Archive for the ‘josephus’ tag
Next we move to the substantive “tests” to which Strobel subjects the gospel accounts. The first he calls the “intention” test to try to surmise whether the gospel writers actually intended to present an accurate account of the events. Blomberg mentions the passage in Luke in which the writer says his purpose was to “write an orderly account” of what he had heard from people who were eyewitnesses to the events portrayed in the book. Luke claims he has “carefully” investigated the stories.
Strobel then questions why Matthew and Mark don’t contain similar declarations. Blomberg makes this rather large assumption based on no evidence whatsoever:
They are close to Luke in terms if genre, and it seems reasonable that Luke’s historical intent would closely mirror theirs.
Blomberg has no idea what Matthew and Mark’s “historical intent” was; he just takes it, as it were, on faith that Matthew and Mark are not propagandists pushing a certain agenda about the claims of Christ. Strobel also asks about the gospel of John, to which Blomberg points out verse 20:31. The passage states that John was writing “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
So, here is a clear declaration that John is writing with the purpose of advocating the authenticity of Christ as divine, or in other words, he has a clear motive and is far from unbiased. Strobel responded: “That sounds more like a theological statement than a historical one.” Blomberg concedes that point but notes that if a person is going to believe in Christ, the “theology has to flow from accurate history:”
… Consider the way the gospels are written — in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude. You don’t find the outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologies that you see in a lot of other ancient writings.”
If by “sober” he means drab, I’ll concede that point. Again, Blomberg would help his case by presenting some of the “incidental details” that apologists like to claim give the Bible validity. Of course, just the mere presence of incidental details in a text does not prove anything about the historicity of the stories themselves. Thomas Hardy’s novels include many “incidental” and real elements of what pastoral English life was like in the 19th century, but the characters and the plots were not real. Hell, even comic books and many video games often contain lots of authentic details about places like New York, Los Angeles or the Middle East. Just because a novel or other work has incidental details does not make its basic story true as far as history is considered.
As for his claim that readers don’t find “outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologies” in the gospels, I have to ask: are we reading the same books? Here I’ll argue not only with Blomberg’s claim but with this writer, who states outright that
… there are no “mythological elements.” Those who talk about mythological elements are clearly ignorant not only of the gospels themselves, but of what mythology actually consists of. What they usually mean by ‘mythological elements’ is the supernatural.
Well, no. That is not what is meant, and the writer seems to be putting words in the mouths of critics. What is meant by mythological is just that: elements in the New Testament accounts (not to mention the Old Testament) that appear eerily similar to other myths that were circulated throughout antiquity, namely and most prominently, redemption mythology, which forms the entire foundation of the biblical narrative.
Rudolf Bultmann in “The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament and the Problem of its Re-interpretation Part I” outlines this framework:
The mythology of the New Testament is in essence that of Jewish apocalyptic and the Gnostic redemption myths. A common feature of them both is their basic dualism, according to which the present world and its human inhabitants are under the control of demonic, satanic powers, and stand in need of redemption. Man cannot achieve this redemption by his own efforts; it must come as a gift through a divine intervention. Both types of mythology speak of such an intervention: Jewish apocalyptic of an imminent world crisis in which this present aeon will be brought to an end and the new aeon ushered in by the coming of the Messiah, and Gnosticism of a Son of God sent down from the realm of light, entering into this world in the guise of a man, and by his fate and teaching delivering the elect and opening up the way for their return to their heavenly home.
Indeed, elements of Gnosticism itself pre-date Christianity, and one could make the case that the basic premise of Gnosticism, attaining individual salvation of the soul from the carnal world through knowledge — replacing esoteric or intuitive knowledge with the knowledge of Christ — was borrowed by Christianity and adopted with its own twist centered on the divinity and saving power of Christ.
Of course, one needs only take a short trek through the “Dying god” entry on Wikipedia to research and identify the numerous life-death-rebirth myths that have inundated antiquity, Osiris in Egypt being one of the earliest and clearest examples to draw parallels. So much for the absence of “blatant mythologies.” As for the “outlandish flourishes” in the gospels, I won’t even get into the possessed pig, Christ’s temptation in the desert or the earthquake that supposed happened, depending on which account you read, when Christ died (with dead people springing up from the ground to boot) and again when an angel appeared at Christ’s tomb, which are “incidental details” that no historian outside of the Bible thought worthy to mention.
