Posts Tagged ‘Raphael Lataster’

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: There Was No Jesus. There Is No God.

September 17, 2013

What do I think of this book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Raphael Lataster’s book is said to be a scholarly examination of the evidence for the existence of Jesus and God both, though most of the book does focus on the existence of Jesus. He starts off on the first page saying this:

Like many people, I just want to know if particular religious claims are true. And the truth is not a democracy, and certainly does not care about our feelings.

There will be no disagreement with a claim like this. Of course it doesn’t care about our feelings. If we find something is true, we should accept it as true and not let emotional reasons get in the way of accepting that truth.

One would hope that with a start like that, we would get a good look at the evidence, but while this book is many things, scholarly is not one of them. Aside from those already sold on Jesus Mythicism, it’s hard to imagine any NT scholar in the field being convinced by any argument in here. I found myself highlighting something on practically every page that was a great error.

To start off, let’s be clear that Lataster differentiates between the biblical Jesus and the historical Jesus. Yet is this not a problem at the start? What if it turns out that the biblical Jesus is in fact the historical Jesus?

Throughout the work, Lataster will make claims about how the gospels should not be trusted for having “supernatural” claims in them. Yet do we see an argument anywhere against miracles? No. I just did a quick search on the Kindle to verify what I was already sure of. Hume is not even mentioned one time. Sure. Hume’s argument has been dealt with time and time again, even by people who were his contemporaries, but you’d think there would at least be an attempt at an argument.

Let us keep in mind the rule of William James, not a Christian, made earlier.

a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

Suppose for the sake of argument that the historical Jesus did in fact do miracles and rise from the dead. If you come with a rule that says right at the start that miracles can never happen, then it follows that by your methodology you could never know the historical Jesus. Why not let the evidence decide if miracles can happen instead of beforehand saying “Miracles are highly improbable, therefore miracles cannot happen.”

As we move to the acknowledgments, we find part of the problem. There is appreciation given to Hector Avalos, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier. It is odd that in the book Lataster will talk about how often historicists will just cite each other and then be giving each other pats on the back.

Yet throughout the work, one will find Avalos, Price, Carrier, etc. quoted profusely. Want to see what Ben Witherington says? You won’t. Want to see a counter-argument from Gary Habermas and Mike Licona? You’ll be disappointed. Want to see the refutation of Richard Bauckham’s case that the gospels are eyewitness accounts? Bauckham’s name is not mentioned once. Want to note a reply to a scholar like N.T. Wright? The Bibliography fails to mention him. All we have is the sound of one-hand clapping.

A true scholarly work will interact with the best arguments on the other side.

On page 9, Lataster tells us that most biblical scholars are Christians. Considering that later on he considers himself and Bob Price Christians, despite being atheists, one wonders what kind of idea he’s talking about. In the sense of orthodox Christians, most are not Christians. Perhaps Lataster should go to an SBL meeting and see how many non-Christians he meets. On the same page, he also refers to secular scholarship as ‘real’ scholarship.

It’s nice to have that well-poisoning made so explicit isn’t it? One can’t help but wonder if Lataster has ever read any scholarship outside his circle. There are several Christian scholars who don’t hold to Inerrancy, for instance, but hold to essentials of the Christian faith.

He also then refers to John Dominic Crossan as a top scholar. Who gave this kind of judgment? We would love to know. This kind of terminology shows up regularly throughout the work. It’s just as wrong when evangelicals do it. Note that Lataster says he is a former fundamentalist Christian. Unfortunately, now he’s a fundamentalist atheist who just as uncritically accepts what non-Christian writers say as much as he did what Christian writers (If he read any) said in the past.

Also included as top scholars are Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier.

Of course these have done the hard work to reach their level, but who would refer to Price as a top scholar for instance? One would think a top scholar would be teaching at an accredited institution. Richard Carrier is popular in the world of internet atheists, but not so much beyond that. Beyond that, it’d be interesting to see if anyone knew his name.

On page 12, Lataster says that relying on scholarly opinions rather than the evidence is the fallacy of the appeal to authority. It’s a wonder that he says Carrier specializes in philosophy and yet Carrier apparently never showed Lataster what the appeal to authority is. If it is what he says it is, then Lataster is guilty for constantly appealing to Carrier, Price, and yes, *groan* Earl Doherty and Randel Helms.

The appeal to authority is fallacious when the person is not an authority in the related field. While Richard Dawkins is an authority on biology, he is not one on philosophy and history. While Mike Licona is an authority on history, he is not one on biology.

