But, like Jesus here, many people find it persuasive. The new Jesus and Mo:
I’ve never understood the logic, either
December 24, 2010 • 8:25 am
Why Evolution is True is a blog written by Jerry Coyne, centered on evolution and biology but also dealing with diverse topics like politics, culture, and cats.
But, like Jesus here, many people find it persuasive. The new Jesus and Mo:
62 thoughts on “I’ve never understood the logic, either”
All you need to know about what was done with Jesus’s body — and the rest of the events described in the Gospels — is the accounts given in the Dead Sea Scrolls and by Philo.
If you’re really curious to know more of the back story, Justin Martyr gives a great account with his tales of the Sons of Jupiter, and Lucian even pseudonymously names one of the culprits in his account of the passing of Peregrinus.
I don’t read J&M all that often, but this is the first time I’ve seen the title characters arguing with each other, rather than with some other miscreant (such as the atheist barmaid), frequently offscreen.
Apparently the interfaith dialogue isn’t going so well at the moment.
This is actually an old one, re-posted with the updated artwork. The original is here, dated 7 March 2006.
Well. Mo riding a winged horse to visit god is not so plausible either.
Mohammad is very bit as much a fictional character as are Jesus, Perseus, and Bellerophon.
Well I think Mohammad did exit. After all, all the wars he fought needed a warlord.
Mo’s historicity is unknowable, but calling him fictional goes too far.
If I were to fabricate his biography, I would certainly omit the bit about Muhammad’s beautiful young wife Aisha screwing the help, the necessary angelic/Qur’anic intercession from Gabriel to defend her honor, and the consequent Sunni-Shia schism that arose because of her affair.
You just can’t make up stuff like that.
I take it you’ve never read classical pagan literature? Mohammad is a saint and a gentleman compared to Zeus….
As to the main point, he follows an all-too-familiar pattern. He was allegedly the most monumental figure of his time, yet no contemporary records exist. The earliest mention of him in the historical record is of a written-down oral tradition that was first set to paper several generations after the “fact.” And said record is liberally peppered with fantastic nonsense that, if presented to you today, would have you convinced the person telling you were either nuts or selling you a screenplay.
I mean, really? Flying off into the sunset on a wingèd horse? Come on.
Well. Mo is not exactly like Jesus.
For one thing there were plenty of wars fought among Arabs before the religion of “peace” conquered the arabian peninsula and became a threat to neighboring countries. Someone has to have been the warlord.
Besides, there are writings by Ali the Shiite saint, and other contemporaries of Mohammad that have survived. Such is not the case for Jesus. The gospels are of anonymous authorship.
That argument makes as much sense as arguing that “someone” had to have led the Jews to victory in the Promised Land.
You know what? Battles like everybody keeps ascribing to Mohammad leave lots of archaeological evidence. We know exactly what that sort of thing looks like; Julius Caesar wrote his personal account of the Gaelic wars, and multiple digs have confirmed all the significant details.
If anything comparable exists for Mohammad, both I and the collective editors of Wikipedia are completely unaware of it.
ORLY? Where? Best I knew, Ali’s earliest mention is also in the Qur’an.
I am sorry to disappoint you Ben. I know more about Islam than you do. I was raised Muslim.
Ali is not mentioned in the Koran…anywhere. Again, Ali has written books attributed to him. And such is true for other close companions of the prophet. Such is not true for Jesus; the earliest Christian writings are from Paul who, by his own admission, never met Jesus when he lived.
There is plenty of historical documentation that Arabs were a fragmented group, before uniting and attacking their neighbors. This could not have happened with fighting. That is almost exactly what happened in Mongolia many centuries later. Mohammad had to exist, just like Genghis Khan had to exist. The invasion of Persian and Roman territories by Arabs did happen. That is not like the exodus story.
“He was allegedly the most monumental figure of his time, yet no contemporary records exist”
The context is the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula, not a territory of the Empire in the Levant. There are no non-Islamic references, and we don’t expect there to be any, the very opposite of Christianty. There are no good reasons for the chroniclers to have missed all the events of Jesus’ miraculous biography, but there are plenty of good reasons for independent sources to have missed Muhammad’s not-very-miraculous life. So we’re just left to draw on own conclusions based on the verisimilitude of Islamic sources, like the remarkable account of Aisha’s infidelity told in the context of Bedoin (not Greek!) culture.
