Posts Tagged ‘Christ-Myth’

Ken Humphreys Does Some Quote Mining

November 28, 2014

Is that quote being given accurately? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It looks like Ken Humphreys is watching Deeper Waters after my debate with him. Good for him. Unfortunately, it looks like his quoting skills are not the best. The worse problem is that his followers will not check the primary source, my blog.  This is going to be even more difficult for them because he on the post does not give a link to my blog page. He has a date, but that’s about it.

So what does it say?

KenHumphreysDishonesty

So what does Humphreys have quoted from there if you can’t see it?

Bedard and Porter are spending time on this topic is not because the idea of Harpur’s is a serious debate in the academic community. It’s not. They wrote it for the same reason I had my recent debate with Ken Humphreys. It is because this is affecting the rank and file of the church and instilling doubt in them.

Well that certainly sounds damaging. This is reaching the rank and file. Surely mythicists can rejoice. Well they will anyway, but why is it reaching the rank and file? What else did I say about mythicism? Let’s look at the quote in the full context on the original post.

Unmasking The Pagan Christ is a response to the book of Tom Harpur’s called “The Pagan Christ.” It’s important to note that the reason authors like Bedard and Porter are spending time on this topic is not because the idea of Harpur’s is a serious debate in the academic community. It’s not. They wrote it for the same reason I had my recent debate with Ken Humphreys. It is because this is affecting the rank and file of the church and instilling doubt in them. This is also because we as the church have been doing an abysmal job at equipping Christians to answer challenges so much so that even the craziest of theories has an impact.

Do note the part that I have bolded. That is hardly speaking well of mythicism. In fact, it is speaking more against the church and how unequipped we are. This is how bad we are. Even a theory as ridiculous and groundless as mythicism can affect the church because they are unprepared and do not examine their worldview.

Why would Ken not mention that part? Why would he even make it look like I had a whole paragraph and start it in the middle of a sentence?

Want to see more evidence of this? Just look at other places in my post.

Thankfully, there are people out there like Bedard and Porter who are doing the work to make sure that this kind of material is dealt with. A large number of scholars have had the right attitude towards mythicism  (This is nonsense) but had the wrong response. (Therefore if we ignore it, it will just go away.) This is especially so for Christian scholars who ignore this not at their peril, but at the peril of their fellow Christians who aren’t as equipped.

I also make clear that this is not just Christian scholarship.

Of course, atheistic scholars and others have a role to play in this as well. There are atheistic scholars out there who are frankly quite embarrassed by how many atheists are jumping on the mythicist bandwagon, as they should be. For atheists who complain about Christians arguing against them on evolution without studying science (And they are certainly right to do so!), it looks like too many atheists are jumping on this idea without really studying history.

I have bolded the above for all readers.

And how did I end the post?

I am thankful that books like this one exist and I hope more do come. Mythicism cannot be ignored at this point. It is not because it is a powerful theory. It is not. It is because it is a theory that leads away people from doing sound and real history. It results in a conspiracy theory thinking that is extremely anti-intellectual and anti-historical. It is my hope that scholars of all worldviews and positions will start to deal with this and give it the deathblow and humiliation that it deserves.

There’s a lot here then that was left out.

Unfortunately, this is par for the course as mythicists have a tendency to quote sources out of their proper context and as well rarely go back to the primary sources. (Again, why didn’t Humphreys include a link to my post so all could see it for themselves?)

So in short, as is being said, the reason this is concerning is not because the theory is powerful. It’s not. It’s because people are uninformed. I’m sure many atheists would say the same about ID or YEC, beliefs they both can’t stand. Why do these reach many people? Do atheists think they reach them because there’s sound and convincing evidence? No. It’s because the people just don’t know the issue well enough. (And I am not able to comment on the rightness or wrongness of if they do or not.)

Besides, if I can see that Humphreys isn’t even getting my blog post right and is leaving relevant material out in his quoting, then why should I trust him on the rest of his research?

Of course, this could change if the photo is taken down and the real quote given in its entirety with the surrounding context, but I suspect that won’t happen because on the whole, it’s a condemnation of mythicism, which it deserves.

We’ll see what happens.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Unmasking The Pagan Christ

November 25, 2014

What do I think of Porter and Bedard’s book? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Unmasking

Unmasking The Pagan Christ is a response to the book of Tom Harpur’s called “The Pagan Christ.” It’s important to note that the reason authors like Bedard and Porter are spending time on this topic is not because the idea of Harpur’s is a serious debate in the academic community. It’s not. They wrote it for the same reason I had my recent debate with Ken Humphreys. It is because this is affecting the rank and file of the church and instilling doubt in them. This is also because we as the church have been doing an abysmal job at equipping Christians to answer challenges so much so that even the craziest of theories has an impact.

Such is the case with Harpur’s book. Harpur’s idea is that Jesus wasn’t a historical figure. Instead, he’s a sort of mishmash of varios pagan deities, though especially Horus and Osiris. He wants to go instead with a sort of Cosmic Christ. A universal Christ as it were. Yet to do this, the historical figure must simply be banished.

Thankfully, there are people out there like Bedard and Porter who are doing the work to make sure that this kind of material is dealt with. A large number of scholars have had the right attitude towards mythicism  (This is nonsense) but had the wrong response. (Therefore if we ignore it, it will just go away.) This is especially so for Christian scholars who ignore this not at their peril, but at the peril of their fellow Christians who aren’t as equipped.