Note also that someone like Gary Habermas says in his talk on the minimal facts approach (Something Lataster never interacts with) that his argument is not “Scholars say, therefore it’s true.” It’s the point that if non-Christian scholars are willing to grant these claims about Jesus that they get no gain from, then there must be good reasons for accepting them.

On page 13, Lataster quotes Carrier to show that Craig Blomberg argues that one should approach a text with complete trust unless you have reason to doubt what they say. The citation for this is in Blomberg’s 1987 edition of the Historical Reliability of the Gospels on pages 240-254. One would think that for such a simple quote, one would only need one page, unless one is having the wool pulled over their eyes.

This news was quite a surprise to Blomberg when I mentioned it to him. Blomberg’s position is that one should give the text the benefit of the doubt unless one has reason to doubt. This is far from saying give the text complete trust.

On page 14, Lataster says we must hold ancient history up to modern standards. Professors of ancient history will be surprised to notice that Lataster then goes on to say “If that means historians can say nothing of the ancient world with certainty, then so be it!”

I really hope professors of ancient history become aware of this. It sounds like quite a move to say in order to have no real knowledge of Jesus, we’re going to throw out our knowledge of ancient history so that we can be certain of nothing in the field. Is that what it takes just to avoid belief in Jesus? I’m not even talking about belief in the Jesus who died and rose from the dead. I’m talking about just the existence of Jesus. Is that a worthwhile price to pay?

On page 15, Lataster says that “Possibly, therefore probably” is fallacious. I find this an amusing claim because Lataster will often make the same mistake himself throughout the book. For instance, why do we not have some works of ancient history, like some of Dio and Tacitus? Because Christians destroyed them since they didn’t talk about Jesus. Evidence of this? None whatsoever. But hey, it’s possible, therefore that’s probably what happened.

Of course, there’s also Bayes Theorem. I have strong reason to suspect that Lataster does not understand Bayes Theorem. I suspect instead that he’s simply going off of Carrier who I also suspect does not understand it, based on the interaction that Timothy McGrew of Western Michigan University has had. When I once asked McGrew for his credentials, I got the following:

I’ve been teaching epistemology and probability at the graduate level for nearly two decades. I’ve published work on applications of probability theory in major journals likeMind, The Monist, Analysis, Erkenntnis, and British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. I’ve given popular lectures on aspects of the subject for the Math department here, and Lydia and I presented work on the subject at the Formal Epistemology Workshop at Berkeley a few years back, and I’ve also given talks in this area at conferences at Notre Dame and in locations from Los Angeles to Leuven. I’ve published a paper (co-written with Lydia) on “The Credibility of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous” in a book published by Oxford University Press, written (by invitation, but then peer reviewed) the article on “Evidence” for The Routledge Companion to Epistemology, and (also with Lydia, also by invitation, also then peer reviewed) the article on “The Argument from Miracles” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. I was asked to write a new article on “Miracles” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, one of the requests specifically being to discuss some of the issues arising from a probabilistic analysis of arguments for and against miracles. Two of my forthcoming articles in peer-reviewed journals deal with the application of probability theory to historical and theological arguments.

Hmmm. I wonder who I should trust on Bayes Theorem. McGrew has been teaching for two decades in probability. He’s been peer-reviewed numerous times. How about Carrier? What credentials could he show to demonstrate his expertise in the area?

Lataster regularly notes that the gospels are anonymous. This mistakenly assumes that because a name was not included on the document, that this means we cannot know who wrote it. There is no interaction with cases made that defend the traditional authorship of the gospels.

In fact, there is no methodology given for how one determines authorship. How does one know that Plutarch wrote Plutarch’s biographies? We could also ask about Tacitus. Well Tacitus’s writings have his name on them! Okay. The Pastoral Epistles have the names of Paul on them but that doesn’t mean scholars just stop and say “Well that settles it! Paul wrote them!” Are we to believe that if the gospels had the traditional names on them then that means Lataster would just roll over and accept them as being by those people? Not at all. The anonymous bit is just a smokescreen to say that because no name is explicitly on them, we cannot know who wrote them.

We eagerly await to see Lataster’s methodology for determining authorship of ancient documents. We also suspect that he does not have any.

On page 19, Lataster quotes Carrier saying “All we have are uncritical pre-Christian devotional or hagiographic texts filled with dubious claims written decades after the fact by authors who never tell us their methods or sources. Multiple Attestation can never gain traction on such a horrid body of evidence.”