There have been lots of fantastic stories attached to perfectly historical characters.
Eg: the Alexander romance
I reject the resurrection account. I’m less inclined to reject the “empty tomb” account. Bart Ehrman, and most other Bible scholars, accept the idea that there was a man named Jesus that lived in the first century and that his tomb was empty several days after his apparent death.
There isn’t any evidence to support the empty tomb account outside of the Bible. Whether or not someone from whom the Jesus myth came existed or not, the empty tomb myth is just that, a myth. There is no way to determine if it ever happened. It’s like trying to defend the existence of Harry Potter by pointing to Hogwarts. No evidence for either makes it no evidence for the veracity of the story itself.
Jesus was one of the most popular names of the period. Josephus mentions a dozen or so men with that name, including one who was crucified (but that one is clearly not the one fantasized about in the Gospels). The name remains popular to this day, in the form of “Joshua.”
If you wish to be honest about it, you must first start with a “theory of Jesus”: who was he, what did he do, and how would you pick him out of the phone book?
Next, you must examine the extant evidence to determine if it supports or contradicts your theory.
And, when it comes right down to it, no such theory which has as its basis an actual historical figure is even remotely supportable.
At the one end, we know that the Gospels are complete fiction. They describe numerous spectacular events that are claimed to have been witnessed by vast numbers of people, including the most prominent personages of the time. We know for a fact that none of those events happened; they are mentioned nowhere outside of sources dating generations after the “fact,” and the exhaustive contemporary record is perfectly silent on all of them. In particular, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, the Roman satirists…a seemingly-endless list of contemporary and near-contemporary, local and near-local sources failed to mention even a peep of the spectacles Christians claim were going on under their noses.
At the other end, we know that Jesus couldn’t possibly have been a random nobody schmuck. Everything we have that does mention him is consistent that he was the biggest thing since sliced bread. Either he was the guy who turned all of Judea on its ear or he was the living incarnation of the god who created the heavens and the Earth, or both.
A closer examination of those stories of Jesus trivially reveals them to be warmed-over retellings of popular and ancient Greek myths. Even Justin Martyr, the renowned second century Christian apologist, went to exhaustive lengths to catalog the “Sons of Jupiter” (as he put them) who were copied in the making of Jesus. And Lucian wrote a satire in which the pseudonymous Peregrinus inserted Greek legends wholesale into Christianity. Let’s not forget, either, that the Gospels, this syncretism of Judaism and Greek paganism, are written in literary Greek by Greek authors and addressed to a Greek audience.
The only remaining theory that makes any kind of sense is the blindingly obvious one. Just like all the other religions of the period, Christianity is an archetypal syncretic mystery cult created as the fusion of diverse extant religions.
I agree with you just about all the way down the line, except:
Well, c’mon—yes, he could.
Apropos of your reference to “a ‘theory of Jesus,'” surely it’s possible that there was a random nobody schmuck whose story, for several reasons (few or none of them stemming from his actual historical particulars), became the minimal framework onto which all of the Gospel/NT/doctrinal nonsense was fastened long afterward.
I’m not asserting that there is better evidence for this hypothesis than for the total-mythicist one, but as a corollary to the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, surely the evidentiary bar for these far-less-extraordinary hypotheses (“he is entirely a myth” and “he was a nobody”) is correspondingly low.
Your assertion that Jesus really could have been a random nobody ever noticed not only is entirely unsupported with evidence, it’s overwhelmingly contradicted by the evidence.
The first time Jesus makes an appearance in the historical record is in the Pauline epistles, authored no earlier than the second half of the first century.
Paul’s Jesus was already the divine creator of Life, Universe, and Everything. Decades, even a century isn’t enough for a mere mortal to acquire such stature. At least, not unless he was a big-time cult leader…which we know isn’t the case because, again, the contemporary record has no mention of such a figure who could possibly fit Jesus’s description.