Of course, atheistic scholars and others have a role to play in this as well. There are atheistic scholars out there who are frankly quite embarrassed by how many atheists are jumping on the mythicist bandwagon, as they should be. For atheists who complain about Christians arguing against them on evolution without studying science (And they are certainly right to do so!), it looks like too many atheists are jumping on this idea without really studying history.

Bedard and Porter take us through a course in what Egyptologists really say about Horus and Osiris and how what Harpur says just doesn’t match up. They also demonstrate that Harpur relies on outdated scholarship like Massey and Kuhn, that quite frankly wasn’t even taken seriously in its own day. One aspect I think quite helpful in the look at Egyptology is to point out that the word KRST that shows up in Egypt does not mean Christ, but rather refers to burial. This is commonly cited by mythicists.

The authors use the work of actual Egyptologists who reference what the original works about Horus and Osiris themselves say. They then demonstrate that the parallels that Harpur claims to see are more forced and read into the text instead of being read out of the text. They do demonstrate that there are some parallels, but these are parallels we can expect from all religions. (It’s not much of a shock if many religions use water as a means of cleansing, have people share food together in a meal, etc.)

Along the way, the authors also give us a look at Mithras, another favorite of the pagan copycat crowd. They point out that if anyone dies and comes back in the story of Mithras, it is not Mithras, but rather it is the bull that he kills. Those who claim Christ is a copy of Mithras have likely never read any real scholarship on Mithras.

After that, we get to a more positive case. What is the evidence that Jesus existed? Here I think the authors do a fine job, though the arguments will not be new to people in this field. The authors point out how Harpur misunderstands sayings of the church fathers and does not deal adequately with the extra-biblical evidence.

I am thankful that books like this one exist and I hope more do come. Mythicism cannot be ignored at this point. It is not because it is a powerful theory. It is not. It is because it is a theory that leads away people from doing sound and real history. It results in a conspiracy theory thinking that is extremely anti-intellectual and anti-historical. It is my hope that scholars of all worldviews and positions will start to deal with this and give it the deathblow and humiliation that it deserves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Tips On Research

July 15, 2014

Is there a proper way to go sifting through claims and separate the wheat from the chaff? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As Christians, we are to be people of the truth, and therefore we need to check as much as we can and find out if it is true or not. If we say something that is false on a major issue at one point or something that is easily disproven, then it damages our testimony when we proclaim Christ as the risen Lord.

Of course, this also applies to too many atheists who don’t bother to do proper research either. There can easily be confirmation bias going on on both sides. Christians can too often readily believe anything if it meshes with their view of reality, such as an interpretation of Scripture. Atheists can believe many claims just because they happen to go against Christianity despite being seen as jokes in scholarship of the day.

So let’s give some tips.

First off, when you’re doing internet research, be extremely careful. Anyone can set up a blog or a web site today and look authoritative.

“Well don’t you have a blog here? Shouldn’t I be suspicious of what you say?”

Please do.

Seriously. Please do.

If you don’t think I’m a trusted authority, by all means look up what I say. If I’m wrong about something, I want to know about it and if you make a persuasive enough case with good evidence and scholarship, then I will be able to change my mind.

The source is something that must always be considered. No. This is not the same as a genetic fallacy. The claim can be right or wrong regardless of the source, but the source tells you the degree of credibility you need to give it at the start.

Want an example? Sure. Unfortunately, this is a real one. A Muslim actually posted in a Muslim debate group I used to frequent that modern scholars knew the stories about there being ancient Greek civilization were mythical. I’m not talking about Atlantis or believing in Greek gods or anything like that. I’m talking about the civilization period. This lady posted a video to show the professors talking about it.

Source?

The Onion.

For those who don’t know, the Onion is a satire. The articles are entirely jokes not meant to be taken seriously. I’d like to say this only fools crazies on the internet. I’d like to, but I’d be wrong. Huffington Post lists several examples here.

There are several sources out there like that that are satirical. Be on the lookout for them. If you read on a web site something that seems bizarre, there is no harm of just doing a simple Google search to see if the site you are reading this on is satirical.

A place Christians can often make this mistake at is end-times hysteria.

Too many things have been reported to be the Mark of the Beast and every time that they’ve been shown to be false, another one just rises up. There is a new sensation going on constantly in many dispensational circles. If you’re one of those dispensationalists who is not jumping at everything called prophecy fulfillment, I have no problem with you. In fact, I’m quite pleased that one of the best criticisms of The Harbinger is actually by a dispensationalist.

Definitely shame on you if you buy into these people that are certain they can tell you when Jesus is coming back. They can’t. They won’t. Guess what it does to the cause of Christ when people sell all they have and travel across the country proclaiming the end because of what someone like Harold Camping said?

This gets us into moving past considering the source and then really looking at the claim. A claim can seem plausible and from a source that could be reliable, but it could also be false. This kind of event happens on Facebook constantly. Someone will put up a news story and then everyone will share it and talk about it except for that one problem.

The story isn’t true.

A famous occurrence of this happening is when an email was going around several years ago about NASA finding Joshua’s last day. NASA had to respond to calls from people wanting to know more about it and unfortunately being told that the claim wasn’t true.

In politics, this can happen often. I’ve had someone in the past who would regularly email me something about Obama that was a highly negative story that would be such a great exposing of who he really was.

Except for that same problem. It wasn’t true.

And keep this in mind. Politically, I am no supporter of Obama. I am so conservative in my politics I prefer to fly on planes that have two right wings. Obama politically to me is an opponent, but if I want to expose my opponent, I want it to be on true grounds, and not false grounds. We should not want those who we are in opposition to to be spoken of falsely.

This is also why when someone says “Dr. X says such and such” you should ask some questions.

Who is this person?