To begin with, what scholars out there say the gospels are hagiographies? The leading majority now is saying biographies, but hagiographies as a genre did not exist at the time of Jesus. In fact, it is fallacious and unethical to have a later genre show up, like hagiographies, note some characteristics of them, then go to an earlier time when the genre was not around and say because this work also shares those characteristics, it is hagiography as well.

It is interesting to see Carrier say something like this also when he points to the reliability of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. This event occurred in 49 B.C. Who does Carrier appeal to? Let’s look at Carrier’s own words.

Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch

Suetonius was born around A.D. 69 and lived on into the second century. Appian was born even later around 95 A.D. and lived about 70 years. Dio was born in the early part of the latter half of the second century and lived on into the third. Plutarch lived from about 45-120 A.D.

Question. How many of these people could have been eyewitnesses to the crossing of the Rubicon? None. How many of them wrote “Decades” after the event.” Answer: All. In fact, all of them wrote at least a century after the event. Carrier’s list does not include one contemporary historian.

By his own standards, we should not believe Caesar crossed the Rubicon.

Or could it be that Carrier presents this as a powerful argument when it is used on the gospels and ignores it for the rest of ancient history. Will Lataster be consistent then and reject this piece of ancient history? Note that while he does give four sources, multiple attestation cannot work. No eyewitnesses and the time span is too great!

Furthermore, yes. These are pro-Christian claims. What of it? If you want to know about any great teacher, their disciples are likely to be the ones to write the most about them. Do we learn about Socrates the most from people who are anti-Socrates?

Lataster can complain about bias, but is it not just as much bias to treat a source differently just because it’s in favor of a position? It would be a wonder to see what would happen if we tried that in our legal system!

Lataster goes on to refer to Stephen Law saying a religion could make embarrassing and untruthful claims and points to scientology as an example.

Really? To begin with, how much money is involved in scientology? Answer: Plenty! Try getting an auditing session! It will cost you a bundle! Second, this is a modern society as opposed to an agonistic society. What did the apostles have to gain for making up a lie? Answer: Persecutions, shaming, being cut off from YHWH, estrangement from family and society, and sometimes death. What did they have to gain? Nothing.

Lataster will repeatedly say the gospels are not by eyewitnesses. Unfortunately, he gives no arguments for this claim. Will you see any interaction going on with Richard Bauckham’s massive work of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”? Not at all. It’s doubtful Lataster even knows it exists. Will you see any interaction with any scholarship making a case that the gospels are eyewitnesses. No. All you get is the sound of one hand clapping.

Lataster also says a fictitious work could have the details one sees in the gospels, much like Harry Potter has many details about London. Indeed! And what genre is Harry Potter? We will get into this more later, but the gospels are more and more being seen as the genre of Greco-Roman biography and should be read in that light.

Also, Lataster often makes comments about biblical Inerrancy, every word of the Bible being true and divinely inspired, and literal interpretations. This is just a hang-up from Lataster’s fundamentalist days that he still uses to understand the Bible. Lataster is unaware that for most of us, if we were shown an error in the Bible, we’d have to change our view of Scripture some, but we would not pack up everything and go home. The Bible is not an all-or-nothing game. Neither is any other ancient document.

Lataster also says to use the gospels is circular reasoning. Not at all. It would be circular reasoning to say all the gospels say is true, therefore Jesus existed. The gospels are a source like other sources. Lataster has this rule that biblical claims can only be validated if they are backed by non-biblical sources. Do we see the same done with Josephus? Tacitus? Plutarch? Nope. Not at all.

On page 27, Lataster brings up genre again saying

There is still not complete agreement over what genre the Gospels belong to, an issue that is explored later on.

Complete agreement? No. Yet if Lataster is saying we should only accept claims where there is complete agreement, he’ll be waiting. Would it be fine with him if I pointed to YECs and said “Therefore, since there is not complete agreement, the issue of the age of the Earth is still to be debated in science.” Would he do the same if I pointed to those who are skeptical of evolution? Now I have no dog in that fight. I really don’t care about evolution. Yet I suspect that Lataster would be sure the Earth is old and evolution is a fact despite lack of complete agreement. He could just say “Well the secularists all agree.” Oh good. Then this gets us to his quote of Richard Carrier in this page. Carrier assesses the way scholars use sources and says in his description that they are

producing standard answers constantly repeated as “the consensus” when really it’s just everyone citing each other like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I suspect a number of Christian scientists might say the same thing about secularists. In reality, scholars point to others to show they are not just tooting their own horn. It’s amusing also to see a claim like this in a book that relies heavily on quoting mythicists profusely. Physician! Heal thyself!

