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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Could Jesus Suffer his Father's Fate?

Herald Sun: Court to decide on Jesus [04jan06]

In 1925, the first of several cases deciding the role of Darwinian evolution in America effectively rejected God's role in creation. Now, his Son, Jesus, may suffer the same fate. An Italian judge will decide whether or not Jesus existed. The case comes after an athiest's teachings, Luigi Cascioli, were publicly rejected by a Catholic priest, Father Enrico Righi. The author and militant athiest claims in his book that there are no reliable evidences for the existence of Jesus outside of the Gospels; thus, Christianity has no evidentiary basis.

[The remaining text in this post is about the historicity of Jesus]
Luckily, the athiest is misinformed. First the credibility of the Gospels is secure in that it provides consistent accounts, secular historical benchmarks, publically known authorship, and is confirmed by non-religious writings:
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 (cite the secular historian Josephus).
Josephus was the most important Jewish historian of his time who, among other things, accurately portrayed the Jewish-Romans war thus gaining credibility. The passage above is generally believed to be Josephus' words but with the following additions, "if it be lawful to call him a man," and, "He was [the] Christ" (instead of 'called the Christ'), and, "he appeared to them alive again the third day". Taking those statements out, the reader can still be convinced of Jesus' existence during the first century.

He also talks about Jesus' brother James who was executed, "[Ananias] convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, and certain others." No Jewish or Christian scholar disputes this passage.

Tacitus, a Roman historian, states the horrible fate of a crucified person and that during the time of Pontius Pilate a man was crucified from which a religion started:
Nero fastened the guilt [for the burning of Rome] 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 supersitution, thus check for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome....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.
Pliny the Younger, the Elder died in 79AD from the explosion of Mount Vesuvius, refers specifically to the rapid spread of Christianity by 111AD:
I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution...They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularlay before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselve by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery..."
Thallus (52AD), quoted by Julius Africanus in 221AD, corraborates the darkness of the sun attested to in the gospels upon Jesus' resurrection. Phlegon reported that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (33AD), there was the greatest eclipse of the sun and that it became night in the sixth hour of the day (noon) so that even the stars appeared in the heavens.

In the Jewish writings called the Talmud (cc 500AD) which incorporates the Mishnah (200AD) has several references to Jesus as a heretic or born through non-traditional means.

Compared to other religious writings, the proximity of the Gospels to Jesus' life is remarkable. Buddha lived in the 6th century BC but his scriptures were not written until after the Christian era and his biography not until after 100AD. Muhammad lived from 570 to 632AD but the Koran was not written until after 767AD.

Even if you throw out the Gospels, you still have Josephus, the Roman historians, Roman officials, the letters of Paul (a Pharisee), the letters of early apostolic fathers, and the Jewish writings all corroborating the existence of Jesus. From the sources we gather that
"Jesus was Jewish teacher; second many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread byond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside--men and women, slave and free--worshipped him as God."(cite)
Needless to say, militant athiest Luigi Cascioli has an uphill battle discrediting each of these sources. Maybe his defense should be that nothing existed before he was born or that he does, in fact, not exist himself. Barring judicial bias, I'd say the case for the historicity of Jesus is secure.

Thoughtful Readers Speak:
First of all, the stuff you mention as "proof" of when the Gospels were written and "proof" of the existence of the Biblical Jesus was debunked hundreds of years ago by better men than I. Go Google "jesus never existed" and you'll get references to dozens of people who poke holes in the Gospels as a history text, from the 1800's onwards. It appears likely, now, that the references to a "Jesus Christ" in Josephus are the work of a medeival monk who, err, "embellished", the work that he was copying, though there certainly were references to a "Joshua" who was a leader of a sect of the Essenes (note that "Jesus" is Greek for "Joshua"). There were lots of "Joshuas" in those days, since it was a time of repeated rebellions of the Jews against the Romans. It is noted that prior to this medeival monks' innovations, reference to that "Joshua" as "the Christ" or "Christus" do not appear to be there in Josephus (or Tacitus, for that matter). But any identification of this "Joshua" as *the* "Jesus Christ" is a long stretch of the imagination once you remove the medeival innovations from the texts of Josephus and Tacitus.

