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Monday, July 9, 2012

Quite possibly the worst atheist argument out there

One of the silliest excuses for an argument raised by historically inept atheists is to question the actual existance of Jesus of Nazereth as an actual, historical figure. I've encountered this complete nonsense line of questioning before and I personally find it to be staggeringly dishonest. If youre going to deny the existance of Jesus Christ, then you might as well through out all of recorded history if that is your standard.

Proving the old adage that even a stuck clock is right twice a day, I actually find myself in complete agreement with a piece that appeared in The Huffington Post yesterday. Craig S. Keener does a masterful job of carving up this canard and I love how he does it...

"Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars' confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, "We're his followers"? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it.

One popular objection is that only Christians wrote anything about Jesus. This objection is neither entirely true nor does it reckon with the nature of ancient sources. It usually comes from people who have not worked much with ancient history. Only a small proportion of information from antiquity survives, yet it is often sufficient...

Josephus, the only extant first-century historian focused on Judea, mentions both Jesus and John the Baptist as major prophetic figures, as well as subsequently noting Jesus' brother, James. Later scribes added to the Jesus passage, but the majority of specialists agree on the basic substance of the original, a substance now confirmed by a manuscript that apparently reflects the pre-tampering reading. Josephus describes Jesus as a sage and worker of wonders, and notes that the Roman governor Pilate had him crucified. On the cause of crucifixion Josephus remains discreet, but mass leaders were often executed for sedition -- especially for being potential kings. Perhaps not coincidentally, Jesus' followers also insisted, even after his death, that he was a king. Josephus was not a Christian and does not elaborate, but his summary matches other sources.

Writing even earlier than Josephus, Syrian philosopher Mara bar Sarapion claimed that Jesus was a wise Jewish king. Tacitus later reports on events from 31-34 years after Jesus' ministry, associating Roman Christians with him and noting that he was executed under Pontius Pilate. These and other sources provide only snippets, but they address what these sources cared about. By comparison, Tacitus mentions only in passing a Jewish king on whom Josephus focused (Agrippa I); nor was Tacitus interested even in Judea's Roman governors. Tacitus's mention of Pilate in connection with Jesus' crucifixion is Roman literature's only mention of Pilate (though Pilate appears in Josephus and an inscription)."

I believe that when Keener writes (re: Josephus) that "Later scribes added to the Jesus passage", he is referring to Josephus definatively mentioning Jesus as 'the Christ' in his writings.

"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 among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; 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." Josephus, Antiqities, 18.3.3

If I'm not mistaken, there are absolutely no copies of Antiquities that that do not contain this specific reference to Jesus as the Christ. None at all going back to the very earliest manuscript copies that we have and thus there are no contradictory writings that exist concerning this passage, it is merely theorized that the relevant passage up above was interpolated later. (Although I think it's a reasonable theory).

Check out Keener's entire article if you get the chance, it's quite good if you have an interest in this sort of thing. Also, if anyone would like to discuss these particular writings of Josephus, I think this entry by Tektonics would be a good place to start.


The Maryland Crustacean said...

Wow. I never knew that there were no extant manuscripts of Josephus that did not contain references to Jesus' resurrection or to His being the Christ. Interesting, but if that is the case, aren't you being overly charitable in describing the "later interpolation" theory as "reasonable"? On what possible basis could such a theory be made other than than an a priori supposition that the content of the texts is not be believable? Hardly a rational basis.

JD Curtis said...

That he was a Jew and not a Christian. It's something I heard put forward by Dr Kennedy and yes, to my knowledge, the earliest manuscripts we have contain the direct reference to Jesus as the Christ.