would have any way of knowing if there's any weight to their argument.

Second last point: you say, 'because of this we are talking about one of the best understood eras in the ancient world'. My response is, yes, of course, the Roman Empire's propaganda machine was rolling along very nicely in the 1st c! But what of the rural places, the not-important people, the many thousands killed in the 1st c by the R. Empire? Is there an official list of all the Jewish people killed in the siege of Jerusalem? You need to be a bit more critical of your sources, IMO, and be maybe a litlte humbler in your claims too. A while ago I was talking to a world expert on a period very close to this one (actually, the period we were discussing is slightly better documented than the 1st c), and as we were discussing an aspect of historical methodology, the prof. broke off, shook head and said, 'You know, the problem is, we know so very little about this period.' For me, it's a question of integrity - I can only claim so muc about the 1st c, but hopefully do so in a way that has honesty and metodoolgical rigour.

Long post! smile

HolofernesesHead Sat 09-Mar-13 08:16:22

Actually, one (really!) last thing: we need to think about how we use evidence.

Ellie, or anyone else who's a bit bored or interested, a question:

You are in a foreign country which you've never visited before, and whose ten dialects you don't speak. You are walking along, and see a large, hollowed-out, carved wooden object on the ground. How do you go about working out what this is evidence of?

Thing is, the central tropes of a lot of myth systems are very similar: the king sacrificed and reborn, the leader's assorted moral lessons, some of which would have been specific to one area and some not, the idea that when you die you go to a Better Place (so know your place while your'e alive and obey your betters - the main reason for religion being favoured by governments). Various dietary taboos serve a dual purpose: they often include reasonable H&S advice for the time and place they were established and reinforce the control of the priest class, and the same goes for the sexual taboos.

So all these myth systems were cobbled together out of a bit of this and abit of that - some or other local notable did something interesting; there was a particular natural phenomenon; someone said something interesting; there was a tale told by a traveller that would lend itself to a bit of adaptation... And at the end of it you get this stew of crap, basically,that people either swallow whole or use to their own purposes. So, you know, some memorable or charismatic individuals on whom some of the myths were made probably existed, but it doesn't really matter now they are all long dead and the myth has become the important stuff.

Holo: Well if it were me I'd have a good look at it and its surroundings, and see what evidence there is of what use the thing might be put to. EG, if it's full of water it's not unreasonable to suppose it's a water trough, if it's got a corpse in it a fair assumption would be that it's a coffin.

I would also look for decorative carvings or markings: if it had illustrations of people picking apples or something which might indicate a purpose for it. Does it have wheels, is it fixed to the ground in some way?

I'm interested in where you're going with this BTW, or is it a completely open-ended question. Oh, and by the way, I appreciate that in your hypothesis one can't ask what the Big Wooden Doodah is, but one can use one's eyes to examine it in detail.

MadHairDay Sat 09-Mar-13 14:03:20

The wide majority of scholars do see the first passage relating to Jesus in Josephus as authentic, do you think that this one is a fallacy as well Ellie? Out of interest, as you state there is no mention. And yes, I'm answering you as you predicted I would by stating scholars' positions grin - sorry about that. But that's because scholars' positions need to be stated in an attempt to get to the case for or against. So, at the risk of being tedious <again> I am doing so.

A good majority also think that the passage in Josephus which is most suspect has roots in authenticity. You can say that the fact that only some is genuine makes it far too tenuous, but you'd be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many respected scholars state the case that Josephus did indeed write about Jesus and Jesus' death under Pontius Pilate. MOst scholars rightly believe that there are interpolations - those parts that do not scan with the rest of his writing and that Josephus would simply not say.

You are very firm in your belief that Josephus et all can be kicked out as useful evidence about Jesus, but there are always two sides, and I think both need to be examined. Having looked at both, I still think some of this extra-biblical documentation has valuable input into what we know.

As for Nazareth, there is evidence for a settlement. Archaeological evidence has been found from the era and even before the turn of the first century. Tombs have been found. Nazareth would have been a tiny place of no renown - unlikely to be included in any records or maps. But you are mistaken about there being no evidence. That criticism is based on outdated archaeological evidence. Why the biblical writers would make up a region and why followers would be known as Nazarenes, and this be preserved in biblical accounts, would be a severe stretch to any reason.

Now, I get what you are saying about evidence and apologetics. To a certain extent, I can agree, because to conjure up non existent evidence would be somewhat counterproductive. However, I include the NT in my sources of historically verifiable evidence, as do a great many eminent scholars. This is something you do not, so there is a gap between what we accept as 'evidence'. I have stated reasons why this material is useful historically.

I have indeed used arguments from oral tradition and first century culture to back up something of what I am saying, but not to say that you are right, not to say - well yeh, there's no evidence, but oral tradition was around so we can assume there was, hey?' - No. I've showed how the gospel writers relied on the very strict and accurate oral tradition and how the words they wrote down would have been much like the words handed down. This is not a loose argument for filling in a gap but a fact. However, I still see where you are coming from. It cannot be verified in concrete form, only in form of what we see written down and what we know about how things were done. The fact remains that we have the more concrete Pauline letters from early on in addition to the gospels in addition to the extra biblical historians in addition to all the early christian writings Holo referred to, eg the Didache. We do not have a huge unfilled gap of nothingness.

MadHairDay Sat 09-Mar-13 14:19:46

Just read back and half of that doesn't make much sense. Sorry blush <should not write under influence of large doses of codeine>

However, Mithras and the Mystery Religions, the myth systems that SGB mentions. Now there's another interesting area, and often cited as argument that Jesus wasn't unique and the Christians just made up another myth like the rest. However, precisely because they were mystery religions, they were incredibly secretive and there is very little known about them, even now. It is probable that the mystery religions, Mithraism in particular, was influenced by early Christianity rather than vice versa. What we know about them is dated from the 2nd century onwards. This is well documented.

HolofernesesHead Sat 09-Mar-13 15:01:51

Hello all. Hope you're okay, MadHair! Large doses of coedeine don't sound much fun. sad

SGB - this wooden carved object. Right, you'd have a good look at it. You'd see if it were empty, or not. That sounds sensible. Looking for markings wuold be sensible too. What if there were markings but you didn't know what they meant? I'd do a lot more than taht, if I were really interested - I'd be consulting experts, looking things up in libraries, assessing the age of the object, where it was found, whether there are others like it and if so, what we can learn from them. I'd have to chooes my 'experts' carefully and listen to enough of them to make ure that what I get is a shared view, not just the ideas of a maverick. Hard work, yes - but deciding whether or not an unknown object from a foreign country is any sort of evidence for anything is going to be hard. To be fair, most people wouldn't bother, unless they were being paid to do so!

The point is, as L. P. Hartley puts it, 'the past is a foreign country.' We can't simply point to things / texts from the past and use them as any sort of evidence for anything until we've actually worked out what they are. Which is why I'm saying to Ellie that it's no good saying that, for example that Paul is not permissible evidence in this debate if she's not willing to even engage with the question of what pseudepigraphic letters are, or what even the undisputed Pauline letters are. Expecting to gain credibility by slapping, e.g., Tacitus down on the table and saying 'That's bad evidence', let's think (if we can) a bit more intelligently about what each of these texts is, how they made sense within the 1st c, then we can go on to decide what, if anything, they are evidence of. Otherwise it's all a bit Alice in Wonderland.

A good starting point, as something useful and easy to read, would be the Harvard Professor of Divinity Emeritus Amos Wilder's 'Early Christian Rhetoric.' A little quote from him; 'Jesus did not write, and Paul wrote only under constraint and with reluctance. Even when the Gospels had been long in existence the Church Fathes frequently cited the words and deeds of Christ not from these writings but from the still growing oral tradition...[then, quoting Papias, 140CE] 'I did not suppose that information from books would help me so much as the word of a living and surviving voice.' Given all of this, what then should we expect to find from the 1st c. that is historically plausible?

MadHairDay Sat 09-Mar-13 16:04:40

Ellie, I have to keep picking at this Josephus thing. I'd like to know what you have to say that would persuade me to never again refer to Josephus as a source for the historicity of Jesus. I assume you are referring to Eusebius as the lone interpolator of the TF in Josephus' Antiquities ? If so, the argument proposed for this being the case is too weak to be of any value.

The fact remains that Josephus refers to Jesus in two places, one unchallenged by the vast majority, one shown to be partially authentic by the majority of scholars, and the parts that are thought to be authentic still provide a compelling case for not only the historicity of Jesus, but for him having disciples, performing miracles and being put to death under Pontius Pilate.

You can't discount Tacitus, Pliny et al as of no value in the debate either. They referred to the practises of the Christians and referred to Christ. The language used seems to suggest that the Christ mentioned is not only the one-among-many political messiah, but as referring to the one messiah, and also there is evidence that in early centuries people would have known that this Jesus was known as the Christ, there would be no need for clarification or even apologetics in terms of proving historicity.

niminypiminy Sat 09-Mar-13 19:12:15

On the question of evidence, again. We need to bear in mind that what texts we have from antiquity consitute a minority of those that might once have existed. There are many texts that know only part of because they were quoted in later texts; many that are mentioned in other texts but of which nothing has survived. Learning how to interpret what we do have takes time -- academic historians and textual scholars spend years working on particular fragments, placing them in their context and trying to understand them fully. And they disagree and debate with each other all the time.

'Evidence' isn't simply self-evident. It needs to be interpreted, and there is always more than one interpretation of any piece of evidence. That's why methodology and scholarly apparatus such as citing sources and authorities is important. Because they show you can back up your interpretation of the evidence. In the end some interpretations of evidence are more convincing than others because they have the authority of scholarly rigour -- stating them one's opinion forcefully makes a great deal of noise but it doesn't make you an expert in the field.

HolofernesesHead Sat 09-Mar-13 19:32:31

Niminy, true! One of the best stories regarding early manuscripts is that of the epistle to Diognetus, which was discovered in a fish Market in 1435, about to be used to wrap some fish. It turned out to be an authentic 2nd c. apologetic letter. It's very lovely, and has lines like this: 'Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body' (or words to that effect.) It so nearly never got found - it's not mentioned by any early Christian writer. But it was found to be authentic.

On Josephus; I think that J. D. Crossan is about right; he does a good job of boiling down what is most likely that Josephus said about Jesus, to this: Jesus was a Jew with particularly loyal followers, who was tried by other Jews, executed by Romans and about whom reports of resurrection circulated early on. It's a conservative estimate, but I think probably a good one.

expatinscotland Sat 09-Mar-13 19:34:23

I think a charismatic figure existed around the time, maybe named Jesus, and the rest is a myth.

zulubump Sat 09-Mar-13 21:13:06

Wow this is a fantastic and thread, well done to Mad and Ellie for kicking it off! I hope it can continue, the information is really interesting. Mad and Ellie, I'm curious to know how you are so well informed? Did you study theology or is it all from personal reading?

MadHairDay Sat 09-Mar-13 22:17:17

I have a theology degree from too many years ago, but have always loved the subject and read around it. Would love to do a Masters at some point if my health ever allowed it. DH has an MTheol and I enjoyed critiquing reading his essays and discussing it all as he did it smile

Aftereightsarenolongermine Sun 10-Mar-13 06:46:09

Thank so much for this thread, I'm a Christian but am also interested in the historical side. Where would be a good place to start reading about it. If I remember rightly from the depths of my brain are there not elements of Zoroastrianism in Christianity?

BoffinMum Sun 10-Mar-13 14:02:25

An anthropological question. Levi-Strauss developed the concept of the 'cold chronology' (when not much appears to be happening) and the 'hot chronology' (when a lot seems to be happening or changing).

Was there a particularly hot chronology between 5 BCE and 30 CE? Apart from the Jesus question?

niminypiminy Sun 10-Mar-13 14:28:36

Well, there was certainly a lot going on in Israel -- culminating in a revolt by the Jews against the occupying Roman Empire in 66 C.E. and the destruction of the Temple as a reprisal by the Romans four years later. The period was marked by unrest and both covert and overt rebellion -- zealots for example (some scholars think that some of the disciples, eg Judas, may have been zealots), who wanted to see violent resistance to Roman rule.

townbuiltonahill Sun 10-Mar-13 14:54:59

Hi Aftereights smile.

Prompted by the debate on similar threads in the past few months, I looked into Karen Armstrong's work (thanks to whoever suggested that). Her History of God and The Case for God - both available on Kindle - give a lightning tour of religions and related philosophical thinking since the beginning of human history up to the present day, with scholarly references.

I must say Karen gives a lot of support to some of Ellie's points, but leaves readers to make up their own minds on whether God exists etc etc

Holo: your hypothetical wooden thingy doesn't actually work that well as a debating tool. Because you've got to tell the rest of us whether it's three feet tall or ten feet tall, and whether it's got a hole in it, or whether it smells. Or we would find out for ourselves, because it's a wooden thing that's there in front of us. Imaginary friends are just imaginary, so debating them is always going to boil down to 'Bwhaah, Great Pumpkin IS REAL' with no evidence, whereas a person finding a wooden object has the wooden object to explore, not just stories about the wooden object and/or descriptions of it.

For instance, I could tell you that apples are blue, when they're special. Here's an apple, it's not blue yet because you have insufficient faith. It will turn bue at some point.

Icould also give you a blue apple. It's an apple, and it's blue, and you can decide for yourself whether it become blue by magic or whether it turned blue because I did it with a crayon. BUt i't an apple, and you can go find one or I culd show you one and it's a bit better than a shouty knob on the interne.

Aftereightsarenolongermine Sun 10-Mar-13 22:16:09

Thanks town I've downloaded the history of god onto my kindle. Looking forward to reading it.

niminypiminy Sun 10-Mar-13 22:44:00

SolidGoldBrass I think you have misunderstood the purpose of HolofernesesHead's example (and indeed of the thread). As I understand it she was making a point about methodology, namely that we need to have thought about a set of second-order considerations such as how we might distinguish true explanations from false, how we would go about looking for explanations, what factors we would use to distinguish between and evaluate competing explanations, and what we would count as an explanation, before we would be able to find out what the object was. Academic researchers tend to make those second-order considerations explicit, and they are called methodology. Understanding methodology helps us make our arguments more robust, and allows us to evaluate and critique other people's arguments.

Holo was not in any sense debating the existence of the wooden object. Neither is the thread debating the existence of God. It was set up to debate the question of the historical evidence for Jesus. Since we are evaluating evidence, questions of the methodology we use are extremely important.

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 09:33:41

Yes, exactly what Niminy said. It's all about why we accept certain things as evidence of certain other things, and how we arrive at that decision. This doesn't just go for the question of whether Jesus existed, of course - it's a basic question about how we understand life, the world and everything.

MostlyLovingLurchers Mon 11-Mar-13 09:49:48

Just done a quick catchup after being away this weekend, so sorry if i have missed something here. While away i was thinking about Buddha - there's a lot i like about Buddhist philosophy while i don't agree with the whole package. Anyway. If you read anything about Buddhism Siddharta's life story is often presented as a historical biography, and yet there is absolutely no contemporary evidence for him - all written accounts are much later. As with Jesus, this doesn't mean that he didn't exist. The difference is though, that with Buddhism it doesn't really matter if his life is a fable or allegory, because it is the teaching that is important not the man. There is no claim that he was ever anything other than an ordinary man. With Jesus of course it is vital that he actually existed since that is the foundation of Christianity.

I am completely open to being convinced that there was a historical Jesus (though would be much harder to convince me that he was in anyway divine). But so for all that has been put forward is hearsay and assumption. There is, as yet, no evidence, certainly not of the kind i would want to see if i was in a courtroom. Hearsay evidence is what enabled the church to torture and burn to death thousands of supposed witches. I don't think there is much that Ellie has said that is not true or unsubstantiated. I do, however, admire the depth of knowledge some of you on the other side of the fence have, even if i don't agree with you.

niminypiminy Mon 11-Mar-13 09:55:23

Lurchers this is a tangent, but it is not a matter of historical record that the Church tortured and burnt thousands of witches. Where the church was in charge of investigating accusations of witchcraft, they were mostly dismissed, and numbers of executions were very low indeed. Where the state was in charge of investigating accusations of witchcraft (eg in England and Scotland) numbers of convictions and executions were very much higher. The scandal of the witch trials has to be laid squarely at the door of the secular state, not the church (and in particular, not at the door of the Roman Catholic Church).

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 10:25:17

Lurchers, my problem with your point there is, as I keep hammering out, how do you decide what is 'hearsay'? How does 'hearsay' work? Even if I were athesist / agnostic, I wouldn't be able to agree with you without hearing really compelling reasons for assessing some things as 'herarsay' and other things as good evidence. We haven't even stated talking about what the ancient texts are yet! How on earth can we say if they are aevidence of anything at all?

Re. Ellie's statements, not that i want to be unduly harsh (esp. as she dosen't seem to be around at the moment), she has said quite a few things that are untrue / unsubstantiated. Jesus' not knowing Greek was one of them - a minor point, yes. That the scholarly consensus is that the Gospels aren't usefully thought of as reflecting communities is another untrue comment. She hasn't answered / substantiated her reasons for disallowing the Pauline corpus as any sort of evidence for anything, so maybe she will yet substantiate / defend her opinions on that one. She also hasn't substantiated / defended her ignoring of other 1st c. Christian texts which didn't make it into the NT (e.g. Didache, 1 Clement). She may yet defend that from a 'this is why I disallowed these texts, and this is how I reached that viewpoint' POV. ' I could pick up on more (I've not even mentioned 2nd c. sources yet, or Josepus in any detail)But there are lots of loose threads handing.

I'm kind of trained to see all of this (I would be even if I weren't a Christian) so I am going to find all the flaws in the arugument. Funnily enough, one of my tutors way back when said that what we were being trained for wasn't so much theology as advocacy (in a legal sense - this was in a secular university, he wasn't saying we'd all become apologists for the Christian faith). Studying theology rigorously does seriously train you to assess arguments of all types, not just those relating to faith. One of the many reasons why I defend its place within the secular university!

MostlyLovingLurchers Mon 11-Mar-13 11:11:02

I'm not going to get drawn on the witch trials and persecution of other heretics as you are right in the respect that it is not a clear cut issue, which is not to say that the church is in no way to blame - far from it. It is however irrelevent to the historicity of Jesus (maybe one for another thread). The point is simply that the evidence used to condem those accused of witchcraft (by both state and church) carried a very low burden of proof.

I get what you are saying about methodology, but it still stands that if your source material is unreliable then you are simply weeding out the bits that are more unreliable than others. What is left is not evidence of the type that would be acceptable as proof to anyone without faith, and at best leaves open the possibility that there could have been a historical Jesus.

niminypiminy Mon 11-Mar-13 11:19:54

Lurchers, the point is that your methodology is how you determine which bits of evidence are unreliable and which can stand.

sieglinde Mon 11-Mar-13 11:20:40

Mostlyloving, just want to say niminy is right about the witchtrials. It's not really a matter of debate now among academics, though there are plenty of nutters amateur historians eager to make a polemical point. I can give you references for direct comparisons, if you like. For instance, the Spanish Inquisition only condemned TWO witches...

MostlyLovingLurchers Mon 11-Mar-13 11:40:02

Well i would understand hearsay (nearly typed heresy!) to be based on the reports of others. That is not such a problem if those reports can be looked at and can be backed up by other independant sources contemporary to that event that say the same thing. Without this back up you have little but rumour.

I mentioned Buddha before - i am quite ashamed to say that i never really gave much thought to whether he was a real person. Having looked at this a bit (thanks to this thread!) i find no, there is no reliable contemporary evidence that he existed. Any written evidence comes later, and sometimes is contradictory. Sometimes new documents have been found that throw some new light, but nothing that amounts to proof. I now have to re-evaluate and think ok, he may not have existed as an individual. I draw the same conclusion looking at the arguments put forward so far for a historical Jesus.

If you can put forward an ancient text written during Jesus' lifetime by an eyewitness to the events they are describing, and then showed me a second text written by an independent author describing the same thing then i would be interested. I would say, just because something is written after the event it does not mean that it isn't true, but that it needs to be based on reliable, source material, and that is what (i think) is lacking here. Of course, just because something is written at the same time doesn't automatically make it true either.

Re Ellie's posts - i did say most not all!

MostlyLovingLurchers Mon 11-Mar-13 11:41:42

Yes - but plenty of other heretics.

MadHairDay Mon 11-Mar-13 13:11:41

Afternoon all

Ellie, hope you are OK, you've been quiet?

I didn't know that about the witch trials. Very interesting! (my mediaeval history is somewhat lacking)

Have a busy day, but will try and get on at some point later.

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 13:50:09

Hi MadHair! Hope you're feeling better now.

Lurchers, the big problem I have with your point here (and I'm sure I'd say this regardless of my own faith commitment) is that you, as someone living in 2013, presumably western Europe, are conditioned by your own context (i.e. post-Enlightenment European thought). We value books and things written down. If we want something to carry authority, we write it (e.g. marriage certificate) .