What is their doctorate in?

Do they teach at an accredited university?

Are they respected in the field by those who agree with them and those who disagree with them?

Is their doctorate in a relevant field?

If those questions are answered in a way that gives credibility to the person then you need to look at the claim more. Unfortunately, too many videos that present these claims do not include proper citation. For instance, I just got done watching a video by some Christ-mythers who would say “X said this.” Where? Who knows! Rarely was anything ever said.

Christ-mythers, by the way, are excellent examples of people who do not do research. The Christ-mythers will fail in the field of NT and history at the questions above as none of them will be respected in the field by people they disagree with.

Consider Richard Carrier for instance. Carrier is highly respected and admired among internet atheists. Take that crowd away and there’s nothing. Most people in Europe have never even heard of him. Compare that to someone like N.T. Wright who teaches at an accredited university and is recognized as a top-notch biblical scholar by even his opponents.

I am interested in seeing what’s going to happen in the future for all the internet atheists who have put all their eggs in the Carrier basket.

This brings us to the next point. See what the opposition has to say. Read the best scholarship that you can on the other side. A question I often ask internet atheists nowadays is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship that disagreed with you?”

Let’s return to the Christ-myth theory as my favorite example. How many times do I meet internet atheists who say “We don’t even know that Jesus existed.” Yeah we do. Scholarship across the board has held he does for years and theories that he did not exist have been found to be extremely lacking.

The reply will often be that these are a bunch of Christers trying to save their faith. The answer is that this is simply false. A large segment of the Society of Biblical Literature is non-Christian for instance. Bart Ehrman is a member of the SBL as are others who would say they’re atheist, agnostic, or liberal. (Some could say they’re Christian, but only in the sense that they follow the ethics of Christ without believing in anything miraculous about him.)

Also, even Christian scholars have to have their work pass peer-review. It won’t necessarily mean that their reviewers agree with their conclusion, but it will mean that they’ve shown they’ve done their research and are able to defend their view.

When you read this opposition, try to read scholarly opposition as much as you can and read it when published by an academic publisher. Of course, not everything is like that, and I say that as the co-author of two ebooks. A claim being in a non-scholarly source does not make it false, but it does mean you should always be willing to check the source of the claim and make sure that the person is interacting with the best in scholarship on the issue.

For an example of interacting with the best scholarship on the issue, consider the new atheists. The new atheists regularly have a habit of NOT interacting with the best of their opposition. I believe I have demonstrated that in this post.

By and large also, I do prefer books to videos and blog posts and such. Don’t discount those entirely, as I am a blogger after all, but try to see them as stepping stones. That’s why on my podcast I try to bring the best in scholarship and hope that it will be a stepping stone getting you to want to go look at the works of the scholars that I interview.

This also applies across the board. Don’t think I don’t practice what I teach either. Of course, I will make mistakes, but I spend plenty of time reading and studying. You can follow me on Goodreads if you want to see what it is that I’m reading. There is no such thing as being knowledgeable in the field without doing the research. There is no shortcut to learning. There are many ways to learn, but all of them require work.

Do good research. I don’t care what position you have. Just research it. In fact, I would rather talk about theology with an informed atheist more than an uninformed Christian. My standards are the same on both ends. I respect people who do the research about what they argue and know the other side well. I don’t respect those who are dogmatic on their side without doing any background research.

Be a part of the former. Study.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How To Not Make A Messiah

May 6, 2014

If you were to create an account of a Messiah for the people of Israel, what would you not do? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many times we’re told about how Jesus was a made-up figure meant to inspire the people of Israel and to be a challenge to Caesar. All manner of motives have been given for this great hoax to take place, but I’d like to consider this idea. What kind of Messiah would you make if you wanted one just to win a popularity contest and get the people to follow you? I think it’s easier to talk about what you would not do.

First, you would not have anything that would indicate that the birth of such a person was illegitimate. That is, you would want him to be a descendant of his father and his mother. Some might think it would be good to have a deity bring the child into existence in a more direct way, but for a Jew, this would seem too close to paganism. Therefore, you will have them come from a family of high honor.

You also would make sure that this family would be a wealthy family. This would fit the scene of your Messiah. After all, in the ancient world, poor people were not trusted. Rich ones were the ones that had the favor of the gods and the poor were the ones who were more prone to deceive you because you have something they want.

You will also make sure this Messiah comes from a town that is well-known and honorable. You’d avoid a no-name town that no one cares about such as, oh, Nazareth. The birthplace of your Messiah will be a determining factor of his future after all.

You will also seek to have him come from a region that is not looked down on in the world, such as the area that we call Palestine today. Claims from that part of the world were not taken seriously by the populace as a whole so while this might impress Jews, it would certainly not impress Gentiles.

You would make sure this person has a great career. They would likely be a king or a military leader. For the Jews, this would mean someone in the line of David, who the Messiah was to be a descendant of. For Gentiles, a powerful warrior would earn their respect, especially for those who were not happy with the Roman Empire.

You would not have this person be a miracle man. Why? Because people like Lucian and others made it a habit to debunk miracle claims and the world was full of people who were skeptical of miracles. Adding miracles would make your messiah seem like the modern equivalent of a televangelist.

You would make sure his followers were the best of the best. That would mean people who fully understood his teachings and embraced the reality of who he was. Not having your Messiah be understood would be an indication that your Messiah was not a good teacher. He would also be known by the company of his closest followers.

You would make sure his immediate family accepted his claims as well. After all, if one’s own family doesn’t accept one’s unique claims about oneself, then why should anyone else do so? Having the recognition of your family is important in this field.