Besides, there is no “minimal framework” to the Jesus story that isn’t a well-worn Greek myth. And such a “minimal framework” is missing from even the Christian record until the second century.
Lastly, if Jesus could have been anybody, then he literally was nobody. We already know that almost everything of substance in the Gospels is an adaptation of the “biographies” of various Greek heros. So what’s left for the random schmuck to give to the Jesus story? His name?
Even that much of the theory doesn’t hold water. After all, a literal translation of “Jesus Christ” would be, “YHWH’s anointed savior.” Remind me again why we need a random schmuck to provide that name for the character?
If you wish to continue with this line of argument, please start by providing positive evidence to support it. And please don’t bother with more arguments equivalent to, “Well, you can’t prove that there aren’t faeries at the foot of the garden who paint the flowers at night!”
“Paul’s Jesus was already the divine creator of Life, Universe, and Everything. Decades, even a century isn’t enough for a mere mortal to acquire such stature.”
That’s an interesting point, Ben, but it makes the assumption that Jesus was originally a “mere mortal” who was later deified. The most convincing mythicist theory I’ve seen is Earl Doherty’s, which argues that the development was actually in the other direction: Jesus began as a divine savior-figure who performed his salvific act in the heavenly realm, similar to other pagan gods. Later, this cosmic figure was grafted onto the story of a recently living human being.
This fits with, among other things, the fact that Paul’s letters, the earliest canonical Christian documents, describe Jesus in high and exalted terms but never quite say that he was a human being who interacted in the flesh with other human beings. The gospels, which came later, were the first documents to flesh out his earthly career.
A quick search indicates that Paul used the name Jesus only in formulae like “the Lord Jesus Christ” and never in reference to the person described in the gospels, nor concerning anything he is reported to have said or done. Even his use of “crucified” seems to have little to do with the passion narratives.
Erm…that’s exactly my point. If you assume that Jesus was a mere mortal, then Paul makes no sense whatsoever. But if Jesus is, was, and always has been exactly what he appears to be — an archetypal death / judgement syncretic pagan god — then everything fits perfectly.
“Jesus was one of the most popular names of the period… [and would be hard to] pick out of the phone book.”
True, but irrelevant to anything being talked about. The Jesus spoken about by the gospels and by the letters of Paul are almost certainly all speaking of the same Jesus.
“No such theory which has as its basis an actual historical figure is even remotely supportable.” Talk about overstatement. Plenty of agnostic/atheist scholars of scripture accept that there was a historical single individual behind the Gospel traditions.
“We know that the gospels are complete fiction” because they are nowhere mentioned outside the Christian gospels. In other words, events described only in the sources that mention them can’t be true because the sources that don’t mention them don’t mention them. I find it strange that you are so skeptical and yet you confidently declare that something didn’t exist, a much harder claim to prove than that something did exist.
You say the events in the gospel are “claimed to have been witnessed by… prominent personages of the time.” Which prominent figures are you referring to? Jesus (if he existed as described in the gospels) was a traveling preacher/miracle-worker/exorcist who worked in rural areas away from most “prominent figures” and got killed for messing with the wrong people whilst in Jerusalem.
“Either he was the guy who turned all of Judea…”
Um, no. He stayed in rural areas. He didn’t seem comfortable in the big city. He sometimes avoided confrontation. He told people to hide his supposed divine identity. This either/or business that necessarily forces Jesus out of existence is plain silliness.
As for your notions about Jesus being nothing but a re-hashed mix-up of Greek and Jewish stories or a concocted myth… I think you’ll find that view to mighty rare among today’s agnostic/atheist Biblical scholars. Late 19th century, early 20th, sure, but not now.
Ok, that is a good example of “argumentum ad populum”: it is true because it is a popular idea. I can think of quite a few scolars/authors who do no thin Jesus existed off the top of my head: Hector Avalos, Richard Carrier, Robert Price.
As for Ehrman, while he is a brilliant scholar, he has offered no evidence that Jesus existed. Further, he does admit that there are next to mentions of jesus anywhere in the historical record from first century outside the bible. Which is odd, given that this era is documented pretty meticulously. And we are talking about a guy whose whole life supposed to have been one miracle after another. And yet no one notices.