Someone from the 1st c. would be as equally conditioned by his / her context (say, the Mediterranean Greco-Roman-Jewish milieu that led to the growth of Christianity). What you value (written words) are not what the 1st c. person values - she values the spoken word of a reliable witness - to her, that spoken word carries way more authority than anything written down. Writing is only useful, to her, if it points to the spoken words of the reliable witness. There's only a point in writing things down if the reliable witness isn't there in person. So IMO what the written texts (that we know about) from the 1st c. represent, is the tip of a huge iceberg of thought and discourse, the vast majority of which was spoken.

So if you imagine yourself sitting down with Chloe from 1st c. Corinth and asking her for at least two pieces of paper mentioning Jesus that could be dated back to his lifetime, she'd look puzzled and say 'Whyever do you want that? Paul's due here in two weeks, and he met the apostles, who met Jesus...' So much in the 1st c. written texts is about the handing on of traditions / beliefs from one community to another; that's what is valued, and preserved, which is why the rites of christian baptism and the sharing of bread and wine started so early, because they were enacted within communities.

Any society preserves the things they value, in forms that are shaped by their worldviews. Think about what was rescued from the rubble of the Blitz in WW2 - things that are meaningful to the people who are there at the time. Now think about an historian coming along and using what wasn't found in the rubble as evidence that it wasn't in the homes that were bombed. It's a weak argument, and no serious historian would go down that route. the much better way would be to build up the best picture possible of life in pre-Blitz London and to construe from there what is most historically plausible to have been found in the homes. Do you see what I'm saying? I am absolutely sure that I'd be saying all of this whether or not I were a Christian myself. It's about historical integrity / plausibility.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 15:54:32

Hello everyone. Still here, just had a weekend away. Going to catch up on posts now.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 16:16:36

'The God Delusion' is, IMO, an atheist apologetic work Absolute nonsense. Do you know what "apologetics" actually is? I doubt it, if you did you'd understand that it's impossible to apply it to atheism hmm

Nothing you've said, literally nothing, amounts to "evidence". What's the passover got to do with anything? So, the early Christians believed xyz....so what? Does what the believers of Mithras believed in prove Mithras existed? Besides which - this all comes from the Bible. We are dealing with extra-biblical sources here, can we stick to that for now, thanks.

Do you accept that everything I've said about the extra-Biblical "sources" is correct or not?

You keep taking everything off at a tangent and it's hard to keep track. I won't discuss the Bible or anything in it until we've dealt with the likes of Tacitus, Pliny etc. Because, according to Mad this accounts for a large part of the "evidence" for Jesus.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 16:22:21

The wide majority of scholars do see the first passage relating to Jesus in Josephus as authentic, do you think that this one is a fallacy as well Ellie? Out of interest, as you state there is no mention

I'm not sure they do, Mad - the evidence that the passage is completely faked is overwhelming, I'll explain why very shortly. In any event, it's far, far too wobbly to be admitted into evidence.

Can I take it you accept my assertions about Tacitus, Pliny etc - that they don't & can't provide evidence that Jesus existed?

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 16:27:06

And there's no archaeological evidence for Nazareth, Mad. I think it probably existed, but no one knows exactly where. It was not in the same place as modern Nazareth is.

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 16:29:21

Ellie, I do love your style! 'Absolute nonsense.' Great! grin

Apologia is a Greek word meaning, literally, 'from words'; what it means is a formal defense of opinions or actions. Could apply to pretty well anything and everything, including atheism.

I'm not trying to take anything off track. I'm asking the prior question, of how we work out what is and isn't admissible as evidence. Until we get this one sorted, I don't see how we can sensibly assess anything that any one of us might think of as evidence.

I also don't think that the biblical / extra-biblical distinction is v. useful from a 1st c POV as the writings of Paul, the evangelists etc weren't yet thought of as 'the Bible.'

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 16:34:36

PS I hope you had a nice weekend away! smile

MadHairDay Mon 11-Mar-13 16:55:40

Hello Ellie. smile

There's a pretty much unanimous agreement among scholars that the passage about James the brother of Jesus is authentic, and a wide agreement that the passage with interpolations is partially authentic, enough to provide some interesting near-contemporary insight at least. I've never read any overwhelming evidence it is faked, so will be interested to hear that.

As for Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius et al - well, I think that they provide evidence in the sense of what was happening at the time - so no, not 'contemporary evidence of Jesus', but early descriptions of what followers of Jesus were up to. I do not think they can be discounted, because they show, if nothing else, that there were followers of this Christ and they were strong in number if annoying to the Romans wink Being close to the event in terms of ancient writings in general they need a place in the discussion. They prove there was a man called Christ who started a movement. It's the historicity versus historical Jesus thing - they can be used more to argue the former, but for the latter I would prefer to rely on the Pauline writings, the gospels, other NT writings, early Christian writings and finally Josephus.

MadHairDay Mon 11-Mar-13 16:58:12

I don't know about location of Nazareth in modern times, but there is archaeological evidence now for the Nazareth of Jesus' time. There was much argument against this years ago but more recent evidence has proved the argument to be a fallacy.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:02:36

Right -so Josephus smile

For those who don't know, he's considered the most important extra-Biblical source that the Christians have.

Yet again, he was not a contemporary of Jesus, since he was born after Jesus supposedly died, but he's pretty close and SHOULD be a very valuable source of information.

He was native of Judea and prior to the war in 70AD had been the governor of Galilee - the very province that Jesus did all his amazing stuff in. At one point he even lived in Cana, where Jesus was meant to have performed his very first miracle.

This, people, should be the man who could gives us clues to Jesus.

He became a very highly respected Roman/Jewish historian, his works are quoted endlessly by Christians and he's a very important source for historians of the period generally. His two biggest works are The Jewish War (written in the 70s) and The Antiquities of the Jews written in the late 90s. In them, Josephus tells us about every noted person in Palestine and every event in the region in the first 70 years of the Christian era.

He is the Christian apologists dream boy....EXACTLY the kind of person who could back up some of the Christian's beliefs about Jesus.

And he appears to - very briefly (amazingly briefly when you consider how massive the works of Josephus are) in a passage known as the Testemonium Flavianum (there's another single line that's used later in the text that may be genuine, but I'll come to that). It reads:

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day"

Now, this is evidence indeed. Josephus manages not only to confirm the existence of Jesus, but seems to regard him as "the Messiah", suggests he is not altogether a man (something better than just a man), that he died on a cross and was resurrected three days later, his fulfilment of divine prophecy etc. Just....wow. Right? You can see why all Christians interested in the historicity of Jesus would fight tooth and nail to keep this as "evidence". But it just does not stand up to scrutiny at all.

Most serious scholars regard it as a forgery. Some feel that it's possibly only partly a forgery. I know of none at all, even the most pious Christian historians, who believe it to be entirely genuine. Even the Catholic Encyclopaedia says it's clearly been subject to repeated interpolations. At best, I would say!

The problems with it are myriad:

* First of all, the text does not fit at all with the paragraphs both immediately before and after it. It seems to have been stuck in there right in the middle of a discourse about something else entirely. Take it out, and the text flows properly and makes sense.

* The style of the language used is very un-Josephus & not seen anywhere else in his voluminous works

* In some copies there is evidence of the text above and below having been squashed up and down to make room

* Very early copies of Antiquities includes a table of contents, put together by Christians summarising the contents. This passage is not mentioned in it! BY CHRISTIANS!

* The very briefness of the passage is extraordinary if Josephus really believed these things. He spends a lot of time talking about people far, far, far less interesting than a man "who was the Messiah"! If he believed ANY of this, we'd surely hear much more about it, wouldn't we?

* Josephus was an orthodox Jew who never converted to Christianity. No way would he ever have declared Jesus "the Messiah" or the fulfilment of divine (Jewish) prophecy!

* How could anyone dismiss something so amazing as a man rising from the grave three days after his death in a 127 word paragraph? Remember, Josephus is not merely telling us what Christians believed here - he is (apparently) attesting to the fact that it happened. This is so unlikely a thing, it's laughable

* This is ALL Josephus mentions whatsoever about Christians or Christianity in his massive works. If if was genuine, he'd have to have talked about it elsewhere, but he doesn't

* Not only did Josephus live in the right area, his parents did too. They'd have been on the scene when Jesus was up to all his amazing miracles - but Josephus appears to have heard of none of it. He talks a lot about other religions & their beliefs - but no mention of Christians or Jesus?

Christians have had to account for the lack of evidence for their beliefs from the earliest days - and apologetics began early. The earliest Christian authorities poured over all sources, most particularly Josephus (they quoted him all the time) in order to prove the historical Jesus - and this passage would have been quoted and quoted and quoted and quoted - but wasn't. Not once.

NOT ONE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS MENTIONS THIS PASSAGE AT ALL

*Justin Martyr (100 - 165), who obviously pored over Josephus's works, makes no mention of the TF.

*Theophilus (d. 180), Bishop of Antioch--no mention of the TF.

*Irenaeus (120/140 - 200/203), saint and compiler of the New Testament, has not a word about the TF.

*Clement of Alexandria (150-211/215), influential Greek theologian and prolific Christian writer, head of the Alexandrian school, says nothing about the TF.

*Origen (185 - 254), no mention of the TF and specifically states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was "the Christ."

*Hippolytus (170 - 235), saint and martyr, nothing about the TF.
The author of the ancient Syriac text, "History of Armenia," refers to Josephus but not the TF.

*Minucius Felix (d. 250), lawyer and Christian convert--no mention of the TF.

*Anatolius (230 - 270/280)--no mention of TF.

*Chrysostom (347-407), saint and Syrian prelate, not a word about the TF.

........to name but a few.

There are even Christian writers of this period complaining that Josephus never mentions Christ!!!

The most important of these is Origen, the first recognised Christian apologist, who turned himself inside out quoting this, that and the other (including passages from Josephus) to try and prove Jesus. It beggars belief that he wouldn't at least mention the TF - the single most important thing that's ever been written about Jesus outside the Bible!

The simple explanation for why none of them mentioned it is - because it didn't exist yet.

The first person who mentioned it was the prime suspect himself, Eusebius, who suddenly "found" it in the 4th century. And it's interesting that even after this, some quite eminent scholars continue to quote Josephus without mentioning the TF, and when they do are quite dismissive of it, as if they already considered it fraudulent.

Eusebius freely admitted lying for Jesus - also known as "pious fraud". This is the idea that it's perfectly OK to lie to people if it's going to have the effect of bringing them to Jesus. He said: "How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine, and for the benefit of those who want to be deceived".

For this, and lots of other reasons, Eusebius is strongly suspected of having been the perpetrator of the Josephus fraud.

Mad I don't accept that there are "two sides to every story" in issues like this. This is not subjective, this is fact. The above facts are true, and it's hard to see how anyone objective could possibly conclude from knowing this that the TF is remotely genuine. It's an obvious and rather rubbish fraud.

(Hope you're feeling better, btw smile)

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:03:07

I'll come back to James brother of Jesus.

MostlyLovingLurchers Mon 11-Mar-13 18:07:08

I think there was some evidence of settlement that would have fitted in with Jesus' time at Nazareth, but i think it was a single dwelling? I'd appreciate a link to the archaeological evidence. I also thought that the reference may have been to a tribe rather than a place?

Holo - i'm not going to disparage the oral tradition because of course it has value. Plenty of societies transmit their ideas and stories this way, and it is how people would have remembered which plants heal, which ones kill, etc. Oral history is also useful these days of course when we can record the message and know who is speaking, why they are speaking and what their agenda is. However, we are not talking about a long oral tradition here or individuals we can identify whose integrity and purpose we can evaluate - we are talking about a small sect who were trying to get their ideas accepted over the ideas of other sects, against a tumultuous political background.

I can agree that the gospels may have been based somewhere down the line on the oral testimony of those who had first hand knowledge of Jesus and his doings, but it might equally be a deliberate embellishment of a charismatic preacher or outright fabrication of a myth to try and win converts. Also, as has already been said, it is not true that there were no historians recording what was going on at the time, just no-one recording anything about this particular individual and his followers.

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 18:16:55

Ellie, have you read Crossan's critique of that passage from Josephus?

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:20:46

Not quite sure where you get the idea that archaeology has found Nazareth, Mad - since no one is quite sure where it is/was!

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:24:12

Holo Stop being obsessed with what I have or haven't read. Either critique it yourself and show that one of the FACTS I've presented are wrong, or leave it alone.

What I've read is my concern. I don't mean that as rudely as it sounds, but I refuse to get into "Clever person x says y" so that you can come back with "Clever person z says the opposite". Who cares?

Facts are either facts or they are not hmm. If you are unsure, Google is your friend.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:29:14

I think what I've done is show that there is in fact no evidence outside of the Bible that Jesus the man existed - and that the "evidence" that is continually presented as "irrefutable" by Christians over and over again manages to be a) not evidence at all, and b) an awfully long way from being irrefutable.

The Bible is where it's at when we try to get to an historical Jesus - and I think a lot of people will be quite shocked when I get going on that.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:32:51

By the way - if I was going to make the case that Jesus never existed at all, I would use Josephus as exhibit number one. As I've already said, he was native to the right area and his parents (Dad = Matthias, I think) were right there i exactly the right place when Jesus was preaching to thousands. Yet their son, the most important historian of the time, has never heard of Jesus/Christians?????

I mean - seriously?

niminypiminy Mon 11-Mar-13 18:34:09

Ellie the problem with saying that 'facts are facts' and that 'google is your friend' is that the two statements are incompatible. The reason why I will not accept student essays based on research on the internet is that the internet is full of rubbish: anyone can say anything is a fact and put it on the web, and there is no quality control at all. Reputable scholars (who disagree all the time) must go through a quality control process before they publish their work to ensure that it stands up

The reason why Holo is asking if you have read Crossan on Josephus is that he is a very reputable scholar, whose work has been through this quality control process. Unless you are prepared to be scrupulous about the way you debate -- offering evidence for your opinions -- then you are simply making ungrounded assertions. And ungrounded assertions, whatever else they may be, are not uncontestable facts.

Looks like an interesting sort of thread ...

By way of a quick bookmark I'll just say that simple reports of his birth, life, and death are much less contentious than reports of a virgin birth, stories of miracles, and accounts of the resurrection and/or transfiguration.

Some people early on in the thread talked of them all together rather as though there was no material difference between them, and I just feel it's important to acknowledge that some of these things are natural and some are super-natural. I find the first kind more likely to be true.

However I do also believe that important truths can be found in story and told through story, whether those stories be accounts of Jesus's life, or the parables that he himself told to his followers.

MadHairDay Mon 11-Mar-13 18:39:12

I'll come back to all your points about Jospehus, Ellie - I have refutations for them, as agreed by a wide range of scholars from different traditions. No time now though, time to watch Call the Midwife with dd smile

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:40:30

Oh - and Josephus talks about (amongst others):

King Herod, who he hated. Mentions nothing about one of the most appalling mass murders in history, the Slaughter of the Innocents.

John the Baptist - talks about him A LOT. Not a whiff of any Jesus alongside.

Pontius Pilate - again, (aside from the fake TF) no mention of the trial that he presided over (which, if it had happened, would have broken dozens of Jewish laws).

Also never mentions the insane census that Luke invented which meant people had to go to the city of their forefathers.

Curiouser & curiouser, eh? Josephus is very helpful in establishing that most of the Jesus story is complete fabrication.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:42:08

By way of a quick bookmark I'll just say that simple reports of his birth, life, and death

What reports of his life and death? None exist. That's the point.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 18:57:11

Niminy What are you on about?

This is a debate on Mumsnet - not a paper being put up for peer review.

This is not complicated. I have said there are no pre-4th century references to the TF that have ever been found.

This is not my opinion, this is a fact. If I'm wrong it's pathetically easy to demonstrate. So do it. But these continual, sly attempts at casting doubt based on what I may or may not have read is childish - and proving rather conclusively that, unfortunately, everything I've said is true. If it weren't, I'd have been told rather quickly.

Wouldn't matter if I'd got my stuff out of The Beano. It's either right or it is not.

I have not referencing anything. I know how to - I am degree educated. But I can't be bothered on here, because it achieves nothing.

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 19:10:17

Ellie, okay, you're not interested in academic scholarship on this period. Fair enough. Facts are facts, or not....hmmm. Who gets to decide what the facts are, though? How do they do it? Anyway, for one fact, Origen wasn't the first recognised Christian apologist. He wasn't really an apologist at all.

To be honest, if you're not interested in interpreting information (by reference to scholarly assessment), I don't really know where this thread can go. It's just the Word of Ellie, isn't it, if you won't accept any assessment or interpretation of what you present?

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 19:16:33

Ellie, I'm not wanting to be overly antagonistic here, but, tbh, it matters to me that if I'm going to take part in these discussions, I do so with intellectual integrity. So of course I'm not going to give you a reading list, but neither am I going to accept what you say as The Gospel According to Ellie. We need some sort of outside points of reference, surely, otherwise, as I said the other day, it all gets a bit Through the Looking Glass.

Yes, I am a Christian, but tbh, so far, of all the various arguments against Christianity I've heard, this would be the least likely to deconvert me.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 19:33:13

Holo Do you think I'm just making this stuff up as I go along? Including all the names and dates? I'm getting it from somewhere!

You claim intellectual integrity. Marvellous. You should have not the slightest problem demolishing every argument I've made thus far. You haven't even attempted it!

Who gets to decide what the facts are, though? No one - they speak for themselves. You can interpret them how you like, but the fact of it remains. Is there or is there not a pre-4th century mention anywhere of the TF. Yes or no? If you know anything at all about this, it should be easy for you to answer.

You don't have to accept what I say at all. You could bother actually reading about this subject yourself, Holo. The clear fact is that you haven't - otherwise you'd be countering what I've said - and you can't! You've never read a historian on this subject, have you - you've read theological, apologetics works & that is not what this is about. This is about historical evidence - so read historians, then come back and tell me I'm wrong.

Origen is the first recognised Christian apologist. An apologist (since you appear not to really know) tries to defend the faith against objections. Origen did that - and he was the first known to methodically do so. hmm

I am presenting historical facts, not my opinion. If you can't tell the difference, then honestly, what is the point?

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 19:37:55

I'm going out just now Ellie, so can't defend myself right now. Back later. Play nice!

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 19:38:05

Oh, and Mad - before you get started on Josephus, could you confirm that you acknowledge that Tacitus, Seutonius, Pliny the Younger & The Talmud do not offer historical evidence for the existence of Jesus? You've been quite silent on the matter.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 19:42:11

Trying to be nice, Holo, really - but you are not attempting to meet me fact for fact. I can only conclude that you don't really know any and So of course I'm not going to give you a reading list, but neither am I going to accept what you say as The Gospel According to Ellie sort of confirms that. Nothing I've said is remotely controversial in this field of study, it's pretty basic & well known to anyone who's read up on it. That the suggestion that you should take my word for it (which no one has to) implies it's the first you've heard of this stuff. And that worries me.

townbuiltonahill Mon 11-Mar-13 19:54:42

Ellie "It's either right or it's not" - those don't sound like a lawyer's words! confused

Is there no room for 'on the balance of probability' or 'beyond reasonable doubt'?

Let's just suppose for a moment that everything you have said is true - and you appear to be presenting a strong case for this - where does that leave you - and the rest of us? smile

niminypiminy Mon 11-Mar-13 20:24:28

Wikipedia is not a source that I would accept in an academic essay, but putting that aside for a few moments, this is the first paragraph of its entry on 'the historical Jesus':

"The term historical Jesus refers to scholarly reconstructions of portraits of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.[3][4][5] These reconstructions, which are distinct from the question of the existence of Jesus, are based on historical methods including critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, along with consideration of the historical and cultural context in which he lived.[6][3][4]

Since the 18th century, three separate scholarly quests for the historical Jesus have taken place, each with distinct characteristics and based on different research criteria, which were often developed during that phase.[7][8] The second quest which started in 1953 reached a plateau in the 1970s and by 1992 the term third quest had been coined to characterize the new research approaches.[9][10][11][12]

While there is widespread scholarly agreement on the existence of Jesus, the portraits of Jesus constructed in these quests have often differed from each other, and from the dogmatic image portrayed in the gospel accounts.[13][14][15][1] The mainstream profiles in the third quest may be grouped together based on their primary theme as apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah and prophet of social change.[16][17] But there is little scholarly agreement on a single portrait, or the methods needed to construct it.[2][1][18] There are, however, overlapping attributes among the portraits and pairs of scholars which may differ on some attributes may agree on others.[19][16][17] Yet, there is "a consensus of sorts" on the basic outline of Jesus' life in that most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, debated Jewish authorities on the subject of God, performed some healings, gathered followers, and was crucified by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.[20]

A number of scholars have criticized the various approaches used in the study of the historical Jesus, on one hand for the lack of rigor in the research methods, on the other for having been driven by "specific agendas" that interpret ancient sources to fit specific goals.[21][22][23][24] These agendas range from those that aim to confirm the Christian view of Jesus, to those that aim to discredit Christianity to those which interpret the life and teachings of Jesus with the hope of causing social change.[24][25]"

I would make three points on the basis of this quotation:
1. There is a big, ongoing debate, which is not yet resolved.
2. Those involved in the debate disagree about methodologies, underlying agendas, the interpretation of sources and the conclusions that can be drawn from them.
3. Nevertheless, there is 'a consensus of sorts' and 'most scholars agree' about the basic outline of Jesus's life.

