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Showing posts with label historical Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical Jesus. Show all posts

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable (video)


Can we trust the Gospels? Why should people place their trust in documents written so long ago that don't even agree with each other? In this video given at last year's Speaking the Truth in Love Conference, Lenny investigates two little-known pieces of evidence that demonstrate why the Gospels are reliable history.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Who Wrote the Gospels – Testimony from the Church Fathers

In my interactions with skeptics, I've noticed a recurring trend. They take a certain pride being both skeptical and reasonable. They feel that the two go hand in hand; a person who doesn't question claims is vulnerable to believe anything. This may be true to an extent, but there are levels of skepticism that can be considered unreasonable and many times I find myself arguing with the very people who so proudly proclaim their rationalism demanding a level of proof that is simply irrational.



For example, take the authors of the Gospel accounts. We know that the four Gospels were not signed by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. This is not uncommon, as there were other popular biographies that were also anonymous when written. However, there are good reasons to hold that the Gospels were written by these four men. Let me begin by reviewing the historical tradition linking the four to the Gospel accounts.

The Testimony of Clement

While Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not sign their names to their Gospels, the church recognized them as the authors very early in its history. Eusebius, writing at the end of the third century specifically credits the four Gospels to those four writers. Of course, writing about authorship some 200 years after the Gospels were composed may lead people to wonder just how reliable that is. But Eusebius didn't make the connection himself. He quoted from earlier works such as Clement of Alexandria.

Clement of Alexandria lived 100 years before Eusebius and held that Mark wrote his Gospel, taken from the teaching of Peter. He also notes that this Mark is the one Peter mentions in 1 Peter 5:15 (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2).1 He later states that Mark's writing of the Gospel happened while Peter was still alive (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.16.6).2

The Testimony of Papias

While Clement's writings bring us to within a century of the Gospels' composition, Eusebius quotes and even earlier source, the writer Papias. Richard Bauckham notes that Papias' writings, while composed probably around 110AD are reflections from his earlier investigations as he collected oral reports from disciples who sat under either the apostles' direct disciples or the apostles themselves. Bauckham notes "the period of which he is speaking must be around 80CE."3 According to Craig Blomberg, Papias states Mark, who served as Peter's interpreter, "wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord."4

Similarly, we have early support for the other authors as well. Blomberg notes that Papias tells us that Matthew wrote his gospel "alleging that he originally wrote the ‘sayings' of Jesus in the Hebrew dialect."5 Irenaeus, who lived just after Papias confirms that Matthew wrote his gospel and did so early: "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church" (Against Heresies 3.1.1). Clement of Alexandria, in the same Eusebius passage where he confirms Mark authorship also confirms Luke and John's authorship of their gospels.

Next time, I will look at some additional reasons why he hold these four men as the proper authors of the Gospel accounts. For now, we can know that there is a strong chain of testimony linking these men to the Gospel accounts.

References

1. See this passage in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library digital version of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vii.xvi.html.
2. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.xi.xiv.html.
3. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 14.
4. Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Second ed. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 2007. Print. 25.
5. Blomberg, 26.

Monday, February 09, 2015

How to Quickly Debunk the Horus-Jesus Myth

I remember the first time I heard the story of the Las Vegas vacationer who took a girl back to his hotel room but passed out, only to awake the next morning in a bathtub filled with ice and a kidney missing—the victim of organ harvesters. I had heard it from a co-worker who said it happened to the friend of a shared friend. Since this was before the age of the Internet, there was no Snopes–type web sites to check out such tales. In fact, I hadn't been acquainted with many urban legends up to that point, so in my youth they were more believable.


I should have known better. While the name of our shared friend lent some credence to the tale, it's obvious that the whole this is too sensationalistic and improbable to be true. It's what used to be called a tall tale, a yarn, a cock-and-bull story. Yet, even though I found it fascinating, the legend didn't spread much beyond our conversation. However, now that social media has been implanted into our circulatory systems, we're much more apt to spread such fertilizer in our interactions with others.

The Horus-Jesus Myth: What's the Connection?

Such is the case with the "Jesus is a copy of pagan myths" trope that seems to be gathering steam in many atheist circles. Some of this has to do with the popularity of the YouTube video Zeitgeist, where the first third of the video tries to compare Jesus and several demi-gods worshipped prior to Jesus's birth. Near the beginning, the narrator makes this claim:
Broadly speaking, the story of Horus is as follows: Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God's Annointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.

These attributes of Horus, whether original or not, seem to permeate in many cultures of the world, for many other gods are found to have the same general mythological structure.1
Richard Carrier also believes that resurrection stories were "wildly popular among the pagans" and begat a something akin to the standard trope, with the Gospels simply following in this tradition:
Among pagans, genuine sons of god who had to be murdered, buried, and then miraculously resurrected from the dead in order to judge and rule from heaven on high as our divine saviors were actually a common fad of the time, not a shocking novelty at all. Osirus and Romulus were widely worshipped to the tune of such sacred stories demonstrably before the rise of Christianity, and similar stories surrounded other dying-and-rising gods long before such as Zalmoxis, Adonis, and Inanna.2

The Horus-Jesus Myth: Be Critical

Just like the stolen kidney story, the Horus-Jesus connection myth has much of what makes an urban legend appealing: a moral tale that shows how one's gullibility can result in one being taken in with serious consequences, the authoritative yet undefined source, a set of facts that on the surface are seemingly plausible, and the ability to shock others with a sensational revelation. Yet, just like the stolen kidney story, all you need to do is to think a bit and the paper-thin claims of Jesus's stolen resurrection will quickly melt away. Here are five points to consider:

1) Look for Loaded Language

Notice in the Zeitgeist story, all the terms used are ones taken from Christianity. Horus is called a "messiah" and was "baptized." He had "disciples" and a "ministry." All of these terms bias the listener because they are Jewish or Christian concepts. The Egyptians would never use these words to refer to their religious rites. The word messiah had a very specific meaning to the Jews, including being a descendant of David. It wasn't any political figure. Christianity teaches that believers are baptized only once, not simply a pre-religious washing ceremony. By mislabeling other deities with Christian terms, the listener is deluded into believing the similarities are closer than they really are.

2) Ask "Can I read the source of these myths?"

The single easiest way to debunk these supposed parallel accounts of Jesus and Horus are to simply ask for the source text of the myths themselves. Just as the stolen kidney tale can't be verified since it comes from "a friend of a friend," so you'll find that the ancient tales that supposedly parallels the life of Jesus are an extended form of hearsay. In fact, all these claims are usually committing the same sin many atheists claim the Gospels commit: they are more like a game of telephone than real texts.

Interestingly, if anyone actually bothers to look up the source texts, a very different picture arises. For Horus, there's no mention at all of twelve disciples, three king visitations, and death by crucifixion and the three day entombment. In fact, Horus was stung by a scorpion and a magic incantation by the god of wisdom, Thoth, purges the venom from his body. This all happens while Horus was a young child, well before his adulthood and battle for the throne. It's nothing like Jesus's resurrection at all.3

3) Ask "What do you mean by "resurrection?"