Note also Lataster’s disdain for believing Bible scholars who he says are “often seen as lay people with a few letters after their name by ‘real scholars.’ ”

We eagerly await to see who the people are who think N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and Ben Witherington are just lay people. Does anyone say the same about Craig Keener and Craig Evans? It’s no wonder that Lataster says scholars agree with him when he discounts at the start any scholars who disagree with him.

Lataster points out that Meier says that multiple attestation properly used would back miracle claims. At this point, I do think there is much inconsistency in much scholarship today, but Lataster says I would object if the claims were made by rival religions.

Why? I have no problem. If you can give me good evidence that someone from another religion did a miracle, well I’ll accept it! I have no rule that says “All miracles that are true must be miracles in the Christian religion.” If Lataster thinks there is a better case out there, let him bring it.

Lataster goes on to say that Ehrman in a debate with Michael Licona (Someone Lataster never interacts with in this book) that

Historians must try and determine the most probable explanations, while miracles by definition are the most improbable explanations. They are considered to be miracles because they overturn scientific laws.

Tim McGrew disagrees giving this definition.

A miracle (from the Latin mirari, to wonder), at a first and very rough approximation, is an event that is not explicable by natural causes alone.

Nothing said about probability whatsoever. If someone wants to object that I used a Christian like McGrew, then please realize that that definition can be found by anyone who checks the article on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy web site. If they have a problem, please let them contact the web site and express their discontent.

Lataster does not give an argument against miracles beyond overturning scientific laws. One has to wonder how stupid he thinks ancient people were. Ancient people knew what it took to make a baby. That’s why a virgin birth was a miracle. Ancient people knew that people don’t naturally walk on water. They knew bread does not naturally multiply instantly. They knew water does not naturally instantly turn into wine. They also knew that dead people stay dead, and these people quite likely saw dead people far more often than we do.

Is it really rational to say that because we are so much more advanced scientifically that we know better? They knew better too! That’s why they recognized these as miracles! No one said “Oh look. Jesus is walking on water. Well I guess that happens.”

Lataster goes on to cite Ehrman who says the best evidence would be accounts that are numerous, independent, contemporary, coherent, and fairly disinterested accounts.

To begin with, the gospels are independent. If one wants to say they used each other, okay. No problem. They also each used their own sources of information, hence the major differences between them. It’s amazing that the same skeptics who complain about the gospels copying each other complain about them contradicting each other. One would think if such copying was going on they’d get the story straighter.

Furthermore, you could discount any historical claim this way. Perhaps the story of Caesar crossing the Rubicon was all just copied from an original source. Any differences later on? They’re just fabrications. It’s all just one story being repeated by others.

As for disinterest, that sounds good to us, but not to an ancient. You needed to have someone who was interested in what they wrote about. In fact, today we all write about what we’re interested about. I, for instance, won’t write about what plays were made in a football game because I frankly don’t care about football. I will write about a controversy involving Tim Tebow and religion possibly because I do care about religion.

Lataster banks much on the argument from silence saying on page 37 that “There are no extra-Biblical references to Jesus that are contemporary and by eyewitnesses.”

What of it?

Seriously. What of it?

What Lataster needs to convince me of is why anyone writing at the time would really care to mention Jesus.

“Well Jesus was the Son of God going around Judea doing miracles!”

Has Lataster ever been to Lourdes to verify any miracle claims there? Doubtful, though those are miracle claims that are regularly taking place. Does he investigate the claims of Benny Hinn or numerous claims that show up on TBN or on Pat Robertson’s show?

If not, why does he think that historians in Rome would do the same with Jesus. Let’s consider some information about Jesus.

Jesus was not a political figure. He never held office at all. He did not travel internationally. He was living in a world that had beliefs that were considered deviant but were tolerated. To make matters worse, he was crucified, which meant that he died a traitor to Rome (And for a Jew, a blasphemer to YHWH). Why on Earth would someone want to write about this? They would have seen him as a crackpot who got what he deserved.

It will not work to say that today we know he was the basis for the largest religion of all. That was not known then. It does not amaze me that so few people outside the Bible mention Jesus. It amazes me that anyone does! What Lataster needs to learn is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak.

Furthermore, much of ancient history has been lost over time. For something to have survived to this day, there must be three things happen.

First, it must be noticed.

Second, it must be recorded.

Third, that recording must last.

Let’s suppose that 100% of people notice an event in the past. Then 100% of authorities in the area say something about it. Then, 15% of those survive. What are the odds we will have a record of this event? If you said “15%” move to the head of the class.

