NYT op-ed: Jesus was not only real, but a radical social-justice warrior

December 26, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Christmas is a good time for us to note that the mainstream media still buys the existence of Jesus as real and divine: it’s just a given, often presented as lock, stock, and barrel. In an age of increasing disbelief, the media still has no shame in presenting the Christmas Story not as a mere metaphor, but literally true.  The stuff about the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter being, perhaps, that ancient “star of Bethlehem” was one example of this palaver.

How else can one understand a New York Times op-ed claiming that Jesus was a radical who cared for the marginalized—a piece lacking any caveats from the paper? If the piece came from the pen of Trump instead of a Christian journalist (unlikely, of course), there would surely be a note underneath saying something like, “The events recounted in this editorial have no basis in fact.”

But read the following for yourself, and if you find it paywalled, a judicious inquiry will yield the piece.  The author, Peter Wehner, is a writer (he wrote speeches for three Presidents), and also a religionist, for, as Wikipedia says, he’s also “a vice president and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank, and a fellow at the Trinity Forum, a non-profit Christian organization.

 

Jesus was not only radical, says Wehner, but was inclusive as well:

First-century Christians weren’t prepared for what a truly radical and radically inclusive figure Jesus was, and neither are today’s Christians. We want to tame and domesticate who he was, but Jesus’ life and ministry don’t really allow for it. He shattered barrier after barrier.

This kind of Social Justice Jesus is, of course, right in line with the New York Times‘s woke philosophy (which is why they printed it), but the big question is Did Jesus really exist? And are the stories that Wehner uses to demonstrate Jesus’s inclusivity and concern for the marginalized really true, or were they made up, like much of scripture? This distinction is important for two reasons.

First, we have no extra-Biblical evidence that Jesus really existed as a person. I have found arguments to the contrary inconclusive, and so am agnostic (so to speak) on that point.

Second, even if the Jesus depicted in the New Testament was modeled on some itinerant rabbi, can we take Scripture as, well, scripture, and assume that the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well—a big part of Wehner’s argument for Jesus’s “radical inclusivity”—is literally true? Or does it represent the imaginings of a later writer who wanted to make Jesus appear that way? The difference is important, for billions of people accept Jesus as real, and if he was really inclusive in this way, then he can be a real role model for today’s SJWs. But if Gospel is just the imagining of someone trying to depict a caring Jesus, then that’s just more fiction. Heartening fiction, perhaps, but not real.  A role model who didn’t exist, or didn’t do what he was said to do, is not as good as a real role model.

And so Wehner takes the Biblical stories as real, including healing of lepers and blindness:

This story is a striking example of Jesus’ rejection of conventional religious and cultural thinking — in this case because Jesus, a man, was talking earnestly to a woman in a world in which women were often demeaned and treated as second-class citizens; and because Jesus, a Jew, was talking to a Samaritan, who were despised by the Jews for reasons going back centuries. According to Professor Bailey, “A Samaritan woman and her community are sought out and welcomed by Jesus. In the process, ancient racial, theological and historical barriers are breached. His message and his community are for all.”

This happened time and again with Jesus. He touched lepers and healed a woman who had a constant flow of menstrual blood, both of whom were considered impure; forgave a woman “who lived a sinful life” and told her to “go in peace,” healed a paralytic and a blind man, people thought to be worthless and useless. And as Jesus was being crucified, he told the penitent thief on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

. . . Over the course of my faith journey, I have wondered: Why was a hallmark of Jesus’s ministry intimacy with and the inclusion of the unwanted and the outcast, men and women living in the shadow of society, more likely to be dismissed than noticed, more likely to be mocked than revered?

Part of the explanation surely has to do with the belief in the imago Dei, that Jesus sees indelible dignity and inestimable worth in every person, even “the least of these.” If no one else would esteem them, Jesus would.

All that, of course, assumed that Jesus lived, was the son of God, and healed the blind, the sick, and the lame.