There's a significant difference between Jesus's resurrection and what you read in the ancient myths. Osirus, according to a late tradition recorded in the first century AD by the Roman Plutarch, was cut into fourteen pieces by his nemesis Typhon and they were scattered all along the Nile. Osirus's wife Isis was able to gather thirteen of those to reassemble her husband. The tale tells us that unfortunately Osirus's sexual organ was eaten by fish and so Isis assembled another out of gold in order for Osirus to impregnate her with Horus. Osirus, since he will never be a complete being again, now resides as the god of the underworld.4

4) Ask "What do you mean by virgin birth?"

Certainly, given the events above, calling Horus's conception a virgin birth strains the idea to its breaking point. Other fables, such as Zeus impregnating Semele with Dionysus. He had physical relations with her even though she couldn't see him. Zeus took Dionysus ads a fetus and sewed him into his thigh and from there Dionysus was born. To say the virgin birth stories should be considered comparable is itself laughable.

5) Ask "Just which calendar were they using in ancient Egypt?"

Lastly, the claims of December 25th are completely erroneous. Many myths don't specify any date at all for the birth of the deities (again, read the originals!) For Horus, Plutarch tells us he was born "about the time of the winter solstice… imperfect and premature."5 Beside the fact that Plutarch mixed many Greek ideas with the Egyptian myths, it is a huge stretch to assume an exact date for Horus's birth. Taking Plutarch's account, the term "about the time of the winter solstice" can be a swing of weeks in either direction. But if the Egyptians wanted to be more precise and attach Horus with the solstice, then his birthday would be the 21/22 of December in the modern calendar, not the 25th. As I've explained before, Jesus's actual birth is not known, and celebrating Christmas on December 25 has nothing to do with the winter solstice whatsoever.

There are other ideas you should have at the ready as well. For more suggestions, see here and here. But it should be evident by now that the supposed evidence of Christianity's plagiarism of earlier myths is itself based on myths and contrivances. Those that offer such views attempt to paint a picture that doesn't exist. Don't let these organ thieves steal your brain. Challenge them to think.


References

1. Zeitgeist: The Movie. Dir. Peter Joseph. YouTube. YouTube, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvKkR0-d83k
2. Carrier, Richard. "Christianity's Success Was Not Incredible". The End of Christianity, John Loftus, Ed. (New York: Prometheus Books, 2011). 59.
3. Budge, E. A Wallis. " The Legend of the Death of Horus - II.--The Narrative of Isis " Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trübner, 1912. 170-196. Print. Online text available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/leg28.htm
4. Budge "The History of Isis and Osiris -Section XVIII." 224-226. Web. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/leg46.htm
5. Plutarch. Isis and Osiris. Loeb Classical Library ed. Vol. V. N.p.: Loeb, 1936. Bill Thayer's Web Site. University of Chicago, 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Isis_and_Osiris*/D.html.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why It Must Be a Manger

In our house, the manager of our nativity set stays empty until Christmas eve, when we place the baby Jesus there. We used to have a nativity that was ceramic and hand made by my mother. Jesus couldn't be removed. But when my kids were born, they were fascinated by the set and wanted to play with the people. Rather than forbidding such curiosity, we encouraged it by buying a molded rubber set where they couldn't break the figures.



One of the outcomes of that choice was a couple family traditions that developed. First, the Wise Men were placed at the back of the house and traveled through each child's room before arriving in "Bethlehem" on Christmas Eve. (Yes, I know this isn't historically accurate, but it serves to make the point to the young audience.) Secondly, the baby Jesus is hidden and doesn't get placed in the manger until we ask one of the kids to do it on Christmas day.

The act of placing Jesus in the manger offers all kinds of opportunities for discussion. Have you ever wondered why Luke makes the point of saying that Jesus's first bed was a manger? There are at least three reasons that I can think of to show why the manger is important.

The Manger Links Jesus to All Men

Scholars like Ben Witherington tell us that Bethlehem was most likely too small to have a formal inn. The word used for inn is the Greek katalyma which is translated "guest chamber" and could be used for a guest room as well. Jesus sent his disciples to find a katalyma to eat the Passover meal in Mark 14:14. Given that Bethlehem was the family home of Joseph, they most likely stayed in a relative's house, but with so many relatives showing up, they would be relegated to the larger open room attached to the house where people would bring their animals in for the night.1

This would instantly make Jesus relatable to shepherds. Shepherds themselves were not thought of highly in Jewish culture, and to see the Savior of the world in the very tool they themselves used to feed their livestock symbolized that this King of Israel was for all mankind. No rank or provide bars access to the lord. He has come for anyone who would seek him.

The Manger Shows Jesus's Humility

Secondly, and perhaps most obviously, the humble beginnings of Jesus in the manger shows the very attitude of Jesus in becoming incarnate. Philippians 2:5-8 describes the incarnation this way:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
That attitude persisted even through Jesus's adult life. He remained poor, and eschewed material comforts, saying The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Luke 9:58, NASB).

The Manger Shows Jesus as the Bread of Life

Lastly, the manger is a crucial symbol of Jesus as the one upon who we rely for our existence. Mangers are feeding toughs; from them an animal receives its nutrition. Jesus frequently compared himself to our sustenance, saying "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). Even in establishing the communion service, Jesus equated the bread to his own body. The first thing done to the body of the baby Jesus is to lay it in a manger. Thus, by that very act he is shown to be real food for the whole world.


References

1 Witherington, Ben. "No Inn in the Room-- a Christmas Sermon on Lk. 2.1-7." Ben Witherington. Ben Witherington, 9 Dec. 2007. Web. 24 Dec. 2014. http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/12/no-inn-in-room-christmas-sermon-on-lk_09.html .

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Resurrection is Central to the History of Jesus

While some people hold that Jesus the Messiah is simply a mythical character, a much greater majority of people believe that there really was a man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived in first century Palestine. They hold that the resurrection of Jesus is simply a later addition to the life of a wise teacher who created a compelling moral code for others to follow. However, William Paley (of  the argument of design of the eye fame) shows one reason why such an idea is ridiculous in its face.
The history of the resurrection of Christ is a part of the evidence of Christianity: but I do not know whether the proper strength of this passage of the Christian history, or wherein its peculiar value, as a head of evidence, consists, be generally understood. It is not that, as a miracle, the resurrection ought to be accounted a more decisive proof of supernatural agency than other miracles are; it is not that as it stands in the Gospels, it is better attested than some others; it is not, for either of these reasons, that more weight belongs to it than to other miracles, but for the following, viz. That it is completely certain that the apostles of Christ, and the first teachers of Christianity, asserted the fact. And this would have been certain, if the four Gospels had been lost, or never written. Every piece of Scripture recognizes the resurrection. Every epistle of every apostle, every author contemporary with the apostles, of the age immediately succeeding the apostles, every writing from that age to the present, genuine or spurious, on the side of Christianity or against it, concur in representing the resurrection of Christ as an article of his history, received without doubt or disagreement by all who called themselves Christians, as alleged from the beginning by the propagators of the institution, and alleged as the center of their testimony. Nothing I apprehend which a man does not himself see or hear can be more certain to him than this point. (Emphasis added.)