I am attempting to make this series more digestible by breaking it up into smaller parts. Since this section only covered one page of the book (p. 40), this may shape up to be a long series indeed (only 230 pages to go!). I’m sure there will be opportunities to move more quickly at the expense of repeating myself, and I will attempt to do so when it’s warranted. But given that the opening section of this book is so steeped in vague and unsupported claims, I feel it’s important to slow down and highlight as many of them as possible. I didn’t even know there would be a Part 3c, but that seems to be the case. Stay tuned as I plod through the rest of Chapter 2.
In Chapter 2, Strobel continues his interview with Craig Blomberg on the biblical evidence from eyewitness testimony. Strobel begins by identifying eight tests in which people can subject the gospels to get closer to understanding of whether they are trustworthy and credible. I won’t go through every single one because at least three of them, “character,” “bias” and “corroboration” are only given a few paragraphs each, which basically amount to Blomberg’s opinions on whether the gospel writers were of good character, recorded the events with integrity and used other sources to verify various places and events that they reference. I’ll only mention the five paragraphs Strobel calls “The Corroboration Test.”
When the gospels mention people, places, and events, do they check out to be correct in cases in which they can be independently verified? Often such corroboration is invaluable in assessing whether a writer has a commitment to accuracy.
Yes, they do, and the longer people explore this, the more the details get confirmed. Within the last hundred years archaeology has repeatedly unearthed discoveries that have confirmed specific references to the gospels, particularly the gospel of John — ironically, the one that supposedly so suspect!
Now, yes, there are still some unresolved issues, and there have been times when archaeology has created new problems, but those are a tiny minority compared with the number of examples of corroboration.
In addition, we can learn through non-Christian sources a lot of facts about Jesus that corroborate key teachings and events in his life.
Here, Strobel offers no notes that back up Blomberg’s claim about archaeological evidence, and Blomberg mentions no examples to support his claim either. Here’s a list of some of the Christian archaeological finds, none of which lends any credibility to Jesus or his miracles, just that select elements of the gospels, for instance, the pool of Bethesda and the historicity of Caiaphas, may have reflected actual people and places.
Further, Blomberg contends that non-Christian sources lend credibility to the gospels, but let me make this very clear: there is no contemporary source or bit of evidence that confirms the existence of Jesus. Not one. Here is a list, and here is former pastor Dan Barker on the subject:
There is not a single contemporary historical mention of Jesus, not by Romans or by Jews, not by believers or by unbelievers, not during his entire lifetime. This does not disprove his existence, but it certainly casts great doubt on the historicity of a man who was supposedly widely known to have made a great impact on the world. Someone should have noticed.
Christians sometimes like to claim that Josephus 37-100 A.D. was a believable non-Christian who wrote about Jesus, although he was not contemporary. This is the relevant passage:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law …
While this passage may be authentic, two problems exist. First, it’s hard to believe that an historian would mention the Messiah almost as an after thought and buried in a long section of text. Second, why would Josephus, an observant Jew or possibly a priest at one time, would admit that Jesus was the Christ? I wrote more about this here: Josephus and the historical Jesus. Here’s another explanation of Josephus.
Strobel, ever the “unbiased” journalist said Blomberg answer was “concise and helpful.” While it may have been concise, it was lacking on detail. Of course, I can’t blame Blomberg since he knows full well that there are no credible details that he could have presented to support the authenticity of the gospels, much less of the life and miracles of Jesus. Ever the go-getter, Strobel tells us at the end of this short section on corroboration that he is jotting down a note to himself:
Get expert opinions from archaeologist and historian.
I guess we’ll get to that in Chapter 5 when Strobel speaks with John McRay, one of his “experts” who also happens to be an apologist.
So these don’t run too long, I’ll address the rest of this chapter in the next post.