On that basis, I do not see, Ellie, that you have any call to dismiss scholarship about Jesus's historicity so arrogantly.

I am interested, but would not pretend to knowledge about this area. But since I do want to know about it, I am happy to learn. But I like people I am learning from to speak with authority, not just to shout.

niminypiminy Mon 11-Mar-13 20:34:31

I also found, reading Wikipedia's entry on 'the historicity of Jesus', which deals with debates on the question of whether Jesus existed, the following on Josephus:

"Of the two passages the James passage in Book 20 is used by scholars to support the existence of Jesus, the Testimonium Flavianum in Book 18 his crucifixion.[27] Josephus' James passage not only attests to the existence of Jesus as a historical person but that some of his contemporaries considered him the Messiah.[27][140]

The passage deals with the death of "James the brother of Jesus" in Jerusalem, and given that works of Josephus refer to at least twenty different people with the name Jesus, Josephus clarifies that this Jesus was the one "who was called Christ".[141] [142] Louis Feldman states that this passage, above others, indicates that Josephus did say something about Jesus.[143]

Modern scholarship has almost universally acknowledged the authenticity of the reference in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the Antiquities to "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James" [144] and considers it as having the highest level of authenticity among the references of Josephus to Christianity.[145][137][138][146][147][148]

The Testimonium Flavianum (meaning the testimony of Flavius [Josephus]) is the name given to the passage found in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 of the Antiquities in which Josephus describes the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the Roman authorities.[149][150] Scholars have differing opinions on the total or partial authenticity of the reference in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 of the Antiquities to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, a passage usually called the Testimonium Flavianum.[137][150] The general scholarly view is that while the Testimonium Flavianum is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus with a reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate which was then subject to Christian interpolation.[140][150][151][152][153] Although the exact nature and extent of the Christian redaction remains unclear[154] there is broad consensus as to what the original text of the Testimonium by Josephus would have looked like.[153]"

This suggests to me that something very like what Holo and MHD have been saying is not implausible, while Ellie's assertion that the passages in question are forged interpolations is, at best, questionable.

EllieArroway Mon 11-Mar-13 21:47:06

town That there's no evidence that Jesus existed as a man. Doesn't mean he didn't, of course, just that there's no evidence that he did.

The fact that certain Christians on this thread have nothing to say in refutation other than "Have you read xyz & this is what Wikipedia has to say" suggests I am making my case surprisingly well.

I shall wait for Mad to come back and talk about Josephus. She, at least, knows what she's talking about.

Oh - and people, bear this is mind regarding Josephus. At best the TF is partly forged. I think a good case can be made that it is wholly forged, but opinion is broadly divided. In any event - it is partly forged. So what value is it exactly as evidence? And what does it say about the evidence for Jesus when anyone for any reason is having to forge passages in early literature to prove his existence?

niminypiminy Mon 11-Mar-13 22:06:18

Ellie, it seems to me that what you are doing is repeating your case, rather than making it. But it also seems to me the idea that you won't debate with anyone who cites authorities (which you seem strangely unwilling to do) weakens your case very seriously.

MadHairDay Mon 11-Mar-13 22:12:57

OK.

Most serious scholars regard it as a forgery. Some feel that it's possibly only partly a forgery. I know of none at all, even the most pious Christian historians, who believe it to be entirely genuine. Even the Catholic Encyclopaedia says it's clearly been subject to repeated interpolations. At best, I would say!

I think there are a very few who say it's entirely genuine (not me). But most, not some, believe in its partial authenticity, and have given a good case for the parts which can be traced back to Josephus and the interpolations, which are obvious to even the most inexperienced eye.

First of all, the text does not fit at all with the paragraphs both immediately before and after it. It seems to have been stuck in there right in the middle of a discourse about something else entirely. Take it out, and the text flows properly and makes sense.

But Josephus has been shown to be a digressive writer. He goes off on tangents, his work is a patchwork, and it would not be unusual for him to go off on a digression, especially for a short passage like this. The fact that it mentions Pontius Pilate is enough to secure its place where it is. The passages around it hardly flow from one to the other - they skit around, not even in chronological order through Pilate's life. This is an unpersuasive argument - it's not in the middle of a discourse, just another digression in a series of patched together segments.

The style of the language used is very un-Josephus & not seen anywhere else in his voluminous works

Simply not true. Actually, the fact that the language in the TF is so Josephan in both style and content is why the majority of scholars accept the partial authenticity of the passage. The obvious interpolations are grammatically opposed to the core of the passage and unlike Josephus in style, but when taken out the passage flows much more logically in a Josephan way. Almost every word in the TF is found elsewhere in Josephus, with certain phrases being typical of Josephus, for example 'now at this time...' Moreover, most words in the TF are found nowhere in the NT or the Christian early writings style.

In some copies there is evidence of the text above and below having been squashed up and down to make room
Never seen this, though do know that the TF is in all the manuscripts, and the interpolations would account for this.

Very early copies of Antiquities includes a table of contents, put together by Christians summarising the contents. This passage is not mentioned in it! BY CHRISTIANS!

No. The table of contents was most likely, according to the majority of scholars, created by Josephus or most likely one of his aides. It was written in Greek before the sixth century, thus not a Christian creation. There is the fact that the table of contents referred to nothing that would have been of any interest to Christians - no ref to John the Baptist, for eg. It's most unlikely that Christians produced these contents. If Josephus' assistant indeed included the table it is no wonder short passages/passages of little importance are not included - in line with the rest of his works.

The very briefness of the passage is extraordinary if Josephus really believed these things. He spends a lot of time talking about people far, far, far less interesting than a man "who was the Messiah"! If he believed ANY of this, we'd surely hear much more about it, wouldn't we?

Surely then by this very logic, if the TF were a complete fabrication, it would be much longer in order to support what the interpolator were trying to say? If this person believed Jesus to be the most important person ever, they would have a lot to say. But Josephus, as a Jew, would not really have much to say. Josephus' account was a neutral account and included the facts as he knew them. He had no need, and probably no desire, to say more. Why would he?

Josephus was an orthodox Jew who never converted to Christianity. No way would he ever have declared Jesus "the Messiah" or the fulfilment of divine (Jewish) prophecy!

You're right. Josephus would not have said 'he was The Christ'. This was one of the interpolations completely out of sync with the rest of the passage. The lack of it does not take the importance out of the passage.

How could anyone dismiss something so amazing as a man rising from the grave three days after his death in a 127 word paragraph? Remember, Josephus is not merely telling us what Christians believed here - he is (apparently) attesting to the fact that it happened. This is so unlikely a thing, it's laughable

Not really. Josephus was a Jew. He was researching a history of Judaism. He only mentioned Jesus in the context of Pilate. The information he does give, if we take away the interpolations, is fairly wide, for someone not interested in Jesus apart from in historical value. Opinion varies as to whether Josephus was basing his writing on Christian allegations or his own opinions and research - one thing that is interesting to note is that he seems to know more about Jesus than Christians, contrary to the records of Tacitus and Pliny, for example. So some scholars say that the phrase referring to the resurrection was a complete interpolation and some say that it was more likely in the realm of 'the christians say he....' rather than attesting outright to Jesus' resurrection. This would not be something Josephus would say. Again, even taking out this phrase, the passage does not lose it's value as a historical document.

This is ALL Josephus mentions whatsoever about Christians or Christianity in his massive works. If if was genuine, he'd have to have talked about it elsewhere, but he doesn't

But Josephus' other work, Jewish Wars , was an account of just that, Jewish Wars. It would have been strange if any account about Jesus was included in such a work. The great majority of this work concentrated on the period between AD66 - 73. So no, there would be nowhere else Josephus would have the need to refer to it.

NOT ONE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS MENTIONS THIS PASSAGE AT ALL

But there would be no reason to. The TF would not have been of any use to the early church fathers. In fact, one scholar who has compiled every reference to Josephus' work altogether before Eusebius has come up with around 12. It doesn't seem at all likely then that Josephus was known or used very much at all by early Christian scholars. You refer to Origen as stating that Josephus did not believe Christ was the Messiah (as indeed he did not, as we have seen) - and this gives a wide support to the main argument against this contention: Early church scholars would not have used the TF (before it was fiddled with) as an apologetic document - it would have been of no use whatsoever in backing up their own arguments. It simply gave the facts about Jesus as Josephus saw them, and there would have been little need to use the TF to prove the facts - there was no question whatsoever in the first three centuries as to the historicity of Jesus and the events around his death. Why would they refer to a document that only confirmed what everyone knew? Even liberal and secular scholars have said this! Origen does, by the way, show awareness of Josephus' writing on James, and implicitly can be shown to be aware of the TF through his work on Matthew's Gospel, for one example.

The first person who mentioned it was the prime suspect himself, Eusebius, who suddenly "found" it in the 4th century. And it's interesting that even after this, some quite eminent scholars continue to quote Josephus without mentioning the TF, and when they do are quite dismissive of it, as if they already considered it fraudulent

A very small group of scholars have tried to prove that Eusebius fabricated the TF completely, contending that all the TF words and phrases were found in Eusebius, and the language used was that of Eusebius (and much more, I could write thousands on this, but it's getting too long already so just a quick summing up here). This has been proved to be extremely shaky as a theory. Among other points, Eusebius;

1. Used Josephus heavily as an influence in all his work, so it is unsurprising that words and phrases can be found in both, and
2. Was a bit of a patchwork writer himself - took material from different sources and tended to keep the phraseology in the originals, thus stringing together in a way that meant other styles could be found in his work.

This small group of scholars have attempted to argue that there is language unique to Eusebius in the TF, but this has been refuted by more scholars. 2 out of 3 phrases they claimed this for have been shown to be more uniquely Josephan. There are so many ins and outs of this, I would recommend to anyone to read more around it, it is very interesting. There is also the existence of early manuscripts independent of Eusebius, all containing the TF. The argument that Eusebius fabricated the TF for his own apologetic purposes would only make sense if more information had been added. As it is, he never used the TF for such purposes, for eg he does not make use of it in his 'Proof of the Gospel.'

The above facts are true, and it's hard to see how anyone objective could possibly conclude from knowing this that the TF is remotely genuine. It's an obvious and rather rubbish fraud

I think I have shown that there are two sides, and that the above facts cannot be shown to be true. Most scholars believe that the TF is partially genuine - this is a fact even Wikipaedia says so Very, very few say that it is fully genuine, and even fewer say it is fully fraudulent.

Phew, enough for tonight I think.

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 22:43:17

Hello all, I'm back smile

Okay: apologists. In the second century, the notable apologists were Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus and, Clement of Alexandria. Origen wasn't really an apologist - Rowan Williams (if you'll allow the voice of a scholar in this debate!) calls Origen a 'heresiologist', but he's most famous as a biblical scholar and speculative Christian philosopher. I could say more about Origen if you like.

Second, Josephus: the most plausible argument IMO is that the passage which Ellie quoted has undergone heavy Christian redaction. We could argue this out if you like.

Third, you've said lots of things that are controversial / not the scholarly consensus / don't reflect the scholarly viewpoint. I could lust them if you like.

Finally, you've got the facts more or less right; you quoted Josephis accurately. But is history about merely listing facts? God, I hope not. One influential 20th c French historian (not theologian) said that we learn history not in order to know but in order to understand. I'm with him.
Next, apologetic books - do you mean like 'Who moved the stone'? If not, no no no, I haven't read anything like that. Why would I? I was sent a book like that in the post a while back from someone - haven't read it. The only apologists I read are 2nd c. ones! On which note, without being snooty, I have read lots about this period, and continue to so on a more or less daily basis, both primary texts in original languages and academic secondary literature.

Finally, and following on from that, yes, I have come across the material which you are presenting. The 'this is the word of Ellie, thanks be to Ellie' effect comes from the somewhat autocratic- sounding way that you bat off / shut down objections to the way in which you present it.

HolofernesesHead Mon 11-Mar-13 22:47:45

Thanks MHD for that! Is that Josephus done for now?

EllieArroway Tue 12-Mar-13 05:34:21

This is really long because I have (for anyone trying to follow, and I know some people are) I needed in some places to include first my claim and then Mad’s objection to it, and then my response. Doesn’t make sense otherwise. So sorry for the length. (My first claim is italics, Mad is bold, my response is normal).

I think there are a very few who say it's entirely genuine (not me). But most, not some, believe in its partial authenticity, and have given a good case for the parts which can be traced back to Josephus and the interpolations, which are obvious to even the most inexperienced eye

I’m not playing the kind of name games certain less informed participants on this thread think I should. I can name scholars who think it’s partial, and others who think it’s entirely forged. The issue is divisive. But even if we accept that it’s only a partial forgery (and I, personally don’t because I think the evidence is clear) it STILL doesn’t offer any evidence for Jesus. As I said, taken in its entirety, Josephus is a good witness for Jesus never having existed at all (although that’s not the case I’m making here).

But Josephus has been shown to be a digressive writer He goes off on tangents, his work is a patchwork, and it would not be unusual for him to go off on a digression, especially for a short passage like this

Well, not really. If the TF is genuine (even partially) then it is not a digression - it’s part of the text. He hasn’t gone completely off topic - he’s talking about upheavals generally, and the “follies” of Jewish troublemakers and rebels and the “outrages” perpetrated against them. It would indeed be a good place to talk about Pilate putting to death a “wise Jewish man”.

BUT - this thought is not followed through in the next paragraph, the TF. There’s not the slightest suggestion that he regards Jesus as a “Jewish rebel” and there’s no condemnation at all of Pilate. So he’s not going, “Talking about outrages against Jews, guess what happened to this man Jesus…….” If he was going to introduce a brand new character that he hasn’t mentioned before, because he’s reminded of him by what he’s talking about, then the idea of Jesus the rebel and/or Pilate the nasty oppressor of Jews (both subjects he IS talking about) would be clearer.

And the paragraph immediately following the TF begins by saying something like “And another outrage is…….” except he hasn’t been listing outrages, or even mentioned one in the TF - but he has been in the paragraph directly before it.

The two paragraphs that straddle the TF make sense when the TF isn’t there - they don’t when it is. They fit together perfectly, and the last line of the first paragraph flows neatly into the first of the last. No lines fit with anything in the TF. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

And even digressions, by the way, form part of the narrative once they’ve been made. There’s no sensible reason why Josephus would have carried on as if he hadn’t written it at all if he had, digression or otherwise. Even his other digressions flow into something else that’s vaguely relevant, even if it hadn’t been initially. This one does not.

The fact that it mentions Pontius Pilate is enough to secure its place where it is

Exactly. So, is it a digression or is it not? You cannot claim that it is and then say it’s secured it’s place by dint of it’s subject - because it wouldn’t be a digression if it had. It either belongs there or it does not. If it does not, it is a fraud, if it does then it is not actually a digression and should form part of the narrative in a discernible way. The problem is, it doesn’t. At all.

The style of the language used is very un-Josephus & not seen anywhere else in his voluminous works
Simply not true

Ah, but it is, I’m afraid.

For a start, we have to compare his treatment of Jesus with that of the other Jewish Messiah claimants or popular leaders that were put to death by the Romans (and there were lots that he talks about). He does not like them at all and shows marked hostility, blaming the entire movement for the war, destruction of the temple and general upheavals. He considers them the bane of the century. And yet, Jesus is special? He’s supportive of him & says nice things? Why? He never converts to Christianity and, by agreeing that the passage is partly forged BECAUSE Josephus remains a Jew and would never claim Jesus the Messiah, then you need to come up with a reason why he’s giving him special treatment at all! He has no reason to, so this is very, very un-Josephus in tone.

And going by the gospels themselves, the early Christian movement was still highly apocalyptic and believed the end times were nigh. This would have appalled Josephus, other people who made claims like this did & he was not backward in saying so - but he’s willing to put all that aside just for Jesus? Again - for what earthly reason?

If he’s being deliberately neutral, as is the usual Christian explanation for this, then he has no reason to be. The Christians were of no more threat to him than the other groups of agitators who had had their leaders put to death, and there’s no neutrality in his dealings with them.

The TF - interpolations or outright forgery both - have Josephus showing a respect for Jesus & a failure to condemn him that jars with every other attitude he displays. This is remarkable and totally unexplainable.

The term “wise man” is one J has used before - always about men he considers very great. It’s a huge compliment from him, not a throwaway platitude. Other men he called this were Solomon and various prophets. Why use it for someone he deals with so briefly in a few lines? It’s like me calling someone an absolute genius, and then never mentioning them again ever.

Various words used in the TF are used with a different meaning by J elsewhere in his works. “Tribe” of Christians is odd - he uses the word tribe frequently, but always either about other species altogether (locusts) or a distinct racial group (the Jews were a tribe, for example). Why would he consider Christians racially distinct when he has already acknowledged Jesus as a Jew put to death by other Jews? Worth noting that “Tribe” of Christians became common, however, around the time of, ahem…Eusebius. But it certainly wasn’t during J’s time.

He uses the word poietes (Greek) many times to mean poet (that’s where we get the word). But in the TF he (apparently) uses it’s previous incarnation as “worker” (in the phrase “worker/doer of great deeds”. It was no longer generally in use in that way by the time Josephus was writing, and he never uses it elsewhere to mean that. When he does use it, he means poet (like Homer, for example). This would be an easy mistake that someone, a long time after the event, might make if they were trying to sound like Josephus.

The entire tone of the TF, never mind the odd words used, is completely un-Josephus when you understand his attitude to other men like Jesus. And if you argue that, well, he saw Jesus as a bit special - why a) didn’t he become a Christian or at least b) feel inclined to tell us why he thought Jesus was special. Because being even neutral about a man causing upheaval like Jesus supposedly was not at all like Josephus.

Very early copies of Antiquities includes a table of contents, put together by Christians summarising the contents. This passage is not mentioned in it! BY CHRISTIANS!
No. The table of contents was most likely, according to the majority of scholars, created by Josephus or most likely one of his aides. It was written in Greek before the sixth century, thus not a Christian creation

You’ve missed my point. Somewhere around the 5th century, Christians started copying Josephus too - and THEY don’t mention the passage in the contents. They do mention the John the Baptist stuff, however. I can think of no reason why Christians would leave out the only mention of them in this massive work.

The very briefness of the passage is extraordinary if Josephus really believed these things. He spends a lot of time talking about people far, far, far less interesting than a man "who was the Messiah"! If he believed ANY of this, we'd surely hear much more about it, wouldn't we
Surely then by this very logic, if the TF were a complete fabrication, it would be much longer in order to support what the interpolator were trying to say? If this person believed Jesus to be the most important person ever, they would have a lot to say. But Josephus, as a Jew, would not really have much to say. Josephus' account was a neutral account and included the facts as he knew them. He had no need, and probably no desire, to say more. Why would he?

Again, compare and contrast what he’s saying about the many, many other men like Jesus that he talks about. That he’s remaining neutral at all is remarkable enough - he certainly didn’t about the others. And yes, he had a lot to say about Jewish rabble rousers - he hated them. And if he's fabricated any part of the text (even just a few lines) then he didn't have the space to make a bigger thing of it, even if he wanted to.

How could anyone dismiss something so amazing as a man rising from the grave three days after his death in a 127 word paragraph? Remember, Josephus is not merely telling us what Christians believed here - he is (apparently) attesting to the fact that it happened. This is so unlikely a thing, it's laughable
Not really. Josephus was a Jew…..

Well, yes really. You’ve already said you think the reference to rising from the dead is one of the interpolations so why are you disagreeing with me? It’s either an interpolation or it’s J passing on what he’s heard - which is it? You can’t opt for both. Sorry!

This is ALL Josephus mentions whatsoever about Christians or Christianity in his massive works. If if was genuine, he'd have to have talked about it elsewhere, but he doesn't
But Josephus' other work, Jewish Wars , was an account of just that, Jewish Wars. It would have been strange if any account about Jesus was included in such a work. The great majority of this work concentrated on the period between AD66 - 73. So no, there would be nowhere else Josephus would have the need to refer to it

Who do you think J blamed for the Jewish War, the Destruction of the Temple and so on. It was people just like Jesus - Jewish agitators winding everyone up and causing upheaval. The various adherents of religions & cults who’d had their leaders put to death and so on. Jesus (if he’d existed and J had been aware) & Christians were exactly the kind of people J hated and blamed everything on. He was right in the middle of a diatribe about all of this when he (supposedly) mentioned Jesus at all! So there MUST have been some connection in his mind, interpolation or fully genuine. He rants at great length about many others of Jesus’s ilk in all his works - why not Christians?