You would have him travel abundantly. This is the Messiah who is to save the world after all. There’s no need to limit him to one country or people. Go out and spread him with all the world and make sure he has a worldwide reputation.

You would have him be embraced by all his people. After all, why should anyone think that a person is the Messiah of the Jews if it turns out the Jews themselves do not accept such a claim? How could someone proclaim such a message with confidence.

You would certainly not have him die a shameful death. Now for a shameful death, I can’t think of any more shameful than crucifixion. This was the humiliation given to dissidents of Rome who were seeking to be their own kings. Such people would be branded as traitors to Rome and defeated by the Roman Empire. For a Jew, they would be seen as under God’s curse. In any way, following such a person would mean identifying with him, something that would dissuade people from following him.

If this Messiah figure died, you would make sure he had an honorable burial. That would mean that all the people would come immediately to mourn him. He would be mourned by his family and he would be buried in the tomb of his ancestors and near the place where he lived. Anything else would be dishonorable.

This person if dead would be divinely exalted. This would mean this person was immediately ushered into the presence of God and received vindication that way. Any other way, like a bodily resurrection, would be far harder to explain after all and be the route that could be most easily disproven, which is not helpful if you’re making up this claim. You want something that cannot be disproven at all. Besides, this is what happened to the emperor and you’re wanting to rival the emperor. Who wants a bodily resurrection anyway? That returns you to a prison.

You would also make sure your belief was not exclusive. Your messiah would be a divine figure indeed, but he would be one among many. This would be someone that your Gentile friends after all could worship along with all their other deities.

Now these ideas are important to follow, but it would be difficult to follow all of them, though possible. Still, one should be absolutely certain that any belief that went against all of these would have to be doomed to failure. That would be the last kind of Messiah that anyone would make up and follow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/30/2013: Dr. Paul Maier

November 25, 2013

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I am writing this one early because due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I will be out of town, but I want you all to know about what’s coming up this week.

We’re going to be discussing the topic of ancient historiography. How is it that ancient historiography was done and how is it that we can know something is true in the field? Fortunately, we will have a remarkable expert on to discuss that, and that’s Dr. Paul Maier.

The relevance of this topic is that so few people today have any idea how to do this. For instance, we are told that no contemporary historian mentions Jesus supposedly. Yet how many of them talk about Hannibal or about Alexander the Great or how many of them talk about the erupting of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.?

How is it that someone can trust a source that is decades after the event? In the case of people like Hannibal and Alexander the Great, we normally rely on people who write about the event CENTURIES after it took place. If we can trust them then, is there a reason to not trust the gospels?

What are the rules that one uses? Does one accept everything they read uncritically? When does an ancient account get the benefit of the doubt? If we have sources that disagree amongst themselves, what exactly do we do in order to explain that? Can we arrive at the truth or do we throw everything out and give up?

What about the claims of miracles? Do we have any criteria whereby we can examine a claim of an event that could be deemed impossible?? If we were to apply the rules of ancient historiography to the gospels and to the person of Jesus, how would Jesus turn out? How would the gospels turn out?

This is a needed program today as many of us debate atheists on the internet who frankly don’t know the first thing about ancient historiography, and to be fair, too many Christians don’t know the first thing either. This is not just an atheist problem. This is a problem with people in general not knowing how to do history and only being taught facts on history instead of a methodology on history.

This is why it is important to learn from those who are credentialed historians and that is why I am excited to get to have Paul Maier on my show to discuss this. While much of this has been about Jesus, I really plan to discuss ancient historiography in general and then in the end tie it in with Jesus, especially explaining why the Christ-myth theory is not accepted by serious historians.

I hope you’ll be listening in this Saturday from 3-5 PM EST to hear Dr. Paul Maier on the show. The date will be 11/30/2013. The call in number if you want to ask a question is 714-242-5180. The link can be found here.

Hope you’ll be listening!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts on Joseph Atwill

October 14, 2013

Did the Romans invent the Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There has been much talk lately about Joseph Atwill and his claim that Jesus was invented by the Romans. It’s still bizarre to think the Romans would create a religion that they would go out and persecute. Still, many are claiming that Atwill is a biblical scholar as even the press release about the announcement said.

Reality? He’s not.

Is that the opinion of someone like me, a Christian who believes strongly in the reliability of the NT? No. That’s even the opinion of a Christ myther himself like Richard Carrier. Unfortunately as Carrier points out, news of this has not reached Richard Dawkins. Carrier also adds that Robert Price and Acharya S. disagree with this idea. As Carrier says about these people like Atwill:

They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

If those three, some of the biggest names in Christ-mythicism, say that your theory is bunk, it’s quite likely that it is.

Now it’s rare to find scholarly talk about an idea such as this. Why? Because by and large scholarship ignores crank theories like this. In fact, most people if they really thought they had something would want to take their idea to the scholars first. Larry Hurtado has said that

I haven’t heard of the guy before either (Joseph Atwill), largely because, well, he’s a nobody in the field of biblical studies. No PhD in the subject (or related subject), never held an academic post, never (so far as I can tell) published anything in any reputable journal that’s peer-reviewed, or in any reputable monograph series, or presented at any academic conference where competent people could assess his claims. Instead, per the flimflam drill, he directs his claims to the general public, knowing that they are unable to assess them, and so, by sheer novelty of the claim he hopes to attract a crowd, sales, and publicity. It’s a living, I guess (of sorts).