In the waning minutes of another year, I highlight the top 20 posts on this site from 2011:
- Jan. 5: Movie review: ‘Agora’ - “Given how beautiful and reasonably-minded Hypatia is thought to have been, I felt intense anger at the end of this film that such a smart and lovely creature had to endure such a hideous death by people who thought they had God on their side. And more than that, the feeling was tinged with the thought that she probably died in real life by a much worse means than suffocation and also that countless women were burned and hung or stoned as witches because of religion and ignorance. That’s not fiction.”
- Jan. 12: Harris on the Ten Commandments - “The need to dismiss religion in polite society still and unrelentingly presses upon us as a species, and this will continue as long as man fails to, in turn, dismiss his fear of death and the dark. “
- Feb. 12: Camus: ‘The point is to live’ - “So, like Sisyphus, in a moment that would shake most anyone to utter despair, Mersault is happy. And here is the consummation for Mersault and for the “Return to Tipasa” quote: Mersault had lived. He had experienced good times and bad, but in both, he found peace.”
- March 6: Why moderate religion is more bankrupt than fundamentalism - “Many, even myself, wholeheartedly agree that “love wins.” Some just don’t feel the need to summon God to make it so. As it turns out, love wins every day without him.”
- March 11: On the genesis of life - “Perhaps every theist agrees that there is an appearance of a design, but when I consider the vast number of failed planets and potential planets in our universe through the eons, the likelihood of a planet like ours eventually arising seems quite high, and in some 12-14 billion years, so high that we should be surprised if such a planet had not eventually formed. We live in that eventuality.”
- April 16: The gospel untruth – “It is, of course, within one’s right to believe something based on scant evidence and from a book steeped in contradictions, faulty science and math, bare bones textual evidence and stunningly primitive ethical codes. Some happily do, and all the better for them. … But even a cursory look at the case for the gospels reminds the rest of us that while Easter eggs, candy, and springtime offer nice pleasantries this time of year, the religious element ever behind the upcoming holiday was built, glorified and crowned on a now teetering house of cards.”
- May 2: 10 basic questions for believers (with sub-questions) – “What kind of loving father demands you love him or face the fire if you don’t? What kind of loving father demands you pass spiritual tests (Job, Abraham) to show your devotion?”
- May 13: Book review: ‘Night’ and the problem of evil – “No book that I have ever read brings these questions to the forefront with such brutal honesty. And I think it may be for that reason that The Times used the words “terrifying power” to describe this short, but seismic cattle car ride through the bowels of man’s darkest hour.”
- June 22: Jefferson’s religion - “To say Jefferson was a Christian in the modern sense of the word, that is, that Jesus was God incarnate, rose from the dead on the third day and will judge mankind on the last day, would be a false statement to make any way you slice it. He was a Christian in this sense only: he argued that to be literally “Christ-like” (the meaning of the word itself) was the highest moral height a person could reach, and that is all. Of everything else modern Christians believe about Jesus, Jefferson rejected without compunction, and this is clear from his letters and correspondence. In the modern sense of the word, Jefferson would not be a Christian and would be bound for eternal fire based on the doctrine of today’s Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Church of Gods and Calvinists.”
- June 30: Book review: ‘Tried by War’ – “Unlike other Lincoln biographies, which typically focus on his stance and political efforts to abolish slavery, his assassination, his humble upbringings and other topics, few, as McPherson points out, have delved specifically into Lincoln’s role as commander in chief.”
- July 3: Response to a recent letter to the editor – “And speaking of snakes, the Bible, with its differing accounts of man’s creation in the Garden, the variant steps by which the universe was made and contradictory details about Noah’s Ark, the Ten Commandments, Christ and, indeed, the very nature of God, the good book does a fine job of disproving itself and provides not even the hint of a “reasonable explanation.”
- Aug. 21: Book review: ‘Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society’ – “The conservative voice, often toeing the religious line, hostile to teaching evolution in the classroom, friendly to interests of corporations and investment bankers, hostile to the interests of minorities and the poor and hostile to change, is too strong in this nation, while the progressive voice, the only voice that demonstrably moves people toward ultimate utilitarianism, is too weak.”
- Sept. 13: Gene therapy to treat cancer - “… it’s hard to overstate how important research into cell modification, gene therapy and stem cell research could be in treating and curing some of the most destruction diseases of our time, from Lou Gehrig’s, to cancer, immune deficiencies, Parkinson’s and others, yet, most of the evangelical people in this nation are worried about protecting the interests of clusters of undifferentiated cells.”