NOT ONE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS MENTIONS THIS PASSAGE AT ALL
But there would be no reason to What?????????? Honestly?

You refer to Origen as stating that Josephus did not believe Christ was the Messiah (as indeed he did not, as we have seen) - and this gives a wide support to the main argument against this contention: Early church scholars would not have used the TF (before it was fiddled with) as an apologetic document - it would have been of no use whatsoever in backing up their own arguments…

Really? Origen used it to prove the authenticity of John the Baptist, do you realise that? But it’s useless when it comes to proving the same thing about Jesus? Oh, come on!

Early church scholars were very much involved in the hunt for historical proof for Jesus. Origen’s discourse with Celsus was partly about that - and even though Celsus himself acknowledged the historicity of the Baptist, Origen still used J to prove it. Celsus had a bigger problem accepting Jesus - but the bit about him in J is never mentioned? This defies all rationality.

Even without the interpolations, Origen could have used Josephus’s lack of hostility about Jesus in comparison with other people who were being called “Messiah” - that in itself has far more significance than you realise.

Also, Justin Martyr (much later) produced a work Dialogue with the Jew Trypho which deals exclusively with his attempt to prove Jesus to Trypho. He cites many references - but the TF is mentioned not a single time.

Among other points, Eusebius;
1. Used Josephus heavily as an influence in all his work, so it is unsurprising that words and phrases can be found in both…. or having spent so long studying J, Eusebius would have had a very good idea of how J wrote & tried to copy it (making a few mistakes)

2. Was a bit of a patchwork writer himself - took material from different sources and tended to keep the phraseology in the originals, thus stringing together in a way that meant other styles could be found in his work Also known as plagiarism/fraud. I agree - Eusebius is famous for it - and freely admitted lying for Jesus.

There is also the existence of early manuscripts independent of Eusebius

That mention the TF? Earlier that Eusebius? No, there aren’t. If there are, please name them.

EllieArroway Tue 12-Mar-13 06:07:13

So, Mad while I am happy to concede you make excellent points, for me personally the slam dunk, "it's an outright fraud" evidences are:

Origen never mentions it - even though he uses the same book to prove John the Baptist's existence to Celsus (needlessly, Celsus already accepts that. He's more iffy about Jesus)

While actively trying to prove the historicity of Jesus to Trypho the Jew (who actually points out that no early histories of the Jews mention Jesus) Justin Martyr fails to mention the TF

The earliest Christian copies of Josephus contain tables that are adapted to reflect the references to John the Baptist, but fail to mention the TF

The lack of hostility shown to Jesus &/or Christians. If we are going to accept that Josephus barely mentions him/them because he doesn't consider them important, then why is it that he treats him/them with comparative "niceness" when he doesn't the dozens and dozens of similar cult leaders & religious groups?

Niminy & Holo I notice you haven't leapt up and down demanding that Mad explains what she's read and what her sources are. Nothing like a little hypocrisy, eh?

Niminy I know, I know. You think I'm arrogant, rude and closed minded. You've told me before - your opinion didn't bother me then and it doesn't now. Unless you actually have something to contribute here (and honestly, it doesn't seem like you do) then I'm not going to respond to any comments you direct towards me. Produce some facts - fine. But the infantile and barely concealed ad hominems are not worthy of you and certainly of no interest to me.

Holo Thank you for finally producing something solid.

Finally, you've got the facts more or less right; you quoted Josephis accurately Extraordinary. Erm......gosh.

Did a very quick Google ascertain you of this, btw? Because prior to this evening, I'm not sure you'd ever heard of Josephus.

Are the "facts" I've got wrong the stupid did Jesus speak Greek and was Origen an apologist? Because you've not even attempted to refute anything else - out of the dozens and dozens of facts I've actually presented on this thread. (Compared to your 0).

But is history about merely listing facts? God, I hope not Er no. Who said it was? Evidence is largely about facts, though - interpretations can be subjective & open to debate. This is a debate about evidence. Why do I keep having to repeat this?

I could say more about Origen if you like You could - but I suspect I know more about him than you do. Happy to be proven wrong though.

Finally, and following on from that, yes, I have come across the material which you are presenting Really? It doesn't seem that way.

The 'this is the word of Ellie, thanks be to Ellie' effect comes from the somewhat autocratic- sounding way that you bat off / shut down objections to the way in which you present it This actually hasn't happened, except in yours and that other persons head.

I object to your demanding citations & names from me when you don't anyone else. I explained why it's silly to go down this route because we can all come up with worthy sounding people that agree with us - and where do we end up? With a thread full of names of scholars most people have never heard of.

And, as you can see from my discussion with Mad it's not necessary - some understanding of the material we're discussing is all we need. And, sorry, thus far it seems like we are the only two on here with that.

If I'm coming across as arrogant (arrogant, or right?) then you are coming across as unbearably patronising. "Have you read anything about this Ellie? It's Ok to admit that you haven't!" shock When it's blindingly clear that a) I have and b) it's considerably more than you.

Thanks MHD for that! Is that Josephus done for now? I'll let this ludicrous, outstandingly er, shortsighted sentence speak for itself.

niminypiminy Tue 12-Mar-13 06:52:55

Actually I would like MHD and Holo as well as Ellie to cite some of their sources, so that I could go and look at them for myself and make up my own mind about whether their arguments carry weight. That is what the scholarly apparatus of footnotes and bibliography is for: so that other people can trace the steps by which you have come to your conclusions and critically evaluate them for themselves. They are also a way of showing that you have done your thinking rigorously, and that you have researched the subject properly. So, yes, I would welcome book lists.

This is an open Internet discussion, so anybody who is a member of MN is free to join in. I am being very careful not to pretend to specialist knowledge that I do not have, and most of my posts have been about questions of methodology, which I do know something about. I think it is very important to debate in a polite and measured way, and try to do this myself.

Other people's opinions are like their children: not as good as yours, obviously, but they love them. I try to keep that in mind when debating (though I don't always find it easy), and it seems to me a good principle for ensuring that debate stays civilised.

crescentmoon England Tue 12-Mar-13 07:04:26

I was going to say the same thing niminy I would also like to know the books to read n this subject as its interesting as a 'non Christian' to know. Iv been following this thread from the beginning and have been 'drinking up' the information but what do I know if its from some conspiracy theory website or based on the works of sound scholarship? Then I could look up the writers myself and learn more about their other works.

HolofernesesHead Tue 12-Mar-13 09:49:20

Hello smile

I first read Josephus when I was doing my theology undergrad degree, read several critiques of the 'Christian' passage. Since then I've come back to Josephus several times, but mostly from the POV of how he narrates history - so I've read much more on the Jewish War. I'm not a Josphus specialist, and can't claim to have strong knowledge of his literary style (although give me a week and I could!) I am v. into ancient historiography though, and my main interest in Josephus is from a methodological POV.

Mad, I would be interested to know whom you've read on Josephus. I've just had a book (thanks to this thread) at Gerd Theissen's book The Historical Jesus (he is the Prof of New Testament at Heidelberg) and he says that Josephus' calling Jesus a 'wise man' is v. Josephan, and he thinks that the original, un-redacted version could have Jesus as a 'wise man' as in a troublemaking charlatan, in the mould of Simon Magus. Joephus calls the miracles 'paradoxa erga' (surprising / puzzling works), which is interesting (to me), and doesn't imply that Josephus thinks the miaces are genuine. Geza Vermes (Jewish scholar of the early Christian period and author of Jesus the Jew concurs with Theissen's conclusion that the Eusebian version is a Christian redaction of a neutral / Jewish text. There's an Arabic version of Josephus by Agapius of Hierapolis that is very close to the reconstructed, de-Chritianised version that scholars have posited; it dates back to the 10th c, so much much later, but...intereesting anyway.

Also, Theissen thinks that calling the Christians a 'trible' is derogatory. As an aside, I'd so recommend his book Shadow of the Galilean if anyone hasn't read it. Of all the stuff I've read on the historical Jesus (a fair lot), this is up there.

Ellie, you said that Justin Martyr is much later than Origen. Check the dates!

Also, 'Dialogue with Trypho' isn't about proving the historical existence of Jesus in the way that we might think of it - it's about trying to convince the Jewish readers that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, from the Hebrew Scriptures. Likewise Contra Celsum is about convincing readers of the superiority of Jesus to all other philosophies. The whole argument in both is philosophical, not anything that we would recognise as 'historical,' and based entirely on ancient worldviews / cosmologies (check out the passages about demons in Contra Celsum to realise that it is a completely different mode of discourse). The whole text of Contra Celsum can be read here: Celsum and Trypho here Trypho. They are both very long, though! So no, there was no 'quest for the historical Jesus' in the early christian period. We have to go a long way further forward in history for that! this book has good sections on both Origen and Justin.

Crescent Moon, there are lots of books on the 'historical Jesus'. I'd recommend this as a good starting point. this is easy to read too. All of these books are standard scholarly texts which you'd find on most undergrad theology reading lists.

HolofernesesHead Tue 12-Mar-13 09:51:39

Try again: Jesus the Jew - so worth reading, really excellent scholarship.

Following LadyLech's link to Wikipedia on the "Historicity of Jesus" it says that the two events in Jesus' life most widely accepted as facts are that he was baptized by John the Baptist, and put to death on the orders of Pontius Pilate.

This is what I meant in my earlier post about the importance of separating more everyday possibilities such as his life and death, from other claims such as the idea of his resurrection.

It's interesting to hear your thoughts that there is not sufficient evidence for us to say that Jesus existed Ellie - but wonder, on balance of probabilities, which way you would call it ?

Would you give any weight to the gospel stories or letters of Paul as historical accounts of events ?

pixi2 Tue 12-Mar-13 12:33:13

I am following this with interest and would just like to say;

Please do not start citations. This is not a paper. I would like it to remain a debate. I love research, I love reading, I do so very dislike methodology.

Can anyone point reading out (besides wiki) as to how the Christian beliefs in Africa were different prior to the official bible that we have today?

pixi2 Tue 12-Mar-13 12:34:40

Oh, my reasoning behind that last question was that if we could go back to the very early beliefs of Christianity, would we be closer to the real story of who Jesus was and therefore nearer to ascertaining whether he existed?

MadHairDay Tue 12-Mar-13 12:38:09

Aaaaaaaaaaaaagggghhhhhhhh

Just wrote a long reply and computer swallowed it angry

OK. Here's a few scholars I rate on the subjects we have covered so far:

James Dunn on Jesus, Paul and the Gospels

James Dunn on Oral Tradition in NT times

F F Bruce on the reliability of the NT Documents - Bruce has written loads of books on early Christianity, early manuscripts etc

R T France commentaries on the gospels - comprehensive on authorship, date, themes etc

Mason on Josephus - gives good summary of different views and argues excellent case for the partial authenticity of the TF, much better than I do!

Feldman on Josephus

N T Wright on the NT and early Christianity - huge read but gives excellent overview of the issues and what life was like.

E P Sanders on the historical Jesus - haven't read this for years but found it helpful in study on this issue - Sanders was of the view that the historical Jesus was not the Jesus Christians worship now so it is more of a counterbalance.

That's a few of them.

MadHairDay Tue 12-Mar-13 12:43:49

Pixi - my contention is that we can go back to the early beliefs to see what the historical Jesus is like. Maybe we should now move on to NT writings? I have more to say in response to your Josephus points, Ellie, but have a feeling people are probably terribly bored of Josephus by now!! I'd suggest you read the book by Steve Mason, above - there are various articles floating round the internet summing up something of this thinking.

I'll just say though to close it grin , you asserted that you would make sure no Christian would ever use Josephus again as evidence for Jesus, either in a historicity or historical sense. I'm afraid you haven't persuaded me of this at all - in fact, on reading around it again, I'm more than ever persuaded of the opposite. Then again, I've not persuaded you, but I don't think it's much surprise that we cannot persuade one another grin

MadHairDay Tue 12-Mar-13 12:47:19

^ what Holo said on Josephus, the Tribes and the Wise Man reference smile

HolofernesesHead Tue 12-Mar-13 13:56:19

Pixi, I'm all in favour of linking to books - then we can genuinely learn from each other. I'd completely forgotten about the Mason book that MHD linked to, for example (I had looked at it, a long time ago). It's not the same as footnoting, of course (thankfully). We don't need to give publisher's details and page numbers. But just a quick link to the book itself is enough to give interested people something to go on so that they can read more if they want to. Otherwise, any one of us could say anything, and the rest of us would have no way of telling whether, it's just a wild conspiracy theory, a cut and pasted Wiki page, a minority view or a considered, shared scholarly consensus. And that way lies totalitarianism!

townbuiltonahill Tue 12-Mar-13 17:03:16

'There's always Google' ..... well I've enrolled as a Wiki 'Editor' now .... so that perhaps says it all about the reliability of sources .... wink

But now we've started listing possibly useful books - I remember reading a long time ago Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison. So old that there isn't a Kindle version unfortunately.

Morrison was a lawyer who was pursuing a similar quest to Ellie, but who by considering the evidence he was able to assemble, and weighing it up in the way in which a court of law would do, became convinced in his own mind (I recall) that the Gospels must be true.

The book is a bit dated now and perhaps new information has emerged since then, but I'd be interested to have others' views.

EllieArroway Wed 13-Mar-13 17:24:02

Yes, I think we're done with Josephus too.

I hope, given the nature of this debate and what is actually about, no one doubts that I have at least shown that in terms of "evidence" demonstrating a historical Jesus, the Jospephus passage fails to make the grade. It's been faffed about with by someone for nefarious purposes (almost certainly Eusebius), and if he could fake some of it, there's no particular reason why he shouldn't fake all of it. And why was he faking anything if the evidence for Jesus is so solid?

In any event, if you take out the interpolations you still don't have evidence for Jesus. Jospephus was not a contemporary of Jesus and doesn't say that he spoke to anyone who was. He tells us nothing about the life of the man & nothing he says even begins to attest to the fact that Jesus the man lived - just that there were Christians around at the end of the first century who believed in him (and those believers wouldn't have been eyewitnesses either).

The reason there is so much debate about this 127 words is that, sadly and astonishingly, it represents the very best Christians have to demonstrate an existent Jesus. So they fight with every ounce in their bodies to hang on to it.

Outside of the bible, there exists not the tiniest thread of proof for the living Jesus.

Tacitus & Pliny were writing in the next century from different countries and merely confirm for us that early Christians were around. We already know that from Paul. Seutonius is almost certainly not talking about Jesus so should be dismissed completely. The Talmud says nothing concrete that we could use to trace Jesus and not only is it doubtful whether it talks about him at all it was written centuries after the events. Josephus could be a superb witness - he's close in time and place, writing about exactly the kind of things that would lead him to mention Jesus & talk about his life but he doesn't.

So, we are unfortunately have no option but to accept the word of believers in the cult, because they manage to be the only people who talk about this man. Nobody outside of the cult (as Christianity was at that time) appears to be interested enough - an oddity in itself.

The only "evidence" we have for Jesus, then, is the Bible. And I shall show that even this manages not be to reliable evidence either.

EllieArroway Wed 13-Mar-13 17:54:42

Here's some books I have and would recommend for anyone wanting to read more:

The Case For the Mythical Christ

The Jesus Puzzle

Origins Of Christianity

The Lost Scriptures - The Gospels That Never Made It Into The Bible

Jesus Interrupted

Misquoting Jesus - Who Changed The Bible and Why

Forged - Writing In The Name Of Jesus

The Christ Myth Theory & It's Problems

The Case Against The Case For Christ - A New Testament Scholar Refutes Lee Strobel

Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus

The books were all written by New Testament scholars & academics.

It's an odd, odd thing - but prior to the 2nd World War NO scholars (including the very religious ones, which was most of them) believed that the Josephus passage was anything other than a complete fraud. It's only with the advent of modern apologetics that the "partly" forged idea has come about. I have no idea why this should be since no new information has come to light.

As Dr Gordon Stein said: "...the vast majority of scholars since the early 1800s have said that this quotation is not by Josephus, but rather is a later Christian insertion in his works. In other words, it is a forgery, rejected by scholars."

And Earl Doherty in Josephus Unbound Here says: "Now, it is a curious fact that older generations of scholars had no trouble dismissing this entire passage as a Christian construction. Charles Guignebert, for example, in his Jesus (1956, p.17), calls it 'a pure Christian forgery.' Before him, Lardner, Harnack and Schurer, along with others, declared it entirely spurious. Today, most serious scholars have decided the passage is a mix: original parts rubbing shoulders with later Christian additions."

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 18:28:15

Thanks for providing your sources, Ellie. I can't open the first link,

I notice that that four of your books are by a single scholar, and that of all the books, only one is published by a reputable academic press. Certainly, it would seem unlikely that a book published by the American Atheist Press (The Case against the Case for Christ), or Age of Reason Publications (The Jesus Puzzle) or Stellar House Publishing (The Origins of Christianity; kindle only edition) had been peer reviewed by leading experts in the field.

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 18:46:31

Was the first link to Earl Doherty's Jesus: Neither God nor Man, which is what I got when I googled the title you gave. If it is, you have three books by Doherty in your list, all of which are published by Age of Reason publications, which is a self-publication imprint owned by Earl Doherty.

MadHairDay Wed 13-Mar-13 19:21:26

Ah yes I've come across some stuff by Doherty, he is among a small number of scholars who believe the TF was a complete fabrication. Not a mainstream view at all. Mason, in the book mentioned above, does an excellent job in refuting this viewpoint and setting out the case I've miserably failed tried to summarise.

The reason most contemporary theologians see the TF as a partially authentic document is that modern methods of textual study and comparison have been used and proven it is so.

It still outlines a historicity for Jesus.

A summary of what it offers is:

• The time frame that the Gospels place Jesus in,

• Jesus had a reputation for teaching wisdom,

• Jesus was believed to have performed miracles,

• Jesus had a brother named James,

• Some Jewish leaders were involved with Jesus' execution,

• Pilate was Prefect and had Jesus executed,

• Jesus was executed by crucifixion,

• Jesus was known as a messianic figure,

• Jesus was the founder of Christianity,

• Acts' portrayal of James as the leader of the Jerusalem Church is confirmed,

• The existence of early Jewish persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, and,

• That the early Christians reported that Jesus was raised from the dead as foretold by the Jewish prophets (based on Eisler's reconstruction and Mason's comments on linguistic similarities). <undecided on this one>

Ooops! Must leave good old Josephus behind now. Let's move on <we're as bad as each other> grin

EllieArroway Wed 13-Mar-13 19:23:20

So, the Bible, then. Can it offer us some evidence?

Yes, some - but not much.

The Gospels

We don't know who wrote the gospels, the writers remain anonymous. They didn't sign the manuscripts, don't name themselves or even allude to who they are within it. All four are written in the third person, and never suggest, or even hint, that they personally witnessed any of the events they describe or reference anyone that they claim did. They don't tell us where they got their information or how they know it's true. The only thing that can be known for certain about the authors is that they weren't Matthew, Mark, Luke or John - or indeed any person who met a living Jesus.

Luke, for example, at the very beginning of his gospel is at great pains to tell Theophilus that he's producing his work having spent a long time investigating the claims "handed down to us" by those who were the first eyewitnesses and servants of the Lord. He never says what he's investigated or who the eyewitnesses are, but it's clear that a) he is not one of them, b) he's consulting material rather than speaking to people and c) is distanced from the original tellers by a substantial amount of time.

All four are written in Greek, so not the language native to Jesus & his disciples. They were also written, almost certainly, outside of Palestine (due to their ignorance about Palestinian geography and Jewish customs). So foreign accounts, written by foreigners in a foreign language.

Whoever wrote them, we can see that they were very highly educated - that they could write at all demonstrates this - and they were Christians. So, their accounts cannot be regarded as either unbiased or impartial.

All of this, if nothing else, demonstrates that they weren't written by the disciples who were meant to be humble, working men.

Regarding literacy in the Roman Empire at the time, Bart Ehrman (Professor of Religious Studies & NT scholar) says: "Illiteracy was widespread throughout the Roman Empire. At the best of times maybe 10% of the population was roughly literate. And that 10% would be the leisured classes - upper class people who had the time and money to get an education".

It would be ridiculous indeed to even try to suggest that a Galilean fisherman, for example, could read and write in his own language, let alone a foreign one. They probably knew a few Greek Koine words (as well as Latin), as it was becoming the lingua franca of the region, but Aramaic was their native language.