But is this the same Jesus who had himself rubbed with expensive ointment at the expense of the poor? (Matthew 26):

6And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. 8But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”

10But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 13Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

And is this the same Jesus that said that people should forsake their families to follow him, and if they didn’t follow him, then they lost the road to the Father? The same Jesus who said that in the final judgment the sheep would be separated from the goats, and woe to the goats? (Matthew 25):

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ . . . . 

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

That’s not very inclusive. The sheep should be with the goats! The sheep gambol on clouds but the goats get barbecued!

We have a number of Bible experts in this audience, so I won’t go on showing that you can interpret Jesus in ways different from Wehner.  I just want to point out that it’s taken for granted in the mainstream media that Jesus not only lived, but lived exactly as Scripture recounts. Why else wouldn’t the paper give a caveat about the possibly fictional nature of Wehner’s stories? We need to stop accepting this stuff as okay, and keep pointing out that the Jesus myth has no empirical support.

Second, it’s a sign of the times—both the literal times and The New York Times—that Wehner recasts Jesus as a social-justice warrior, emphasizing his “inclusivity”.  But surely there is a Jesus For Every Season, one whose words and deeds can be interpreted according to the Zeitgeist. What we have in Wehner’s piece is a Jesus of Portland.

67 thoughts on “NYT op-ed: Jesus was not only real, but a radical social-justice warrior

  1. I find it amusing to see what happens by simply substituting “Jesus” for “Mohammad” (“Mohammed”?), and so on. The title alone would be unpublishable.

  2. As Albert Schweitzer said: “Looking for Jesus in history is like looking down a well: You see only your own reflection.”

    1. Or you could say, if Jesus did not exist (and he didn’t) you would be forced to invent him. I personally put him right up there with Santa.

      1. I believe that Jesus did exist. An apocalyptic Jewish preacher from the Galilee who was executed by the Romans and served in part as the inspiration for the Jesus movement within Judaism which eventually morphed into xianity. I think all of this is likely. As shown in the Life of Brian, apocalyptic Jewish preachers were a dime a dozen back then.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmyuE0NpNgE

        Chances are there was one named Yeshuah from the Galilee. If he went to the Temple and caused trouble during Passover, the Romans would be happy to kill a troublemaker. I buy Bart Ehrman’s argument. Jews did not accept Jesus as the messiah because he had been executed. Why make that part of your story if you do not have to. Maybe the early xians should have used the concept of alternative facts. Which the resurrection kind of is.

        1. Why would it be more likely than inventing a story that ticks off all the messianic prophesies but – the invention – is not itself another prophecy of things to come?

          A historical person makes little sense in any myth, and especially here when it is timed to a recent date – a finetuned myth.

        2. I agree with George. Paul (the one who wrote the letters) didn’t meet Jesus, but was a contemporary. By his own account he went to Jerusalem and stayed two weeks with Peter and met Jesus’s brother James. Paul also later met John. And he didn’t twig that Jesus had never existed, and these disciples were pulling his leg? That’s pushing skepticism too far.

  3. Hey, Jerry, how you doing? I hope you’re great.

    “we have no extra-Biblical evidence that Jesus really existed as a person. I have found arguments to the contrary inconclusive, and so am agnostic (so to speak) on that point.”

    Have you ever read Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?”. I highly recommend this book. Spoiler: Ehrman argues that Jesus did really exist as a historical figure.

    1. Sorry, but I already read that book, and found no extra-Biblical evidence adduced by Ehrman, nor was I convinced by his other arguments. And of course Ehrman doesn’t buy into the stories of a divine Jesus, much less one who cures the blind and heals lepers. His version of Jesus was the he was just one of many apocalyptic preachers who infested the Middle East.

      Have you read Richard Carrier or Robert Price, who argue that there is no evidence that Jesus existed as a historical figure? I’ve read yours, now you read those.