Secondly, it seems to me that you are stating what a Christian is or is not. Who are you to tell a Christian what he must or must not believe in in order to be a Christian? Are you God? How DARE you stand in God's place and tell me that I'm not a Christian because I don't believe the Bible is a history or science text but, rather, a text of faith? You do not speak for God, sir, and when you claim you do, He is not likely to be pleased.

- Badtux the Christian Penguin
The courts didn't reject God's role in creation. What the courts did was decide that religion should not be taught in the science classroom. You are still free to believe that God created everything as is 6,000 years ago, or that the world rests on the back of a turtle, or that humans emerged from a big clam, or whatever.
Ahh...fun comments indeed.

The first is fully of erroneous information. As I dealt with in the post, certain parts of the text from Josephus were added. All scholars agree with this. Tacitus on the other hand is more credible and overall less helpful.

I would suggest to Mr. Penguin, that instead of throwing around inflammatory rhetoric that I am labeling people Christian or non-Christian, you cite specific examples where I have done so. Thanks.

Erica, thanks for your comment. We have difference of opinion. If science is the quest for truth or fact, then no subject should be off limits. What the rulings did was make a judgement about certain topics and their viability. This says alot about what is believed to be true.
JR- I'm having a hard time following your response to Erica. The courts did not rule on the "viability" of anything - they ruled on the appropriateness of teaching a religious idea in a public school classroom. What did you mean by viability?
It's a good question, perhaps viability is the wrong word. I was attempting to say, "Whether their discussion can be sustained or permitted in the classroom."

However, the courts didn't really rule on anything. After the case made it to the TN supreme court, it was reversed on a technicality (a fine should have been set by the jury not the judge), not on constitutional grounds. The Court then dismissed the case.
The hard part with relying on Josephus, Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus is that they are second hand acocunts. None of them were alive during the time of Jesus. Instead, they rely on what they are able to gather from the Christians at the time. It would be the equalvalent of claiming that Zoroaster existed because the believers in Zoroastrianism say that he existed. There is no doubt that followers of Jesus existed at that time (I didn't use the word Christian on purpose).

You send a remark to my blog and don't have the balls to have a working email address for me to respond. Here is a simple solution to this question.

I don't know and you don't either.
With regards to the historical sources you cite - I'm afraid I must remain somewhat skeptical. If, as is widely held, accounts such as that of Josephus were 'improved' by later scribes, then it does throw the validity of that account into question. I'm not a historian by any measure, so I'm afraid I cannot comment specifically on any of them, but it is a sad fact that the older (and thus, closer to the original event) a source is, the more potential tampering it must endure - one of the reasons I prefer to take these things with a grain of salt.

However, perhaps in a way this trial will be a good thing - sometimes challenging accepted beliefs can prove or disprove them concisely, one way or another.
Uhm, you explicitly stated that I, as a Christian, must believe in an actual physical Jesus Christ (rather than a metaphorical or parablic one) in order to be "really" a Christian. That, to me, sounds to me like you're putting words into His mouth. I believe that the Bible is a religious text describing the teachings of Jesus Christ, *NOT* a science or history textbook. As such, the scientific or historical validity of prose within the Bible is of utmost indifference to me.

As for the whole "teach the debate" nonsense about evolution in science classes, there is no debate amongst scientists. There are no (*no*) peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting the notion that life on Earth was created rather than evolved. If science is what scientists do, then it is for the scientists to decide what gets taught in science class, not you, not me, not the bozos at the Discovery Institute who have not published a single scientific research paper in support of their theories. As science, "intelligent design" isn't -- there isn't a single scientific paper in any peer-reviewed journal supporting it. *THERE IS NO DEBATE*. You can't have a debate when one side (the ID folks) haven't said anything in the only forum that matters from the point of view of science, i.e. the forums of science journals! Heck, the ID folks don't even have a *lab*, and have done no (*NO*) research to prove or disprove their theories. How can you be science if you have no lab and do no research?!

If your faith can't survive the fact that the Bible is not a scientific or historical tract, I submit that your faith is weak and you need to be praying rather than criticizing science teachers for teaching science (the stuff that scientists do) or criticizing other Christians for not caring about whether Jesus as an actual single corporal person ever existed or not. Faith does not require the Bible to be a history or scientific text.