Dating them is very difficult indeed because there are no outside sources to reference. We can only go by what the gospels themselves tell us. Carbon dating and so on is useless because no original copy survives - the earliest fragment we have is the P25 (a scrap, nothing more) that was produced in the middle of the 2nd century.

It's believed that Mark is the first gospel written and since he directly references the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem we know it can't have been written any earlier than AD70, which is when that happened. Traditionally, Christians (who would prefer to be able to prove it was produced earlier) have tried to suggest that the reference to the Temple was "prophetic". Supernatural claims like that have no place in sensible discussion, so that's all I'll say.

Matthew is believed to have been written next, a generation or so later, followed by Luke & then John. The writers did not know each other personally.

It's really important to stress that the ONLY clues available for the dating of these is what is said within the gospels themselves, and they don't even hint as to when they were written. There exists no historical or archaeological evidence that proves these gospels even existed at the time, let alone when they were written. So the reality must be that they could have been written much, much later. We just don't know.

The first reliable mention the gospels get from an external source is towards the end of the second century. The earliest church fathers don't mention them before this.

It's possible that Justin Martyr might mention them half way through the 2nd century, but this is not altogether clear. He quotes from the "Memoirs of the Apostles" but no one knows what that is. It might be the gospels, but it's an odd thing to refer to them as and the quotes he uses only vaguely correspond to something written in Matthew. The "Memoirs of the Apostles" could equally be a shared source that is now lost - as lots and lots have been.

Lee Strobel, a lawyer and journalist, claims that he found over 200 direct quotations from the gospels within Justin Martyr's work. He fails to say that most of them are repetitions (it's the same very few quotations over and over again) and there's nothing "direct" about them. An actual scholar and expert in these matters, Constantin von Tischendorf (who found one of the most important NT copies) could only find two - and, as I said, they are only tenuously similar to anything in Matthew.

So, we can only reliably say that the gospels are known to have existed in the late 2nd century.

I am NOT saying this is when they were written, just that we don't really know & have no way of finding out with any certainty.

So, what we have is four accounts written, at the very least, a generation after the events they describe by people who weren't there to see it, and didn't personally speak to anyone who was. They rely heavily on each other for their information (Matthew & Luke use Mark, for example) and other sources now lost to us (in particular the hypothetical Q source). We have no external data of any kind at all to try and assess whether what they say is true, so we have to take their words for it.

This would be easier to do if they managed to be consistent in the stories they tell - but they don't. At all. We'll come to that, I expect.

This is good, solid evidence that Jesus existed? In what universe?

Paul

Paul is useless when trying to establish historicity for Jesus since, if we go by the letters that are known to have been written by him, he never mentions any aspect of Jesus's life on Earth. He appears not to have known anything about it - and this is meant to be the father of Christianity, the founder of the church!

He only mentions the death & resurrection of Jesus and gives every appearance of believing that these events took place in a spiritual way & in some other realm. If Jesus lived as and died as a human being on this planet, the fact seems to have passed Paul by.

Christians tend to say that a) he knew this stuff but didn't talk about it because it wasn't in his remit and b) there's a lot of material where he does, but it's lost.

I would think the single most important "fact" about Jesus is that he lived on Earth as a man, and not all that long before Paul himself lived. If I was him it's the very first thing I would tell people.

We can't hypothesise documents then try to use them for evidence. Of course Paul MAY have written about this in other letters (we know that lots have been lost), but he equally may not have done. We can only go by what we physically have - and when it comes to Paul, that is precious little.

Go to it, people wink

MadHairDay Wed 13-Mar-13 19:27:46

Will do, but having an evening's slobbery in front of the TV first wink Back tomorrow to discuss!

EllieArroway Wed 13-Mar-13 19:34:27

Was Josephus a contemporary? No.

An eyewitness? No.

Does he tell us where he got his information? No.

It's hearsay. So no, Mad in no way does it meet the criteria of reliable evidence.

Josephus can say whatever he likes, but when it comes to real history, we don't actually take people's word for it. Going by your exact methodology, we could use him to prove the existence of rather a lot of Pagan gods in exactly the same way as you're trying to use him to prove Jesus. We have other crucified Jewish leaders with followers, all of whom claimed supernatural feats of their "messiah". You dismiss all of that rather readily, but not this for the same reason? It's called confirmation bias.

You've remained very silent on Tacitus, Pliny, Seutonius & The Talmud (which you apparently regarded as solid evidence).

Josephus must be dismissed for the exact same reasons they must be - they weren't there. It's hearsay. And hearsay is NOT evidence.

smile

EllieArroway Wed 13-Mar-13 20:01:30

A quick thought experiment - I'm not expecting an answer, I'm just trying to illustrate what I mean about the reliability of evidence.

If I say:

60 years ago (before I was born) there existed a man who was half unicorn half fish. He was called Percy and was shot dead by John F Kennedy, who mistook him for a deer while out hunting".

I am saying this, therefore this proves that indeed, Percy existed and JFK shot him dead.

By using Mad's methodology, you would have to conclude that my statement was historically reliable & Percy did indeed exist somehow. Just because I said it, this must prove it's true.

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 20:34:45

The problem with your 'thought experiment' (which is a bogus term in this context) is that it makes some questionable a priori assumptions.

It assumes that the conditions for making a statement about something are the same now as they were then. Of course that is not true, because there has been a revolution in the evidential status of speech and writing since that time, and because the ubiquity of official records has superseded the continuity of oral testimony.

It assumes that the statement "60 years ago... etc" is the same order of statement as ... well, what, exactly? If it is being compared to one of the synoptic gospels, then it isn't analogous. The gospels were not written with the purpose of proving the existence of Jesus, but with preserving his life and sayings among groups of worshippers. If you had asked, say, the Johanine community to give a statement of the evidence they had for believing in the existence of Jesus, it wouldn't have looked like the gospel -- but they would probably have thought you were mad for asking them to do so. An unbroken tradition of oral testimony would have been sufficient evidence for them.

It assumes that there is a clear distinction between evidence and hearsay, and between evidence and testimony. There is not. All evidence is either hearsay or testimony. Everything we know is about anything from a third-party source is, in essence, hearsay or testimony. Everything we accept from a piece of written documentation (including all reports of scientific experiments) is hearsay. If you have two witness statements, you simply have two pieces of hearsay.

HolofernesesHead Wed 13-Mar-13 21:06:02

I'm just a-passin' through here, but just wanted to say hi Ellie, good to see you again.

One point of order: not all 4 gospels are written in the 3person all the way through. John is an obvious one; 'I have written these things in order that you might believe.' If you count Luke-Acts as a single composition (which virtually all mainstream secular biblical scholars do) there are loads of 'we' passages (we went here, then we went there etc.) there are probably other examples but those are obvious ones. Back later! smile

HolofernesesHead Wed 13-Mar-13 22:26:33

Also - point of order- Mark's Greek is not at all cultured / educated! Or particularly Matthew or John, either. Classicists shudder over NT Greek! Luke is the most polished in his Greek, but even there, only in parts. The Greek of the Gospels, on the whole, is very rough and ready (as is the vast majority of what is now the NT.) Going by the texts we have, from a linguistic POV, the Gospels are very humble indeed.

EllieArroway Thu 14-Mar-13 06:15:19

It's really quite simple, Niminy....you do have an odd habit of over complicating things.

Hearsay is, by it's very definition "information received from other people which cannot be substantiated; rumour".

Testimony, conversely, is precisely the opposite - it's a formal statement of something that can be used as evidence because it comes directly from the source.

Testimony IS evidence - just a certain type. That's why people "testify" in court. But the idea that there's no distinct line between hearsay & testimony is, sorry, bonkers. They mean the opposite to each other, no one could mistake the one for the other.

The reason hearsay is not considered evidence is because it CAN'T be substantiated. If it could be, or subsequently is, it ceases to be hearsay.

And no - we use the same rules of evidence for ancient history as we would for modern history. That this happened 2000 years ago does not mean it should be investigated less rigorously than anything else. Of course, allowances have to be made to some degree - historians have to take into account the lack of formal records for example, but if something is manifestly hearsay, then it isn't just let off the hook because it was a long time ago. It may well be interesting, even suggestive, but it cannot be considered evidence if it cannot be substantiated at all. Frustrating, yes - but that's the way it is.

None of the accounts outside of the Bible can be considered anything other than hearsay. We know that none of them were eyewitnesses because they had not been born when these things were happening & they don't tell us where and who they got the information from. This means that it is impossible for us to make a judgement about the reliability of the source. We have no way of knowing whether the person that told Josephus this was a respected church elder or someone he bought bread off on the street, who heard it from his mum, who heard it from her friend, who heard it from her neighbour......and so on.

If we don't know, then how can we assess it properly?

Josephus provides good evidence that Christians existed who worshipped and believed in a long dead (60 years by then) Jewish teacher who was crucified by Pilate.

THAT'S what Josephus (probably) proves. Not that there actually was, necessarily, such a person, merely that there were Christians who believed there was.

We also have to be aware that most human beings since time began worshipped something or someone - and most of them didn't worship Jesus, did they? So we know, without any shadow of a doubt, that the act of believing something, inventing rituals & passing on stories does not prove that what they are worshipping is/was truly real.

So, interpolations or no - Josephus does not demonstrate an historical Jesus, neither does Tacitus, Pliny, Seutonius or The Talmud.

Does this mean Jesus didn't exist? No, of course not - just that none of these sources can be used as evidence to prove that he did. It's unfortunate for Christians that that's all they have - but that's hardly my fault, is it.

If you don't like the sound of the books I linked to - don't read them.

I do find your attitude to this debate a little odd. We are on Mumsnet, of all places. This is for entertainment purposes only. We are exchanging information, that's all - not putting together an academic tome. Nothing that's been said so far is remotely controversial - both of us are presenting the standard rebuttals that are always presented in these debates.

All anyone should be taking from this is "Oh that sounds interesting, I'll read up on that".

So, really, with all due respect, lighten up.

Holo Yes, Acts & Luke are the same person, I think that's pretty well established. He explicitly says at the beginning (check your Bible!) of Luke that's he's not an eyewitness. Whether he was as far as Paul was concerned is debatable - the "we" stuff is only used during the account of a voyage and it may well be that he's using someone else's source material. In any event, we're only concerned with the life of Jesus here and Luke tells us quite explicitly that he was not an eyewitness, but he's investigated it all thoroughly (although he hasn't cited any peer reviewed sources, so bugger him - what does he know!)

(Only joking).

EllieArroway Thu 14-Mar-13 06:16:41

Oh - I agree. Mark is very ungrammatical & crude. Matthew corrects him on this a lot. But he could write at all - that truly was the sign of an education, in those days - even writing badly was quite something.

EllieArroway Thu 14-Mar-13 06:53:37

Ellie, you said that Justin Martyr is much later than Origen. Check the dates!

I know you won't believe me, but I did actually know that -I think I was thinking backwards in time, further away from the events at Year 0 etc. Sorry.

Also, 'Dialogue with Trypho' isn't about proving the historical existence of Jesus in the way that we might think of it - it's about trying to convince the Jewish readers that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, from the Hebrew Scriptures

Well, Trypho possibly/probably didn't exist, it was a device most likely to get his points across. At one point he has Trypho complaining at lack of historicity of Jesus & the events - an objection therefore invented by Justin himself so he could address it. But he doesn't use the only known non-negative passage about Christianity to counter that? From an historian he quotes from over and over again?

Likewise Contra Celsum is about convincing readers of the superiority of Jesus to all other philosophies

Well, no. Celsus launched a very severe attack on Christians, Origen defended it......by quoting extensively from Josephus (and other things). And I would think that the one thing that made Jesus superior to other philosophies is that he actually existed. But Origen feel the need to demonstrate that?

The TF is about the only time anyone ever said anything half nice about Christians - they'd have been falling over themselves, quoting it left right and centre (just like Christians do today).

Nah. Not buying it. Sorry smile

niminypiminy Thu 14-Mar-13 09:03:36

I do think it matters that people can back up their arguments, because in any kind of debate the onlookers are being asked to decide whose arguments carry more weight. Rhetoric is a persuasive form of speech or writing, and that is what people who are debating use (some well, some badly). A debate can be a fine thing, in which people present arguments. But debates are only good for some things. They are good for presenting opinions, but they are pretty bad for investigating matters of evidence. When, as we have here, there is a question of assessing historical evidence, rhetoric is of little value. To decide how to evaluate evidence we need to consider the methodology of each side, the ways they interpret the evidence, their relevant knowledge and expertise.

If we simply treat this as a debate, as the recitation of standard arguments, it quickly becomes 'I'm right, you're wrong, yah boo sucks', which I can see in any playground. That's about as entertaining as a boxing match, if you like boxing.
But I am interested in learning about this, and as someone with some knowledge of history (though in a different period), I think it is important to consider questions about the interpretation of evidence, methodology and so forth.

My point about hearsay and testimony, which I no doubt expressed badly, was that we depend in good faith upon the accounts of others for all of our knowledge about the past, and for most of our knowledge about the world. When someone publishes the report of a scientific experiment, they are giving their testimony about what happened; when I read it it becomes hearsay -- that is, third party information that I cannot myself verify. There are always questions of trust and credibility in accepting any account. One of the things, as you point out, that makes an account trustworthy, is that it is subjected to rigorous scrutiny and to independent confirmation (and that is one reason why your list of books looks so weak). Where the historical record is fragmentary, and where so much that happened has either never been recorded or has been lost, then careful investigation and interpretation of the sources is doubly important in assessing the kind of evidence they give.

So, fine, debate away. It's just that to get to the bottom of the question (or at least nearer the bottom that we are now) I think we need to get beyond trading positions and arguments.

HolofernesesHead Thu 14-Mar-13 09:59:11

Morning all! smile

A few things: on Luke-Acts, yes, I'm very happy with the majority scholarly view (that Luke-Acts is a single composition, written some time in the late 1st c, maybe even going into the 2nd as one of my tutors argues). Yes, Luke used various sources, he says this in his Prologue. I've got no problem with that.

On Justin Martyr; again, yes, happy to agree that Trypho is probably a literary device - no problem there. Where in the text does the character of Trypho complain at lack of historicity of Jesus & the events? He objects to the idea of the incarnation, and that objection is discussed with reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, but I can't see where he asks for evidence of the historical Jesus. I might just have missed it, it is pretty long!

It's also worth quoting Origen here; this is the part of Contra Celsum that you referred to, Ellie. It's fairly long but I think, as it's an argument that follows a particular line of logic, we need to quote it in full:

I would like to say to Celsus, who represents the Jew as accepting somehow John as a Baptist, who baptized Jesus, that the existence of John the Baptist, baptizing for the remission of sins, is related by one who lived no great length of time after John and Jesus. For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless--being, although against his will, not far from the truth--that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ),--the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure. (that's the whole of ch. XLVII).

So, a few things to note:

This chapter is in the middle of a section about the theological meaning of Jesus' baptism; the chapters before and after this one talk about Jesus' baptism, and the opening of the heavens. Origen notes that Celsus already accepts the ministry of John the Baptist. He then mentions Josephus as a witness whom Celsus would consider reliable, and says, look, Josephus acepts the ministry of John the Baptist too. Then he gets on to the real question of the chapter, which has nothing to do with John the Baptist. It's like remembering John the Baptist, and then Josephus, sparks off a train of thought.

This chapter is all about the fall of Jerusalem in 70CE from a perspective of 'how could God allow this?' Origen notes that Josephus says that God allowed the fall of Jerusalem to happen to punish people for the execution of James in 62CE. Now we might think that's a terrible view of God, but it is how Josephus thinks. Origen says here, 'well, you're nearly right, the fall of Jerusalem did happen because of the execution of a good man, but it wasn't Jmaes, it was his brother Jesus.' Again, terrible view of God - but it's how Origen thinks.

Origen notes that Josephus doesn't believe in Jesus as the Christ - which makes sense given the stuff we've already said about Josephus' famous Jesus-passage being heavily redacted.

The crux of the argument isn't that there as a historical Jesus, but that there must be a theological reason for the Fall of Jerusalem. Josephus accepts that James is a holy man, so his execution would cause severe punishment; how much more holy is Jesus, as the Messiah, so how much worse the punishment on those who had him murdered. Again, that might be repugnant logic and frustrating use of 'history' to modern people, but it's how Origen thinks. To Origen, it's how logic works - note the sentence 'If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses.' To Origen, logic dictates that if one witness (Josephus) thinks that the fall of Jerusalem happened becaues of the death of a holy man (James), how much more logical is it to say that a whole load of witnesses (the churches) think that the fall of Jerusalem happened because of the death of an even holier man (Jesus). It's a classic 'light to heavy', 'how much more' argument, and it's all about the fall of Jerusalem - that's what's being thrashed out here, from the POV of theodicy (why does God allow evil / suffering); the historicity of Jesus is way out of range - no-one cares about it in this passage!

Long post, but I thought I'd answer one thing properly rather than lots of things superficially.

HolofernesesHead Thu 14-Mar-13 10:05:22

I agree with your post entirely, Niminy! smile

MadHairDay Thu 14-Mar-13 10:20:30

You talk about Josephus' account being hearsay <does that mean you do agree that the TF is partially authentic after all?> - but you don't actually know for certain this is the case. It is attested by many that Josephus was actually unlikely to have got his source material from Christians - the textual criticism of the TF, in addition to proving the majority of the language and style as Josephan, has also shown that the author seems to know little about Christians and much more about Jesus.

RT France puts it like this
"[T]hat explanation will not do. Firstly, the distinctively non-Christian terminology we have noted suggests that Josephus is giving his own account. Secondly, there is no reason whatever for Josephus to even mention Jesus and Christianity at this point in his work at all unless he was convinced that the career and execution of Jesus was an actual event which occurred during the governorship of Pilatus. And thirdly, Josephus, a Jew who lived for much of his life in Palestine, is in a very different situation from Tacitus to know whether what he is told is true or not, and to have an interest in checking what he is told. Nor does the rest of his work encourage us to believe that he was in the habit of talking to Christians or using them as source of information.

If then . . . Josephus did originally include an account of Jesus in his record of the governorship of Pilatus, we have every reason to be confident that he had his own good reasons for believing what he wrote to be true."

You say I have remained silent on Tacitus et al, I have said several times that I think they are useful sources in the sense of the historicity of early Christianity, and that in the time they were written there was little question of proving the historicity of Jesus - it was a given. So they show what some early churches were up to, and in that they testify to the reality of Jesus as the founder of that movement. I don't think they are far removed enough to be compared to material only proving that someone is following some random person who may or may not have existed and may or may not be who the followers think he is. I think a lot of the early christian writings are in the same line of usefulness, and again would have no need to 'prove' any historicity as such.

MadHairDay Thu 14-Mar-13 10:23:32

Agreed too, niminy, and Holo, v interesting post about Celsus, I'm not very familiar with Origen so it's something I should read around more on - so much reading on all these subjects! <head explodes>

HolofernesesHead Thu 14-Mar-13 10:52:06

Origen makes most people's heads explode, to be fair! grin

EllieArroway Thu 14-Mar-13 13:54:01

.......and in that they testify to the reality of Jesus as the founder of that movement

No they don't!! They testify to the fact that there were believers of that. The difference is huge.

Example: Plutarch reports in The Vita Pompeii that a group of Cicilian pirates worshipped Mithras. He says: "They were accustomed to offer strange sacrifices on Olympus and to observe certain secret rites, of which that of Mithra is maintained to the present day by those by whom it was first established" It's spookily similar to the kind of passages that Tacitus, Pliny and allegedly Josephus offered.

So, may I assume from this that this is good evidence that Mithras existed? And if you won't accept this as evidence for an existant Mithras, then you have no business accepting those sources as evidence for Jesus.

We have accounts, probably numbering in the thousands, from all over the place telling us about groups of believers and what they believed in. Religions of the type that Christianity was were ten a penny, and we hear (in great detail in some places) all about them. And I can guarantee that in not one of those cases would you accept those accounts as proving the historicity of whatever God they worshipped. You would be quite willing to dismiss it as the hearsay it so clearly is. To refuse to consider the "evidence" for your Jesus in the same way is intellectual dishonesty and blatant confirmation bias. Sorry, but it just is.

No, I absolutely do not accept that the Josephus account is anything other than an obvious and rather pathetic fraud. But it has little to do with the quest for an historical Jesus, since he offers no evidence that Jesus existed anyway.

Yes - we DO KNOW IT'S HEARSAY! Goodness me. He wasn't alive when Jesus was - how can it be anything else! He doesn't say where he gets the information from so we cannot substantiate it. That is what hearsay means.