      1. Carrier says that the probability that there was an actual historical Jesus at one in three. Ehrman says there almost certainly was a historical Jesus. Let us say he is at 95%. I am around 75-80%. My argument is above in response to Colin. I don’t think that it is a stretch to think that an actual apocalyptic Jewish preacher named Yeshuah serve at least in part as inspiration for the Jesus movement within Judaism which became xianity.

        1. Could be, but there is no evidence for him. Not a shred. The gospel character is a sophisticated literary invention. Paul’s Epistles don’t describe a living person on earth. And that’s all we have to go on.

          Carrier is (deliberately) excessively generous in assigning values for his calculations that result in is “one chance in three” conclusion. After studying the literature for years my own estimation is “not a chance”.

          1. I’m in agreement with Peter. There’s really not a shred of evidence for a flesh-and-blood Jesus. He’s just another “dying and raising savior god” of which there are dozens that we know of that never existed.

            Carrier is my go to for the most intellectually honest and peer-reviewed scholarship. His latest book “Jesus from Outer Space: What the Earliest Christians Really Believed about Christ” is a great summation of “On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt” that, in my opinion, drove the final nail in the coffin of a real, historical Jesus.

            Ehrman clings to the “Jesus was real” theory for political reasons.

            But yes, it bothers me whenever I read pieces that presuppose that Jesus actually existed, like in the writings of Candida Moss.

        2. I was going to repeat much of my earlier comment to you as response to “not a stretch” – because from where I sit it looks like the most stretchiest stretch I can imagine – but I see I”ve already responded with the specifics to you up thread.

      2. Careful Dr. Coyne, you are committing the cardinal sin of Jesus Mythicists. Although I don’t like Carrier at all, and really like Price a lot, neither of them holds a position in academia, and their views are almost totally unreflected in mainstream Bible scholars. If someone attempted to convince you of a fringe position in biology, and only had a handful of go-to names of people outside of academia to back them up how seriously would you take them?

        Although I don’t like him all that much either I would recommend people take a look at Tim O’Neill and his website History for Atheists. He has had some good stuff about the Jesus mythicists arguments/

        1. Sorry, but I evaluate the arguments, not people’s positions, and “mainstream thought” in science has been wrong (e.g., immobile continents). Many mainstream Bible scholars, I think, have a strong wish to affirm the existence of a historical Jesus, which may be one reason why they make such strong claims in the paucity of evidence.

          What is the cardinal sin of Jesus mythicists? That they don’t have jobs and flaunt the mainstream? LOL!

  4. Jesus is purportedly not nice on many other occasions:
    “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” –Mark 9:42
    “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” –Luke 19:27
    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

    I could go on. And on.

  5. Jesus of Portland. Love that.
    I enjoy watching Jeopardy (R.I.P. Mr. Trebek), but I hate it when they have bible/jesus categories. They always frame the answers just like this article…as if there is no doubt that everything in the bible is fact.

  6. Hoo boy, where to start. This guy is not even wrong. Even if you only read the gospels as superficially as Wehner does it should be obvious that Jesus was not a nice guy by modern standards — Hector Avalos wrote a whole book about that.

    Look, the recurring theme of the gospels is not “here’s what you should be doing”, it’s the reversal of the reader’s expectations. That’s the explanation for the Good Samaritan parable, and pretty much everything else, like how the blameless guy wound up being executed in a degrading manner (but don’t worry, he comes out of it all right at the end).

    Here, go watch this.

  7. Wehner is an arch conservative and religionist that happens to despise Trump because of his ethics. There isn’t the slightest indication that he associates himself with people that some label as social justice warriors. Wehner is portraying Jesus in a way that would be attractive to the faithful or those he hopes to join the ranks. Wehner has posted many op-eds at the NYT and elsewhere attacking Trump, often on the grounds that Trump lives the antithesis of the Christian life. Thus, I welcome him to the coalition that opposes Trump. I am not particularly concerned why this is. Nothing is more important than the maintenance of this coalition. When Trump’s poison is finally out of the American system, Wehner will probably go back to being a strong advocate of conservative positions. Until then I consider it politic to ignore his religious rantings, just as I ignore Andrew Sullivan’s. Simply put: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    1. Yes, I know he’s a conservative, but he’s pushing a message that he knew would appeal to the New York Times. And he’s pusing stuff that’s palpably false.