The only thing really know is that there probably was a guy or guys that may or may not have gone by the name Jesus that traveled around preaching his own take on Judaism. Certainly there were at least some people that listened to him/them, and liked what he/they had to say. This guy(s) died, possibly by being crucified. People then started running around denying that this person/people had really died at all. Handy as it fulfilled a bunch of prophesies someone wrote way back when.
Some years later someone wrote all this stuff down without letting the truth stand in the way of a good story and bob’s your mother.
A couple of hundred years later, a roman emperor decided Christianity might be a good thing to convert everyone to and got some people to edit the stuff so it would say what he wanted it too, and there began the catholic church.
Over 1000 years later, some other guys read the this book and decided that they didn’t like the original interpretation and they came up with a bunch of other interpretations.
Then a bunch of people tried to kill other bunches of people because the couldn’t agree on the interpretation.
Later on there were some other people who thought maybe this whole book is just a bunch of codswollop and all the people who didn’t think it was codswollop didn’t like it much.
Still, there are a few problems with this picture.
If the guy did exist, I’d expect his religion to start where he supposedly lived, and spread radially. I’d also expect some writing in the language he supposed spoke, from the time he lived or shortly after.
Instead, what we have is a religion appearing almost simultaneously in Greece, Asia Minor, Rome, and Egypt. With the scripture written in a language different from the one the guy supposedly spoke. Complete with not just evidence of linguistic ignorance, but geographic as well. (Such as mentioning places that don’t exist, or misidentifying a lake as a sea, with huge storms).
Even when it describes people that actually existed like Pontius Pilate, it gives a very different account than extrabiblical sources.
My take? A fictional story based on a mix of Jewish doctrine and pagan traditions, filling the gaps with imagination wherever necessary.
And how, exactly, do we know that? What’s your source for this information, aside from “everybody knows” and a bunch of obvious fiction written generations, if not a century and more, later?
Or are you just pulling this out of your ass because you don’t like to consider the possibility that Christians have been lying to the world about the existence of Jesus for millennia, just like they’ve lied about everything else about him, just like people in every other religion have been lying about similar “facts”?
No, and no. You’re completely misrepresenting my words.
We know the gospels are fiction because they weren’t written until a century or so after the “fact,” because they’re nothing but obvious faery tales about zombies and magicians, because they’re internally inconsistent and contradict each other, because they’re written with standard literary techniques like third person omniscient recordings of internal dialogue of solitary characters, because the stories they tell are obvious retellings of popular and ancient myths, and because nobody who was there at the time noticed any of these most remarkable events supposedly going on all around them.
Oh, give me a break. King Herod was so bothered about the prophecies that Jesus was coming he had all the infants in the area slaughtered. John the Baptist personally baptized him in the Jordan while YHWH himself egged him on. The masses cheered Jesus as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Jesus went on a rampage outside the Holy of Holies. Pilate and the entire Sanhedrin got so worked up about Jesus that they made literally unbelievably spectacular asses of themselves. Darkness fell over all the land at the time of his death, at the same time as the zombie horde descended on Jerusalem. I can go on.
Really? You expect you to believe your bullshit that he was a rural hick who got into trouble because made a worng turn on the road to Damascus and didn’t think to ask for directions?
Hey, it’s not me who first made that claim. Justin Martyr himself laid it all out in excruciating detail — and in the second century, no less. Just search for “sons of Jupiter” in his first Apology for the whole story, right from the horse’s ass.
I strongly suspect that plenty of the stuff said about Jesus is utter poppycock including the massacre of infants story, the God at the Jordan story, the darkness covering the land, the zombies, etc. The episode with Pilate wouldn’t have commanded that much attention because plenty of people were executed by his order.
All I’m saying is that it doesn’t seem implausible to accept the idea that there is a single man, an ontological hook, that people hung some stories and ideas on to.