William Paley, quoted in A New Edition of Archdeacon Paley's View Of The Evidences Of Christianity Comprising The Text Of Paley, Verbatim. Cambridge: W. Metcalfe, 1831. 339-340.e-book available at https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdid=book-Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdot=1

Friday, December 05, 2014

History Testifies that Jesus Worked Miracles

It's becoming more and more popular to cast doubt on the existence of the biblical Jesus as a person of history and claim that he was more likely a mythical invention of Christians. However, those claims are not made by even the skeptical experts who study the Gospel accounts of Jesus. Craig Keener, a noted scholar and historian provides the detail:


Most scholars today working on the subject accept the claim that Jesus was a healer and exorcist. The evidence is stronger for this claim than for most other specific historical claims that we could make about Jesus or earliest Christianity. Scholars often note that miracles characterized Jesus's historical activity no less than his teaching and prophetic activities did. So central are miracle reports to the Gospels that one could remove them only if one regarded the Gospels as preserving barely any genuine information about Jesus. Indeed, it is estimated that more than 31 percent of the verses in Mark's Gospel involve miracles in some way, or some 40 percent of his narrative! Very few critics would deny the presence of any miracles in the earliest material about Jesus.

If followers would preserve Jesus's teachings, how much more might they, and especially those who experienced recoveries, spread reports about his extraordinary acts of power? Because miracle claims attach to a relatively small number of figures in antiquity (itinerant or not), there is little reason to suppose that Jesus would have developed a reputation as a wonder worker if he did not engage in such activities. Jesus's ministry to the afflicted also coheres with his care for the marginalized in contrast to his frequent conflicts with the elite." As historical Jesus scholars Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz put it, "Just as the kingdom of God stands at the centre of Jesus's preaching, so healings and exorcisms form the centre of his activity."

Among non-Christian sources, the rabbis and Celsus are clear that Jesus performed miracles, although both sources are hostile to these miracles. (Many of these later non-Christian sources attribute the miraculous works to sorcery, which probably constitutes the earliest anti-Christian explanation for Christian miracles.) This unanimity is striking given the conversely unanimous silence in Christian, Jewish, and even Mandean tradition concerning any miracles of respected prophetic figures like John the Baptist. None of the ancient sources respond to claims of Jesus's miracles by trying to deny them.

More important, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus apparently claims that Jesus was a miracle worker. Jewish historian Geza Vermes, a noted expert on Jesus's era, has argued that this miracle claim in Josephus is authentic, based on Joshephus's style. In this report Josephus calls Jesus a wise man who also "worked startling deeds, “ a designation that Josephus also applies to miracles associated with the prophet Elisha.

It is thus not surprising that most scholars publishing historical research about Jesus today grant that Jesus was a miracle worker, regardless of their varying philosophic assumptions about divine activity in miracle claims.1 (Emphasis added.)

—Craig Keener

References

Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Print. 23-25.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

One Reason Why Jesus Cannot be Mythical

It is becoming more and more popular in certain atheist circles to claim that Jesus never existed. They claim that the story of the Messiah from Nazareth is simply a regurgitation of the myths of old, such as Osiris, Dionysius, or Mithras. But such claims, while superficially tempting are really impossible to manage if you study the details.



Historian Paul L. Maier shows just one way the charge of myth crumbles in his book In the Fullness of Time, and he takes scarcely more than a paragraph from his introduction to do it. He writes:
Instead of claiming a mythological founder, or one who materialized from the mists of the past in an appearance datable only to the nearest century or two, Christianity boldly asserts that Jesus' public ministry began (in association with that of John the Baptist) in
… the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas … (Luke 3:1, RSV)
No mythological heroes or cardboard characters here! This sixfold documentation involves personalities and places, all of which are well known and historical. In fact, we know even more about this collection of proper names from sources outside the New Testament. The author of 2 Peter expressed Christianity's "historical advantage" splendidly: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths … but we had been eyewitnesses" (1:16). 1 (Emphasis in the original.)

References

1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991. Print.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The "Big Bang" in Jews Worshiping Jesus as God

One popular answer today among those who do not believe in Jesus as God is that the belief evolved over a period of centuries. They suggest that the earliest Christians, who were Jews, thought of Jesus as simply a rabbi or a prophet, a holy and wise man. They theorize that as Christianity spread outward and became more and more dominated by Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) believers, those Gentiles, accustomed to assigning divine honors to their heroes, did the same for Jesus.' Eventually, a form of Christianity emerged that explained the divinity of Jesus as a unique incarnation of God and dismissed all alternative views of Jesus as heresy. Some critics of the doctrine that Jesus is God claim that this belief did not appear until well after all of the apostles had died-perhaps, some say, as late as the fourth century Council of Nicea.


The facts are very much otherwise. The practice of giving Jesus divine honors—of religious, spiritual devotion to Jesus—was an established, char­acteristic feature of the Christian movement within the first two decades of its existence. Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, described the emergence of devotion to Jesus as "a veritable 'big bang: an explosively rapid and impressively substantial development in the earliest stage of the Christian movement'? According to Martin Hengel, a New Testament scholar at Tubingen University in Germany, more happened in the development of Christian beliefs about Jesus in the twenty years between his death and Paul's earliest epistles "than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history:')

The apostles and other early Jewish Christians did not just lavish high praises on Jesus. They accorded him honors that in Jewish teaching, as au­thoritatively set forth in their Scriptures, were due to the Lord God of Israel and no one else…

It was in this context of exclusive religious devotion to one God, the Lord, that the early Jewish followers of Jesus were expressing the same sort of de­votion to Jesus. They worshiped him, sang hymns to him, prayed to him, and revered him in a way that believers in Judaism insisted was reserved for the Lord God alone. To make matters worse, the Christians agreed that such honors were rightly given only to God—and then proceeded to give them to Jesus anyway!

    — Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and Ed Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ.
Grand Rapids: Kregel Books, 2007. 29-30.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Forrest Gump and Jesus' Resurrection


The Jesus-Mythers are growing. For the uninitiated, the Jesus-Mythers are a small but growing group of atheists who don't merely doubt the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but hold that he never really existed at all. They believe he was a complete fabrication by the various Gospel writers, who used a standard formula of a dying and rising messiah to attract others to their newly-forged faith. In his book Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus, Earl Doherty opens with this claim:
Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God.

We do not know who that someone was, or where he wrote his story. We are not even sure when he wrote it, but we do know that several decades had passed since the supposed events he told of. Later generations gave this storyteller the name of "Mark," but if that was his real name, it was only by coincidence.