In saying why he doesn’t bother with it that much, Hurtado says that

It’s not necesssary to engage something so self-evidently unfounded and incompetent. If his press releases at all reflect his stance, it’s not worth the time. We scholars have enough to do engaging work that is by people with some competence. There isn’t time or value in dealing with nonsense. And Atwill and his ilk don’t really want scholarly engagement anyway. Again, let it go.

And when told Atwill would want scholarly engagement Hurtado says

No. He wouldn’t. Otherwise, he wouldn’t avoid the normal scholarly venues to test theories. These people know that they would be shredded by competent scholars.

And yet, it’s making a buzz. Fortunately, even some atheists like P.Z. Myers are condemning it. Myers does not hold back.

I think a few too many atheists are seeing “Scholar Says Jesus Was Fake” and are not thinking any more deeply than that. The whole idea is ridiculous.

If you’re one of the many atheists who gleefully forwarded this to me or credulously mentioned it on twitter…hello, there. I see you’ve already met the good friend of so many half-baked wackos in the world, Confirmation Bias.

That many atheists did in fact spread this immediately and treated it seriously shows that there is indeed a great deal of ignorance in the atheistic community. “Well what about your Christian community?!” I’ve been saying for years the church has failed to educate its members and their fear at something like this is a prime example of it. Our tendency to want to protect ourselves more than anything else keeps us from really isolating with these issues going on in the real world. As I told one skeptic recently, I condemn ignorance on all sides.

Here are some of my problems with the whole theory.

First off, it will HAVE to deal with all the counter-evidence. Can he deal with Tacitus? Can he deal with Josephus? (I know his theory claims to rely on Josephus, but will scholars of Josephus support it?) Can he deal with Mara Bar-Serapion? How about a question of the reliability of the NT? Can he deal with claims for that?

Second, what about the Pauline epistles. The earliest epistles come before Josephus wrote. These epistles also include a creed such as in 1 Cor. 15 that comes to within a few years at most of the resurrection event. Can Atwill’s theory deal with this?

Third, can he demonstrate that the gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman biographies would be able to be read in this way? This theory has been tried over and over by so many people and it has never ended well. Why give Atwill any credit?

Fourth, does he have any evidence from the Roman perspective? Does he have some ancient mention of Jesus that we have never found even though scholars have been looking through works of ancient society? What would this say for Christ mythers who say that there is no mention of Jesus? Why mention Jesus if Jesus was not being talked about?

Fifth, can his theory account for the dating of the NT? Would this not presuppose that the gospels were written after the writings of Josephus? Has he made a case for that? If Josephus based his account on the gospels, which he didn’t, then Atwill’s theory is in trouble. Atwill will require a late date. It would also require the writings of Josephus to also be in Jerusalem at the time already and being read, which will be problematic enough even if just Mark dates to before 70 A.D.

Now by all means, let Atwill present his evidence, but keep in mind he’s trying to bypass the scholarly community and go straight to the sensationalist route. That might be a more popular approach, but it’s not the proper approach to academic work of this nature. The reason one seeks to bypass the scholarly community is most likely because one cannot survive scrutiny under that community.

Check the sources always on claims like this. That so many atheists have passed this on shows that there is just as much blind faith and lack of biblical scholarship in the atheistic community as in the Christian community they rail against. That so many Christians get scared of something like this is an important demonstration of why the church needs a good education in basic apologetics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Jesus Is Not Worth Talking About

September 24, 2013

Why should no one care to talk about Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Today, Jesus is a really popular guy. Everyone who is informed today in the world knows something about Jesus. Everyone has to come up with a response to him. Islam that came up after Christianity had to explain Jesus. Religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that existed prior to Christianity try to give a place to Jesus. Cult groups that rise up have to say something about Jesus.

In pop culture, he’s everywhere. Sure. We could talk about a movie like “The Passion of the Christ” but how many movies do we see where a hero dies and we see his arms outstretched and think “He’s supposed to mirror Christ.” How many times do we see the concept of one person sacrificing themselves for another and realize that we’re supposed to see Christ?

Discussion today still rages around this person. Philosophers and ethicists look at his life and discuss whether miracles are possible and what the great teaching of Jesus was. Ethically, most would say Jesus was ahead of his time. Even those who are not Christians like Jesus. Richard Dawkins even has support for the idea of “Atheists for Jesus.” Even those who don’t think Jesus was a historical figure often can point to several good teachings we’d like to see followed in the gospels.

When we see such a figure like Jesus, we have this idea that surely everyone must have been excited when he showed up on the scene! Surely everyone must have been paying attention to someone who claimed to be the Son of God and was working miracles!

But no. For the ancient world, Jesus was not worth talking about.

And that’s for very good reason.

Suppose today that somehow, Mormonism took over America. Then using America as its main tool of evangelism, the Mormon Church became the dominant world religion after that with everyone all over the world knowing about Joseph Smith.

Now suppose one historian says “I want to know all about the origins of Joseph Smith!” So off he goes to do some research and studies the accounts and says “Well, I see we have a notice of birth here, but that was for everyone. Nothing special about Joseph Smith.”

The historian looks and notices that few people outside the church really were interested in the life of Smith. If they wrote about him, they would write to condemn him if anything. Even nearly 200 years later, the ones who would write about him most were generally those following his tradition or those who were his critics wanting to stop his tradition.

Our historian could be puzzled. This man is known all over the world today after all. Why would no one make a big deal about his life?

The mistake many people make is the same with Jesus. They look at how He is today and assume that it must have been the same for those people back then. The truth is, it wasn’t. Jesus just really wasn’t worth talking about. In fact, what I tell people is that it doesn’t surprise me how few sources outside the NT mention Jesus. What surprises me is that any of them bother to do so.