I really don’t understand your interest with the Sons of Jupiter in Justin Martyr. He was a church father writing about 120 years after the supposed death of Christ and he mentions that the belief that Jesus came to earth, died, and then went to heaven is roughly analogous to a pagan set of stories. When I search for it in the source you provided, I find this:
“For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Aesculapius, who, though he was a great hysician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus.”
Justin is speaking of vaguely similar stories for apologetic purposes that I guess were convincing at the time. He’s pretty much trying to say, “See, it’s not that strange to believe in this sort of thing happening.” He nowhere states or implies that the story of Jesus has its origin in pagan myth. I fail to see how Justin somehow inadvertently let something slip that is damning to the simple notion that there was a single man named Jesus whose life was recorded (and embellished upon) in the gospels.
I can accept that it [i]might[\i] be true, just not that it [i]is[\i] true.
I think we do ouselves a disservice anytime we accept something as true with insufficient evidence. It’s a little more complicated, but worth the effort, to keep separate what’s known from what’s only provisional.
This point of viewed was put forth most elequently by William Kingdon Clifford (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kingdon_Clifford#Philosopher), who said, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”.
That is perhaps the funniest thing about so many biblical scholars who have given up on faith. They can’t help themselves, I guess. They still have the feeling that the biblical stories are somehow privileged, and must be in some sense true.
Yup. And the most frustrating, too.
I mean, when was the last time you heard of somebody insisting on an “historical Perseus” or an “historical Osiris” or an “historical Quetzalcóatl”?
The only “historical” myths that anybody ever remains attached to are the ones they’ve invested themselves into.
You take just one step back from the Christian propaganda machine, and it’s so blindingly obvious that Jesus is 100% pure unadulterated myth it ain’t even funny. It’s trivial: there’s no contemporary mention (despite it being one of the best-documented eras) and what we do have is self-contradictory batshit insanity* that perfectly fits the prevailing religious fictional form of the time. What more do people need? Skywriting?
*Let’s not forget that Jesus was born of a virgin, he turned water into wine, he walked on water, he revivified putrid corpses, there was a massive zombie invasion of Jerusalem at the moment of his death, he rose from his own grave, he commanded his thralls to fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound, and modern licensed franchise owners can use a magic spell to turn ordinary bread and wine into Jesus’s own reanimated flesh and blood…and anybody who cannibalizes the ancient zombie king will themselves turn into undead zombie vampires some day in the always-imminent future. b&
Well I don’t know what you mean, sounds perfectly reasonable to me! 😉
I’ve just started Charles Freeman’s ‘Early history of Christianity’ and he seems to uncritically accept that Jesus existed. In fact, he seems more friendly to the Jesus story than in his ‘Closing of the Western Mind’. Not saying he credits them as being true or anything, just isn’t hard on them at all.
A itinerant preacher convicted of treason/blasphemy/whatever wouldn’t even have a tomb. The Joseph of Arimathea bit was added in to explain where the tomb came from.
The Empty Tomb story is a comedy with an embedded puzzle, and the solution is that it’s empty because they went to the wrong tomb, that of Lazarus. See chapter 6 starting on page 125:
The biggest problem with Atwill’s thesis is that it fails to account for the plethora of early Jesuses.
Even within the Christian Bible, there’s a huge disparity between the synoptics and John, but that’s nothing compared to the diversity of heresies. There’s Marcion, who’s bizarre to modern ears but not that far off from the canonicals, all things considered. There’s the gnostics in general, some of whom would have considered the notion that the pure spirit of Jesus would have sullied itself with the impurity of the flesh. Then there’s the really out-there sects — like the Ophites, for whom Jesus was some kind of a snake god.
And…there’s the perennial problem with so many theories of Jesus, as well as conspiracy theories of all stripes. There’s simply no positive evidence supporting it. Come to think of it, that’s an even bigger problem for Atwill.
Is it possible that one of the early gospel authors was inspired by Flavius’s story in one form or another? Of course. We already know that the authors were more than inspired by the stories of all sorts of “sons of Jupiter,” as Martyr put it, and we also know that Titus, like the other Caesars, was himself regarded as a god. Paying homage to yet another deity by recycling some of his story would be well within character.
But Atwill paints far too detailed a conspiracy to possibly be plausible without some sort of a smoking gun. Correspondence between Titus and Josephus would be ideal, of course, but one can imagine other things that would suffice.
Instead, all Atwill gives us is his reading of the coincidences in the tea leaves of the Gospels. While not completely implausible, it’s far from convincing.
Robert Price also has a good take on Atwill.
Have you read the book, now, Ben? (I think you said or implied previously that you had at most skimmed it.) If you have really read it and found it unconvincing, then I don’t expect to be able to change your mind, at least with casual discussion.
I don’t see why Atwill has a burden to explain a plethora of early Jesuses. He is already interpreting the gospels as describing multiple Jesuses, and part of the spoof is that false messiahs are a dime a dozen, while there is only one true messiah.
What differentiates Atwill’s thesis from a lot of others that see Christianity as a Roman invention, and even attributed to the Flavians, is that there is a smoking gun, in the parallels between Josephus’ Jewish War, and the canonical gospels. I do personally find theses parallels completely convincing, when look at in detail and in totality, and accounting for the parallel ordering.
Certainly the gospel writers could have borrowed from Josephus and the conventional wisdom as I understand it is that they did, and/or that some extractions from Josephus were inserted such as the details of the siege of Jerusalem. That’s why I have offered previously the observatiuon that it seems that Josephus was also aware of the content of the gospels, and referred to them in his history. The exampole given previously was the lunatic Jesus character analyzed in Atwill’s chapter 8.
I also don’t think it likely that if the gospel writers had simply borrowed from Josephus, that they would have innocently had Jesus follow Titus’ footsteps so directly in the Galilee. But, in any case, even if they had, we would still not expect Josephus to be spooofing the gospels if they weren’t of a common origin.
That’s where we part company.
Humans are excellent at finding detailed patterns and parallels where none exist, as well as taking subtle patterns that do exist and blowing them way out of proportion.
Going from similarities between two stories of similar personalities set in the same geographic area and timeframe to an intricate conspiracy that’s remained a secret for two millennia and for which all evidence save those similarities…that’s just overkill, especially when it’s just as easy to explain by the gospel authors, who we know plagiarized anything and everything and who we know would have been familiar with Josephus…well…simply plagiarizing him, too.
I put it that way because I realize we differ there. At least we do if we have both read the book. If however I am the only one that read the book, then it remains to be seen whether you would find the parallels similarly compelling. In the case you haven’t actually read the book, I would say that we parted company earlier, in that I was willing to examine the evidence provided by Atwill directly, whereas you dismissed it on general principles without examination. Which would be your prerogative but not certainly reliable. We are not talking about any laws of physics were broken here, only that some people who had means and motive for doing something got together and did it.
You also have not responded to my observation that the Josephus-gospel references appear to be bi-directional. That is, Josephus appears to be satirizing the gospels as well as the gospels borrowing from Josephus. Do you simply dismisss that this is true (if so have you looked at the bases for the claim?) or do you think it’s true but insignificant?
I’ve read the relevant chapters.
And, sorry, but I still find the notion that Josephus satirized the Gospels completely unconvincing, for two reasons.
First, any parallels that one can find in any pair of works can always be explained as unidirectional copying. We see that pretty obviously in the parts of the Bible that’re for public consumption, with all those “prophesies” in the Hebrew Bible that Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled. Any argument that Josephus had a hand in writing the Gospels based on literary connections between the two can just as easily be applied to “prove” that Isaiah had a hand in writing the Gospels, as well.
And, second…well, there simply isn’t any evidence at all that the Gospels are first century texts. Nobody mentions any content in them until the second century. Actual unambiguous references to works now identified as the Gospels don’t occur until the second half of the second century. The oldest fragment, P52, is of John, and it (optimistically) dates to late in the second century.
In order to accept that Josephus himself authored the Gospels, we have to go with the most wildly optimistic and completely unsubstantiated dating of the texts that the sorriest of the Christian apologists desperately clings to.
I won’t rule out the possibility, but I find it almost as unconvincing as the popular Christian claim that the Gospels were written about the same time as Josephus wrote his histories by nonagenarians who might have been eyewitnesses.
But I do find it quite convincing that the authors of the Gospels were familiar with Josephus — but I thought that had been widely accepted for some time. If nothing else, 70 CE is commonly given as a lower bound for G. Mark because of the references to the Flavian conquest of Jerusalem…and Josephus didn’t wait all that long to write his account of it, and it spread like wildfire.
I’m heartened that you looked at some of it at least.
In rejecting the CM thesis, I think it would be easier to simply reject that the paasages in Josephus that seem to refer to the gospels, do in actuality. Maybe you are only saying, even if they did, it wouldn’t be significant, but on this and due to the particular nature of the references, I would disagree with that. I can’t imagine anyone writing a gospel would have a motive to borrow that level of obscure detail from Josephus, say from for example in the case of Lunatic Jesus, an obvious false prophet.
Similarly, in the case of Cannibal Mary, would somebody honestly building a religion really base Jesus saying to partake of his flesh in reference to a mother (named Mary, just incidentally?) roasting and eating her own son? So, while I agree it is certainly impossible to say the copying is two-way on first principle, it would seem very odd for someone to do it as done except as Atwill proposes.
As for copying from Josephus in general, certainly there is a motive to copy some details of the siege to show Jesus’ supernatural prescience, but if the degree of copying as Atwill claims is accepted, it departs any reasonable justifiability on such an account. They could have had to have been hard pressed for geography knowledge of the Galilee, I suppose. But, the persons who wrote the gospels clearly had independent knowledge of the layout of Jerusalem, to name the Garden of Gesthemane, since it isn’t mentioned by name in the common story in Jopsephus, just described in an unambigous way so that the location can be known. And then, why the obscurantism of not naming the place unless a game is afoot?
That there is no evidence the gospels weren’t written until later doesn’t seem any major problem for Atwill. It would have been an orchestrated operation and certainly not being conducted by Josephus on his own initiative or without help. So we could have either that the earliest texts were not released, people lost interest when the Flavians fell out of power, or were simply not copied or noted by anyone of influence until later.
Josephus in any case can’t be entirely genuine as a historical person. His biography is obviously contrived. Atwill has suggested outside of CM that Pliny the Elder may have written as Josephus and may have directed the writing of the gospels. Hence he, or anyone else under Flavian employ, would have seen fit not to mention it in other histories.
While I’m working on responding to your other points, I would ask you to look again at the Price review and ask yourself how it in any way refutes CM. When I read it, I only get that Price is incapable of taking it onboard, and is satisfied with prior explanations.
I wrote a reply to the Price review a while ago. It’s posted here: http://www.apologetics.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=123962&page=4
about three posts down the page.
Paul if you really to want to consider the evidence for a historical Jesus (or lack thereof) you need to read ‘Jesus, Neither God Nor Man’ by Earl Doherty. It is unparralled in its depth and it certainly convinced me. You can get it from his website. I have both Doherty’s books about Jesus and they’re fabulous though quite heavy going in parts.
If Doherty has a fault, it’s that he gives Christian sources waaaaaay too much unwarranted credibility. He delves deep into the works, obsessing over minutiae.
There’s certainly a place for such detailed analysis: in literary anthropology. Christianity presents a wonderful picture of the creation and evolution of classical syncretic religions, and it’s probably the best-documented example we have.
But going that deep into the details to discern whether or not it’s fact or fiction is counterproductive, even if he does come to the obvious conclusion.
It’s really quite simple. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, the Roman satirists, and all the other scores of contemporary sources are perfectly silent. All the near-contemporary sources are silent, too, though we start to get some Christians writing a generation or two afterwards. What those Christians wrote doesn’t even pretend to have any bearing on reality; they’re just bog-standard religious fiction.
What more do you need, really?
Doherty received a fair amount of criticism and was labeled “un-scholarly” by some for not exhaustively addressing main-stream historicist arguments in The Jesus Puzzle. Perhaps his 800+ page update is a response to that criticism.