Other writers followed after, and they enlarged on the first one's tale. They borrowed much of what he had written, reworked it in their own particular ways and put in some additional material. By the time another half century had passed, almost everyone who followed the religion of these storytellers accepted their work as an account of actual historical events and a real historical man. And so did the people who came afterwards, for close to two thousand years.1
Here, Doherty makes clear the basic outline of how he believes the Jesus story began. But there are problems with this view, not the least of which is the Apostle Paul. Paul tells us he was a Pharisee and full of zeal for the Jewish faith (Phil. 3:5-6), so much so he actively persecuted Christians (Phil 3:6,1 Corinthians 15:9). But Paul writes that he was changed. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, he tells the story of Jesus dying for our sins, being buried and rising again. Paul writes that Not only did Jesus appear to the apostles such as Peter and the church leader James, but Jesus also appeared directly to him.

Here's the problem for Doherty: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians before the Gospel of Mark was written. 1 Corinthians is recognized to have been written between AD 53 and AD 55—only twenty or so years after Jesus' death on the cross—while Mark may be dated anywhere from the late 50s to the early 60s. Also, Paul says the story preceded him ("I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" v. 3), so the account of Jesus as a resurrected Messiah must be much older than Mark.

The Forrest Gump Connection

I've written before about how the time element makes it unlikely that the resurrection story could have grown as myth. But let's say the Mythers just got their timetable wrong and someone intentionally created the Jesus myth just around 30 AD, the time He was supposed to be crucified. Then let's say that they added historical details, such as Pilate's prefectorate or Caiaphas's priesthood to add legitimacy to the story. Couldn't that have happened?

Well, no. For a modern day equivalent, we can look at the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump was made in 1994, some twenty years ago and the same time span that exists between the resurrection and 1 Corinthians. In Forrest Gump, the filmmaker tells the story of modern American culture by placing the fictitious character played by Tom Hanks in real world scenarios and events. He gets details right, like the jogging trend, the way the president would greet college champions, and so forth.

Now, imagine a high-ranking militant who fought to establish the Taliban's rule and is passionate about establishing Islamic Sharia law the world over. He sacrificed himself for the mujahedeen, and is convinced that every belief other than Islam is blasphemy. The Taliban member sees the movie Forrest Gump, sees that Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants exist and knows enough of the history of the US to know that the film reflects history in some way. Maybe he even believes that Forrest Gump did exist somewhere. Would any of that make him renounce his affinity to Islam and the Taliban and become an active crusader for Forrest Gump and the American way? Does anyone think such a carefully crafted tale would reverse everything the Taliban official holds to be true?

Such a conclusion lacks credibility. Why would Paul convert unless he had a deep, life-changing experience that shook him to his core? That's what he claimed happened; Paul tells us that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him directly. The book of Acts fills in some details, but Paul was compelled to change his beliefs not because of a tale told to him, but because he had a real experience with the risen Jesus.

In order to believe that Jesus is a myth, one must indulge in a tale more fantastic than Hollywood. Because of Paul's conversion and his early recording of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jesus-Mythers are on extremely flimsy ground. Paul and his authorship of 1 Corinthians are undisputed by scholars. Even skeptic John Dominic Crossan says that "we have seven letters certainly from the historical Paul" and lists 1 Corinthians and Philippians among them.2 This is why New Testament scholar and critic of Christianity Bart Ehrman said "These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology."3For a skeptic of Christianity, that's pretty conclusive.

References

1. Doherty, Earl. Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus. (Age of Reason Publications, 2009). Kindle Edition.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. "The Search for the Historical Paul: Which Letters Did He Really Write?" The Huffington Post. 5 July 2011. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/apostle-paul-letters_b_890387.html
3. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post. 20 March 2012. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html
 Photo Credit: Ricknightcrawler via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Investigating the Truth of the Gospel Eyewitnesses

Yesterday, I was able to talk with a room full of middle-schoolers at Magnolia Church who were investigating the claims of Jesus' death and resurrection. Their mission was to critically examine the gospel accounts and see what evidence they could find to determine the truth value of the accounts.


As any good investigator would, one should start an investigation into the truth with the earliest eyewitness accounts. The gospel of Mark is held by most scholars as the first of the four to be written, probably between the mid to late 50's, then Matthew and Luke were composed in the 60's, with John written last in the 90's1. So, while John was written some 50-60 years after Jesus' crucifixion, Mark closes that gap by 40 years, being composed within a couple of decades after Jesus' death. While skeptics try to make a big deal out of the gospels being written decades after the events, this is actually a boon for those who study ancient history. But many cultures who even today rely on the spoken word rather than the written word would never see this as a problem, as several scholars state.

An Insult Offers an Insight

One of the primary objections to the Gospel accounts is that the passion story was made up after the fact in order to launch the newly-formed Christian religion. Joe L. Watts, for example, believes that the Gospel writers "'creatively' expanded the original story of Jesus to speak to their current social problems."2 However, as good investigators there are ways we can study the text to see if there are any clues that lead us to such a conclusion.

One such clue is found in the taunts that Mark said were thrown at Jesus while He hung on the cross. In Mark 15:27-32 we read:

And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

Here, we have a supposed eyewitness account of the events around Jesus' crucifixion.  The mocking particularly is significant. While John's account doesn't mention it, both Matthew and Luke record the mocking of the chief priests and scribes. But only Mark's gospel includes that passersby said a very specific thing to him: "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" Why is that significant? It is simply because nowhere in the gospel of Mark does Jesus ever claim that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it. That story isn't found until John's gospel is written some forty years later!

Corroborating Testimony

If Mark wasn't reporting eyewitness testimony, if he was inventing or expanding the story of Jesus' crucifixion, then why would he include this taunt, but provide no explanation for it and no back story? Someone creating a fictional account wouldn't make such a boast come out of the mouth of Jesus, because by itself it looks as if Jesus failed at that claim. The temple wasn't destroyed at all. Only some 60 years later, in John chapter 2 do we understand what Jesus meant by his prediction. "But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken." So, John makes it clear that the prediction Jesus offered was referencing His resurrection, not the destruction of the actual temple. But how would Mark know this when John hadn't been written yet?

Some may claim that john added the passage in chapter two to help the story along. But if John were trying to solidify the crucifixion narrative of Mark, how come he leaves out the insults at the cross completely? If his goal was to buttress Mark's account, then one would assume he would include the insults in the crucifixion. But John leaves them out. Both gospel account rely on one another in order for the picture to become clear.

Police investigators are very familiar with this kind of interlocking testimony from eyewitnesses. Jim Wallace, a cold-case detective was trained in a method called "forensic statement analysis" the purpose of which is to "determine truthfulness or deception on the part of the person making the statement."3 The fact that Mark provides a trivial bit of information that fits nowhere else in his account and John provides additional information but leaves out the climax in his account argues that both accounts are eyewitness testimony and not fable, fiction, or fraud. Here's just clue that the crucifixion and resurrection happened as the gospels say it did. There are many other pieces of interlocking testimony throughout all four gospels, but this example should suffice to get our investigation pointing in the right direction.