      And, you know, I’m getting weary of you lecturing me about what’s politic to write about and what’s politic to ignore. I will write about dumb and dangerous religiosity if I feel like it, as I do with Sullvan’s views as well. Further, just because you think that “nothing is ore importance than maintaining an anti-Trump coalition” doesn’t mean that we can’t criticize religion and the widespread mythology it promotes. In other places, like the Middle East, religion and its mythology are far more dangerous than Trump.

  8. Jesus seems to have struggled to make his points clear. His 1st-century followers already completely misunderstood him, but thankfully a NYT columnist has now revealed the true meaning of the gospel. Modernists like him are rightfully scorned by conservative Christians.

  9. We can surely infer that Jesus would have been against Prohibition, because he changed water into wine. He would presumably be for legalization of pot too, although the Gospels don’t give any details.
    As for the story of the five loaves (or was it seven?) and two fishes, that presumably means the the government food stamp program can be absolutely minimal, because miracles can be relied upon.

  10. Wehner has written some good pieces about our President-Eject and his motley crew; but this one I didn’t even bother reading.

  11. First, we have no extra-Biblical evidence that Jesus really existed as a person.

    Firstly, yes we do. We have the existence of Christianity itself. Religions have founders. Christianity had a founder.

    Secondly, there’s no documentary evidence of Jesus outside the New Testament, but so what? The NT is not a single document written by a single person, it is a collection of Christian writings by probably nineteen people. You can’t dismiss them all just because somebody a couple of hundred years later decided to gather them all up into one book.

    The evidence in the Bible isn’t very good, of course. None of it is written by eye witnesses and most of it was written many decades after Jesus’ death by unknown authors who often plagiarised each other and the Jewish Bible. I think the evidence is good enough to say that the character who appears in the Bible is based on the real founder of Christianity, on the balance of probabilities. I wouldn’t want to speculate much beyond that. Of course the resurrection stories and other miracles are all pure fiction.

    1. We have the existence of Christianity itself. Religions have founders. Christianity had a founder.

      Seems like an analog to the Cosmological Argument for the existence of god, and seems to suffer a similar logical infirmity.

    2. Firstly, No, we don’t. A bunch of people who believe in something in not evidence for it being true. Qanon? A founder of a myth does not make the myth true.

      Secondly, you cannot use a source of claims to test the veracity of those claims. Circular argument. You have to find an external source to verify them. For Jesus, there are zero.

      In your last paragraph you contradict yourself. You state that the evidence isn’t good enough but then, state that it is. It isn’t.

      The gospel according to Mark’s claims are not first-person accounts, the other gospels copy that account. That is not evidence of a mortal Jesus.

      1. The relevant analogy for jeremy pereira w.r.t. Qanon would not be “most of what Qanon says is true.” It would be “there probably is one person who wrote most of what is attributed to Qanon”. Which seems likely, as far as I can see (not that I know much about Qanon).

    3. ” Religions have founders.”

      This is rather like saying “Languages have founders”. It fails to understand the nature of cultural practices which generally do not have “founders”. Religions grow and morph over time because they are constructed from ideas passed from person to person, group to group, like viruses evolving from year to year. Sometimes someone will come up with a “new” religion but every time this happens it is just a morph of another previous one.

  12. Jesus wasn’t any more an actual person than was Odysseus.

    But, pace the religious right, the Jesus of the synoptic gospels strikes me as having something of a Galilean redistributionist streak.

  13. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat . . . .”