And this is with everyone noticing and writing about it, improbable in itself! (Keep in mind only one contemporary mentions the eruption of Vesuvius and he doesn’t mention the towns being destroyed!

Also, keep in mind that in the ancient world, if you wanted to get word out about something, writing was not the best way to do it. Writing was in fact seen as less reliable than the oral tradition. Where most people could not read, the way to reach them was not to point to a book. It was to talk to them yourself. In our post-Gutenberg society, we think we should write everything down immediately. Writing was expensive, timely, difficult, and it was just a lot easier to use oral tradition. (Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Ken Bailey or Richard Bauckham on the reliability of oral tradition.)

Lataster also says that Avalos says that the texts that we have are from the medieval period allowing plenty of time for creative editing.

Of course there is time for editing. There was also time in between my starting this blog and the point that I’m at now to go murder my neighbors next door. Does that mean then that there’s a basis for thinking that I have done so? To say there is time for something to happen is not the same as to say there is reason to think that it did. Avalos would need to present some textual evidence to show that the texts have been tampered with. It will also need to be convincing to scholars of other sources in question, such as Tacitus and Josephus.

Lataster says that the earliest copies we have of the Bible are far removed from the originals. Far less removed however than any other ancient work. This is especially the case if Dan Wallace’s claim about a copy of Mark that’s possibly 1st century is in fact true. We can be sure that Lataster has never read anything on textual criticism beyond just Bart Ehrman.

Lataster also says that Socrates’s record is also not so good, but billions don’t proclaim his divinity. At this point, Lataster is guilty of, oh, what’s the word, oh yes, bias! Jesus is to be treated differently because he makes a different claim.

Remember boys and girls. Bias is wrong when Christians are at the wheel. It’s okay when secularists are.

Lataster tells us that Philo doesn’t mention Jesus. What of it? Why should he? Philo was not interested in mentioning Jesus. What about Seneca. Seneca writes much about crucifixion but does not mention Jesus. Why should he? Jesus died as a traitor to Rome. Why would Seneca care?

Lataster tells us that Seneca and other writers wrote about everything from bizarre ways to die, how they brushed their teeth, and how people went to the bathroom, but they did not mention Jesus and His miracles.

Nor did they mention Vesuvius interrupting save one. So what? Again, we are not given a reason why they should want to mention Jesus. He was a leader of a deviant movement that had strange beliefs that would surely die out quickly. Does Lataster think Jesus should be treated seriously because he claimed to be the Son of God? Will Lataster go to an insane asylum now and start treating people there who make the same claim just as seriously?

On page 43, we are told that the argument from silence single-handedly does considerable damage to claims about Jesus.

No it doesn’t. We expect silence anyway. As we have said, Lataster gives no reason whatsoever to think that people would want to treat the claims of Jesus seriously. In fact, we have every reason to think that they would not.

Lataster then writes about Paul saying Paul got his information through divine revelation. His basis for this is Galatians 1:11-12.

What Lataster does not mention is that Paul is comparing himself to Jeremiah describing his call to be a prophet. It is certain Paul had some knowledge of the gospel! He was persecuting the church after all! He would have to know something of what they believed to be persecuting them. Unfortunately, Lataster goes on to apply the same to 1 Cor. 15:3-4 adding in that the OT was Paul’s other source.

Lataster makes no mention of the fact that scholarship, including the Jesus Seminar, agrees that 1 Cor. 15 is an early Christian creed that highly pre-dates the epistle and the terminology of “What I received I passed on” is the language used of passing on oral tradition, of which Paul, a Pharisee, would know. This is amazing in light of the fact that Lataster says Paul specifically dismisses human sources. The Galatians claim is meant to show the gospel has divine origin. It it not meant to show that it is only transmitted through divine sources.

As for the Old Testament, this is meant to show that what happened was part of the eternal plan of God and was thus a fulfillment of the promises of the OT. It was not saying that Paul just sat down with the OT one day and came up with a new belief system.

Much of this comes from Doherty. It is not a shock that Lataster did not find scholars sharing this idea. They don’t. Consider the Hebrews passage used. Hebrews 8:4 speaks about Jesus and says “If He were on Earth.” The author regularly has spoken about Jesus’s earthly existence beforehand. There was no need to spell it out. What the author is saying is Jesus serves now at the heavenly sanctuary and thus not being on Earth, does not have to repeatedly offer sacrifices as the earthly priests do.

Even more amazing is the Philippians 2:5-11 text where we are told that the name Jesus was given to Jesus later. No. What it is is a message of vindication. Jesus would be the name everyone bows to because of what He did on the cross and in rising again. It is hard to imagine how any serious exegete could come to the bizarre interpretations that Lataster does.