For more on this, please check out our featured resource available this month: "Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable."

References

1. See Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.(Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic, 2007). 25-26.
2. Watts, Joel L. "Are the Gospels Made Up?" Web. HuffingtonPost.com 29-07-2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-l-watts/christian-gospels-truth_b_3668426.html
3. Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). 88.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Horus vs Jesus in the Zeitgeist Movie (video)



The Zeitgeist movie makes the claim that the stories of Jesus are just copies of the ancient Egyptian dying and rising myth of Horus. The film lists several supposed similarities between the two stories in an attempt to prove that the Gospels were simply fabricated from pre-existing material. In this video clip below, Lenny compares the actual myth of Horus to the Gospel accounts and you can see how the claims of similarity quickly fades away.

Watch the clip below:


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Lost Tomb of Jesus and Ovaltine

One of my favorite movies is the holiday-themed A Christmas Story. Every year as Christmas approaches, I pull out the tale of Ralphie, a 1940's kid who listens to Orphan Annie on the radio and pines for "an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time."


One scene in the film shows an excited Ralphie receiving his Orphan Annie secret decoder pin. After transcribing the radio code, he locks himself in the bathroom, working feverishly to crack Annie's urgent communiqué. Ralphie wonders, "What could this important code from Annie be?" The message finally translates to "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine" and Ralphie is crushed that he placed all his faith in a "crummy commercial".

That's the way it is for many folks in Hollywood. They want to sell you the illusion, and make money off it in the process. Even if there is no real danger or real secret, they'll make it up just so they can market something to an unsuspecting public. As an example, let's look at the Discovery Channel's special from a few years ago, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Produced by James Cameron of Terminator and Titanic fame, and directed and narrated by Simcha Jacobovici, the show tries to claim that "the 2,000-year-old ‘Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries' belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth."1

They further try to press the point that this somehow deals a fatal blow to the New Testament. James Cameron states in an interview that "Faith and forensics make very uneasy bedfellows.. Faith implies essentially the lack of a need for evidence… The scientific method is in direct opposition to that. You have to investigate, you have to find the proof."2 Jacobovici tantalizes us with lines such as "The New Testament doesn't say that Jesus had a son, but perhaps in this instance, archaeology forces us to throw a different light on the New Testament".3

What We Know About the Tomb

Is there reasonable evidence to believe that a Jewish burial tomb containing Jewish burial boxes from the first century held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family? When we look at the evidence, what we find is that Cameron and Jacobovici are more interested in selling the idea that what they found is new evidence than producing actual evidence for a find. We have a two-hour television special that is nothing more than hype with no substance. First, let's strip away the hyperbole and see exactly what was found.

Facts from the Special:
  1. A tomb was found in 1980 in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem, hewn out of rock
  2. The tomb contained ten ossuaries to hold the remains of the dead buried there.
  3. Six of the ossuaries bore names inscribed on them including Jesus, son of Joseph; a form of Joseph (Jose), Matthias (Matthew) and Judah son of Jesus
  4. Two ossuaries bear female names: a Latin version of the name Mary using Aramaic letters (Mariah); and another with a version of the name Mary (Mariamne) and a full title supposedly reading "Mary known as the master".
  5. Some residual DNA shows that several of the people who were buried in the tomb were related in some way.
  6. The DNA also shows that the occupant of the Jesus ossuary was not related to the occupant of the Mariamne ossuary.
From these facts, the filmmakers make all kinds of assumptions. First, the coffin marked "Jesus, son of Joseph" pricks their interest. They then note that all the names in the tomb are also found in the New Testament. They believe that since the Mariah ossuary uses a Latin version of Mary, this could likely be Jesus' mother, since she was known by the Latin version of her name. They believe that the Mariamne box held the bones of Mary of Magdala, who would be Jesus' wife, since she is not a blood relative of the family.

Seeing the Truth

I think even a cursory look at the actual evidence and the conclusions that the show tries to draw demonstrate just how much the filmmakers are straining to make a connection. Let's take the names as an example. Dr. Darrel Bock pulled data from Richard Baukham of St. Andrews, in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. He gives us a breakdown of name frequencies in first century Palestine:
"Out of a total number of 2625 males, these are the figures for the ten most popular male names among Palestinian Jews. The first figure is the total number of occurrences (from this number, with 2625 as the total for all names, you could calculate percentages), while the second is the number of occurrences specifically on ossuaries.

1 Simon/Simeon 243 - 59
2 Joseph 218 - 45
3 Eleazar 166 - 29
4 Judah 164 - 44
5 John/Yohanan 122 - 25
6 Jesus 99 - 22
7 Hananiah 82 - 18
8 Jonathan 71 - 14
9 Matthew 62 - 17
10 Manaen - Menahem 42 - 4


For women, we have a total of 328 occurrences (women's names are much less often recorded than men's), and figures for the 4 most popular names are thus:

Mary/Mariamne 70 - 42
Salome 58 - 41
Shelamzion 24 - 19
Martha 20 - 17
4
You can see at once that all the names you're interested were extremely popular. 21% of Jewish women were called Mariamne (Mary). The chances of the people in the ossuaries being the Jesus and Mary Magdalene of the New Testament must be very small indeed."5

Of course, you never hear that 122 tombs have been found with the name of Jesus and that Joseph is the second most popular name discovered on ossuaries. Or, the show doesn't report that an ossuary in 1926 was found with the same "Jesus, son of Joseph" inscription.

The authors next try to impress us with the facts that another other ossuaries bear names identical to Jesus' brother, Joses (Joseph). While this may be true, we saw that Joseph is the second most common name in first century Palestine. But what about Jesus' other brothers? If this is a family crypt, where are James, and Simon, and Judas? The Judas we have in the tomb is the son of Jesus, not his brother. And who is the Matthew? We have no history of a Matthew as being a living blood relative during Jesus' time.

Of course the fact that there's a tomb at all causes all sorts of problems. First, Jesus' family was too poor to afford a rock -;hewn tomb which was quite expensive in that day. Even if they could afford one, though, the family resided in Nazareth, not Jerusalem. Why wouldn't the entire family have a crypt there?

Next, you come to the problem of the reports of the empty tomb itself. Bodies take about a year to decompose before they are ready to be placed into an ossuary. If Jesus' family had a tomb in Jerusalem, do you think that the leaders of the Sanhedrin would have gone to find it and squash the Christian young Christian movement before it started? And why would all the apostles, including Jesus' brothers James and Jude, die martyrs' deaths without even one of them recanting and confessing that they made the resurrection story up.

Finally, we have DNA evidence that proves, well, nothing at all. So Mariamne wasn't related to Jesus. So what? This doesn't make her his wife. She could have been Matthew's wife, or Judah son of Jesus' wife. It's a huge stretch to try and connect two people in a civil union just because they aren't blood relatives.