Firstly, the distinctively non-Christian terminology Pardon? On what planet is..."for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure" not Christian. It's ONLY a Christian who would write this. It's ONLY a Christian that would describe anything Jesus said as "the truth". Would the resolutely Jewish Josephus write this as his own opinion? He decided it was "true" did he and that Jesus "did wonderful things"? Yet didn't convert or even mention this "truth" ever again? How utterly ridiculous.

And, by the way, if Josephus was familiar enough with Jesus that he was willing to call him a "wise man" (on a par with Solomon, for goodness sake!) and a "doer of wonderful works" (on a par with Elijah!) and that he was crucified by Pilate, then you'd think he might mention to his readers that this wonder worker managed to walk out of his tomb three days after he was crucified! I suppose you don't think it was "relevant". Or maybe Josephus didn't know - in which case his source of information is rubbish because it failed to pass on the single most important fact about this amazing man, so we must be even more dismissive of it as historical evidence.

And no way does an airy "Well, they didn't need to mention the TF" explain in any remotely adequate way the fact that it's not mentioned by any of the early church fathers for 200 years. Not once. When you consider the extent to which they were all defending the faith against hostility and doubt, using Josephus extensively to do so, it beggars belief that every last one of them would fail to mention a passage within the most famous of historical records that refers to their god as "a wise man" and a "doer of wonderful works".

These people spent their lives defending their faith, extensively using Josephus to do so, ferreting out anything that could cast Christianity & Jesus in a good light. But the ONLY reference anywhere that's remotely nice about them is "of no use"? And you're not attributing this apparent lack of interest to just a few - you're assuming it of all of them, in spite of the fact that

No. Nothing you've said has even begun to persuade me that you're right. And if I'm going against the grain, I don't care.

Oh - and the James line is probably faffed with too. If you take out the "Christ" in the TF then what is ".....the one they call the Christ" actually referring to? It implies that he's differentiating that Jesus with others he mentions (as he does) and that the readers will know who he's talking about. Why? If Christianity and Jesus is so unknown that (according to you) they warrant a small paragraph and nothing more, then his readers wouldn't have a clue who he was talking about - unless he'd mentioned the same person earlier in the text and identified him as "Christ". But, if we take that out (as we must) then the James line really makes no sense.

EllieArroway Thu 14-Mar-13 14:06:34

intellectual dishonesty - I'm sorry, that came out much ruder than I intended. I'm not saying you're being dishonest - just not being entirely honest with yourself about whether you'd accept the same kind of evidence for someone else's God. I'm at work writing lines at a time so my mind is wandering a bit. Sorry.

HolofernesesHead Thu 14-Mar-13 15:57:31

Hello smile

Ellie, to me, the explanation that 'doer of wonderful works' isn't neccessily a compliment makes sense - just look at Simon Magus. You are making the links of 'wonder worker / wise man' with Elijah and Solomon, but those links didn't neccessarily exist in the first few centuries CE. It could just as easily have meant 'charlatan, cheap purveyor of parlour tricks.' Lots of times in the NT people are told off or looked down on for setting much store by miracles.

On James in Josephus: why is it a problem for Josephus to say 'James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ'? Surely, if anything, this line suggests that Josephus doesn't believe in Jesus as Christ (as we already know, as he's saying that other people call Jesus 'the Christ', not him. In the NT period nicknames were used a lot -just look at the naming of the disciples in the Gospels.

MadHairDay Thu 14-Mar-13 17:03:33

Also the translation of 'doer of wonderful works' is closer to 'doer of paradoxical works' or mysterious, closer in meaning to sorcery, iirc.

Have to go cook tea. smile

HolofernesesHead Thu 14-Mar-13 17:10:58

Yes - the phrase in Greek is 'paradoxa erga' (erga = works)

Trying to fathom out school forms - confused! grin

MooncupGoddess Thu 14-Mar-13 17:15:17

Yes, 'paradoxa erga' is quite ambivalent, I think. Though would need Hellenistic Greek lexicon to be certain.

'Wonder-worker' (in a gosh how miraculous sense) would be Thaumaturgus, like Gregory Thaumaturgus.

HolofernesesHead Thu 14-Mar-13 17:37:44

I've just looked it up in my huge NT and early Christian lexicon this one and paradoxa is hardly used in the NT at all; only in the Gospels to describe Jesus' actions in Luke 5:26; the NRSV translates it as ‘We have seen strange things today.’ In the Lk 5 ref, it's the Gentile bystanders who witness an exorcism that say this, not Jesus' followers. There are a few other refs, in Origen and 1 Clement and also Philo (the fact that Philo uses it suggests trongly that it's not Christian in-language in the same way that, eg, 'signs' is in John).

Interesting stuff to ponder... grin

MooncupGoddess Thu 14-Mar-13 17:42:59

Good stuff Holofernes.

This thread is making me feel very nostalgic for my university days.

niminypiminy Thu 14-Mar-13 17:58:51

Holo really interesting posts! (Especially the head-exploding Origen one wink)

EllieArroway Fri 15-Mar-13 13:15:43

Ellie, to me, the explanation that 'doer of wonderful works' isn't neccessily a compliment makes sense - just look at Simon Magus. You are making the links of 'wonder worker / wise man' with Elijah and Solomon, but those links didn't neccessarily exist in the first few centuries CE. It could just as easily have meant 'charlatan, cheap purveyor of parlour tricks.' Lots of times in the NT people are told off or looked down on for setting much store by miracles

Sounds very scholarly, but it's not correct.

The links for "wise man"/"doer of wonderful works" with Solomon & Elijah come directly from Josephus, so I'm not quite sure where you're getting the idea that they didn't exist before the 2nd C. They exist within the very book we're talking about, written in the late 1st C.

Josephus uses the term "wise man" a few times, quite sparingly - and always as a term of great honour, Solomon for one. It is extraordinarily odd that he would use the same rare term of great respect for a man who held no particular interest for him (so we are told, as an explanation of the lone, short paragraph in a massive work).

It's hardly beyond the stretch of imagination that Eusebius, writing 200 or so years later, and hoping to sound like Jospehus would note the way he refers to other great men and apply it to Jesus. This is considerably more likely than that Josephus put Jesus on a par with Solomon - which is ridiculously unlikely.

Also the translation of 'doer of wonderful works' is closer to 'doer of paradoxical works' or mysterious, closer in meaning to sorcery, iirc

Are you suggesting that that's what Jospehus was accusing Elijah of when he uses the exact same description for his amazing feats? Elijah!? Clearly, in that instance he wasn't alluding to sorcery, but wonderful things - Eusebius would have known that. We are talking about an active forgery. Eusebius wasn't such a cretin that he didn't at least try to sound authentic.

But he did screw up - the use of "poietes". Josephus only ever used this in AJ & his other works to mean poet. Apologists try to get round this with some garbled crap about how he faffed around with words sometimes and this could account for him doing so here. But that is not the point. "Poietes" used to mean "doer" in the sense J used it here, but hadn't for a long time. Never mind whether he faffed with words - did he have a habit of resurrecting old, out of use meanings for words for no apparent reason?

And, frankly, if a Christian interpolator (fraudster) saw a reference to Jesus's works & interpreted it as meaning "sorcery" wouldn't he have simply changed it? We're expected to believe he inserted a load of nonsense about the Messiah & resurrection, but left behind a reference to Jesus doing "sorcery"? I hardly think so.

And I don't really understand why looking at the NT to see whether there's any similar language between that and J has the remotest relevance. Is anyone suggesting that the writers of the NT might have written the TF? No. We're suggesting that it was Eusebius 200 years later. And what do we find when we do look in that direction - voila! Parts of the TF are so Eusebian that the apologists have no option but to acknowledge it - attempting to write it off with the remarkably silly defence of "Well, you see, Eusebius immersed himself so deeply in Josephus that his writing style was influenced by him". Right. Hmmm. Odd that this style of writing from E that J influenced is only in relation to things said in the TF. We see no other evidence of that throughout Josephus.

On James in Josephus: why is it a problem for Josephus to say 'James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ'? Surely, if anything, this line suggests that Josephus doesn't believe in Jesus as Christ (as we already know, as he's saying that other people call Jesus 'the Christ', not him. In the NT period nicknames were used a lot -just look at the naming of the disciples in the Gospels

A complete misunderstanding of the issues - which has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not Josephus was acknowledging Jesus as the Christ.

And you've misquoted it, it reads: the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James - a clunkier sentence it's hard to imagine.

NT nicknames were indeed very prevalent, btw, you are quite right. They had to be because they didn't have surnames in the way we do - and Josephus kept having to identify who he meant by using nicknames. (Another problem being how common names like James and Jesus were - another Jesus is referred to a few lines later).

Do you know that James, Jesus' brother, was almost universally referred to as James the Just? Yet Josephus fails to use this nickname at all. Instead, he identifies this James in reference to his brother, Jesus who, in turn, is identified as "who was called Christ".

If the TF, interpolations included, had been genuine, then this makes sense. Josephus was reminding his readers of which Jesus he's talking about...ie: "the one I told you earlier was called Christ".

But everyone agrees at least that that part of the TF is not genuine, so this is the only reference J ever makes to "Christ" anywhere in his works.

Calling someone, or even acknowledging that others called them "Christ" was a pretty big deal and is worthy of at least a word of explanation, but Josephus offers none. Since there is nowhere in his work where Josephus has already explained to his readers about this "Jesus - who is called Christ", then we have to assume that he expects them to already be aware.

And this is wildly at odds with the apologetic excuse that the TF so briefly mentions Jesus because he was largely unknown and of no particular interest to anyone at that time.

Another case of trying to have your cake and eat it too.

Oh - and another excuse that's used is "...who is called Christ" is too un-Christian in language and no Christian would have used that is countered rather neatly by pointing out that the phrase appears twice in the gospels. And guess who uses it too? Yep. Eusebius wink

HolofernesesHead Fri 15-Mar-13 13:53:23

Hi Ellie smile

Just a quick post for now, so I'll address your points more fully later, but for now, a smallish point:

Poities comes straight from the Greek verb poieo, which means 'I do / I make.' Yes, there are refs in which it means poet, eg. Acts17:28 ('as one of your own poets has said.') But there are also refs in which it just simply means 'one who does something'; eg. Romans 2:13, James 1:22, 4:11. Given that Josephus lived in the same century in which Romans was definitely written and James was in all likelihood written, with a likely time lag of no more than 50 years between the texts, it's at least possible that Josephus could mean either poet or doer. In these situations the context within the text is probably the best indicator of implied meaning.

I didn't misquote the line re James, I just read a different translation to you! I have all the works of Josephus in Greek on my other computer so could check it out more fully when I get time. In the meantime, it'd help the discussion if you could include the quotes to which you're referring - like Josephus on Elijah, if you have them to hand.

niminypiminy Fri 15-Mar-13 14:18:24

I looked up the phrase 'who is called Christ'. The number of occurrences varies with the translation. In Revised Standard Version, the phrase occurs in Matthew 27, where Pilate is speaking to the Jews. In New Revised Standard Version (which has superseded) RSV, this is translated as ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ .

The other occurrence is in John 4, in which the Samarian woman says ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). (NRSV).

In both of these passages 'who is called Christ' is clearly a gloss on 'Messiah'. In the first passage Pilate is addressing the Jews, and the implication of the passage is that neither he, nor the Jews, do in fact believe he is the Messiah, or the Christ. In the second instance the Samarian woman is stating her (Jewish) belief in the Messiah.

So, yes, the phrase occurs in the Gospels, although in specifically 'Jewish' contexts.

However, Ellie, I've now read back carefully over all the last few days' posts, and actually no-one has claimed that the phrase 'who is called Christ' is un-Christian language. Holo said in her post of 14.3 17.37 that 'paradoxa' is not Christian in-language. So while you are right about the occurence of the phrase, you are wrong about what is being claimed about it.

HolofernesesHead Fri 15-Mar-13 14:27:47

I've just had a look at the Jewish Antiquities, and note that in Bk 9, ch. 2, the third captain sent by King Ahaziah to fetch Elijah (after the first two were unsuccessful) is described as a 'wise man.' In the context, this captain knows that the best way of getting Elijah to come is to make him think he's doing it of his own free will (some of us may recognise that scenario! grin)

So 'wise man' here seems to mean 'canny, clever, knows which side his bread is buttered on', which fits in very well with lots of strands of thought in the earlier Hebrew wisdom traditions. I haven't looked up who else in Josephus' works is called a 'wise man' but judging by this vignette, it doesn't seem to be an overly exalted thing to call someone, not necessarily anyway; it could just be a recognition, as it is here, of someone's cleverness in a tricky situation.

HolofernesesHead Fri 15-Mar-13 15:15:26

Actually, I've also just seen that different translations of JA put the chapter and verse numbers in different places - I'll try and find the ref in PACE.

HolofernesesHead Fri 15-Mar-13 15:19:11

Also (sorry to keep posting!), I've just found this really very good website for anyone interested in learning more about Josephus: Josephus. The academic credentials are sound! smile

EllieArroway Fri 15-Mar-13 16:34:01

However, Ellie, I've now read back carefully over all the last few days' posts, and actually no-one has claimed that the phrase 'who is called Christ' is un-Christian language

sigh I never said it was. We have not discussed the James passage properly before, I was pre-empting a known and very common objection. The phrase appears in the Bible, hardly making it un-Christian.

I truly love the desperateattempts here to pick me up on the most minor of points.

The Bible uses that phrase, Niminy. Not often, but it's there.

Holo Your point? It's not what he's saying, it's who he's saying it about. I thought I made that obvious.

And something else occurred to me - it begins by naming Jesus, and ends with a claim about "the tribe of Christians that bear his name..."

Huh? He's called Jesus, but the tribe of Christians bear his name? Thought his name was Jesus hmm

The only reason that isn't immediately weird is because we here, 2000 years later, automatically associate Jesus and Christianity together, but no reader of this original work would have done. This would have left them scratching their heads. And if the intention on the part of Josephus was to inform them that Jesus was "Christ" and his followers therefore "Christians" then you are back at square one where the "Christ/Messiah" reference has to be removed because no one sensible believes he'd ever say that.

His readers would not have understood because, of course, the reason that there exists not the weeniest mention anywhere of this amazing man is because no one knew who he or the Christians were. You'd think the fact that the curtains in the temple ripped apart, weird weather patterns suddenly occurred and dead people started walking around Jerusalem might have raised a little interest - but evidently not.

The Josephus passage is obviously a fake. I've been discussing and debating this issue for years, it's not new to me. It obviously is to others on this thread, in spite of claims of expertise of Josephus, and I'm bored with addressing it now.

Actually, I'm quite bored with the whole thing. I know that the pair of you are really only interested in trying to prove me wrong, but you can't. It's a widely acknowledged fact that there exists, outside of the Bible, no evidence to support the existence of Jesus. Even Rowan Williams (a theologian, by the way, not a historian) agrees with that - he has to, it's the way it is. Most intelligent Christians do - and I would say that all of the ones who have studied theology at a reputable institution would also know that. And they certainly wouldn't demand immediate examples of the discrepancies within the Bible because such things would already be known very well indeed.

I've done my homework and there's no way I'd be part of a debate about something I know nothing about - so I have you both at a disadvantage. This isn't stimulating for me or even that interesting, so I shall leave you to it.

niminypiminy Fri 15-Mar-13 18:05:29

ellie it's a shame if you've decided to bow out, it's been very interesting (to me, at any rate!). I don't feel myself that the matter is closed quite as definitively as you seem to be saying -- indeed, I wonder whether you really like being challenged in your arguments. If you did indeed feel that your arguments are beyond challenge, you might feel that you could be more gracious in your treatment of your interlocutors. Be that as it may, I hope we'll see you again in one of these conversations.

It's been interesting for us Ellie, even those of us just dipping in and out.
Always good to see people with different views knocking them around a bit. I especially liked the way you started ....
Changing people's views is often going to be a challenge though, or even getting them to really listen to yours. HTH smile

MadHairDay Fri 15-Mar-13 18:55:14

I'm sorry you feel like that too, Ellie. I was enjoying it - find it invigorating to be challenged and to read around more. No, I'm no super expert, but I felt we were getting along ok with addressing each others points etc. I've not been on today as had visitors, and out all tomorrow, so I'll be back Sunday to see if it's continued at all. smile

ANother one who has found it interesting here, even though I haven't read any of the books and have bugger all knowledge of ancient Greek or Latin. No one's come up with any convincing evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ, of course, but I didn't expect them to, any more than I'd expect anyone to turn up evidence of Odin, Janus or Freya, despite the fact that they have days of the week named after them.

MooncupGoddess Fri 15-Mar-13 21:58:42

Damn, I was looking forward to the gospels discussion.

crescentmoon England Fri 15-Mar-13 23:46:59

iv really enjoyed this thread too. It doesn't make any difference to my belief and reverence of Jesus but I enjoyed learning the different opinions on the collection and compilation of the New Testament. And I get fascinated by the little tidbits about what life was like in that part of the world then and the stories of the early Christians. I had no idea about Greek anything I thought it was all about the Jews and the Romans. And mention of sabian lady that was cool who were the sabians? Ahh il just google in the morning!

cloutiedumpling Sat 16-Mar-13 11:31:01

I'm another one that has been lurking and finds this thread interesting. I haven't been posting because I've not studied the subject. I think it would be good if the debate continued.

HolofernesesHead Sat 16-Mar-13 14:50:01

I'd be up for carrying on, but I understand if Ellie's had enough. I have genuinely learnt new things from this thread and enjoyed it, so thanks everyone! smile

backonlybriefly99 Sun 17-Mar-13 13:40:15

It's been years since I was a regular poster, but people send me links now and then to threads like this because they know of my special interest.

So this was a good thread and I wanted to say thanks on behalf of myself and the other lurkers. It wouldn't have worked without several believers speaking for their side.

Ellie, If you were feeling disappointed/disheartened then don't be. The point of a court case is not to convince the defence, but the jury. Many of the jury in this case will have been thinking "but I thought the Romans had his birth records from the census and anyway didn't his four best friends write the gospels about him in the weeks after he died?".

I know I was led to believe that and other things when I was young. I remember being amazed when I found out how much I'd been lied to. In fairness many of those people sincerely believed there was evidence. They were just repeating what they had been taught.

As you said in a different context, if there had been one bit of real evidence for Jesus existing you'd have had people queuing up to post it. People reading the thread can make up their minds from that.

The more people read the bible the more it falls apart. So everyone grab a bible and start reading. From the beginning the first time. You can jump around later, but don't let anyone suggest some 'safe' passages for you to read. Always look where people don't want you to.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth

Trust me, it's a good read. In (3) he creates light and then in (16) he makes the sun smile

niminypiminy Sun 17-Mar-13 18:18:51

I agree Genesis is a good read smile, if people want to go an read it that's great. I certainly wouldn't think of it as something I wouldn't want people to look at. But then, I don't think of it as one of the more challenging books of the Bible. Judges, perhaps. Or Jeremiah, that's got some very tough stuff in it. But if people want to read and talk about the Bible that's fine with me (and would like to join in! smile).

MadHairDay Sun 17-Mar-13 19:23:02

With you on that one niminy! Job, perhaps? Ezekiel?

I'd also be happy to carry on, if anyone wants to...would be good to talk about the gospels and other NT writings. Maybe we got rather bogged down in Josephus.

'The more people read the bible the more it falls apart.' - not in my experience. Quite the opposite. It comes together beautifully, inconsistencies, cultural contexts, many genres and all.

townbuiltonahill Sun 17-Mar-13 22:03:12

..... I always seem to come in on these after the curtain has fallen, while they're cleaning up the ice-cream cartons after the main event.

But, truth be told, like some lurkers I suspect, I have found this thread rather disturbing.

Ellie has however been the irritant 'grit in the oyster' which stimulated the production of the 'pearl of great price' by Holo and others.

Talking to some Uni friends last weekend, they pointed me to this very useful read published in 2012. Paul Barnett is a retired Bishop of North Sydney and a historian.

I have just finished it, and found it accessible and helpful, giving the references without getting as heavy as this thread has been. He writes specifically to address the New Atheist issues which seem to be the basis of Ellie's approach, and cross-references to books and comments by the 'four horsemen' of the recent atheist movement.

I come from it renewed and stabilised in my faith, but jolted out of complacency. Well done, Mad.

Romans 8:28 & Genesis 50:20

backonlybriefly99 Tue 19-Mar-13 09:16:39

Niminypiminy, I just popped back because you misunderstood what I said there. When I said "So everyone grab a bible and start reading. From the beginning the first time." I was suggesting that reading the whole bible was a good idea - all of it. The whole old testament and the whole new testament.

Because frequently if you go to read the bible people will suggest you read certain parts of it, certain books or certain verses. There are reading lists/plans available. They will even suggest you read books by Christians which will tell you what the bible says without you needing to waste time looking yourself.

So I don't think people should read just Genesis, Judges Or Jeremiah to begin with, but the whole thing.