Many skeptics make a big deal out of what is called the argument from silence. The principle one must keep in mind with silence is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak.

There are some claims that we would not expect to see mentioned because they’re mundane. The fact that the president had breakfast this morning would not be worth mentioning in a future biography. Most people do that already. The fact that he is in a tight political situation with Syria would be worth mentioning.

Let’s suppose however that someone shows up centuries from now who is unaware of who the president is and they pick up a biography. They read it and find no mention of Michelle Obama anywhere in it. They could be justified in thinking that Obama wasn’t married. Why? Because an important aspect of any president we’ve had is who their first lady was. Note they could have justification, but they’d still be wrong.

When someone writes something claiming it is historical, they write it for two reasons. The first one is that they think that it is true and they want you to believe it. The second is they think that it is false and they still want you to believe it. One could write about a belief they wish to criticize, but they want you to know they think their criticism is true.

Also, we have to keep in mind that in the ancient world, much has been lost. We could say some of it has been destroyed by some groups, including the Christians, but we can also say much has been lost due to the ravages of time. For instance, we would love to have Thallus’s record of the darkness at the crucifixion. We don’t. Most likely because it has been lost over time. Furthermore, keep in mind how much would have been lost in Jerusalem where the most would have been said about Jesus! After its destruction, Josephus even said it looked like there had never been a city there.

Suppose there was an event that took place and 100% of the people noticed this event. Then suppose that 100% of the people recorded it. Already, this is extremely unlikely. 100% of the people who could write wouldn’t even mention the rule of Caesar due to writing about their own interests. Still, stay with the argument. Now suppose 15% of those writings have survived. What are the odds we will have a statement about that event happening today?

Answer: 15%.

This gets even more complicated when we realize that we live in a post-Gutenberg society. Today if something happens, it hits the written word before too long. Blogs can be written near instantly. Newspapers will have it all the next day. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites will have the news everywhere. It will show up on the major news networks as well and even with pictures in many of these places. Why? Because we have the means to do that today and it works well. If we see someone in our society who is incapable of reading, we find that person to be an anomaly. How can you make it without reading? Gutenberg made it so that books are more accessible to people and therefore made reading more of a necessity.

Now go back to the time of Jesus.

Let’s suppose in Judea about 10% of the population could read. Also, keep in mind that even if you could read, being able to write was a totally different skill. Furthermore, paper would not come about cheap. It was a costly process to make and ink was just as costly. Then, you also had to pay someone who could send your message to its recipients. In fact, the cost of writing one of Paul’s epistles if put by today’s standards could be around $2,500.

You can go this route if you want to, or you can go the route of oral tradition whereby you could have items memorized and in a society where memorization was prized. After all, if you could not make a note to yourself and read it later, you will make it by improving your memory over time. Furthermore, Jesus’s parables were often memorable and easy to learn. We can have a parallel today by seeing how easy it is to learn a song after hearing it a couple of times or to tell a joke after just one hearing.

In the oral tradition, the story would be told to a community and that community would pass it on and check itself regularly to make sure the facts were still the same. Minor details could change, but the gist of the story had to remain the same and checks and balances were in place to make sure it happened. In reality, this tradition was more valued than the written tradition because it had more checks and balances to it.

So you can write your message down which would cost thousands of dollars and be heard by few, or you could have the story spread orally.

It was no contest.

Hence, when we are told “Why didn’t anyone write this down for decades?” the response is “Why should they?” It was only when the apostles began to die off that they wanted to get their teaching down for the future generations as apostolic authority was very important. Until then, there wasn’t much need.

“Well why would no one else really want to mention the Son of God doing miracles?”

Question. How many of you have investigated Lourdes? How about perhaps Benny Hinn? How about any miracle claims? Now Lourdes I think has some credibility to it. I don’t attach any to Benny Hinn. Yet few of us have really bothered to really investigate miracle claims from any of these sources because they’re written off right at the start. If you have a worldview that says “Miracles can’t happen” then are you really wanting to take the time to investigate Lourdes or just write it off? In fact, those of us who have a worldview that says that miracles can happen rarely investigate Lourdes. We can be just as skeptical!

To the ancient world, someone doing miracles was viewed with great suspicion like a televangelist today and people sought to explain away miraculous claims. Just look at the way Lucian liked to expose a false prophet in his own time.

Do we really think someone sitting in Rome who is concerned about political and economic situations in the Roman Empire is going to want to go and investigate claims of someone like Jesus doing miracles in Judea based on what for him is just hearsay? No. He’s going to dismiss them just as much as you or I would.

Oh yes. Jesus is in Judea. Let’s talk about that. It was an important part of the world as trade routes went through there and it did connect three continents, but it was also a place of strange customs. The people held to what was then seen as a bizarre monotheistic viewpoint and where tolerated only because their belief was old. Judea did not produce great politicians or ethicists or philosophers. The only Jewish philosopher we have of the time, Philo, lived in Alexandria.

Why would anyone take a Jew from this area seriously?

Then of course, there’s the idea that Jesus was crucified. If anything says Jesus is not worth mentioning, it’s that he was crucified. There’s no point in listening after that point. Jesus was guilty of treason to Rome and was seen as guilty of blasphemy to YHWH. On both counts, he would not be mentioned by Jews or Greeks both. Crucified people were not worth talking about, except perhaps only to add further shame to them.

So what do we have of Jesus? He never really traveled in his adult life past Judea. He never held political office. He did not fight any major battles. He was said to perform these questionable practices called miracles. He was from a land that was just bizarre to people. His own hometown in there was a small place not worth talking about. He was crucified.

“But he was the Son of God!”