An Attempt to Sell

There are more problems, but space prohibits me from going into any further detail. In fact, there are so many more problems with this "lost tomb" that Professor Amos Kloner, the respected Israeli archeologist who was in charge of the initial examination of the tomb and its contents says that the special is nothing more than a marketing ploy. Kloner remarks, "The claim that the burial site [of Jesus] has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell. I refute all their claims and efforts to waken a renewed interest in the findings. With all due respect, they are not archeologists."6

Like Ralphie in the Christmas movie, I hope that folks take a skeptical look at specials like this and see them for what they really are: empty messages that are nothing more than people hoping to make money off controversy. Perhaps the Discovery Channel needs to get some cross-play between their shows. I'm sure that someone with the skepticism of the MythBusters would be able to see the flaws in this special and take it for what it really is: a two-hour "crummy commercial".

References

1. This title was used in the special's web site located at http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/tomb/tomb.html?dcitc=w99-502-ah-1024
2. "The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Cameron Interview - Part 2"
http://dsc.discovery.com/beyond/player.html?playerId=203711706&bclid=537085188
3. "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" as seen on the Discovery Channel March 4, 2007 9:00 PM
4. "Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus' Family Tomb, What Do They Share?" Darrell Bock, Bible.org
http://dev.bible.org/bock/node/106 accessed online 3/5/2007
5. "Excerpt: 'The Jesus Dynasty' by James D. Tabor" ABCNews.com
http://www.abcnews.go.com/GMA/Books/story?id=1746724&page=3 Accessed online 3/5/2007
6. "Jesus' burial site discovery is just PR spin" YnetNews.com
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3369346,00.html Accessed online 3/5/2007

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

What Did Jesus Consider as Scripture?

When we discuss the makeup of the Bible, the New Testament is usually the center of discussion. Given the discoveries of various 2nd and 3rd century gnostic writings at Nag Hammadi, the success of The Da Vinci Code, and recent manuscript claims such as the Jesus' Wife fragment one can easily see why the question of which books belong in the Bible would center on the New Testament. However, people will question the legitimacy of the Old Testament canon as well.

The accumulation of books in the Old Testament is a much longer one than that of the New. The canon begins right where the Jewish faith begins, with the first five books of Moses. These books were called collectively the Laws of Moses or simply the Law. There are books by various prophets, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and so on that hold the definitive "Thus saith the Lord" pronouncements. They also provide the validation of predictive prophecy. We also have several books are historical in nature, such as Joshua, Judges, and the sets of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings. Because these documented God's dealing with the nation and they held stories about the various prophets interacting with the nation, they too were classified by the Jewish priests as part of the writings of the Prophets. Lastly there are the literary books, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes that were used in worship services. As well as other historical books like Daniel, the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and the two books of Chronicles. These were classified as the "Writings".

According to Norman Geisler and William Nix, "Philo the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, alluded to a threefold classification of the Old Testament, and Flavius Josephus arraigned the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Scriptures into three sections, saying that the twenty-two books ‘retains the record of all the past;… five belong to Moses, … the prophets who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their time in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain the hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life."1 There is evidence of a more ancient two-fold division, which would fold the writings into the prophetic section. This is used in the writings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as throught the New Testment writers.2

Jesus' Validation of the Old Testament

Jesus never provided a book by book list of the Old Testament canon. It simply wasn't necessary as the Jews of that day all knew what was meant by Scripture. He did refer to the Scripture as authoritative, though and we can see what He meant whenever he talked about them. First, Jesus would quote passages from various Scriptures and refer to them as such. He quoted multiple times from each of the books of Moses, and from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zecharaiah, Hosea, Micah and Malachi.3 He also quoted from the Psalms calling them scripture (John 10:24, John 15:25) and called Daniel a prophet of God (Matthew 24:15). So Jesus quotes from each of these three divisions in a way that recognized those books as authoritative scripture.

Further, Jesus referred to the collection of books several times. He talked of "the Law and the Prophets" in Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, and John 1:45. In Luke 24:44, He refers to the Scriptures in the threefold context, saying "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus rebuked one of the experts of Scripture by saying, "the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary." Abel is the first person to die in the Hebrew Bible and Zechariah is the last. This reference would be obvious to such an expert, but it also confirms the canon of the Old Testament was accepted as authentic.

So, while Jesus did not explicitly list the books of the Old Testament, He pointed to the Old Testament as the authoritative word of God and said that all written in "the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms" must be fulfilled. Therefore, we can hold a high level of confidence that the Old Testament is truly the word of God.

References

1. Geiseler, Norman and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986). 24.

2. Ibid. 23. 3. Robinson, Rich. "Jesus' References to Old Testament Scripture." Jews for Jesus Web site. http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/september-2008/05 Accessed 4/7/2014.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Is Easter Pagan? Part 3 - Historical Documentation

This week, we've been looking at the claim that Easter is somehow a celebration with pagan roots. I've previously talked about how such a claim looks very superficially at the supposed similarities and ignores the distinctions. I've also discussed how pagan religious rituals would be considered abominable to the first century Jews who make up the adherents of the early church. On this second point some may argue that it wasn't the Jewish followers of Jesus that incorporated pagan influences, but it was the Gentiles who did so years afterward.


The problem with such a claim is that it ignores the incredible historical evidence we have for the resurrection. Unlike many pagan celebrations, such as the Mithraic rites which were so secretive we really don't have any written documentation about them at all, save some mentions by outsiders or artwork on walls. No books or scrolls exist. The resurrection, on the other hand, is incredibly well documented and its historical roots are strong.

4. The Historical Documentation of the Resurrection Accounts

Of course most people are aware that all four gospels are written with the event as their climax, and each Gospel dates to between thirty and sixty years of the resurrection itself. That means that when the gospels were being circulated, people were alive who could testify to the truthfulness of the accounts they contain. There really isn't much time for pagan myths to "creep into" the stories. Suggestions by skeptics such as Heather McDougall that "the Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld" somehow influence the resurrection accounts are laughable when you consider that:
  1. Crucifixion was a real punishment inflicted on Jews by Romans in the first century (and we can know that for certain).
  2.  Attracting others to your belief system by saying they were crucified was about as attractive as asking a French revolutionary to follow someone beheaded in the guillotine. Rome used crucifixion as a deterrent because of its abhorrence by the general public.
  3. The concept of the resurrection wasn't one that people of the ancient world took to immediately. For an example of this, just look to Paul's sermon on Mars' Hill. Luke tells us, "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this'" (verse 32). That's not what I would call a rousing endorsement. The idea of anyone being resurrected was just as incredulous to those in Paul's day as it is today. Paul has made a pretty strong case to a crowd who he says were" very religious in all things" (v.22). Yet even they mocked the initial notion of the resurrection. Again, this is not an attractive aspect if you are trying to convert Gentiles.
However, the earliest documented mention of the resurrection is none of those found in the gospels. As I've written before, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, which contains the full creedal basis for the belief in the resurrection, is dated to within a few years of Jesus' death and resurrection itself. Paul even says that there are saints who were eyewitnesses to the resurrection who were still alive; the Corinthians could go and ask them themselves! There are other signs of the resurrection accounts as historical, but these should be enough to dispel the concept of the resurrection accounts to be corrupted by pagan myths. Tomorrow, we'll finish up this series by touching on some various incongruities of McDougall's claims. Until then, keep thinking!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Is Easter Pagan? Part 2 - What Do You Get When You Cross a Jew with...