As an atheist I like to encourage everyone to read the whole bible from cover to cover at least once before going back and examining the bits they found interesting.

It takes a while but if it's the word of god then surely it's worth the effort and can only strengthen faith.

And in case it is not you might want to keep a notebook handy because you could find yourself thinking "Hang on a minute... he said what?"

niminypiminy Tue 19-Mar-13 09:33:14

I agree, reading the whole Bible is a good idea. I know, because I did it, cover to cover. And it did strengthen my faith to do it, and it did leave me with lots of questions. Doubt and faith are married together; it is faith and certainty that cannot live in the same house.

My profession is teaching literature. I frequently find that when people read books written a long time ago without any background knowledge, and without any guidance, they read naively and harbour many misconceptions. Reading the Bible is one thing, but understanding it is another. So I would encourage atheists to read the Bible, by all means, but do not reject reading about the Bible either, because all learning is valuable (even, perhaps especially, as I frequently tell my students, learning that we do not agree with).

niminypiminy Sun 14-Apr-13 07:32:26

Bumping this so that people who might be interested can more easily have a look.

EllieArroway Sat 20-Apr-13 09:07:50

Bumping.

Hello all - if you're coming back.....*Mad*, Holo & Niminy smile

Have just read through the thread to familiarise myself.

Backonlybriefy says: Ellie, If you were feeling disappointed/disheartened then don't be. The point of a court case is not to convince the defence, but the jury. Many of the jury in this case will have been thinking "but I thought the Romans had his birth records from the census and anyway didn't his four best friends write the gospels about him in the weeks after he died?"

I know I was led to believe that and other things when I was young. I remember being amazed when I found out how much I'd been lied to. In fairness many of those people sincerely believed there was evidence. They were just repeating what they had been taught

As you said in a different context, if there had been one bit of real evidence for Jesus existing you'd have had people queuing up to post it. People reading the thread can make up their minds from that

Exactly! I cannot see a single place anywhere on this thread where a single thing I've said has been contradicted. Not anywhere. Different interpretations, indeed - contradictions? Not a single one.

It's all very well to claim to have read books that contradict me, but quote them then. "Ellie's wrong, but I'm not going to say why" does not endear me to anyone.

Hope you'll stay on the thread, Back - I could do with a wingman/woman wink.

So, where were we then........Paul?

Ah, dear, clueless Paul wink.

Tell me how he proves Jesus, people.

My study of the bible took place so long ago I'd be hard pressed to prove that that ever happened smile

Since the internet hadn't been invented I had to mostly use the bible to disprove the bible. It's all a bit fuzzy now, but I'll jump in where I can.

I find a good place to look for evidence is in what the opposing side doesn't say. Your own side might invent supporting evidence out of wishful thinking, but you can be sure that if the other side can't produce something that would support them then it doesn't exist.

It's reasonable to ask why there isn't clear evidence. We're supposed to believe that Jesus intended to spread the word. He should in that case have made it possible for us to tell which words were true and that he was ever here.

If you accidentally posted say your phone number on the net there'd be nothing you could do to take it back. However if you quickly posted 1000s of false phone numbers that would be just as effective as deleting the information. No one could tell which was genuine. That is now the case with Christianity (and religion in general). Just about every variation exists and no way to distinguish fact from fiction or indeed fiction from fiction.

HolofernesesHead Sat 20-Apr-13 19:18:27

Hello smile Good to see this continuing! I am not going to comment right now though as I'm dealing with some difficult RL stuff at the moment which is using up all of my brain space (and then some!) Hopefully I'll have something more constructive / persuasive / interesting to set soon though!

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHopeful Sun 21-Apr-13 14:21:32

Just read the whole thread and it is facinating. Will just let you know I am an atheist, quite interested in religion but have no theological knowledge at all. so there is a good chance I'll come accross as incredibly poorly educated / informed

I just wanted to say my understanding prior to this debate was that Jesus the man did exist and there was good historical evidence for this. This thread has really opened my eyes to just how poor this evidence actually is.

Even if I was to accept the evidence that Jesus did exist (non gospel sources) all it would lead me to conclude was that the man Jesus was pretty unremarkable and didn't make much of an impression at the time. sorry if that sounds really rude it's just my take on the thread

EllieArroway Sun 21-Apr-13 14:43:16

This thread has really opened my eyes to just how poor this evidence actually is

I think I love you, Head grin

Hopefully Mad will be back anon. She's sometimes quite unwell, so when she's up to it hopefully we can entice her back. I am dying to get to grips with Paul.

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHopeful Sun 21-Apr-13 15:08:25

I'll be lurking away. Might pop the odd post in just to let everyone know I'm still interested. smile

madhairday Mon 22-Apr-13 17:14:18

Sorry I haven't been around. RL stuff is going bonkers and poorly with chest infection. Can't really get my head in this today....but I can't wait to smile

madhairday Tue 23-Apr-13 13:39:41

Should we talk about Paul or the gospels first? Can't remember exactly what we've covered now.

I guess Paul is important to discuss because his were the earliest Christian writings, written 20 years or so after the death/resurrection of Jesus.

Obviously, much of Paul's writings are based on what he describes as revelation from God, so a lot of his work cannot be useful in a historical sense. However, he includes some insight into very early Christian practise, ceremony and belief, and it is in this that the historical use is, I think - 1 Cor 15, et al. Think we did mention some of this upthread? I'll have a look.

There's also the whole area of whether Paul 'changed' the message, whether he believed Jesus to be the messiah, etc etc. I believe he did have a high Christology.

Whether you'd think his references to early Christian practise of any use in 'proving' either the historicity of Jesus or the historical Jesus is another question. I suspect you'd write it off in similar terms to the way you treat Pliny et al - yes it may refer to practices, but how could that be cited as proof of existence?

I think the earliness of the writing and the practises to which it refers cannot be thrown out with the bathwater here. The creeds go back to within a few years of the events, practised by eyewitnesses to the events. It's difficult to imagine how these things would come to be at that time if they were not based around those events. They cannot be comparable to mystery religions, where vague legend was formed over time and practises remained secret and changing. There were concrete communities forming and spreading from immediately after the time Jesus died and was resurrected. Paul's descriptions of them, written before Luke-Acts, can be said to hold historical value, although I wouldn't argue that they are more valuable than the gospels and acts, especially Luke's writings as a historian himself.

EllieArroway Wed 24-Apr-13 11:28:39

Hello Mad. How's the chest infection? I do worry about you a little bit when I notice you're not on the boards that much smile

OK. Paul.

Well....hmmmm.

I suspect you'd write it off in similar terms to the way you treat Pliny et al

This is a trifle unfair I think because you're not taking into account that this is a discussion about historical evidence and on this basis, I have no option but to write off a source that's writing 100 years after the events and doesn't tell us anything about Jesus anyway - only Christians.

Pliny, Tacitus and Josephus merely confirm the existence of early Christians - nothing that we don't already know from Paul. If this was a debate about whether early Christians existed, then sure - I'd accept them as sources. But it's not.

And if we then go on to say.....well, if early Christians existed, then Jesus logically must have done too, then we're stuck in the unfortunate position of having to believe that Mithras, Ra & Zeus must have existed, since their followers prove it too. Clearly, neither of us follows that logic for any other god, so why should we for Jesus?

(Tacitus, incidentally, references an event that doesn't hold up historically. There was a fire in Rome, but almost certainly not caused by Nero. So, the idea that Nero deliberately deflected blame from himself by blaming Christians is immediately shaky - throwing the whole source into doubt).

The problem with Paul is not really what he does say, but more what he doesn't. Yes, he's our earliest source and SHOULD tell us an awful lot, but quite remarkably fails to.

The one thing that would make Christianity unique from all other cults and religions of the time was that Jesus lived and died as a man on Earth. This is the single most important fact about him - and everything Christianity stands for follows from it. He lived as a man, sacrificed his life and took the worlds sins upon his shoulders. This is utterly fundamental to Christianity, which means that the resurrection is too.

So where is a) the evidence that Paul was passing on this information to early Christians and b) the evidence that they were responding to it?

Human beings have been remarkably consistent in their behaviour over the years. If something is supposed to have happened in a particular place, you go and visit that place. (Look at Lourdes, look at Graceland, look at anywhere actually). This complete and total lack of apparent interest in seeing the stable Jesus was born in, the tomb that was found to be empty, the site of the crucifixion, tracking down disciples and family members to talk to is hard to explain. Where is the reverence for holy places?

Nowhere, absolutely nowhere, in the vast historical record of the times do we get the faintest indication that Christians were undertaking pilgrimages or journeying to Nazareth or Bethlehem because of Jesus. It's conceivable that, at this point, people who'd known an earthly Jesus would have still been alive - was anyone not wanting to talk to them?

When Pliny the Elder died (not regarded by anyone as divine, merely a great thinker) his nephew (the aforementioned Pliny the Younger) received a mammoth amount of letters wanting to know all about him, what he said or thought about stuff and so on. Interested people wanted to communicate with those who had known him, visit his home town, hear about the circumstances of his death and so on.

Is there any evidence that this kind of interest was being displayed in, not just a great thinker, a divine being? God himself? No. Not a sausage. To this day, we're not even clear where Nazareth actually was - or the tomb, or the site of the crucifixion. Early Christians should have sorted that out for us by establishing it as a holy site. They didn't. Why ever not?

So, it's not really enough to say, "Well, Paul didn't need to talk about that stuff in his letters" or "He did, but we've lost the letters" because we have no evidence from the actions or response of others that he was passing on this kind of information at all. And if he wasn't - why not? It's the most important fact about Jesus there is.

Then when we look closely at what Paul actually said, it doesn't look as if he thinks Jesus existed as a man at all. He seems to have considered that the few facts he does pass on (the crucifixion and resurrection) happened in a higher plane of existence altogether - which would be 100% typical of how people generally did regard events in the lives of their gods. They believed (virtually all of them) that there were various levels of existence, and Earth was just one.

That's the Paul problem for me smile

HolofernesesHead Thu 25-Apr-13 09:36:20

Hello all. Sorry I've not been on this thread much - life is a bit confused at the moment.

Ellie, I always find your posts thought-provoking - you send me off down trains of thought that are really interesting! In your last post, the train of thought that you sent me off down is to do with early Christian pilgrimage - did the earliest Christians go on pilgrimage to the places in the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life, were they encouraged to do so, or did they continue with the traditional Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the major festivals? Now you might think this is a prime example of my picking up on something very minor that is not going to solve the problem of the historical Jesus, but to me it's an interesting question that deserves to be thought about properly. So here goes...

The focus of pilgrimage for Jewish people was, of course, the temple in Jerusalem, until it was destroyed in 70CE. There were other places of journeying for spiritual growth too. By that time there was nothing like a clear-cut distinction between Jews and Christians - it was more that some Jews believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and others (the majority) didn't believe this. Paul's earliest letter, Galatians, (in all historical probability) is centred on the question of whether believing in Jesus necessarily means circumcision (he says no). The first letter he writes to the church at Corinth is all about how to live as a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles in one Christian church.

So these are very much the live issues in the period for Christians between the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Paul never recommends going on pilgrimage, either to Jerusalem or anywhere else - Paul's letters are all about going out into all the world with the message that God is alive in all places and in all peoples - he calls himself the 'apostle to the Gentiles' (the one sent to the Gentiles). So maybe saying 'no, you don't have to be circumcised, but by the way, you must go to Jerusalem for Tabernacles' might have muddied the waters of the message.

However, having said this, if Christians in the first centuty went on pilgriamge anywhere, it was to established Jewish pilgriamge sites (numerous in Asia Minor). It wasn't until the late second century that specifically Christian pilgrimage sites started to crop up; these were the places where Christians had been martyred. Rome became a place to which Christians travelled, by the second century. Christian pilgrimage became much more widespread after 312CE, when it was promoted and encouraged by Constantine and his mother.

So in the early Christian period, pilgrimage wasn't much of a priority. Why might this be?....well, firstly, pilgrimage was a Jewish practice and if Christians took part in it, they did so as Jews or as 'God-fearers' (Gentiles who were favourably disposed towards Jewish practices). Secondly, in Paul and in the Gospels, there's a huge emphasis on Jesus' body as the new Temple that makes the Jerusalem temple obsolete (I could say much more about this). Paul says to the Corintians, every time you meet togeher to break bread and drink wine (i.e. practices taken from Passover, which very quickly became Christianised), the body and blood of Jesus are present among you - Jesus himself is present among you. You are 'in Christ' already. So how can travelling to a building or a place bring you closer to God, when you are in Christ already, when Jesus is present among you every time you gather together to worship? Churches met in homes at this time, so there was very little, if any, reverence for buidings as the place of encounter with God. Rather, all the world, every Christian community in every place, Jewish, Gentile or mixed, was its own place of meeting with Jesus.

So, you might say that this is a spin on things - well, if so, it's very well anchored in the Bible and in early Christian scholarship and I'm happy to defend it - but I hope it might give you an insight into the thought-world of Christians in the first century, and an insight into why some issues mattered more than others. I'm quite a fan of pilgrimage, personally - I've been on two in the last year, and am planning a third - but for Paul and his churches, it wasn't on their radars. I need to stop writing now (and you probably need to stop reading!) smile but I want to address the issue to you raised regarding what Paul believed about Jesus.

EllieArroway Thu 25-Apr-13 14:47:22

I'm not sure what early scholarship it's anchored in.

We have - Paul
Followed a generation (possibly more) later by the gospels, written over the course of 40 odd years
Then the odd reference (possibly) to Christians at the beginning of the 1st century
Then the apologists get involved (some 200 odd years after the events)

That's it. There's no other source that even so much as mentions Jesus or Christians.

I'm not talking about later pilgrimage traditions or what the Jews were doing - I'm talking about the echoing silence of disinterest in the first 70 years after the death of Jesus.

Yes - and the destruction of the Temple. A big event, mentioned in all the history books. According to the Bible, it was caused by a vengeful God after the death of Jesus. But not ONE of the many historical accounts regarding this actually mentions Jesus in relation to it at all?????

Please don't forget the massive amounts of historical data that we have that passes on a huge amount of information about what other cult followers were up to. Nothing about Jesus? No Christians making their way to see the fabled tomb for themselves? No one interested to see whether the mother of God might still be around? No finding of the disciples, no inscriptions to show what happened where? And no one appears to have contacted Paul to ask him.

No one really cared much, did they? Which is hard to swallow when we consider what this man was supposed to have done. We hear much more about lesser figures.

You're giving me apologetic excuses for the silence rather than evidence that it wasn't there. Which it clearly was.

Oh, and Hi, btw smile

HolofernesesHead Thu 25-Apr-13 15:32:56

Hi Ellie. My writing of earlier is anchored in the scholarship one reads in journals such as Vigilae Christianae, The Journal of Early Christian Studies, New Testament Studies journal and other such journals (as well as books - the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies is very good, and recently published).

Did I misunderstand you? I thought that you were suggesting that the lack of travellers to the places where Jesus lived was significant? Anyway, I found it interesting to ponder the question.

Back later...

EllieArroway Thu 25-Apr-13 16:04:50

I'm not doubting that they are scholarly tomes, Holo - I'm wondering what sources they are referencing.....and how much relevance it has to my point.

This is a debate about the historical evidence. The opinions of people writing 2000 years later isn't actually that relevant unless they are telling us where they get their information.

Outside of the New Testament we have absolutely no information whatsoever about very early Christianity. Zero.

What we DO have is a wealth of historians who were alive at the right time and in the right area & who don't hold back on telling us an awful lot of what was going on - but no mention of any Jesus or Christians. This is significant, I feel.

And, even amongst the literature that Christians were producing for each other, there's no suggestion that they were acting on information provided by Paul or anyone else in order to go and see for themselves the holy sites.

The fact that, even today, we have no real idea where any of the events that happened to Jesus took place strongly suggests that they weren't preserved or referenced as holy places at all. Very odd that.

EllieArroway Thu 25-Apr-13 16:16:24

Just to reiterate...the "evidence" that is supposed to demonstrate an existent Jesus amounts to:

* About 8 letters from Paul to various groups in which he never mentions any aspect of Jesus's life on Earth and freely admits that the only information he has about Jesus came to him through "revelation" and not the testimony of any living person

* The four gospels, written decades later by foreigners who had never met Jesus or spoken to anyone who had. They are also already members of the religion, so hardly unbiased observers

* A highly dubious (I still say fraudulent) passage in Josephus, who in any event was not an eyewitness, never says where he got his information from and was writing about 50 years after the events

* A suspect reference in the works of Tacitus (in the next century) mentioning Christians in relation to a clearly mythical tale about Nero setting fire to Rome

* And, again in the next century, an even briefer reference to Christians in a letter from Pliny the Yr which says nothing whatsoever about Jesus, doesn't even name him

That's it. I would not call that "evidence" at all. It demonstrates that early Christians existed....and every religion has had early believers. We don't mind writing them all off as "myth" or mistaken beliefs. But not Christianity? Why?

We actually have better evidence that Zeus existed, or Mithras, than we do Jesus.

HolofernesesHead Thu 25-Apr-13 16:18:37

Ehwhat? No info re. early Christainity except for that which is attested to within the writings which we now call the New Testament? What a load of....

Do I need to give you a list? ;)

EllieArroway Thu 25-Apr-13 16:19:19

I just gave you one Holo. Please prove me wrong.

HolofernesesHead Thu 25-Apr-13 16:25:31

Ohhhh - I've just realised that we are talking at cross purposes here. Yuo are talking about evidence for the historical Jesus, aren't you? And I'm talking about evidence of early Christianity, in response to your comment; Outside of the New Testament we have absolutely no information whatsoever about very early Christianity. Zero.

Obviously, we do have quite a bit of evidence of early Christianity, but evidence for the historical Jesus is a different concern, and, as I would strongly argue, wasn't the concern of the early Christians except to assert that Jesus had lived as a man in Galilee.

EllieArroway Thu 25-Apr-13 16:36:08

Well - the above sources are all we have for early Christianity too. Doesn't actually tell us much, does it?

as I would strongly argue, wasn't the concern of the early Christians except to assert that Jesus had lived as a man in Galilee That's apologetics, not history. You can't know the thoughts or motivations of those people well enough to present an historical argument on that basis.

Occam's Razar - All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be correct. The simplest explanation here (although I'm not suggesting it's necessarily the right one because we can't know) is that no one showed much interest in an earthly Jesus because there was no such person. Just your run of the mill sky god.

HolofernesesHead Thu 25-Apr-13 16:44:32

Oh Ellie, what makes you think I'm motivated by apologetics? I don't even believe in apologetics! (I'm too Barthian).

You said: You can't know the thoughts or motivations of those people well enough to present an historical argument on that basis.

To which I respond: what is possible is to read lots and lots of texts from the first three centuries of Christianity, follow the logic and lines of reasoning, and see what issues or themes emerge as the biggies. If you read, for example, Justin Martyr, he is way, way more interested in proving that Jesus is the Messiah, on the basis of the Hebrew Scriptures, than he is in Jesus as a historical figure. That's not mind-reading, that's careful reading of ancient texts. And that's what I do, to the best of my ability.

EllieArroway Thu 25-Apr-13 17:10:38

Justin Martyr who's writing 100+ years after the events? Lot can happen in 100 years, thoughts and ideas change. Again, doesn't even begin to demonstrate an historical Jesus. (And, actually, he spends a lot of time trying to prove the truth of the resurrection).

There is a massive silence regarding Christianity in it's first 100 years of life. This is without doubt. Apologetics is when you try to explain away that silence with explanations for it - which may or may not be true. We don't know what's true, because we have no evidence to rely on.

Apologetics, Holo is merely defending the faith. All Christians do that - and I would expect them to. But there is a clear difference between an explanation that sounds plausible to you in the light of your faith and what is a matter of historical record.

The historical record simply does not demonstrate that Jesus the man existed. Doesn't mean he didn't, of course, but it most certainly doesn't show that he definitely did - which is what most Christians (and an amazing number of atheists) seem to think.

Hope Mad is OK & she's beating the chest infection.

HolofernesesHead Thu 25-Apr-13 18:55:35

Yes, that Justin Martr! grin What I'd say is this: pay close atention to how he tries to prove the ruth of the resurrection, again, the lines of his logic.

I found this statement of yours odd: There is a massive silence regarding Christianity in it's first 100 years of life.

No, there's not. If for some reason you wish to discount the now-canonical books of the NT (although of course they weren't canonical at the time as there was, as yet, no 'Bible' other than the gathered writings of the Hebrew Scriptures), you still have, e.g. the Didache, the letter of Clement, Barnabas...

When one pits 'apologetics' against 'history', 'scholarship' etc, it implies that one is not interested in / willing to forego history, scholarship etc., for the sake of maintaining a particular presentation of Christian faith. In my case, I see no need to do that.