So He claimed, and yet people looking at that above paragraph that talks about Him would say “If He was the Son of God, you think He’d have avoided crucifixion and have done a bit more.” That claim wasn’t taken any more seriously than you take the claim of the man in the local insane asylum who claims to be the Son of God.

Who talks about Jesus the most? His students, and this is the same for most any great figure in ancient history who’s a teacher. Muslims talk about Muhammad the most. Buddhists talk about Buddha the most. Mormons talk about Joseph Smith the most. Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about Charles Russell the most.

We can look back today and realize Christianity did in fact become the dominant world religion, but no one would have seen that coming at the start. Until around the time of Constantine, it was seen as still something that could be shut down in fact. Even afterwards, Julian the Apostate tried to shut it down and restore paganism, which, of course, he failed at.

Today, we expect people to talk about Jesus. More people can read and write. We have more ways of distributing the written word and its much cheaper. We see the effect today that Jesus did in fact have on history. The Roman Empire was wrong and Jesus was right. Today, we must mention Him.

Back then it was not so, and it should not surprise us.

It is for reasons like this that the argument from silence so often used just doesn’t work. Where we expect to see such silence anyway, the argument is weak, and we can rightly expect that such silence would surround the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Legend

June 24, 2013

What do I think of Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy’s book. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have often made the complaint about how weak our apologetic material is due to a lack of real scholarly interaction. Many popular writers avoid it. There have been writers in the past who have not taken this route such as Lee Strobel in interviewing numerous scholars, and J. Warner Wallace, who in the back of his book “Cold-Case Christianity” lists a number of scholarly works and authors to go to.

Fortunately, the Jesus Legend is not like that. I noticed on the back of the book that even Robert Price encourages people to read this book alongside of his. Unfortunately, I suspect most who read Price’s book will not take the time to read a work like this one.

The Jesus Legend is a work written to deal with many of the ideas out there that say Jesus is entirely mythical or that there was much baggage added on to a historical figure that came from pagan sources. You’ll find everyone from Robert Price to John Dominic Crossan dealt with here.

Boyd and Eddy are upfront about their bias at the start. They are Christians. They have no thought that any of us will come to the data entirely neutral. I agree with them. We all have our biases and presuppositions that we bring to any area of study.

The start of the work is about the methodology that will be used, which is absolutely essential. Too often claims are made with no idea given as to how those claims are reached. Boyd and Eddy give reasons why the assumption that miracles cannot happen and all happens on a naturalistic system should be called into question. They are not against someone being critical, but they are stating that those who are critical of miracles should just be just as critical of their skepticism of miracles to make sure it is well-grounded.

From there, the writers lay out the groundwork of first century Palestine. Again, this is a must. Jesus must fit into his historical context somehow. This also includes looking at the question of the relationship of Judaism to Hellenism. Would they be open to making up a Jesus and use pagan ideas to do so?

The next part deals with ancient history and Jesus. We are often told today that if Jesus was so important, surely some people would talk about him! In reality, we should be surprised anyone did. Jesus’s account would have been seen with skepticism and many a Messiah figure was walking around town supposedly doing miracles and such.

In fact, that he is mentioned by Tacitus and Josephus and others instead of all these other would-be Messiahs is incredible. It shows Jesus had the farthest reach, and why should this be the case? Could it be because there is more to the case for Jesus than for anyone else?

What about Paul? Paul wrote when there was a heavy background tradition orally sharing much about Jesus, yet there are allusions to the work of Jesus in Paul and facts about his life. In an oral community, these would have been recognized. (The authors want us to keep in mind we live in a post-Gutenberg culture so it’s difficult to understand how an oral culture would work.)

Speaking of the oral tradition, that’s our next stop. Boyd and Eddy give a rundown on how oral cultures work and what impact writing would have on them. Also, they ask the question concerning if the events in the gospels really happened, or were these the result of prophets in the early church having revelations about Jesus and getting them imposed on him for the gospels?

The final section deals with the use of the gospels as historical sources for Jesus. It starts with answering the question of genre. If the gospels are shown to be Greco-Roman biographies, and they are, then this increases their credibility. Next the authors evaluate the gospels as sources. Are they reliable? Can we give them general trustworthiness? Finally, they have a section completing their cumulative case. The end result is the Christ of orthodox Christianity is the same as the Christ of history. No other Christ better fits the picture.

I hope there will be more works coming out like The Jesus Legend. The only downside is that few people who read someone like Price will bother to pick up a work like this one. It is their loss when they refuse to do so. Christianity needs more material like this than it does soft apologetics that lacks in-depth scholarly research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Rulers Of This Age

May 29, 2013

Where did the rulers of the age reside? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’ve been looking lately at some arguments given to advance the idea that Jesus never existed. An interesting verse given is in 1 Cor. 2:8. The text reads as follows:

“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Now it is argued that elsewhere where Paul uses the word archon, which is translated as rulers, then it refers to rulers of the air and that refers to spiritual powers. So it is that Jesus did not really confront earthly rulers, but he instead confronted the rulers in the heavenlies and this heavenly story later on took on an earthly meaning.

One place where Paul uses it is in Ephesians 2, but there he clarifies the term by speaking of the ruler of the power of the air. The qualification is so you will know that Paul is not speaking about an earthly ruler but in this case about a spiritual ruler.

Another place the term is used is in Romans 13, but here I see no basis whatsoever for thinking that it refers to any sort of heavenly ruler. The passage is about governing authorities on Earth and how Christians are to respond to them. So what do we do in 1 Cor. 2?