Though I’ve found Doherty convincing in the past, I’m also looking forward to Richard Carrier’s 2-volume work on the subject due out sometime this year.
this year = within the next year
Marella, thanks for responding. I’m actually not looking to determine whether there was a historical Jesus or not. Given the utter lack of evidence for a historical Jesus, I see no reason not to at least consider that the idea of a mythic Jesus is plausible and unrefuted.
I take it that you have been convinced by reading Doherty that Jesus is only a mythic character. I don’t have that Doherty book but I have the Jesus Puzzle. I confess I haven’t got around to reading it yet but remember that it is arguing for something that I already expect is true. But, mythicists like Doherty, Price, Zindler, and Carrier all make an argument that I consider weaker than the simple minimal mythic position that the Jesus of the Christian bible is not a historical figure. They argue further that the myth itself arose organically from genuine religious movements, as opposed to being a deliberate and cynical construct.
I think the possibility that it was a deliberate and cynical construction needs to be ruled out before we adopt the mythicist position being proferred by these writers. There is a certain implausibility of one particular version among the plethora gaining such dominance over the others so as to be adopted as an official religion of Rome, just on the basis of its merits. Many non-Christian people I know who argue for a historical Jesus are essentially arguing this implausibility. I take this to be support for the mythic variant that Christianity is a cynical invention. The idea that it was invented as a replacement religion for militant Judaism, which truly cost Rome dearly in treasure and prestige, provides an excellent justification for why it came to be dominant. It had a powerful sponsor, and was indoctrinated to generations of Roman slaves.
I will have to hunt the link up but recently I saw somebody arguing very eloquently for that Christianity was invented by the Roman Flavians and yet this person seemed to have had no exposure to Atwill’s book. There were bits of his or her argument that seemed contradictory to Atwill so I suspect this person arrived at the same hypothesis completely unaware that not only does it fit in many ways historically and circumstantially, but that also the inventors of Christianity apparently wanted their feat to be appreciated by posterity. So, the authors of Christianity left clear-cut evidence that they did the deed.
The nice thing currently about CM, is that you can go to the link and browse the book at leisure for no charge whatsoever. Or, you can register at esnips and download a PDF of it that is clearly made from the same source code that made the book.
In my experience more than half of the people I have seen actually read the book have simply accepted it as true as I have. These are among my friends or close acquaintances from work or science who are engineers or computer scientists or mathematicians or physicists, mostly. (I am not mentioning it to the Christians at my work, of course.) I have high hopes though for biologists, or musicians, because these are also people who should be able to distinguish between random noise or cherry picking, and a true signal.
Here is a link to the thread I spoke of:
Koyaanisqatsi is arguing quite well seems to me that Christianity was invented by the Flavian Romans in the 70s CE for the purpose of subverting the messianic Jewish rebellion. He calls it his theory and doesn’t ever mention Atwill or Caesar’s Messiah, or any of the parallel writing that Atwill notices.
I like how they’re laying in bed together.
All religions lie in the same bed of bullshit.
Jesus and Mo are in bed together! Does that mean … ?
Sorry Andy, you pipped me.
Hehe. It can only mean that Jesus and Mo are a couple. I like how their relationship seems to consist of each badgering the other about whether or not they even exist. I’m sure they are an otherwise normal couple, though. (Jesus would have to be a good lover, right? Unless all that Golden Rule stuff was just talk.)
I believe it’s meant more as a homage to the great comedy duo of Morecambe and Wise.
existence of the Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is a great atheistic film that is true to the book. My kid loves it, and I’m reading it to her now:
Now we’re off to see Santa, whose existence is undeniable! Merry Christmas.
I was given the W of O on BlueRay for Christmas, and it’s like a whole new movie. Amazing detail.
The sequence with Professor Marvel is a beautiful demonstration of cold reading.
The Real story and the true spirit of
Christmas. Let us celebrate
It’s just like reading William Lane Craig!
I love these comics.
@1 (Ben Goren):
If you’re still reading this, can you sort of quickly summarize what Philo and the DSS say about Jesus. I’m interested but don’t have much time to do research now 🙁
It will be a huge favor as I’m just, JUST about done deconverting, and my inability to refute Craig and other apologists is holding me back. Thank you~!