    Well, there were the figs, which could not help that it was not the season for figs. And there were the swine who were forced against their will to run off a cliff. But then they were not kosher.

    ‘Why else wouldn’t the paper give a caveat about the possibly fictional nature of Wehner’s stories? . . . a sign of the times—both the literal times and The New York Times—that Wehner recasts Jesus as a social-justice warrior, emphasizing his “inclusivity”.’

    In this op-ed, as in not a few others, comments aren’t allowed, so so much for “inclusivity.” Of course it’s unreasonable to expect the Times to allow comments on every op-ed. But it should allow comments on every editorial board editorial, which, starting fairly recently, it does not.

    1. Thank you for noting that comments were not allowed. This bothered me greatly, and I again wondered why, as I have seen more and more of that occurring, and why I still subscribe. As regards Jesus, I’m convinced that he suffered from multiple personalities complex.

  14. So… Jesus cursed the fig tree and whipped the money changers out of the temple. I could make a case that Jesus is antifa. But I can’t be bothered.

    In other non-news Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the food banks, and Maid Marion was transexual.

  15. The canonized Christian sources are not pure fiction, as they contain many convergent elements that allow us to reconstruct a contextually plausible terrain Jesus that cannot be reduced to editorial interests. This earthly Jesus was an apocalyptic troublemaker with the pretense of a “king messiah” (Lk 23,2) who ended up being executed along with other inmates by order of the Roman governor Pilate.

    The apocalyptic insurgent Jesus who lived under Augustus and Tiberius constitutes the detachable factual nucleus of the story of Christ; the deified Jesus (Christ) belongs to the sphere of godly fantasy.

  16. A couple more from the other side of the Peter Wehner coin:

    New International Version (NIV)

    Jesus speaking

    Luke 19:27

    But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.

    Matthew 10:34

    Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

    1. What has expressing magic incantations (which I assume this was an example of) to do with the issue of myth sources?

  17. Theology always goes with the times. If Christianity is a thing in a few hundred years, they were always championing women’s rights, and wasn’t Jesus always inclusive of LGTBQ?

    I learned through Trump that a lot of people really don’t care what’s true, as long as it satisfies some other psychological need. They still sound like as if they care, because truth has the most potent rhetorical power, but it really doesn‘t matter to them.

    Christianity is of course filled to the brim with such examples. The biggest one is Christian moral superiority that is asserted as if history never happened. This story fits into that pattern.

    1. Jordan Peterson argues that there is the Real World (natural, factual) and the Relevant World (the world/society/myths which hold our attention). Evolutionary processes (so far) mean that we care more about others’ opinions of us and allegiance to the troop/clan.

      I’d suggest that what is True often has less influence than what secures my social position and safety. And that is the case with all groups, whether political, religious, class, caste, clan or family. Sure some people are more motivated by what is factually true than others, but where’s the evolutionary advantage in that?

      1. Caring about truth above all else is suicidal. You might end up without friends and even family members will distrust you for lack of perceived loyalty. The other monkeys in the tribe will take advantage of your weakness. That’s what being autistic is like (at least for some, I’d think): a huge handicap not offset by the occasional extra insight.

        The most adaptive posture is probably self-deceived as described by Trivers: fervently adhering to whichever beliefs are fashionable without being self-aware of that fact.

        1. Those are not people one wants as friends. Family members will just need to learn to live with it. Advocating for dishonesty on the basis of lost friendship is simply asking people to drink poison because other folk want them to.

          Trivers is talking about evolutionary success. Not personal human success.

      2. I agree to this (Durkheimian) view of religion. However, that does not excuse outright fabrication. It seems that fabrications like these update an ingroup mythology to keep it more in sync with other beliefs of its members, to keep them around, or even convert new members.