Lataster also holds the Testimonium Flavium to be an interpolation entirely and thinks Eusebius was the culprit, especially since he says Eusebius is a well-known defender of pious fraud citing Eusebius’s claim in the church history that

Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be usefull first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity.

Where is the fraud? Eusebius admits that some fell away by their own actions. He just says it is of no benefit to talk about them so he’s not going to do it. That’s not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Lying about it would be saying “No one ever fell away so there’s no need to mention anything about that.” It is a way of shaming those who fail away and honoring those who stood faithful.

In speaking about Josephus’s other mention of Jesus, Lataster says “The Jesus mentioned need not necessarily be Jesus of Nazareth.” Lataster says there are several Jesus’s mentioned in Josephus and Jesus was a common name. While this is true, it is noteworthy that this Jesus is known as the brother of someone else, not a common methodology to use unless your brother was famous, and no description would indicate that Josephus is pointing to a prior reference, the one Lataster denies. Lataster thinks it’s more likely that it’s Jesus bar Damneus, mentioned later on in this same section. Why should we think that? No reason given.

Lataster also says we should be suspicious of Josephus due also to his references to Hercules. He gives page numbers, but unfortunately, he never looked them up.

One is in Against Apion in 1.18. What does it talk about? It talks about the building of the temple of Hercules. Another is in War of the Jews reference 2.16.4. It speaks about the Pillars of Hercules. The third mention is in the Antiquities in 1.15. How much of this relates to any Hercules is questionable, though it is not implausible to say there was a man named Hercules that had myths built up about him. The fact that two of these claims point to something no one would deny the existence of shows that Lataster did not bother to check the sources. (Indeed, this is not the first time I have seen such a claim. Some atheist site out there is no doubt propagating a myth that the faithful accept blindly.)

In fact, to make matters worse, Lataster tells us that by modern reckoning, Josephus was not that great a historian. It is a wonder this was allowed in what is supposed to be a Master’s thesis. If any school passed this, their credibility is called seriously into question. And why is Josephus questionable? Because he mentions miracles.

No bias here. None whatsoever.

Moving on to Tacitus, Lataster says it’s unlikely that a non-Christian would call Jesus “Christ.”

Why?

Beats me.

Christ became such a common way to speak about Jesus that it would not be a surprise to see that some people thought it was a name. (In fact, today, there are people who think Christ was Jesus’s last name, as if he was the son of Mary and Joseph Christ.) He also says Jesus is not specified.

Yes. Well he’s free to try to find another Jesus who was called Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate (Tacitus’s only reference to Pilate by the way) and who had a mischievous superstition (In Tacitus’s eyes) rise up about him that had reached all the way to Rome in Tacitus’s day and whose followers were persecuted by Nero.

Any takers for that Lataster?

Lataster also says many scholars dismiss this passage as Christian hearsay. Who are these scholars? We don’t know. They’re never named. He also says there is question over Tacitus’s reliability since he calls Pilate a procurator instead of a prefect. Interestingly, Lataster himself says Pilate could have been both! (And if that is the case, why say Tacitus was inaccurate?) Who are these scholars who think Tacitus is unreliable? If anything, he’s our most reliable Roman historian!

It’s also in fact entirely possible that Tacitus was using an anachronism since he was using the equivalent term his readers would understand. It would be like speaking about Constantinople in ancient history but using the name Istanbul.

Finally, we have the paranoia of Lataster kicking in as he says that most of book 5 and the beginning of book 6 is missing. Why is this? Because according to Robert Drews, it had to be pious fraud. Christians destroyed the text because it covered the relevant time period and made no mention of Jesus.

History gone amuck. You can make any claim you want to by pointing to theories. It’s amazing that someone who goes after Ehrman for using sources we don’t have will himself point to theories we have no evidence for when there’s any number of reasons a work would be lost over time. Lataster says the same about Cassius Dio not having information on the years 6 B.C. to 2 B.C.. Since there was no birth of Jesus, obviously the Christians destroyed them!

When it comes to Suetonius, we are told on page 65 that Chrestus is a Greek name meaning “The Good.”

I would like to see one source that says this! In fact, to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I contacted others who are quite scholarly in Greek. One wrote back to say “No. It is a Latin term.” Lataster does not cite a Lexicon for this claim. His only source is Doherty.