Do we have any reason to think that the reading of earthly rulers would not apply? Upfront, no. The only basis for taking it the other way is because somehow saying rulers of this age makes it a spiritual battle going on.

Now of course, Christians would not deny that spiritual powers were at work in the crucifixion of Jesus, but these were spiritual powers who operated through earthly rulers. The problem with people like Carrier and others is that they have made it an entirely either/or situation. It is EITHER spiritual powers at work meaning this is a myth, OR it is earthly powers at work. If it is spiritual powers, then it is ipso facto by that argument not earthly powers, but why should this be accepted?

In the ancient world, there was not this great dichotomy between so-called natural and supernatural. Instead, the divine was seen to be active in everything and that included earthly affairs. If you asked if spiritual powers had Jesus crucified you could be told “Yes.” If you asked if earthly powers had him crucified, you could be told “Yes.”

Do we have any evidence that goes for the traditional interpretation?

Yes!

Tacitus in the Annals in 15.44 tells us that Jesus was crucified and this under Pontius Pilate. Lucian tells us that Christians follow a crucified sophist. We could also include Josephus depending on how much of the testimonium is considered valid since it refers to the crucifixion. Definitely we could include the gospels, Acts, and numerous other statements in other epistles and other Pauline epistles.

All of these other statements MUST be wrong for the mythicist theory to hold here. That sounds like awfully weak ground.

It’s at this point I do wish to remind skeptical readers that there are several atheists who admit Jesus was a historical figure and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives.

I conclude that the case is just not persuasive at all to see this as less than a simple statement of fact that Jesus was crucified by the authorities on Earth at the time. This is a contrast to the soon coming age of the Messiah when Jesus will instead stand in judgment over them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Passed On What I Received

May 22, 2013

Did Paul receive a creed from another, or was it something else? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The point has been argued that when Paul says he passed on what he received in 1 Cor. 15, that that is the language that is used in Galatians 1 and Galatians 1 refers to a divine revelation. This leads us to the conclusion that Paul is not passing a creed that he has received, but sharing a revelation he has had of a divine and heavenly Jesus that later got turned into an earthly one.

Yes. That really is what is being argued.

So what are we to make of such a claim? Well the word for received is the same in Galatians 1:9 as it is in 1 Cor. 15, and both of them are talking about the gospel, but there are marked differences and that is where we need to look. When comparing two things, it is most important to see how they are different.

In 1 Cor. 15, Paul says he passed on what he received, and the information about passing on puts this in the area of oral tradition. He got it from someone else. Scholarship agrees across the board that this information is not original with Paul. This was instead an early creedal Christian statement. The latest you’ll usually see this dated is five years afterwards. Even the Jesus Seminar places it early.

There is no doubt that this is a creed as well. It was formulated for easy memorization and contains a number of words in it that are non-Pauline and as the experts in the language tell me, is written in a very rhythmic fashion to aid in memorization.

What is going on instead in Galatians 1? Paul is talking about the confirmation of the gospel. No doubt, he had some content of it already. He knew the belief that he was persecuting! He just didn’t believe it! Let’s look at some of the language he uses.

1:12 “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. ”

Paul is saying that his gospel is from Christ Himself and he received it by a revelation. Does this mean He received all the content? No. He knew what was being said in his life of persecution prior. What he instead received was confirmation of the gospel.

1:15-17 “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”

Consider the language of “set apart before I was born.” Does that sound familiar? Consider this other passage from the OT.

““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.””

That’s Jeremiah 1:5. Paul is finding himself in the tradition of Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations in a far greater sense as he goes into Gentile territory. His divine commission was also an act of God. Why do this? He’s setting up authority. He is showing his authority is equal to that of the other apostles. He’s also showing he is not dependent on them, which is going to be important for when he challenges Peter. He’s not a student publicly admonishing his teacher. That would be disgraceful. He’s an apostle dealing with someone who is on the same level as he is. After all, the Judaizers could say “We are doing what is proper! Look at what Peter did!” Paul says he has the right to speak due to his divine commission. As Christ called Peter, so he also called Paul.

Keep in mind also that Paul is quite clear on what is revelation and what is not. He does not simply make a claim and then say it is revelation. In 1 Cor. 7 Paul says in regard to a question that “The Lord, not I, says” meaning that there is a clear answer in the Jesus tradition. Yet later he says “I, not the Lord, say” meaning that this isn’t explicitly covered in the Jesus tradition, but Paul is going to give his answer to it and he thinks he has the wisdom as an apostle to answer it.

What this means for us is that Paul is very careful with his words. He wants to make clear what has its origins in Jesus and what doesn’t. His words in Galatians indicate that the apostles gave him the right hand of fellowship. To deny Jesus ever even lived would mean that Paul was persecuting a group that showed up suddenly with no historical basis, and just as quickly changed his mind and joined that group. This would mean that all of these Jews suddenly thought it would be a good idea to abandon their ancient heritage given by YHWH Himself and take up another belief system and just as Paul got caught up in this delusion, he happened to meet other apostles who had done so at the same time, and oh yes, there was also a creedal statement with eyewitnesses mentioned that shows up soon after and no one takes the time to call into question before abandoning their ancient traditions.

You are free to take a position that the apostles were wrong on the resurrection. You are free to say that some information about Jesus is legendary. You are free to say that the accounts are unreliable. Let’s just stop the nonsensical idea however that while the ancients might have been gullible, and I would contend they weren’t, that they were so idiotically gullible to make such quick changes that would put their entire lives on the line. To change a quote from Monday’s blog “It’s wrong to say Jesus never rose from the dead. It’s very wrong to say He never existed.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters