The God Who Wasn't There is a 2005 documentary film on the "Jesus myth." It is the work of ex-fundamentalist Brian Flemming. I missed all the excitement about the film, if there was much. I recently discovered it on Netflix and since apologetics is a keen interest of mine ( I teach it academically) I thought it looked like a pretty interesting attack upon the “myth of Jesus.”
The film producers believe this documentary will do to religion what Bowling for Columbine did to the gun culture and Super Size Me did to the fast food industry. Of the three films Bowling for Columbine was the most interesting but none of these films did a great deal to change minds or actions regardless of your view of their importance or their impact on the larger culture. Hype does not mean that minds are being changed regardless of what side you are on in a debate. Most "pop" documentaries are the ideological dreams of writers and producers who have an odd angle (conservative or liberal) and want to promote it. Really good documentaries, which I enjoy a great deal, are generally done by PBS.
The God Who Wasn’t There “irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed.” This claim, which is not new, is advanced with the following claims:
1) The early founders of Christianity seem wholly unaware of the human Jesus. Jesus was a mythical figure and the details of his life were added more than five decades after his death. A case is made, using a simple time line, that since Paul wrote his letters first, and the four Gospels were written several decades later, that this time gap is just too huge to accommodate serious history.
2) The letters of Paul were written four decades before the first Gospel and Paul mentions none of the stories or details of the life of Jesus at all, not even quoting Jesus. (This is patently wrong!) He does mention the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension but only in a manner that sees them as taking place in a mythic realm.
3) The death-resurrection-ascension sequence of the Gospel events was common in pagan myths and other religions. Others stories mentioned in the Gospels also occurred in previous mythologies and religions and were simply copied by the early Christians.
4) The Jesus of the Gospels bears a striking resemblance to other ancient heroes and the figureheads of pagan savior cults.
5) Contemporary Christians are largely ignorant of the origins of their religion. Interviews are included to prove this point.
6) Fundamentalism is as strong today as it ever has been, with an alarming 44% of Americans believing that Jesus will return to earth in their lifetimes, 22% saying it will be in the next five years or so.
All of the above claims are not new, with the possible exception of number five. They were all made in antiquity (except of course numbers five and six) by brilliant critics of Christianity who used far better arguments than those employed by Brian Flemming. Ancient Christian apologists, two of whom Flemming cites out of their context, answered many of the very claims this film makes. Flemming presents most of this material as if it was really some new discovery that he wove together for this film! One Christian blogger noted: “Anyone with the most cursory knowledge of the early ecumenical councils will know of the fierce debates which took place on the humanity and divinity of Christ: the Creeds of the Church did not come from nowhere.” Amen!
The fifth assertion made above is accurate and thus may be the only thing in the film that I found worth seeing. (The film is so badly made, and poorly patched together with clips taken from several old films about Jesus, that any awards for cinematography would be a real joke!) Flemming cleverly uses about six different Christians, not scholars or serious apologists, to demonstrate that most Christians are ignorant of the origins of their religion. I have no doubt that he is right in this claim. But it proves absolutely nothing about his bigger claim that the Jesus story is a “myth.”
Flemming presents what he believes is overwhelming proof by using interviews with several popular atheists, including the infamous Sam Harris. The Los Angeles Times said the film is “provocative—to put it mildly.” I didn’t find it provocative in the least. If I wanted to undermine Christian faith I would look for something far more professionally and carefully made than this sad excuse for a credible documentary. It was a total waste of time to watch it.
If you want to know more about the film a simple Google search will reveal both fans and critics coming from a number of perspectives. Count me as another critic, not because the “Jesus myth” idea is not worthy of apologetic debate but because this film doesn’t make a serious contribution to that debate. Sadly, the film borders on buffoonery. I had hoped that I could find something here to use in one of my apologetics classes but this film is too easy to refute.
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Sadly, the film borders on buffoonery. I had hoped that I could find something here to use in one of my apologetics classes but this film is too easy to refute.
Well of course everything is easy to refute in an apologetics class – everybody there already agrees with you.
When Osiris is said to bring his believers eternal life in Egyptian Heaven, contemplating the unutterable, indescribable glory of God, we understand that as a myth.
When the sacred rites of Demeter at Eleusis are described as bringing believers happiness in their eternal life, we understand that as a myth.
In fact, when ancient writers tell us that in general ancient people believed in eternal life, with the good going to the Elysian Fields and the not so good going to Hades, we understand that as a myth.
When Vespatian’s spittle healed a blind man, we understand that as a myth.
When Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from death, we understand that as a myth.
When the Pythia , the priestess at the Oracle at Delphi, in Greece, prophesied, and over and over again for a thousand years, the prophecies came true, we understand that as a myth.
When Dionysus turned water into wine, we understand that as a myth. When Dionysus believers are filled with atay, the Spirit of God, we understand that as a myth.
When Romulus is described as the Son of God, born of a virgin, we understand that as a myth.
When Alexander the Great is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth.
When Augustus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal , we understand that as a myth. woman
When Dionysus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth.
When Scipio Africanus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth.
So how come when Jesus is described as
the Son of God,
born of a mortal woman,
according to prophecy,
turning water into wine,
raising girls from the dead, and
healing blind men with his spittle,
and setting it up so His believers got eternal life in Heaven contemplating the unutterable, indescribable glory of God, and off to Hades—er, I mean Hell—for the bad folks…
how come that’s not a myth?
Loyd O. Roumetha
Hi Loyd O. Roumetha:
I do not know what perspective or worldview you may be operating from…… but you raised a good question at the end of your lengthy comment. Here is my attempt to provide an answer.
When atheistic naturalists or others attempt to reduce or eliminate the immaterial laws of logic to “the material”, we know this is myth.
When atheistic naturalists or others, attempt to reduce or submerge the transcendental laws of morality into what is merely contingent (or culturally derived) via faulty appeals to “evolution” or “science”, we know this is myth.
When naturalists or others misinterpret “Science” into the worship of “Scientism”, we know this to be myth.
When naturalists or others use the term, “science”, in different ways, and then demand of “science” what science cannot itself provide, we know this to be myth.
When naturalists or others appeal to the descriptive fact of religious diversity in order to argue for the separate (and independent) normative conclusion, “that there is no truth in propositions containing religious truth claims”, we know this to be myth.
We know the above is myth because of the evidence points in that direction.
In short, Norman Geisler argues that theism is a more rationally compelling worldview compared to its secular competitors.
But what kind of theism?
As you have noted above, many folks have made religious truth claims. Which one is true? Which one is false?
I think this is where the historicity and empirical support for Christian theism trumps the competitors.
And this is where also Gary Habermas comes in:
When science said the earth was flat we understand that as a myth
When science said that bloodletting was the best way to cure disease we understand that to be a myth
When science said the earth was the physical center of the universe we understand that to be a myth
When science said the sun was the center of the universe we understand that to be a myth
When science said there were no such thing as blackholes, flying machines are impossible and plate tectonics was absurd we understand that to be myth
So why is that the science that says gravity exists is not also understood as a myth?
This is just bad reasoning. It essentially says that because myth can be seen in other truth claims of a sort, it should be seen in all truth claims of that sort. non sequitur
Do you have a better argument you want to present? I say this sincerely because this one is easy to refute inside or outside an apologetics classroom.
BTW, there’s a lot of twisting and turning to try and get those myths to sound identical to the works of Christ that is just stretching the facts in many cases; but Christians from the beginning have addressed similarities in religions and they have never presented a real problem to them because it’s simply a matter of saying, “A and B may be false, but C is true and you must somehow disprove C apart from disproving A and B, since C is not dependent on A and/or B.”
On a web site, http://www.haloscan.com/comments/chezami/8892225315276111349/?src=hsr, Mr Roumetha has comments similar to the one he has posted above. I hope that through interaction with others on this blog he will come to the truth of The Gospel.
Loyd O. Roumetha
LOR | 05.12.09 – 3:15 pm
Rather than guess and speculate, why don’t you read Lucian’s Alexander the False Prophet ? Lucian went to Glycon’s oracle, spoke with Alexander, and tested his prophetic power.
Glycon gives us a picture of what a God looked like when He was specifically made up to fit the religious ideas of ancient culture. Glycon was the son of the God Apollo, who …
… came to Earth through a miraculous birth ,
… was the Earthly manifestation of divinity ,
… came to earth in fulfillment of divine prophecy,
… gave his chief believer the power of prophecy,
… gave believers the power to speak in tongues ,
… performed miracles ,
… healed the sick,
… raised the dead.
Now, nobody supposes Jesus was a xerox copy of Glycon. Glycon was a phony, made up God. That’s the point. Glycon was made up to fit the religious stereotypes of his age.
There is no comprehensive, consistent analysis of the ancient evidence that can conclude anything other than that, like the Glycon stories, our Jesus stories—the prophecy fulfilling, miraculously born Son of God, who healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave his believers the power of prophecy and speaking in tongues—like the Glycon stories, our Jesus stories were also made up to fit the religious stereotypes of the age.
Thank you Jack for the reference. That was interesting to read.
Our friend Loyd O. Roumetha writes:
“our Jesus stories were also made up to fit the religious stereotypes of the age”
Hypothetically, if the philosophical case was settled and atheistic naturalism was “proven to win” the final boxing round, then I might agree with him. If that ever was the case, then I would maybe agree with Ludwig Feuerbach that the essence of religion is basically “wish fulfillment” in that theology would become anthropology, with man hopelessly looking up in the sky for fictional answers. This later caused Karl Marx to argue that mankind needs to focus horizontally, especially with a look toward economic structures, etc.
But there are too many philosophical problems that negatively affect his presuppositions and core beliefs that undergird his worldview. Therefore, I hold that atheistic naturalism is false.
Upon further reflection, one notices that the historical figure of Jesus Christ was an iconoclastic figure who tended to “make waves far too often” with culture, religious authorities, and popular figures of his day (Jesus’s views on women; fellowshipping with tax-collectors, his comments on the Romans, views on adultery, etc.).
The evidence seems to point that the historical portrait of Jesus Christ “does not fit the religious sterotypes of the age at all.”
One final remark:
may I please recommend 2 books to you for the sole purpose of further discussion:
“Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism” by Merold Westphal
“The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? by author Ronald H. Nash
To all, I make this challenge.
Humbly and genuinely pray this simple prayer:
GOD, if you are there, if you are real, if you even exist at all, I don’t want to miss the mark by being blind to you.
Please come and reveal yourself to me. I will watch and wait.
Then wait. Watch. He will. He really wants you to know him and if you seek him at all you will find him, more important, he will find you. BUT, you must set aside your doubts and fears for a while. Just believe that he will be as good as his word. He will.
When he reveals himself to you….. Life will change for the much better.
> Therefore, I
> hold that atheistic naturalism is false.
My question wasn’t about atheistic naturalism. I asked what conclusions can be drawn from the evidence.
Since your answer is to reject naturalism, is it true you agree that if we apply our normal day to day understanding of cause and effect reasoning the evidence will force us to conclude Jesus is just another ancient pagan godman?
Reason proves Jesus is a pagan godman; but you reject reason?
> The evidence seems to point that the historical
> portrait of Jesus Christ “does not fit the religious
> sterotypes of the age at all.”
The evidence about pagan religious stereotypes proves they included:
Great Father gods in the sky with
Sons of god who came to Earth
With a divine father and mortal mother
In fulfillment of prophesy
Healing the sick
Raising the dead
Bringing believers a better deal in the afterlife.
And your theory is, our stories about Jesus don’t include those stereotypes? Really?
> may I please recommend 2 books to you for the
> sole purpose of further discussion:
> “Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of
> Modern Atheism” by Merold Westphal
> “The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New
> Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? by
> author Ronald H. Nash
To suppose those who disagree with you are ignorant reveals a lack of seriousness.
Loyd O. Roumetha
Thank you for your response, Loyd.
In my first comment, I stated I didn’t know what perspective or worldview you were coming from. But your comment does seem to hint that you share the worldview of Naturalism. I could be mistaken, though.
You write the following:
“I asked what conclusions can be drawn from the evidence.”
My answer is that conclusions are always dependent first on what criteria is allowed that (ultimately) determines what we call or not call “evidence.” This point is crucial in philosophy, but also in legal reasoning and courts.
You write the following:
“Since your answer is to reject naturalism, is it true you agree that if we apply our normal day to day understanding of cause and effect reasoning the evidence will force us to conclude Jesus is just another ancient pagan godman?”
My response is that our “normal day to day understanding of cause and effect cannot be separated from the important (and logically prior) issue of worldview. Hume tried to take the “normal day to day understanding of cause and effect” to its empiricist end, and it led him to abandon it. As a Christian theist, I believe in cause-effect primarily because I have a worldview that permits it. Empiricists like David Hume, unfortunately, do not.
I reject Naturalism because it fails the test for a viable worldview on rational grounds.
You write the following:
“Reason proves Jesus is a pagan godman; but you reject reason?”
I respectfully disagree.
First, I hold “Reason” to be the first axiom in my collection of beliefs that I am defining as a worldview. This presupposition informs all other axioms. I hold reason to be in high importance because:
***I hold mathematics to be more reflective of reality, instead of science
***I hold that the a priori is more basic than truths gleaned from a posteriori reasoning
***I hold that laws of logic are more fundamental than say, math, language, science, etc.
The above provides evidence that led to my espousal of reason as the first axiom.
Reason is a negative tool. Reason, or what others call the law of non-contradiction, or laws of logic, is a tool used to order our thinking. It tells us those instances when we violate reason.
You write, “And your theory is, our stories about Jesus don’t include those stereotypes? Really?”
My response is that you are overlooking critical differences between the Christian account and the other accounts.
“To suppose those who disagree with you are ignorant reveals a lack of seriousness”
I never assumed or called you ignorant. I just made a friendly recommendation.
You are aware that there are Christian theists like myself and others who take seriously the book recommendations of nonChristians? We do, and it causes us to end up shopping at Prometheus Books and other places, leading to later angst a month later when we get our credit card statement in the mail!
Lloyd, I’m sorry, but can you deal with what I said? Your answer to Coltsfan is that you are using reason and evidence. I just showed you above that you are not using reason. Your argument is a non sequitur. In other words it does not logically follow. It is therefore an illogical argument. That is the very definition of something that is not reasonable. What is unreasonable cannot be used as evidence. You seem to want to ignore this point.
There may be good arguments for atheism. You just haven’t yet presented one, so I’m waiting.
> The above provides evidence that led to my
> espousal of reason as the first axiom.
I’m not educated enough to find abstract citations of Hume and Neechee useful. I just wanna know what you think about the evidence and how come you think it.
> You write, “And your theory is, our stories
> about Jesus don’t include those
> stereotypes? Really?”
> My response is that you are overlooking
> critical differences between the Christian
> account and the other accounts.
Are you able to articulate those differences and say why you imagine them to be meaningful?
Remember the original question went along these lines: how come when Vespatian’s spittle healed a blind man, we understand that as a myth, but when Jesus’ spittle healed a blind man we don’t?
And how come when Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from death, we understand that as a myth, but when Jesus raised a girl from the dead we don’t.
When Romulus is described as the Son of God, born of a virgin, we understand that as a myth, when Alexander the Great is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth; when Augustus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal, we understand that as a myth, when Dionysus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth; when Scipio Africanus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth, but when Jesus is describe as the son of god born of a mortal woman, that’s not a myth. How come?
I wanna know specifically, story by story, fact by fact, how come the other stories are myths.
I wanna know specifically, story by story, fact by fact, how come our stories aren’t.
I wanna see if your reasons are consistent – if the reasoning your apply to our story applies to the other ones.
I wanna know where your reasons come from. If you think Jesus being different in some way means something, I wanna understand the basis for that belief.
And I wanna see if your analysis explains all the evidence.
Loyd O. Roumetha
> When science said the earth was flat
> we understand that as a myth
> So why is that the science that says
> gravity exists is not also understood as
> a myth?
The old timey people who understood the world in the ways you mention didn’t have science in the way we understand the word, so I can’t agree that SCIENCE ever said any of this. In fact them not having science and us having it is pretty much exactly the reason their theories and ours are different.
I do see the point you hope to make. The analogy fails because the truth claims you cite are of different sorts.
> This is just bad reasoning. It essentially
> says that because myth can be seen in
> other truth claims of a sort, it should be
> seen in all truth claims of that sort. non
I agree the reasoning of your analogy is bad. The truth claims you present are of different sorts. In fact it is exactly the fact of the sorts being different that explains the different nature of the claims.
The point of my observation was that, prima facia, the building blocks of the stories about Jesus look to be of the same sort as the building blocks of the stories about the other ancient gods. (I gather you agree, since you admit they are of the same sort.)
“Non sequitur” is not reasoning at all, it is unsupported assertion. Not persuasive.
The question remains unanswered. Since all the other things of this sort we agree are myths, do you have any actual reasons to believe the Jesus stories of this same sort are not myths?
I know you’ll agree with me that your analysis will be persuasive only if it can explain all the evidence with reasoning that is consistent.
> Do you have a better argument you
> want to present? I say this sincerely
> because this one is easy to refute inside
> or outside an apologetics classroom.
You are mistaken Hodge. I am outside your apologetics classroom, and so far I don’t see the argument engaged, let alone refuted.
Since we’re being sincere, I’ll pass this along. From outside the apologetics bubble a lot of what you fellows agree on is pretty weak. In actual practice apologetics seems to me to be less about persuading the unbeliever than about boosting team spirit. That you imagine your un-apt analogy refutes anything convinces me mostly that you’ve spent to long in echo-chamber apologetics classes. Your rigor is rusty. I understand this may offend; I apologize if it does. I am not trying to be snotty. I’m telling you honestly how your echo chamber looks from the outside.
> BTW, there’s a lot of twisting and
> turning to try and get those myths to
> sound identical to the works of Christ
> that is just stretching the facts in many
#1 One of the reasons echo-chamber apology fails to persuade the unpersuaded is that you fail to understand and address the reasoning of the other side. The point, Hodge, is not that the circumstances in the stories about Jesus are identical to the circumstances in the stories about Mithras, any more than the circumstances in the stories about Mithras are identical to those about Dionysus, whose facts are not identical to those of Kore, whose facts are not identical to those of Osiris. And yet no one supposes each of the religions of the pagan gods developed independently all on its own, new and unique.
The point is that Christianity began in the middle of ancient western culture where lots of people had similar ideas – a great god in the sky, miracle working sons of god on earth, hell, salvation, prophesy, divine dreams, etc.
It seems to me a reasonable understanding of Mithras, Dionysus, Kore, Osiris, Serapis, etc is that they took the basic ancient understanding of the universe – a great god in the sky, miracle working sons of god on earth, hell, salvation, prophesy, divine dreams, etc – and constructed their own myths around that understanding. The facts in each myth are different; the religious rationale behind the facts is similar.
If you hope to persuade reasonable people outside your echo chamber, you’ll need to come up with a reasoned analysis showing why everyone else’s divine dreams, life after death, god in the sky, etc. are myths, and ours aren’t.
#2. Perhaps Hodge you’ll tell me which facts have been stretched in this example of a pagan – Christian similarity…
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth….6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, 7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”
Gospel of John, Chapter 9 (1st or 2d century AD)
“At Alexandria a commoner, whose eyes were well known to have wasted away …fell at Vespasian’s feet demanding with sobs a cure for his blindness, and imploring that the Emperor would deign to moisten his eyes and eyeballs with the spittle from his mouth…. Vespasian …. did as the men desired him. Immediately the hand recovered its functions and daylight shone once more in the blind man’s eyes. Those who were present still attest both miracles today, when there is nothing to gain by lying.”
Tacitus, The Histories, 4.81 (c 110 AD)
> but Christians from the
> beginning have addressed similarities in
> religions and they have never presented
> a real problem to them because it’s
> simply a matter of saying, “A and B may
> be false, but C is true and you must
> somehow disprove C apart from
> disproving A and B, since C is not
> dependent on A and/or B.”
#1. You fail to address any actual ancient facts. You would be more persuasive if you could.
#2. Your analysis is circular. The question at issue is whether C is dependent on A and/or B.
#3 Your facts are wrong. The similarities were quite apparent to early Christians. Justin M admits the similarities, and explained them not by denying dependence, but by magic demonic imitation:
JUSTIN MARTYR, FIRST APOLOGY; CHAPTER LIV — ORIGIN OF HEATHEN MYTHOLOGY.
But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they [the demons] heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain. …. etc.
[Justin Martyr, First Apology, 54]
Hodge, who knew/ knows more about early Christianity and its similarity to other ancient religions — you or Justin Martyr?
Loyd O. Roumetha
Wow, Lloyd, that was a whole lot to say that you deny that your illogical argument is illogical. non sequitur actually is an argument for why an argument is logically invalid, so I do ask that you take another look at that.
For all you had to say, you still are just perpetuating bad logic. And science never said those things? Really? When did modern science begin for you? Because I know a lot of scientists who would say that theories believed even ten years ago, if not five years ago, are now thought to be false. By your argument all science is therefore false. Once again, it doesn’t convince anyone outside your circle, and I would hope that anyone inside would use a better argument.
I can also think of how many varieties of atheism there are that are now known to be false, does this mean that all forms of atheism are false?
Here’s more of your reasoning: I went to the store and saw that five of their apples were rotten. My impeccable logic from the evidence tells me that all of their apples, and probably all of their fruit, is rotten.
Of course, all one need to do is produce a single apple that is not rotten in order to refute my entire argument, which is why it’s not a logical argument at all.
You simply claiming that religion is somehow in a special category that defies the laws of logic is not going to help your case. I don’t know where this magical place of special circumstances is, but it doesn’t exist in the world in which I live.
Of course, I’m not sure where you got that Justin is saying that the claims of Christianity are dependent upon the similar claims of other religions. That is not what he is saying. He’s arguing that those things placed in those other religions by the demonic to throw men off from the truth. Other Fathers argue that it is because God proclaims a little of the truth in everything and that the Gospel is not only in the Bible, but also hidden in the stories of the world. Either way, dependence is not the right word; and yet it is necessary for you to believe that in order for your argument to work for you.
I could just as easily say that it is dependent upon all of those things, and God, using the culture of religion, now has these things actually performed through His Son in order to communicate to the world that would see them as divine. I could go different ways on it. You haven’t bound anything by your argument, since as I said before, these things have been discussed from the beginning and leave Christianity unflinching.
Of course, in the end it just doesn’t matter how I answer, since the argument is illogical and doesn’t have any bearing on whether the Christian claims are true.
Your argument further seems to be saying that, since people had these things in their culture, the best explanation is that they simply incorporated them into the Christian message about Jesus. Yet, what you fail to realize is that this still doesn’t show the truth or falsehood of the claim. Even if you could somehow prove that these were merely incorporated, which you haven’t, what you have to show is that the incorporation is not divine. In other words, that it was not God who brought these familiar elements into the events of Christ’s life for real, in order to convey to a religious people that this person is from God.
So good luck on that one. I’ll be waiting here to see you do it.
P.S. You asked, “Hodge, who knew/ knows more about early Christianity and its similarity to other ancient religions — you or Justin Martyr?”
Well, I love Justin, but since he was a lay apologist and my studies are in ancient Near Eastern religion and literature which extends to the Greco-Roman period, I’m going to guess me on that one.
One example of a stretched parallel is the one you cite. You do of course realize that Tacitus is writing after the Gospel of John has been written? You seemed to be unaware that the Gospel of John can no longer be accurately dated to the 2d Century, and yet Tacitus is 2d Cent. We have fragments from copies of John, which would have taken some time from his penning the book to make the rounds and be copied, and date to about ten years after the first Cent, which means the Gospel is most likely written anywhere from AD 80-95 (and 95 is pushing it). So I would ask Tacitus, who was very familiar with Christianity, why he copied this. Of course, the Christian doesn’t need to even say he copied it, since the Christian also believes that miracles are performed in the world every day by both God and the devil, which is, once again, why your argument does not work.
Finally, I’m a Calvinist, so I don’t believe that apologetics persuade people to become Christians, they merely provide reasons to those who are looking for an answer within Christianity. They prove that Christianity is the most logically consistent worldview there is, but they’re not going to persuade men who by nature are atheists at heart. Only the Holy Spirit through the Gospel can do that. I think, therefore, you’ve misconstrued my intentions. I only mean to show your argument for what is, nothing more.
Looking forward to your reply.
I wanted to add that it is a bit disingenuous to parallel Tacitus with the Gospel of John (the latest written Gospel) in order to try and force a dependence of the former on the latter when in fact Jesus spits in the blind man’s eyes in Mark 8:23, the earliest of the Gospels, written long before Tacitus.
“I just wanna know what you think about the evidence and how come you think it.”
My response is that I find the Christian account to cohere with background beliefs (or a background framework of beliefs) in a logically consistent fashion. I find this epistemically attractive feature to be missing in the pagan accounts. Therefore, because this epistemological feature is missing, I view the pagan accounts with suspicion and I treat them as myth.
The Christian account does not share this same problem with the pagan accounts.
“Are you able to articulate those differences and say why you imagine them to be meaningful?”
My response is yes in some cases. But I lack the education to be an authority of all cases. This lack of authority pertaining to “all cases of all matters pertaining to antiquity” becomes even more acute and problematic when a particular NFL team is playing from September to February.
“Remember the original question went along these lines: how come when Vespatian’s spittle healed a blind man, we understand that as a myth, but when Jesus’ spittle healed a blind man we don’t?”
My response is twofold in that
—–a.) the application of a criteria to filter error from truth;
—–b.) the presence of background beliefs, together, provide the reason why I rationally accept the Christian account and reject the pagan account.
Concerning a:) the criteria for testing competing truth claims must involve the following:
1.) statements must contain propositions that do not contradict each other
2.) while a.) is necessary, these statements must also cohere together in a “web of beliefs” (or network of beliefs) without inconsistency or logical contradiction
3.) the criteria should contain some evidential support
4.) the criteria must admit some empirical data
Concerning b.), the background beliefs must be in harmony and cohere with the other beliefs.
Here is an example that conflicts with point b.) above.
Consider these propositions:
Sam the Secular Humanist believes the following:
“Mankind is a product of chance, random, impersonal events that does not have any meaning to it. In brief, mankind’s origin was nothing.”
“Mankind’s future is empty and devoid of ultimate, transcendent purpose. In brief, mankind’s destiny is nothing.”
Now, please imagine the following scenario when Sam the Secular Humanist opens his newspaper and utters the following propositions:
“We must save the spotted owl!! There is meaning to our human existence to saving the animals of planet earth.”
“Rape is intrinsically evil, even in those pathetic societies that may possess a majority who (unfortunately) believe rape is acceptable. Rape is always wrong!”
“We must do more to further and champion Universal Human Rights!! We must save Darfur!!!”
My point, simply, is that the above propositions (O, P, Q) do not logically cohere at all with the propositions M and N, stated earlier.
This is because of proposition XYZ:
“If mankind’s origin is nothing, and mankind’s destiny is nothing, then the “in-between existence on planet Earth” must also be nothing” seems to be true.
Therefore, Sam the Secular Humanist has logical problems with his worldview. In short, he needs to embrace a viable worldview that is true and does not have contradiction with background beliefs.
My point is that the above would constitute an example of how background beliefs play a pivotal role in shaping why I rationally embrace the Christian account, while dismissing the pagan accounts as myth.
“I wanna know specifically, story by story, fact by fact, how come the other stories are myths.
I wanna know specifically, story by story, fact by fact, how come our stories aren’t.
I wanna see if your reasons are consistent – if the reasoning your apply to our story applies to the other ones.”
My response is that I lack knowledge of every single pagan story. I am not well-read enough of every story in antiquity.
Legal counsel here has just now informed me to take the following action:
I now plead the Fifth Amendment on matters pertaining to antiquity.
Wow, reading all these discussions leaves me with one question, When did ANYONE come to faith in Jesus thru pure reason?
Yes I have read McDowell etc.
But, isn’t the Holy Ghost’s ministry to reveal Jesus to us and to cause us to come to him in faith believing?
I think we are far too dependent on reason.
Luther may have been right:
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God”
> We have fragments from copies of John, which would have
> taken some time from his penning the book to make the
> rounds and be copied, and date to about ten years after the
> first Cent, which means the Gospel is most likely written
> anywhere from AD 80-95 (and 95 is pushing it).
Hodge this is pure myth making. Apologists believe Jesus is real and you make up facts to make it seem so. There are no fragments of John from 110 AD. The claim that there are is fanciful invention. Myth making. Now you see where our stories about Jesus came from. Ernest believers thought Jesus was real, and as they told stories about him they invented facts to fill in details about what they already believed to be true. They did it then. You do it now. You just did it right here.
In this case, your 110 AD date is pure fancy. Pure invention. Pure myth. You probably have in mind P52, and Colin Roberts 125 AD. But even the usually cited 125 AD date from Robert’s paper is mythological. It is not what Roberts wrote. It is an invention. Modern myth making.
And Robert’s paper itself is sloppy and deeply unscientific. He had no – NO ! – samples from the 2d half of the 2d century and NO samples from the 3d century to use for comparison. Pure invention. Pure myth making.
“…any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. Thus, P52 cannot be used as evidence to silence other debates about the existence (or non-existence) of the Gospel of John in the first half of the second century.”
Brent Nongbri, 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel. Harvard Theological Review 98:23-52.