On page 72, Lataster says there is no complete agreement over what genre the gospels actually fall into. Ironically, his citation for that is Richard Burridge’s “What Are The Gospels?” Had Lataster actually read that, he would know it is an argument that has changed the tide in convincing scholars that the gospels are indeed Greco-Roman biographies. Instead, he thinks it more likely that they fit the Mythic Hero Archetype. (Not noticing that such a claim has been applied to even Abraham Lincoln)

On page 75, Lataster tells us that NT scholar Jerome Neyrey says that John was structured to be persuasive in portraying Jesus as worthy of praise and the same applies to Matthew and Luke.

Well there’s your smoking gun right there! The gospels were written to be persuasive! We all know true historians never wrote works to be persuasive! Every single person who wrote a biography was writing to persuade the audience about the virtue of the person that they were writing about. It’s not a shock the gospels did the same thing! For Lataster, this calls into question their status as sober and objective historical biographies.

In fact, Lataster even suggests that maybe Luke’s source is also the same as what he thinks Paul’s source is, which is just divine revelation. Never mind Luke tells you his methodology. Luke must obviously be lying! He doesn’t fare much better with Mark saying it’s described as good news in the first verse rather than an accurate and objective historical account.

Lataster says that perhaps we should take all of Mark as allegory using the first parable in the gospel as an example while saying the version found in the Gospel of Thomas could be an older version.

Once again, there is a reason NT scholarship does not take this seriously….

Moving back to Paul, in 1 Cor. 15, Lataster says Paul does not mention any before-death appearances of Jesus. Why should he? His audience was questioning the possibility of resurrection and not questioning the existence of Jesus. Note also that Lataster tries to say a passage like this is from divine revelation because of the language of receiving tying it into the 1 Cor. 11 passage about what Paul says he received from the Lord.

Lataster is ignorant of the fact that a number of rabbis would speak about revelations they received from Sinai that were known to be part of the oral tradition that supposedly went back to Sinai. To say they were from Sinai then was to say they were the source, whether or not that claim was correct. To say Paul received the Lord’s Supper message from the Lord is to say that Jesus is the source, which makes sense since Jesus was the main figure at the Last Supper and spoke the words there. Paul does not say that in 1 Cor. 15 because he received no statement that finds its source in Jesus about the appearance of Jesus. Instead, the source is oral tradition as is practically universally agreed on in scholarship.

Lataster mentions several times where Paul could have cited Jesus but didn’t. The first is dietary laws in 1 Cor. 8. The issue is not dietary laws there but rather eating meat sold in the marketplace that was offered to pagan idols. This was never an issue Jesus dealt with.

What about celibacy in 1 Cor. 7? This was about the relationship between a believing spouse and an unbelieving spouse and what to do when a believer is abandoned by an unbeliever. Jesus did not recommend celibacy in the passage in Matthew 19 but said some were eunuchs for the Kingdom. Note that in the passage in 1 Cor. 7, Paul does in fact cite some of the Jesus tradition.

What about when discussing circumcision? Jesus said nothing on if circumcision would have been required for salvation. What difference would it make to say Jesus was circumcised? What about paying taxes. Paul is making a longer talk about the relation of Christians to government which as a whole Jesus did not address. Did Paul forget what the Romans did to Jesus? No. Paul is making a general statement. In general, it’s best to obey the authorities. What about Jews demanding miracles in 1 Cor. 1:22. What good would it do to say Jesus did miracles? He was crucified so the Jews would reject him. It would do no more good to say Jesus did miracles than it does to tell Lataster that Jesus did miracles.

Lataster also says that Paul believed Jesus was a spiritual being based on 1 Cor. 15. Absent is any looking at the work of Gundry and Licona in this regards. Absent is any mention that in 1 Cor. 2 the spiritual man judges all things, which does not mean the immaterial man. Are we to believe Paul thought Adam was immaterial since he refers to him as a living soul? Lataster along these lines also speculates letters of Paul we no longer have access to taught a cosmic Christ so the Christians disposed of them.

Yes. Orthodox Christians would have kept around the letters of someone who they deemed to be heretical and kept them in the NT. Lataster just has an intense paranoia with always assuming that if something is missing in ancient history, it must be the fault of the Christians! They must have destroyed all the references to Vesuvius interrupting as well!

Lataster also says since Paul referred to the twelve, he forgot about Judas dying.

Those who are into football often tell me about the Big Ten, a group that does not consist of Ten! Obviously every sports fan out there has forgotten this fact! We eagerly await Lataster’s contacting ESPN to get them to change their referencing of the group.

Lataster also questions the Galatians reference to the brother of Jesus citing Origen. Well good for Origen. Why should I think that he’s right? He also cites Hoffman saying that Since Paul is not interested in the historical Jesus, it’s unimaginable he would point to a biological relationship here.