Yesterday, I began a series looking at the claims made by some skeptics that Easter celebrations have their roots in pagan holidays and customs. My goal for these posts is to not dig into a ton of research to disprove these kinds of accusations, but to so you how, given a little time of reflection and focused thought, you can answer such claims without so much as an Internet search. Hopefully, this will give you a bit of confidence and help Christians to become better and more careful thinkers over the plethora of "Google Scholars" that simply add a lot of noise to the channel.


As an example of the "Easter is Pagan" claim, we've been looking at an article written by Heather McDougall that appeared in The UK newspaper, The Guardian. Let's look at a second paragraph from that article:
The Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld. One of the oldest resurrection myths is Egyptian Horus. Born on 25 December, Horus and his damaged eye became symbols of life and rebirth. Mithras was born on what we now call Christmas day, and his followers celebrated the spring equinox. Even as late as the 4th century AD, the sol invictus, associated with Mithras, was the last great pagan cult the church had to overcome. Dionysus was a divine child, resurrected by his grandmother. Dionysus also brought his mum, Semele, back to life."

2. Too much of everything leads to nothing

The first thing that should stand out to you as a red flag is how McDougall lists Sumerian, Egyptian, Roman, Baylonian, and Greek religions all as sources to the single holiday of Easter. There's something incredulous when one finds that the "real" origins of a very specific and detailed event (the death and resurrection of Jesus) has so many points of origin. It reminds me of when I was a little kid and I used to go to the soft drink fountain to create a "suicide," If you mix enough of everything together, all the distinctive tastes blur and what comes out is bland. Put a lot of various paints in a can and you won't get a vibrant color, but they meld into a dingy brown.

However, McDougall seems to think that everything that has even an inkling of parallel to the resurrection story is proof that the resurrection accounts are derived from that story (a concept we covered a bit more last time.) But religious rituals are not so easily changed, regardless of the ritual's cultural base. The reason a ritual works is because it is passed down. Religious rituals are taken even more seriously. Any changes would have to be shown with some pretty compelling evidence to back it up. McDougall has thrown out a Zeitgeist-type wild claim, but she will need to do more than simply make the claim. We will discuss more on this tomorrow, but the concept of changing religious understanding does lead me into my third point.

3. Jesus, His Followers, and His Detractors Were all Jewish

I don't know if it escaped McDougall's notice, but everyone agrees that Jesus was a first century Jew living in the Jewish state when Judaism was in full swing. Post-exile Judaism would be the de facto worldview for Jesus, His followers, his audience, and even His detractors, such as the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees. Anyone who knows anything about ancient Judaism knows how strict the Jews were not to have anything to do with pagan gods.

This point is underlined in the gospels when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus in asking Him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not. You remember the Pharisees, right? They are those people who took the Jewish faith so seriously that they would place a strainer on their wine glasses lest they ingest a gnat and violate the Jewish prohibition against swallowing an animal with its blood. The Pharisees question Jesus on giving money to Caesar as a violation of the Old Testament law. Jesus deftly answers "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Jesus kept His Jewish understanding of serving only Yahweh intact while also showing the flaw in their thinking.

So, would a Jewish audience, one who is so attuned to the strict adherence of their faith that they would die rather than be forced to worship any other god really buy into a story that is perhaps Sumerian in origin? Do you think the Jews would recognize pagan myths that were popular in their day? Do you really think that Jesus or His Jewish disciples would invent such stories in order to gain adherents? The concept is preposterous! This would go over about as well as going to an Orthodox rabbi today and trying to convince him that the messiah is really Mohammad and Islam is Judaism fulfilled.

Tomorrow, I will look at the historical aspects of the resurrection accounts as my final point on why these claims are ridiculous. Until then, keep thinking!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Is Easter Pagan? Part 1 - The Rites of Spring

Recently, I received a request from a friend who asked, "which came first, the Easter celebration: the resurrection of Jesus Christ or all this other stuff about the goddess of fertility and the eggs and rabbits and all that?" As we approach the Easter season, the question isn't uncommon. Modern media loves to plaster the covers of magazines with questions about Jesus or the Bible during this time, since they know such "special" issues are guaranteed moneymakers.


They also look to run some of the most inflammatory tripe passed as fact. For an example, look at the article in The Guardian newspaper that ran a couple of years ago.  Entitled "The Pagan Roots of Easter," author Heather McDougall leads with:
Easter is a pagan festival. If Easter isn't really about Jesus, then what is it about? Today, we see a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection. However, early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter. The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world. There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours too.
So, should Christians worry? Is McGougall right? Does a Christian need to prove that the resurrection came before these other celebrations? The answer to all of these questions is an emphatic no. While one can go on a historical odyssey, checking out dusty books for hard dates, usually answering such claims doesn't take that much effort. If one were to slow down and just think a bit about what we do know, you can see how quickly these kinds of charges fall apart. I want to look at several points, in a series of posts, but we will start with the most obvious.

1. Seasons are Universal

The first point one must realize is that everyone throughout the history of the world experiences the change in seasons. (Folks like me living in California may be an exception, but that's a separate story.) Of the four seasons, spring has always been the biggest deal, because it is the time of more temperate weather, where one can come out from indoors. More importantly, it's the time for planting the food that will feed you and your family for the next year. Spring is the time when the trees and the flowers begin to bloom, so the season is associated with new life. Is it a surprise that various cultures would develop festivals and feast days to their gods at this time? Of course not!

There is a natural reaction to the new life that is sprouting from trees and from the ground. Part of that reaction is to tie the days of spring to the concept of new life. In early cultures, items like eggs and rabbits, which are known for their rapid reproduction, are natural symbols of new life. But because of the ties to new life, ancient people would tie sprint to the sexual cults. So the cult of Astarte (Astoreth in the biblical accounts) with the fertility and sexual prostitutes would have springtime festivals. But the spring is 25% of the entire year! Just because some fertility cults had big orgies and used symbols like eggs and multiplying rabbits doesn't mean there is any tie whatsoever to the resurrection! Think about it — what does a Jewish Messiah who rises from the dead have to do with temple prostitutes and creating babies? The similarities are tenuous at best.