- Badtux the Christian Penguin
1. You submit no evidence whatsoever that the Church did not in fact fabricate a "Jesus of Nazareth" based on one "John of Gamala" as the the plaintiff has charged. So what HAVE you contributed to the discussion?

2. Ruling that evolution is science and intelligent design/creationism is not science is as logical and straighforward as ruling that gravity and not "alternate theories of falling" should be taught in science classrooms. (I can already hear Bible-quoting illiterati saying, "The Bible says pride causes falls, not this 'gravity' the liberals have dreamt up to drive God out of classrooms," and, "Teach the controversy.")

Thanks for your comment. I have similar thoughts about the distance each of these writers are from the source. What gives me confidence in the external evidences is that given the distance from each other in both geography and culture they have remarkable consistency. It's not like the authors of the four gospels who all knew each other and were close friends.

I don't know anything about John of Gamala. What I've have done here is review the historical evidences for the existence of Jesus. So, if you knew everything I wrote, I've contributed nothing.

And, frankly, admist the sardonic statements, I missed your second point.

I understand the skepticism. I have to constantly be reading about these things to assuage my doubts the arise. So, it's ok, I guess, to have doubts.

The purpose of external evidences is to arise at a plausible certitude. Plausible certitude is the place that given all the evidence, the consistency, the manner in which it answers the questions and addresses the real world, and fits with reality, I can acheive a level of confidence in belief and feel confident in acting upon that belief. That was probably a run-on sentence....sorry.

Hopefully, this case DOES bring some of these issues to the forefront. The challenge can be worthwhile.
Youve got some lively discussions going on here! I may speak to some, but I hesitate since not everyone has learned how to debate without waving a finger under your nose.

Its fascinating, though. If Jesus didnt exist, there were a lot of people following a non existent man to their graves. Not to mention, if it turns out he didnt exist, would that mean Christians in someway revert to a sub-set of Judaism?

Ultimately, I guess, it shouldnt really matter if Jesus Christ existed or not. If you believe in the usefullness of the teachings, thats all that matters isnt it? Am I a better person because I do things because they are right so to do, or because by doing things a certain way I might reap rewards down the line?
Actually, the closer a document is to the time it is describing the more accurate it is.
Current estimates put Mark around 70 A.D., Matthew around 80 A.D., Luke around 90 A.D., and John around 90 A.D.. Matthew, Luke, and John build on Mark and, chronologically allow, each other, adding, changing and removing text. There is plenty of time between when Jesus is supposed to have died and when the Gospels were written for a oral tradition to spread.

There consistency is, at best, fragile. For instance, Mark says there was one person in the tomb after Jesus disappeared; Matthew had an angel; Luke had two men; and John had two angels. They get they general gist of the story right, but not the details. These variations also harkens to an ancient form of the game Telephone or a form of literary embellishment.
I have come across statements in the Bible that I don't understand or seem to contradict another author. So, I know what you mean. But, what I've found is that most apparent contradictions can be explained by examining the time referenced by the author or the author's perspective and purpose. But it takes some digging and willingness to learn.

You're certainly right on the expert estimated time when the gospels were written. That's one of the reasons they have so much credibility--at least compared to other religion's sacred texts--and they are generally accepted: Compared to other religious writings, the proximity of the Gospels to Jesus' life is remarkable. Buddha lived in the 6th century BC but his scriptures were not written until after the Christian era and his biography not until after 100AD. Muhammad lived from 570 to 632AD but the Koran was not written until after 767AD.
Similarity is not grounds for something being true. I can write a version of Snow White and the 7 Dwarves and so could you. If they are close enough, it doesn't mean the original story was true. The oral tradition associated with early Christianity (and other groups) ensured that at least a general idea was passed on. Couple that with a general consolidation of canonical text (including Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) from the bulk of non-canonical text (including Book of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, and The Sophia of Jesus Christ) in the early part of the second century and you are going to have the same basic stories based on who was in power at the time.

As for the proximity of the Christian writings to the source in comparison to other sacred text, it's not a valid argument. It's like saying that George Washington existed because he was written about sooner after his death then Jesus was. It's a non-argument for existence.