  18. Whoever wrote the gospel of Matthew copied 95% of Mark, and whoever wrote Luke used 65%. That goes a long way toward explaining the “convergence”. So Matthew, Luke, to a great extent John, and dozens of other gospels and Acts and Apocalypses that didn’t make it into the canon are all derived from Mark, which is a very improbable story filled with tales of the supernatural, highly improbable situations, and a poor understanding of the geography and customs of the region and time period it describes. For those and many technical reasons it appears to be entirely a literary invention — a story set a long time ago in a land far, far away.

    The problem with the theory that some regular guy kicked off the Christian religion is that there is no evidence either within or outside Christian writings that such a person ever lived, while we do have plenty of evidence for beliefs in celestial savior figures, dying-and-rising gods, and fiction written as “fact” in order to impart moral lessons. So you can hold to a belief that there was a living, breathing Jesus on faith, but it actually takes less faith to see him as an invented myth from the start.

  19. Did not this “inclusive” Yeshue say openly “I am sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”? (Matt 15:24)

    The founder of christianity was most likely Saul of Tarsus who saw a vision of the Yeshue of stories when he was struck by lightning and fell off his horse.

  20. Albert Schweitzer, who quested for the historical Jesus, put it this way: “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb.”
    Albert Schweitzer (2010). “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”, p.396, Lulu.com

    1. Not if you take a hard-line skeptical approach to the passages in Joesphus, as here: https://www.atheists.org/activism/resources/did-jesus-exist/

      Wikipedia also notes that some reject Josephus entirely as referring to the Jesus person; Carrier is one of these. We can reject a miracle-working Jesus, because if everything that he did and Scripture said happened around him, like the dead rising and big earthquakes, surely it would have been recorded more widely. So the only point at issue is whether there was a NON-DIVINE person on whom the Jesus myth is based. And on this point all we have is Josephus (who was going from other sources), and I am not alone in saying that this is not enough to convince me that a person on whom the mythological Jesus is based really existed. But even if he did, that doesn’t do any work towards buttressing the contentions of Christianity, such as the miracles and wonder-works described in the NYT op-ed.

      I’ll let others handle this question, too.

    2. Additionally to all the arguments, we should not forget to note that Josephus was not really contemporary. He’s thought to have lived from 37 to 100 CE. His ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ with (well, at that time probably without) the notorious “Testimonium Flavianum” is thought to have been written in 93 or 94 CE.
      The ‘external’ evidence for even a non-devine Jesus appears extremely thin, to put it mildly.

    3. I challenged a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses on historical Jesus before the first UK lockdown (e.g. Herod died in 4 BCE etc.) and a couple of weeks later they brought me a long typewritten response, most of it irrelevant and seemingly cobbled together from various uncredited sources, but relying on Josephus as to Herod’s wickedness blah blah. When it got to the crucial issue of when he died, their screed read, “We must bear in mind, however, that Josephus has many inconsistencies in his dating of events and is therefore not the most reliable source. For the most reliable source, we must look to the Bible.”. So when it comes to things that are verifiable, like dates reported in other sources, he’s unreliable – but he can be cherry-picked when it suits Christians and then he’s a wonderful independent source. Hmmm…!

    4. Josephus was not describing the Jerusalem he lived in, he tried to make up a history for the Jews (“Antiquities of the Jews”) which was essentially an Hellenized apologia*, pleading “the case of a group of people or set of beliefs to a larger audience.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiquities_of_the_Jews ].

      A contemporary account would be Saul of Tarsus that was described as a member of the persecution of the early christian sect at the time [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle ]. He never described a person, he described a messianic myth vision. Oh, right, it is a biblical source.

      * Irony abounds, since it seems the whole myth complex started as a political pamphlet work of a mythical egyptian author Manetho that took a basis in the later hated first foreign ruling dynasty in Egypt, that of the Semitic-speaking Hyksos, which seems to have originated anti-semitism to boot. As it was a political work – “Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt) in Greek, a major chronological source for the reigns of the kings of ancient Egypt” associated with early Ptolemaic kings – it used a traditional religious king list to establish authority. And off you go, where myth feed on myth for purposes of power plays – here partly channeled by Josephus.