Somehow, it seems quite imaginable to NT scholarship the world over. Incredulity is not an argument.

Lataster also says Clement of Alexandria had hints of Gnosticism saying “The Gnostic alone is holy and Pious.” Had Lataster done five minutes of research, he would have found that Clement is mocking the Gnostics saying they do not truly know. The Christians know and the Christians are the true gnostics then since they have real knowledge of the only real God. It is lazy research like this that calls into question Lataster’s methodology of study.

Of course, no work like this would be complete without the copycat theory going around. Jesus was just a copy of other mythical stories before him!

We are also told Philo spoke of a person named Jesus much like Jesus in a look at Zechariah 6:11-12. Most often, this is referring to “On The Confusion of Tongues.” I eagerly desire to see where this Jesus or Joshua is in this book. Doing a search through the book reveals no mention of Jesus or Joshua. Could someone please give a reference to this?

Thus far, I see no real arguments.

Moving on, we have Bayes Theorem, but I see no reason to think Lataster is competent in Bayes Theorem. As someone like Lydia or Tim McGrew would say, who are both skilled in this area, it goes beyond “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” The prior probability has to always change based on evidence. Indeed, an agnostic like Earman lambastes Hume’s argument against miracles in “Hume’s Abject Failure” using Bayes Theorem saying that Hume’s argument would destroy science as well since it does away with marvels too. I will say nothing more about it at this point leaving it to authorities like the McGrews.

Now we move on to God’s existence. Lataster first wants to deal with a posteriori arguments which he says rely on empirical evidence, that is, science. Unfortuantely, while all that is scientific is empirical, not all that is empirical is scientific. Empirical simply means relying on sense experience. I do not need to use science to know that the world exists outside my mind, and indeed I cannot. In fact, if one goes to dictionary.com, this is what is found under empirical.

em·pir·i·cal [em-pir-i-kuhl]
adjective
1.
derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
2.
depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.
3.
provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Lataster is just giving us a scientism. It is a wonder that science is said to admit its mistakes and correct itself while at the same time being the best methodology for truth. If it gets the truth so well, why does it have so many mistakes to admit?

Lataster says God denies moderns evidence of his existence since we are less superstitious and gullible. Absent is any interaction with Craig Keener’s “Miracles.” Has Lataster even bothered to research one miracle claim in that one? You know the answer to that one already. The problem is not lack of evidence but being unwilling to look at the evidence one has. Lataster’s claim throughout is that we need to see God come down Himself and speak to us in a dramatic way. (You know, the way he already did which Lataster would require have to have happen again and again regularly since no one should believe unless they personally experienced it.) Lataster has this idea that if God is real, God is supposed to serve him and make himself known or else Lataster has no obligation to believe. Perhaps it could just be that that is not the kind of belief that God wants.

Lataster also says historical arguments fail because history cannot prove miraculous claims. Evidence of this? None. Argument for it? None. It is just an assertion. Perhaps since Lataster at one point quotes Christopher Hitchens, I should do the same. “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Note also that in speaking of arguments like the Cosmological argument, Lataster says that while many would call them a posteriori arguments since they rely on some sort of scientific evidence or concepts, he calls them a priori anyway. Why? None of the evidence is direct and exclusive.

And if you call the tail a leg, a dog has five legs then….

Philosophers around the world will also be amused to hear Lataster refer to their work as lazy. He says they only come about by thinking (Page 150) and not scientific evidence. No need to do actual work. In his words

These arguments are lazy, ambiguous, speculative, discriminatory, and often appeal to our ignorance (our not knowing something). Such arguments only make inferences. They prove nothing.

It would be amusing to see Lataster get pounded into the ground by someone like Edward Feser….

The main theistic arguments Lataster deals with are Craig’s, and even these dealings with them are ramshackle. Hardly a page if that much is dedicated to an argument. For instance, in looking at the moral argument, Lataster claims it’s circular. Most notably because Craig says it’s obvious that objective moral values exist. Some have disputed this of course, but Lataster does not. If so, what source does he give for morality? Answer. None.

It was hard to imagine doing even worse than Lataster did for Jesus, but somehow he did it for God.

Christians should hope, however, that books like those of Latester will keep coming out and become the bread and butter of the atheistic community. Such works will only further lower their intellectual standards. In the meantime, we’d best be building up ours all the more. Lataster’s work will help those who are already convinced, but only further cement them in their ignorance.

In Christ,
Nick Peters