Tomorrow I will go into more detail about the problem of the Jewishness of the resurrection accounts versus pagan spring rites. But until then, one must be mindful for an important principle: correlation does not imply causation. An example I use is the "Redskins Rule." For 60 years the outcome of the last home game of the Washington Redskins has predicted the outcome of that year's presidential election: "when the Redskins win, the incumbent party wins the electoral vote for the White House; when the Redskins lose, the non-incumbent party wins." The accuracy of that predictor over such a long period was Impressive, however anyone can see that one had absolutely nothing to do with the other. (For another interesting case, see the case of the book that predicted the sinking of the Titanic.)

I hope this first point has helped some in dispelling any worry that the resurrection may have ties to ancient pagan practices. Join me tomorrow and we'll see just how flimsy this "evidence" can be.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dealing with All Those "Lost Gospel" Claims



Did the church fathers pick and choose which gospels to include in the Bible by selecting the ones they like and rejecting others? What are all these "other gospels" we hear so much about? Do they offer us new knowledge of who Jesus really was? In this podcast, we'll debunk the idea that we somehow "lost" gospels and show why we can be confident in the Biblical record.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Debunking 'Bible Secrets' Television Shows



Every year before Christmas and Easter, the media turns to stories about religion to try and boost their audiences. Like clockwork, the History Channel has just begun a series titled "Bible Secrets Discovered". This is the latest in a genre (including "The Bible's Buried Secrets," "Jesus Family Tomb" and others) that seeks to publicize some novel scriptural understanding that undermines the Bible's credibility. Are their charges true?

Below is a four-part audio series plus a two page downloadable PDF outline where I show how these 'Bible Secrets' shows engage ins a bit of misdirection to achieve their goals. More P.T. Barnum than true scholarship, when examining the facts thoughtfully, one can quickly see why these shows present an emperor who has no clothes.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

How did Reza Aslan Discover the Zealot Jesus?

Stop the presses.  Jesus is just a man.  That seems to be the reaction of the media to Reza Aslan's new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan has been making the media circuit, getting coverage on popular television news programs such as Fox News and Piers Morgan Live, along with featured articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and many others . Aslan is currently on tour, and you can even check his web site to find out when he's coming to your city.


Who would have thought that a book on the life of Jesus would garner so much attention?  Actually, it could have been expected, though the clumsy interview Lauren Green gave on Fox News definitely lifted Aslan's profile to the other outlets. (What's that saying, again? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?) But we have seen this kind of attention given to authors who wrote similar books previously. The Jesus Seminar has had great coverage throughout the 1980s and 1990s when it was active.  Two of its prominent members, Robert Funk and John Dominic Crossan, would be regularly seen in documentary specials and feature stories.  Debunking the Christian story is a draw, and the media knows it.

It seems that when any new theory about Jesus as someone other than whom the Gospels portray Him to be pops up, there is a new batch of faith-debunkers ready to jump on the bandwagon.  Of course, depending on your preference, each of these faith-debunkers have their own take on the matter. As Charlotte Allen wrote in her review:
"To be sure, all of the historical-Jesus people put their own idiosyncratic spins onto the basic narrative. Jesus is variously presented as a love-your-neighbor moralist (the Enlightenment view); a cynic philosopher (Crossan); a balding, overweight rabbi (Chilton); or a secular sage who hated organized religion (the Jesus Seminar's late founder, Robert Funk). Aslan's take is that Jesus was a fanatic Jewish ideologue and would-be messiah whose 'Kingdom of God' was a 'call to revolution' against the occupying Romans, and who envisioned 'blood-soaked streets' once the revolution got underway."
Isn't it interesting that those who claim to have the inside scoop of the real view of Jesus—the one that only dispassionate scholarship produces—all come out with different stories? It should give you pause when you hear claims that this new book or that one will disprove our Sunday school stories about Jesus. Why, if the scholarship is so convincing, do these scholars have such different conclusions on who Jesus really is?  They all use the same source material; the Gospel accounts, Paul's writings and some other historical texts are what both liberal and conservative scholars rely upon to build their understanding of Jesus' life and deeds. There are no new revelatory discoveries in the source material, so what's going on?

New Testament Scholar Craig A. Evans explains that "Aslan has canvassed much of the responsible scholarship in the field, but he does not always choose his options prudently. He often opts for extreme views and sometimes makes breathtaking assertions." Yes, it has been the practice by the historical Jesus crowd for a while not to take the whole of the source documents as reliable, but to cherry-pick only those facts that paint the picture one wants to portray. As Allen observed, "While Aslan describes the Gospels and other New Testament narratives as 'propagandistic legend' in which 'factual accuracy was irrelevant,' he quotes from them — when it serves his purposes — as often as any fundamentalist preacher." So Aslan dismisses miracles or the Resurrection as myth, but he somehow can discern just which passages are mythical and which are not. We are never told of the method he uses to do so, we are just to trust him to make these judgments for us.

In a court of law, when an attorney wishes to counter the testimony of a witness, they seek to discredit the witness entirely. In other words, the cross-examiner doesn't try to tell the jury "you have heard Mrs. Jones tell us that the robber was wearing a black shirt and blue jeans and he sped away in a red car. I think you should believe Mrs. Jones about the car, but she's making up the shirt and jeans part." That would never fly. Aslan needs to weigh in on the bits he dismisses as fable and answer just how he is able to so shrewdly discern the text. Otherwise we're left with Evan's summation that "at points Aslan's book is informative; it is often entertaining. But it is also rife with questionable assertions. Let the reader beware."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A. N. Sherwin-White on Jesus as Historical Figure

Oxford historian A.N. Sherwin-White was a well-recognized scholar in the history of ancient Rome. He was president of the Society for Promotion of Roman Studies and was a fellow of the British Academy. Dr. Sherwin-White knew ancient history as well as anyone. He also knew myth, how to separate myth from history, and what made good grounds for judging historical aspects of ancient sources. Here, he comments on the comparative historical support for the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the life of Tiberius Caesar:
It is astonishing that while Graeco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form-criticism that the more advanced exponents of it apparently maintain—so far as an amateur can understand the matter—that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written. This seems very curious when one compares the case for the best-known contemporary of Christ, who like Christ is a well-documented figure—Tiberius Caesar. The story of his reign is known from four sources, the Annals of Tacitus and the biography of Suetonius, written some eighty or ninety years later, the brief contemporary record of Velleius Paterculus, and the third-century history of Cassius Dio. These disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion, both in major matters of political action or motive and in specific details of minor events. Everyone would admit that Tacitus is the best of all the sources, and yet no serious modern historian would accept at face value the majority of the statements of Tacitus about the motives of Tiberius.' But this does not prevent the belief that the material of Tacitus can be used to write a history of Tiberius. The divergences between the synoptic gospels, or between them and the Fourth Gospel, are no worse than the contradictions in the Tiberius material."
A.N. Sherwin-White. Aspects of Roman Citizenship and the Question of Historicity. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 204) 187-188.
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