I hope that Mad is okay too. She is a superstar! smile

EllieArroway Fri 26-Apr-13 07:50:53

One doesn't wish to do anything of the kind. One has no option.

Yes - I am aware that there is "in house" theological literature of the time, written by Christians for Christians. The gospels for a start. Since this is supposed to be a discussion about Jesus specifically and whether he existed as a human being, the Didache and so on are completely irrelevant hmm

Again, if I wanted to prove that Christians existed and they believed in Jesus - those sources prove that, as do the gospels & NT as a whole. Job done.

BUT THEY DO NOT PROVE THAT JESUS DID. Not one of those sources was actually written by anyone who was even alive when Jesus was supposed to have been, let alone anyone who spoke to him or heard him teach.

When I say there was a big silence about Christianity, I mean within the historical record as a whole. Christians themselves weren't being particularly silent to each other - but they were making not the slightest impact on anyone else.

How do you explain the fact that our historians of the time tell us all about silly little Messiah claimants trying to fulfil the Micah prophecies, people who claimed to be able to fell the walls of Jerusalem with a single word, people who claimed to be able to part the Red Sea - but not the merest whisper of someone who was preaching to and performing miracles in front of thousands, who was the subject of a completely illegal trial (which would NEVER have happened over passover, by the way, and which would NEVER have involved releasing a thief like that)? And the fact that he was supposed to have walked out of his own tomb three days after his death seems to have escaped the notice of absolutely everyone - except Christians who were already believers?

If we're supposed to believe that Christianity spread "like wildfire" to the degree that it had reached the ears of foreign gospel writers within a generation - then why are Christians the ONLY people who had ever heard this stuff?

I think Christianity was essentially invented by Paul - who never said that Jesus existed as a man. The story was taken up by Mark, in a gospel which is clearly allegorical rather than historical, and continued by Matthew & Luke (who were copying wholesale from Mark and adding bits to suit themselves) and eventually John. Other gospels were written at the same sort of time too, but were clearly so stupid that even Christians eventually abandoned them. Eventually, enough time had passed that it was easy for Christians to believe that Jesus really existed because there was no way of showing that he didn't.

There is no way of explaining how it is that, at no point, in the history of Christianity did Christians have the first clue where the tomb was that Jesus supposedly walked out of. We're really supposed to believe that they weren't interested. Really?

"There is no way of explaining how it is that, at no point, in the history of Christianity did Christians have the first clue where the tomb was that Jesus supposedly walked out of. We're really supposed to believe that they weren't interested. Really?"

They weren't interested in the tomb because the early witnesses to the resurrection had seen the risen Christ thus there was no need to go and make a shrine of the tomb. Simples as the meercat says....

EllieArroway Fri 26-Apr-13 08:17:43

And what do we hear from these early "witnesses"?

Nothing. Not even enough to prove that they even existed hmm

EllieArroway Fri 26-Apr-13 08:18:53

That's like saying - there's no need to go and visit Graceland because the people who knew Elvis tell us he lived there and that's enough for us.

Bizarre.

HolofernesesHead Fri 26-Apr-13 09:25:51

Ellie, I've said this before, but I'll say it again: first- and second-century Greco-Roman-Jewish communities of the Med are so different to post-Enlightenment (post-modernist?) western Europe.

One of the big differences is this: in the first and second century, writing things down was seen as a poor substitute for physical presence. In matters of truth, a person was trusted more than a scroll. Therefore, if you had a person deemed to be a reliable witness, there was no need to write things down. One of the interesting things about Paul is that he was very much an incidental letter writer; he generally only wrote to communities when he couldn't be present with them. I could back all these assertions up with references etc.

So that's the answer from a first-century historical perspective. The witneses who were with Jesus talked to each other,and to others, and eventully pepole had to start writing things down becaues the reliable witnesses who were with Jesus were dying out (which makes sense of the timing of the writing of the gospels). In the meantime there's a strand of Pauline tradition, as well as other Jesus-traditions like the letter of James, which I have argued is v. early, which talk about the kind of ideas / traditions that were starting to grow around the person of Jesus. And tbh, Greenheart is right re. the tomb, which goes back to my post re. pilgrimage of the other day.

This is not 'apologetics' or playing fast and loose with the historical sources, it's a valid historical argument. Just because it's being put forward by a Christian doesn't automatically make it apologetics, or suspect, or wrong - the implication of that way of thinking is that quite worrying.

I still haven't addressed the issue of what Paul believed about Jesus but, with all due respect, I think you're wrong, and I'll be back later to say why.

EllieArroway Fri 26-Apr-13 09:49:25

One of the big differences is this: in the first and second century, writing things down was seen as a poor substitute for physical presence

And I've said this before (again and again and again) but I'll say it again......that is an EXPLANATION for the silence, not a contradiction that there was any such silence.

And, by the way....the physical presence of who, exactly? Jesus? He was dead by the time Christianity got up and running. The "witnesses"? Where is the evidence that they ever told anyone anything? None of the gospels were written according to witness statements - even Luke admits that.

None of the people writing about Jesus had ever been in his physical presence - including Paul, and they don't even say that they had been in the "physical presence" of anyone who'd so much as laid eyes on Jesus.

And I am far more interested in the wider historical picture - which is staggeringly silent on the issue of Jesus & Christianity at all. That Christians were passing on information to EACH OTHER is without question but to try and make an objective judgement from this that it somehow proves Jesus actually existed is clearly fallacious. You do realise that we have multiple, multiple examples of human beings telling each other that x,y,z is true when it turns out not to be true at all, right?

Could I argue that Mithras truly existed and the fact that there are no eyewitness accounts proving this is because they relied on "physical presence" rather than the written word? Could I make the same argument for any and all Gods who have existed since time began? Well, I could - but it would get me precisely nowhere. And it doesn't in this case.

By trying to explain this silence, Holo you are doing me the rather massive favour of demonstrating that I'm right, and there is indeed a "silence". Thank you.

HolofernesesHead Fri 26-Apr-13 09:50:57

Actually I'll keep posting as I'm waiting for a phone call! smile

So, what did Paul believe about Jesus? Elie, you've re-iterated the post-Bultmannian account of the growth of Christianity, very popular in mid-20th c. biblical studies, not much so now.

You said: (sorry if you think that quoting you is pedantic - I just want to make sure that I get you right):

Then when we look closely at what Paul actually said, it doesn't look as if he thinks Jesus existed as a man at all. He seems to have considered that the few facts he does pass on (the crucifixion and resurrection) happened in a higher plane of existence altogether - which would be 100% typical of how people generally did regard events in the lives of their gods. They believed (virtually all of them) that there were various levels of existence, and Earth was just one.

Okay - so yes, let's look closely at what Paul said. Let's look at Philippians 2, an undisputed Pauline letter which includes what seems to be a hymn which was either quoted by Paul to fit the letter, or written by Paul in the letter (that question is much debated):

2:5: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

So, a few quick points about the words used. In v. 6 and 7 the word 'form' is used, and it's the same word in Greek - morthe - so whatever Jesus was vis-a-vis God (i.e. whatever it means to say that Jesus was in the form of God), he became that same thing vis-a-vis humanity. In v7 Paul repeatedly emphasises the humanity of Jesus; the 'death on / of a cross' isn't a mystical symbol of redemption here, it's a nasty instrument of torture.

In v.9 'God gave him the nmae that is above every other name' - for 1st c. Jews that cuold only be one name, the name YHWH - in other words, whatever God is in his divine identity, Jesus is too. So in this hymn we see a narrative of Jesus as divine (in the form of God) who became human (in the form of a slave) and, becaues of his human death, was given inclusion in the divine nature (the name of God). NOw there is much more to sayt about this - but I need to go now. What do you make of this passage, Ellie?

HolofernesesHead Fri 26-Apr-13 09:53:27

Must go but Ellie, surely people takling to each other isn't silence? confused

EllieArroway Fri 26-Apr-13 09:56:09

Oh - and it's nonsensical to try and pretend that early Christians weren't interested in trying to demonstrate that Jesus did really exist. Luke himself makes it very clear that he has "investigated" the matter and that he believes he is basing his account from witness statements from long ago. He wants to try and demonstrate to Theophilus that this stuff really did happen:

"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, 1:2 even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 1:3 it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; 1:4 that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed"

Unfortunately, he clearly doesn't know who these eyewitnesses were supposed to be and never quotes or names them anywhere.

EllieArroway Fri 26-Apr-13 09:57:38

Must go but Ellie, surely people takling to each other isn't silence?

The silence of the HISTORICAL RECORD!

Please, please can I stop having to repeat myself?

HolofernesesHead Fri 26-Apr-13 10:49:10

Must go but Ellie, surely people takling to each other isn't silence? confused

HolofernesesHead Fri 26-Apr-13 11:51:31

Not sure why that re-posted - sorry! smile

Ellie, the thing is this: you seem to have a load of expectations that the Gospel writers and other writers of the first century ought to play by your rules by citing their sources etc. But why should they? Why should Luke name his sources?

Try this thought-experiment: if you went to a beautiful south pacific island and learnt the language and started to learn the history of this beautiful island, and found that there wasn't much history written down until relatively recently because the peoples of the island preferred to sit around a fire in the evenings and pass down the stories of their peoples, would you expect there to be a 'historical record' of this pepoles? Would you say that this was a people 'silent' regarding its past? Would you not be somewhat missing the point? I am genuinely confused as you seem not to have made that leap between the way things work inside your head, and the ways in which things work in very different cultures. Maybe I get it because I've travelled a lot and done a lot of work on the 1st and 2nd cs. Remember that quote; 'the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.'

EllieArroway Fri 26-Apr-13 15:28:49

Ellie, the thing is this: you seem to have a load of expectations that the Gospel writers and other writers of the first century ought to play by your rules by citing their sources etc. But why should they? Why should Luke name his sources?

Oh, man hmm

It's not about whether anyone SHOULD be naming sources, but about whether or not they DID. When they don't, then we have no reliable way of assessing the veracity of the claim.

Your "thought experiment" is completely irrelevant. If I wanted to assess the historical accuracy of a rather monumental claim that the islanders were making (ie: God lived, died and was born again) I would find myself completely unable to do so if there was not the slightest physical evidence of any kind demonstrating it. Could I say with certainty that it didn't happen? No. Could I say with any degree of certainty that it did? Absolutely not. Particularly when all the major players were dead and no one has a record of what they did or didn't say.

Remember - Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (Carl Sagan). There is no evidence at all that any of this extraordinary stuff happened, let alone "extraordinary" evidence.

This is the difference between history and theology. One is an academic endeavour, and one is making up explanations that you think sound right.

Oh, and the Phillipians passage is known as the Kenosis hymn. It was Paul quoting the words of a song. You don't know this? Does me singing Nellie the Elephant prove that Nellie the elephant is real? hmm

I still think that you're missing the point I am actually making, Holo. I'm not trying to disprove Jesus - that's not possible. I'm showing how shaky and virtually non-existent the evidence actually is.

Once again, you prove my point by trying to explain away the lack of evidence by saying things like "Do you think the gospel writers should play by your rules?" Way to completely miss the point hmm

Quite astonished this stuff didn't come up during your theology degree, to be frank. It's usually well known to theologians.

HolofernesesHead Fri 26-Apr-13 16:05:25

Just v quickly, a few points: we don't know for a fact that Paul was quoting a hymn. That is debated. If he were, your Nellie the Elephant analogy is not apt; Paul wild not quote something with which he disagreed, except to refute it.

Secondly, and banging my head against a brick wall for the last time, you seem to be convinced of my 'theological' motivation, which you are pitting against 'history'. Do you basically believe that Christians are, by virtue of their belief, debarred from historical enquiry into the history of the Christian faith?

Also, be aware that 'theologians' span a multitude of approaches, methodologies, arguments, etc etc etc. There are very good theologians who would agree with my take on things as I've presented it today. There isn't one 'theological' party line that all theologians agree with; that would be weird.

Finally, the thing I don't understand (genuinely) about your approach is that you seem to lack contextual knowledge of the 1st c, and you seem not to value it or give it any role in your thinking. Do you think that's unfair, or have I just missed the bit when you carefully consider modes of communication, letter writing etc (as distinct from more self-consciously literary forms), group identity formation and so on?

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 27-Apr-13 01:19:14

I'm so glad this has continued.
It's very entertaining.smile

EllieArroway Sat 27-Apr-13 09:36:23

Well, your posts always make me laugh like a drain, Dione, so I'm glad to return the favour.

"Paul wild not quote something with which he disagreed, except to refute it" No, he wouldn't. But singing a song about someone doesn't prove that the person you're singing about is actually real, clearly. So presenting it as "evidence" in a debate about historicity is clearly fallacious. I'm a bit surprised that you have. There are better examples within Paul's writing. I'll address them when you Google remember them.

Secondly, and banging my head against a brick wall for the last time, you seem to be convinced of my 'theological' motivation, which you are pitting against 'history'. Do you basically believe that Christians are, by virtue of their belief, debarred from historical enquiry into the history of the Christian faith? Not debarred, no. But as you are continually demonstrating they seem to think that theological excuses/explanations for things = historical evidence. They don't.

Finally, the thing I don't understand (genuinely) about your approach is that you seem to lack contextual knowledge of the 1st c, and you seem not to value it or give it any role in your thinking. Do you think that's unfair, or have I just missed the bit when you carefully consider modes of communication, letter writing etc (as distinct from more self-consciously literary forms), group identity formation and so on?

Utterly irrelevant to the point I'm making - so patronise away all you like, Holo. The fact that you keep trotting out this nonsense indicates to me that the tenor of this debate is still sailing entirely over your head.

Clearly you are not aware, but there ARE good arguments for the existence of Jesus that can be made when we look at context, who was writing and why, for example. If you notice, I began the debate by saying that I feel there quite possibly WAS a man by the name of Jesus - but this is for inferential, not evidential reasons. We can only infer things when we look at the wider historical picture, which I have done. So, kindly do not accuse me of basically not knowing what I'm talking about when I would suggest that because you have not raised with me the inferences that can be made (and ARE made by historians) and why they can be made, that it might be you who is struggling in this department.

Historians look firstly for primary or secondary sources. In this case we have neither.

They then zoom out and look at the wider picture and make inferences from that - and in this respect there are a few reasonable inferences that can be made.

Perhaps someone will come along who knows about this to discuss them.

dogsandcats Sat 27-Apr-13 09:44:54

Looking at your op, no I dont think it is ignorant on your or anyone else's part to say that there is and will not be any evidence in the way you may mean evidence, to say that Jesus existed.

The "evidence" for some Christians is what is in their hearts and minds.

EllieArroway Sat 27-Apr-13 09:54:40

The "evidence" for some Christians is what is in their hearts and minds

Fascinating. So the only evidence for Jesus exists in the minds of the people who believe in him. I agree.

technodad Sat 27-Apr-13 09:57:55

So, not evidence at all then! And people of religion wonder why they are patronised by non-believers!

dogsandcats Sat 27-Apr-13 10:04:08

I dont have a problem with that, but now I am looking at it form non-christians points of views, I can see why that is problematic for many.

dogsandcats Sat 27-Apr-13 10:14:25

Back pain. I have never had it badly.
But it exists. We all know it exists.
How,or why, if we have never had it ourselves?

Partly because we believe those we trust who say they have it,
partly because we believe specialists who diagnose it and have no reason to believe that they are lying,
partly because we read about it, and again, have no reason to doubt the ones who wrote the articles,
and partly because it makes sense.

EllieArroway Sat 27-Apr-13 10:21:37

I get what you're trying to say, dogs, but that's not really a good analogy. We know (all of us) that pain exists, and there's no biological reason why it should be the case that one particular part of the body should be immune from it - so can only really conclude that it does exist.

Of course, strictly speaking, you're right. Someone who has never had backache can only surmise that it genuinely exists in others - but that's based on some pretty solid evidence.

The point of this discussion was to make clear that when people say "Oh, it's a fact that Jesus existed. There's loads of historical evidence proving it..." which we hear continually from all Christians and an awful lot of atheists/agnostics too, they are not correct.

And next time an MNer calls me an ignorant fool for pointing out, entirely correctly, that there's no evidence for an historical Jesus, I can post a link to this.

dogsandcats Sat 27-Apr-13 10:36:31

I do not think that you are ignorant or a fool.
And I would be happy for you to link to this. smile

EllieArroway Sat 27-Apr-13 10:44:20

I didn't mean YOU think that! But you'd be amazed how many people do smile

HolofernesesHead Sat 27-Apr-13 13:03:01

Ellie, I'm going to leave this thread now. I'm not here for 'apologetic' reasons, I'm here for a good discussion, and it's impossible to have a good discussion with someone who has no respect for or confidence in one's ability to contribute. You obviously think I'm some delusionist who's just read a few modern apologetic books and Googled a few Bible passages. This is objectively and provably untrue.

Anyway, I have much bigger fish to fry in my life right now, so I'm going to stick to MN threads which are, in that popular phrase, radiators and not drains.

EllieArroway Sat 27-Apr-13 13:08:00

That you are incapable of understanding what the debate is actually supposed to be about, Holo is your problem, please don't pretend that it's mine.

Anyway, I set out to do what I wanted - to show that there's no reliable historical evidence for Jesus. You helped me to show that by being completely unable to refute a single fact that I produced - all the time attempting to patronise me by implying that I don't know what I'm talking about.

See ya smile

HolofernesesHead Sat 27-Apr-13 13:47:19

And I set out to do what I wanted, which was to put forward an account of the development of Jesus traditions in the first century. You called me stupid. I'm sure that if I'd agreed with your version of events, you'd have hailed me as a genius.

See ya smile

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 27-Apr-13 17:33:59

Holo sad, I have been enjoying this thread, but I understand your decision.
Mad, hope you are feeling better and can return soon.

madhairday Mon 29-Apr-13 11:47:14

I'm sorry I have not been around. RL has been a bit bonkers and stressful and also poorly, so I have not had the time, headspace or energy.

Please don't leave the thread Holo - your contributions are so valuable, you say it a lot better than me. I think we have done as you said - accounted for the development of the Jesus tradition in the 1stC - and gone beyond that in fact, in providing some good arguments for historicity and for the 'historical Jesus'.

So with Paul, Ellie, am I right in thinking you go along with the C19 school of thought that he did not see Jesus as a human being or give any credence to his life and ministry? So we're talking here about Paul's perspective on Jesus rather than Paul being a good historical source to 'prove' Jesus existence - good, because that's the line of thinking I would prefer to go down. I don't think Paul could be cited as a useful historical source, if nothing else but by the nature of his epistles, which were documents as part of ongoing conversations with communities in varying situations. They were not a repetition of history in the way the gospels are purported to be - they were letters to groups addressing their own problems and misunderstandings.

Because of this, we can also surmise that it would be odd if Paul did repeat history in them. We join them as part of a conversation - would we expect single letters to go into a depth of explanation about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? It is certain that Paul places most importance on the death and atonement of Jesus, but there are references to Jesus as man, to his life as well as his death. There are also interesting semantic and etymological points - Paul's use of the word euangelion for example <'gospel'>, pointing back to the use of the word in Isaiah - the one who was sent to bring good news to the poor. There are also striking parallels between Jesus' and Paul's teaching on the kingdom of God - the central feature of Jesus' teaching. The use of such language implies a knowledge of such categories in early Christian thought - again, it would be odd if Paul repeated events in addressing particular circumstances, and would be beyond astonishing if Paul's early audience did not possess their own knowledge of Jesus traditions - ludicrous to say that they knew nothing of them until the appearance of the gospel of Mark. Where was the material Mark drew upon from? The early traditions referred to in Pauline epistles point to the fact that Christians had well formed credal statements from incredibly early after the events.

I'd thoroughly recommend reading this book if you have the time and inclination, it goes into this subject in a great amount of depth and has fascinating insight into 1st Century practise and belief and formation of Christianity as well as into the theology of Paul himself.

madhairday Mon 29-Apr-13 12:06:31

Interesting about pilgrimages too, like Holo I did not know a lot about early Christian pilgrimage <or lack thereof> - I have been educated! I hadn't made the connection that Constantine, having been embedded in Roman and pagan religious practise, encouraged pilgrimage and that this is when such practises took off in the Christian world. Before that, and particularly early on, it seems that Christians were detaching from Jewish tradition and literally practising what they preached - that God was all around, so there was no need for special sites of significance in a holy sense. Early Christian writings mention journeys made to communities of Christians, including to those living in places Jesus visited, but not journeys of pilgrimage. Paul, of course, mentions meeting with Peter.

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHopeful Thu 02-May-13 19:26:41

I'm still lurking away. Very entertaining thread and I'm really hoping you are feeling better mad

MareeyaDolores Fri 03-May-13 01:38:32

Misread the title and thought it said 'what reasons to we have to believe He was bearded' blush

Oh he definitely had a beard! I've seen the pictures smile

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