Roberts’ Paper: http://ia311543.us.archive.org/3/items/MN41504ucmf_0/MN41504ucmf_0.pdf
> I wanted to add that it is a bit disingenuous to parallel
> Tacitus with the Gospel of John (the latest written Gospel)
> in order to try and force a dependence of the former on the
> latter when in fact Jesus spits in the blind man’s eyes in
> Mark 8:23, the earliest of the Gospels, written long before
Earlier you mentioned the persuasiveness of arguments in and out of apologetics classes, so I hope you won’t mind observations continuing the theme. As I’ve said, from the outside your everyone-agrees classes look like echo chambers that sap your rigor.
1. ” disingenuous”
You can’t imagine that calling your discussant a liar is in any way persuasive. And yet you do it.
a) This is the sort of thing one says about the other side when they aren’t there – an echo chamber effect. You’ve formed your opinions in an echo chamber. If you’re not in a room where everyone agrees, your “reasons” fail to persuade.
b) You know the other guy is a liar, but you don’t even understand his analysis. You’ve formed your opinions in an echo chamber.
2. Hodge, you can’t keep your story straight from one post to the next. First there are no similarities. Then there are similarities, but only because the facts have been twisted. Now that we’ve gotten down to actual facts, turns out the facts weren’t twisted and you agree copying must have happened, but now you’re working hard to make it be the other way.
That you imagine Tacitus copied his Vespatian story from John, or Mk., strikes me as unserious. Let’s not waste Dr. Armstrong’s moderator time with silliness.
Loyd O. Roumetha
Lloyd, I’m sorry, but when someone chooses to portray the story as coming from John, and then dates John late, either he or she is unaware that their facts are wrong, or they are purposely fudging on the facts.
I did not say you did this. I figure you are getting all of this information from websites. If it is coming from you, then I apologize to assume you purposely did this. I assume, therefore, you are admitting the error in putting these two stories together.
My going back and forth has to do with my point that I can view ancient myths in any and every way possible within the Christian worldview. I am not bound to any one of those I suggested. It is your view that is bound to only one possibility, which I would say is quite unscientific. If your presupp only allows for one possibility of the evidence, then your conclusions are predetermined, are they not?
I, of course, only suggested that Tacitus could have copied it, but then said it is not necessary to believe such. Funny though how Christians can copy everything from other religions in your view, but when I suggest a reversal, that is out of the question.
And I actually didn’t say that these arguments are going to persuade people inside and outside the classroom. I said otherwise. What I did say is that YOUR argument is not persuasive inside or outside because it is illogical. I clearly stated that apologetics arguments don’t necessarily persuade anyone.
On p52, I simply believe Kurt and Barbara Aland (The Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 15) is a better source. They date it around 125. Kraeling originally dated it to the end of the 1st Cent. Metzger and Wallace place it anywhere between 100-150. Thiede dates it somewhere between 100-125.
This would be first I’ve heard of so many text critics perpetuating myth. They would date the copy to 125. I always date copies in early middle of the various dates because text critics are often afraid of dating things too early and are overly cautious in my estimation (especially with this text); but either way, the Gospel of John would be clearly written before Tacitus. I realize that their is some subjectivity in dating, however, but to date it dogmatically late in order to put it up against Tacitus is misguided.
BTW, our earliest copy of Tacitus is AD 1100.
Furthermore, as I stated, the point is moot because the events are recorded in Christianity from the time of Mark’s Gospel, which would then disprove your parallel, right?
So just to take note where we’re at right now.
1. Arguing from religious parallels, whether incorporated via adoption or polemic or not, is fallacious, since Christianity can account for parallels with a host of arguments that don’t counter its own claims.
2. Even if it were somehow a logical argument, the parallel given is false.
Are we agreed on those two statements now?
I look forward to an argument against the truth of Christianity now. Thanks again for the discussion.
To clarify, I don’t believe that copying happened at all. I simply said that it doesn’t hurt Christianity if these things are incorporated.
I deal with this sort of reasoning all of the time and what people who make this argument don’t seem to realize is that there are similarities in religions in the ancient world that could not have possibly had any contact whatsoever. Such a thing evidences better the view that God hid the Gospel in the world’s religions more than a view that says the religions copied each other.
Here’s also an interesting discussion of Nongbri’s article.
It’s interesting to see that he has an agenda in his analysis. He further provides a date according to the new trend of no less than a century. So his dating is anywhere between 90-220.