A better argument is that George Washington existed because contemporaries wrote about him and that, more convincing, his enemies wrote about him when he was alive. None of Jesus's contemporaries wrote about him. Instead, the earliest texts are by Paul, who was never met Jesus while he was alive and only converted to Christianity after having a vision.

You stated above, and I think in at least one other place, that the Koran was written over 100 years after Mohammed's death, and that just plainly isn't true. The oldest extant Koran is dated to 651 (see the BBC article). The Muslims hold a strong belief that Mohammed was illiterate and that the beautiful poetry of the Koran could have only been the work of God.
The debate here misses the point, I think. The real issue, is that so many Christians think activist judges are a threat to their faith. After more than 1500 years of domination in Europe and the Americas, not to mention the inroads in Africa and Asia, you would think they'd realize that the opinion one little Italian &endash; or American or French or whatever &endash; judge is going to have zero effect so far as matters of faith go.
All judges, to some extent or another, are "activist judges". They all have to interpret the law because the world isn't black and white. They spirit of the law is a guiding factor in every decision they make. So when conservatives say they are threaten by activist judges, they mean they are threaten by judges that don't think they way they do. Alito is a great example. If confirm to the Supreme Court, conservatives hope that he will swing the court in such a way as to push their agenda. What they want is that he will be an activist judge in their favor, interpreting the law the same way they do.

This guy, Luigi Cascioli has a DVD and even a long and short down load on this garbage.http://www.thegodmovie.com/luigicascioli/
I find this type subject and procedure, the cause of so many lost souls. You will find that a lot of people view this as amusing. I see this as just what it is. Satans workers hard at work.
Luigi Cascioli didn't make the movie "The God Who Wasn't There". The director posted the story on the movie's website. And the first two thirds of the movie was pretty interesting. The last third was a little to autobiographical for my tastes.

I would like to respond by the comments of BadTux ("Who are you to tell a Christian what he must or must not believe in in order to be a Christian?") and Kila ("...it shouldnt really matter if Jesus Christ existed or not. If you believe in the usefullness of the teachings, thats all that matters isnt it?").

I seriously question the intentions of someone who uses the Bible strictly as a book of wisdom and guidelines. First of all, more than half of the Bible consists of historical accounts. Clearly, the historical component is important. If you accept that God was the guiding force behind the scripture, then you must also accept that these historical accounts are important to Him.

Second, if you question the historical aspects of the Bible, then you call into question Christ's divinity. If you read Jesus' teachings, then you *must* conclude that either He was the divine God-in-the-flesh, or he was insane. There's no other option. God or madman. If He's God, then it's very easy to accept the miraculous aspects of His ministry--God created the universe (and therefore set up the physical laws that bind it), so clearly He can bend the physical rules momentarily (which is what we call a miracle). If Jesus wasn't divine, then he was insane. If that's the case, then why are you calling yourself a Christian and following His teachings?

There are literally *thousands* of "books of wisdom" that have been written, past and present. Why limit yourself to the Bible? I'm sure BadTux will say that he doesn't; many Christians don't. However, if you accept the Bible as the Word of God, then all other wisdom should be considered suspect (and should only be accepted so far as it lines up with God's Word). If you don't accept the Bible as God's word, then all other "wisdom" books are just as legitimate, and you should feel free to glean whatever you like from those as well. But then, why insist on calling yourself a Christian? If Bhudda's teachings, or Mohammed's, or whomever's, are just as valid as Christ's, then why wear such a restrictive title?

I find it quite amusing that BadTux said "Are you God? How DARE you stand in God's place and tell me that I'm not a Christian because I don't believe the Bible is a history or science text but, rather, a text of faith?" What BadTux clearly doesn't realize is that when he presumes to have the authority to determine which parts of the Bible are legitimate (he seems to accept the wisdom) and which parts aren't (the historical/scientific), then *he* has presumed greater wisdom than the divine authority that the Bible itself claims. To put it bluntly, "You do not speak for God, sir, and when you claim you do, He is not likely to be pleased."

I'm not God. But I do accept God's definition of a Christian (John 3:16, Romans 10:9), which says that you must "believe" (the Greek implies an *unconditional* acceptance and surrender) in Christ, who personally quoted from numerous books of the Old Testament, and claimed to be the great "I Am" in the flesh. The historical aspects of the Bible are part and parcel of His ministry; you can't accept one without the other.
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