  21. Well there’s pretty much something for any flavor of interpretation in the Gospels. But trying to take the big themes as a whole, I’d say the lessons attributed to Jesus (i.e. regardless of whether there was an individual behind them or this is just a collection of stuff from different writers) are radical, yes – social justice warrior, no.

    The messages seem to focus on individual ethics which are certainly radical – give away all your stuff, nonviolence, etc. – however the big themes completely lack any notion of changing the government or the social structure for the better. Which makes complete sense from an apocalyptic standpoint – when your protagonist thinks the world is going to end, his message is going to be “get right before God ends everything” rather than “Subsection 2(d).3 of the Roman Civil Rights act needs to include gays.”

  22. Oh it all is so laughably childish. Peter Wehner has been writing for the Times for a number of years and, sadly, used to have some decent political articles and analysis. He’s been more aggressively Christian lately though so I stopped reading him. I saw that piece and though: “Nup” “I don’t need the iron age fairy tales at this time of the morning” and just moved on, making a note to give some more money to the FFRF.
    Fight the power, PCC (E).
    D.A.,
    NYC

  23. I used to review religious books for Kirkus, before I burned out. There is no evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ. Moreover, this myth is a Rorschach, reflecting the fads and anxieties of the times: in the 1960s Republicans argued Jesus was a man who obeyed the law, paid his taxes and (I am not kidding) kept his hair short.

  24. I’ve always liked to point out the hypocrisy and the having-their-cake-and-eating-it-too nature of Christianity.

    Atheists often argue that a Good God would not have commanded any of the many unethical rules or actions in the old testemant – eg “why would a Good, Wise God give rules that allow for slavery?!!”

    A very common response from Christians is: You have to realize that the culture in that time was steeped in these behaviours, like slavery. God can’t just order slavery to be stopped, no one would follow the rule. Instead God had to slowly work “within” the culture of the time to start slowly mitigating the excesses of the time.
    He couldn’t just drop something TOO RADICAL on them!”

    Meanwhile, when atheists say Jesus was just another human religious leader, Christians tell us: “Wrong! There’s no way to simply explain Jesus that way – the message he taught was TOO RADICAL for the culture in which he lived!
    It wouldn’t have arisen naturally given the entrenched anti-thetical beliefs of the Jews of the time. He must be divine!”

    Well, pick your stance Christians, which is it?
    God couldn’t introduce ideas too radical for an ancient culture…or we should recognize the truth of Christianity because God brought such radical ideas for his time as Jesus?

  25. We need to stop accepting this stuff as okay, and keep pointing out that the Jesus myth has no empirical support.

    Yes!

    The best version may be comedian Jimmy Carr’s:

    Personally I don’t think the pope should worry about the sex scandal.

    It gets sorted out soon enough when Jesus Christ, our lord and savior, comes back from the made up.

    [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o-Yx97UJzI&ab_channel=JimmyCarr ; 02:00 – 02:10.]

  26. Might I recommend The darkening age: the Christian destruction of the classical world, by Catherine Nixey. Although the book deals with a period a couple centuries later, I think it paints a nice picture of the mindset of the early Christians.

  27. When evaluating “Jesus was real” pieces, I think it is important to step back and consider what explains the need for such a piece in the first place : the notion of Jesus has largely been promulgated for *centuries and centuries* as true, but especially because very few have been willing to cast a critical view upon the idea. Importantly, the “true” view was a dog’s breakfast of the sorta plausible and sorta made up etc.

    That means generations of beliefs had been largely based on only one view – Jesus was one real person. The correct likelihood approach — thanks to Reverend Bayes — means *updating* one’s beliefs *given new information*.

    At this point in 2020, the likelihood falls like a stone that Jesus was one real person because the work done by now dominates the equation – the “true” data is vapor-thin.

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