- Sept. 25: Biblical deconstruction I: In exordium – “The Bible, as much and probably more so than the Koran (since the Bible is older), has been the central cause of more human suffering and misery than I care to contemplate. God himself, if he existed, would be on the hook for at least 2.476 million people, not counting the flood, first-born Egyptians killed, etc. Thousands of his followers have millions more on their hands, from the Crusades, to Native Americans, to Africans dying from not having access to condoms (thanks to the Catholic church), to the Salem Witch Trials, to … it goes on.”
- Sept. 29: Biblical deconstruction II: the garden – “Last, how moral is it that the crimes of a person from, say, the 18th century, be used to convict and imprison someone living in 2011? Yet, the errant choice of two people forever impacts the lives (and apparently the afterlifes) of every single person who has or who ever will live simply because a god in an ancient text penned by superstitious society in Palestine deems it so. Yet still, God doesn’t seem very interested in the “sins” of millions of blasphemers and worshipers of other gods that followed Adam and Eve, except of course, in the pages of the Bible. As it happens, the world outside of the Bible, the only world that matters, hasn’t heard a peep from Big Brother.”
- Oct. 5: Biblical deconstruction III: Cain and Abel – “If God, then, is the author of reason, reason itself must be modified to also include murderous, barbarous, cruel and sadistic, scheming, as well as capriciousness, which is actually one of his least offensive attributes.”
- Oct. 8: Real inspiration – “Religious folks talk a lot about spiritual inspiration. Well, how about inspiration, made possible by science, that brings a deaf woman to tears?”
- Nov. 20: No, this is not a spoof - “Has the electorate mindset shifted so much that a former establishment politician like Gingrich has to change is tone and amplify his speech to have a chance in 2012?”
- Nov. 30: On Butler’s ‘Erewhon’ – “All things considered, then, the entire text of the book is basically a business proposal that includes some proselytizing ruminations, and hidden behind the plot is Butler’s own cunning way of dicing up elements of Victorian life with the satirical knife edge.”
- Dec. 23: Josephus and the historical Jesus – “Article 3 is obviously the passage that Christians pull out of context and attempt to claim this is evidence for Jesus outside of scripture. First, an observing Jew would not admit that Jesus was the Christ, much less make laudatory comments about him like: there were “ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
To this day, Christian apologists continue to roll out Josephus as Jesus’ great savior from being lost to history completely. In fact, Josephus is the only thread by which they have to hang.
To put it simply, there are no contemporary references to Jesus outside of the Bible. Not one. The only first century account of him came, oddly enough, from Josephus, an observant Jew. Here is the oft-quoted passage from Josephus in context to show how the paragraph in question is most certainly a later edition to the text:
2. But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs. However, the Jews (8) were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design. Some of them also used reproaches, and abused the man, as crowds of such people usually do. So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition.
3. Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
4. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome. I will now first take notice of the wicked attempt about the temple of Isis, and will then give an account of the Jewish affairs. … – Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 3, Articles 2-4.
Article 3 is obviously the passage that Christians pull out of context and attempt to claim this is evidence for Jesus outside of scripture. First, an observing Jew would not admit that Jesus was the Christ, much less make laudatory comments about him like: there were “ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
Second, notice how Article 2 ends and how Article 4 begins. Skipping Article 3, the text reads, “And thus an end was put to this sedition” to “About the same time another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.” There was no hint in Article 3 that the coming of Christ was a “calamity.” However, the events in Article 2 describe a number of Jews getting killed and wounded by Pilate’s overzealous soldiers, and if were to jump to Article 4, we read about “another sad calamity.” Article 3 represents an abrupt shift in both tone and content from the other two articles. Thus, Josephus’ “Antiquities” as an account of the historical Jesus falls. The gospels themselves, of course, fall on their own right, but since I have noted that repeatedly on this site, a suggestion to use the search feature to the right will do for now.
For further reading, see: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Antiquity to the Present by Alice Whealey (Berkeley, Calif.).
Here’s a video that explains more about the lack of external sources, including a fuller explanation of the Josephus text above: