Tacitus and Josephus;
Explain Miracles Scientifically


To: “Positive Atheism”
Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2001
Subject: WebMaster: Positive Atheism Index

I was just wondering if you could scientifically explain the miracles of Jesus? Or even more modern miracles? Oh, also, the Bible is not just taken at its words. There are many Roman historians (Tacitus, Josephus, etc) that were not Christian, yet they testified to the existence and miracles of Christ. When you manage to disprove these obvious truths and explain to me why non-Christians would acknowledge Jesus, I may take heed to your beliefs.

God Bless. Ben


From: “Positive Atheism Magazine”
Subject: Re: WebMaster: Positive Atheism Index
Date: Tuesday, February 27, 2001

I was just wondering if you could scientifically explain the miracles of Jesus?

How can someone answer, scientifically or otherwise, a question which contains a presupposition? This fallacy is known as The Loaded Question. You are presupposing that something happened and then asking me to explain how or why it happened. First you must demonstrate to me that it actually happened, you must convince me that you are not simply being taken in by clever fakes such as abound in the business of religious persuasion.

You must first determine if a specific event occurred. To do this, you would need first to show that the claim relating the alleged occurrence is not a political tract, a legend, a cultural myth, a hoax, a hallucination, an example of religious hucksterism, etc, and that it actually happened.

To show an unusual event you would need extraordinary proof such as would be required to overthrow practically the entire body of scientific knowledge. If you claimed that a man floated off into space, in apparent violation of the laws of gravity and the laws of biology explaining that man’s need for oxygen and air pressure, you would need to update both the laws of gravitation and the theories of biology to account for this event. If you cannot do this, we are justified in thinking that it is more likely that two men would lie than that a man would float off into space.

Once you have accomplished the formidable task of firmly and irrefutably establishing the fact of what someone alleges to be a miracle, you still face the probably insurmountable task of showing that what happened (assuming that it happened) is actually a miracle, that it does not have a natural explanation but can only be the result of supernatural intervention. To do this, you would need to eliminate the possibility that we don’t know everything there is to know about science. You must show that this did not occur as the result of any known laws of physics and also show that it is not the result of any unknown or yet undiscovered physical laws.

If you can show that the event occurred, and if, after this, you can show that no known or unknown laws of physics could possibly have caused the event (if it even occurred), then you would have a miracle on your hands.

If you could show it to be a miracle (a supernatural intervention into or violation of the laws of physics), then you still could not explain it scientifically, because science deals only with natural laws and seeks only natural explanations for observable occurrences.

To show that it happened would involve science. To show that it is not natural (supernatural would involve science. But, if you could show, through science, that a supernatural even occurred, you would overthrow science itself and we’d have a whole new ball game.

However, I suspect that it is much more likely that two men would lie than it is that you could overthrow and render invalid several thousand years of recorded scientific history, beginning with the Egyptians and the Babylonians, on to the Greeks, and then Alexandria and then eastward for a thousand years to the Islamic nations (which did not suppress science nearly as fiercely as the Christians did in the West, during the Dark ages), through the Renaissance and the seventeenth century of independent thinkers, to the Enlightenment and on to the modern scientific era.

It is much easier for me to think that someone is pulling your leg with these tales of a Jesus miracle, particularly when it is almost impossible to show that a Jesus even existed and that the Jesus myth was not based upon myths and put forth for political purposes.

Or even more modern miracles?

Same thing: you’d have to determine — prove — that these actually happened. If you were to prove that a certain event happened, you still must show that there is some supernatural intervention involved. This would involve demonstrating that we know all the laws of physics, and then showing that what happened cannot be explained by any of these laws — be they known laws or unknown laws.

If you can do this, I promise you’ll get the very next Nobel Prize and you will go down in history.

But as I said above, even if you could show, scientifically or otherwise, that a miracle did occur, you could never use science to explain the miracle, because science is all about natural laws and the study of natural occurrences and systemizing what we have observed into an organized understanding of how nature operates.

If someone challenges you to say, “Aha! You cannot explain these scientifically!” they are right! You use science to prove or disprove whether something can occur naturally, but science could never explain something supernatural, because saying supernatural is almost the same thing as saying unscientific.

There are many Roman historians (Tacitus, Josephus, etc) that were not Christian, yet they testified to the existence and miracles of Christ.

Are they still feeding you this chestnut? Those bastards! When I was a Christian, we sternly denounced those who would spin this yarn, because our Jesus was “the Truth, the Way, and the Life,” and as such would never tolerate us using falsehood to convince people that He was real. Our Jesus only allowed us to tell the truth when witnessing for Him. Mind you, we were less effective in our evangelistic efforts than the liars who ran the megachurches (and our salaries were much smaller — I worked for free for almost two years and held down a job on top of that).

But even then, only a handful of the more unscrupulous congregations and sects resorted to the Tacitus and Josephus yarns, these being so easily and so handily and so widely repudiated — even by the churches — as to render anybody who used them worthy of being called a bald-faced liar.

Cornelius Tacitus (circa CE 55-117 or later) writing in about CE 114-17, briefly describes the “Christians” who “derive their name and origin from Christ who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.” He says no more than this. Had he given more detail, we would be justified in believing that he made more than a cursory investigation into the sect. But since he only gives this description, we cannot eliminate the likelihood that he simply placed into his text the description that was commonly held — that description from the Gospels that had been in circulation for at least 20 years.

Also, he was not describing Christ, but Christians, who by then did not need an actual Christ to explain their existence; hundreds of sects thrived during that time who had alleged historical founders that probably did not exist and certainly did not perform the feats attributed to them in their respective body of mythology.

You’ll have to do better than Tacitus, almost 100 years later, to establish that a historical Jesus even existed — much less was who the patently biased and Gospel accounts say he was, or did what these hopelessly flawed Gospel accounts say he did. First you must establish that he existed, and Tacitus cannot help you there; then you must establish that he was who the Christians say he was and did what the Christians say he did — and Tacitus most certainly cannot help you there. That someone cannot see this simply boggles the mind; that people continue to propagate this yarn shows only that the propagation of the Christian religion is still being entrusted to patently dishonest individuals.

The alleged segment in Josephus’s so-called Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18:63-64) is not genuine, and only a handful of Josh McDowell-type hucksters still insist that it is. Josephus (circa CE 37-101) was an orthodox Jew who cannot be expected to have written such obviously Christian words. The rest of his works do not ring like this one passage, and this segment uses many words (such as tribe to mean something completely different than how it is used here.

If he did write these words, and if he believed what they say, then why did he restrict his coverage of Jesus to this little parenthesis? Why would he interrupt his count-down of the various rebellions in Judaea, insert a wild and very un-Josephus account of a mystical religious figure who, according to the narrative, sparked no rebellion, and then return — right where he left off and continue to recount the Judaean rebellions? Why did he not devote more if not much of his work to describing this most wonderful of men — if Josephus thought the story was true? And why is this the only place where Josephus enters into a parenthesis without introducing it as such, and without reintroducing the reader back to the main narrative?

But we don’t have to address these or any similar problems if Josephus the Roman Jew did not write this obviously Christian passage.

And why is Hierapolis’s tenth-century quote of the Arabic translation of Antiquities, which was probably made from the Syriac translation, so vastly different from the one handed down to us by Roman Catholic monks? These two drastically different accounts cannot both be authentic; at least one of them is a plagiarization — if not both of them.

If this passage is genuine, we can expect later Christian writers to refer to it. It would have been a strong element in the early Christians’ struggles to ward off the allegations that no Jesus ever existed and that Jesus was just another mythological figure like all the other mythological figures who allegedly founded the hundreds of different religious sects which thrived during those times.

L H Feldman, in his book Josephus and Modern Scholarship, lists two fathers from the second century, seven from the third, and two from the early fourth — all of whom knew Josephus and cited his works. But, he says, the “do not refer to this passage, though one would imagine it would be the first passage that a Christian apologist would cite.”

The first mention of the Testimonium is Eusebius (who died about CE 342), and a full century passes (including, most notably, the era of Augustine [CE 354-430]) before it is again mentioned by a Church Father. This leads many to believe that it was Eusebius who ordered that this passage be inserted into the copies whose transmission was under his jurisdiction. Eusebius is the first to use the word tribe to describe the Christians, just as the alleged Testimonium uses the word. Eusebius is probably most well know for openly advocating that people lie if that’s what it takes to entice people into believing in Christ. So, it makes sense to suspect that the Testimonium is just another of Eusebius’s lies for Christ.

When you manage to disprove these obvious truths and explain to me why non-Christians would acknowledge Jesus, I may take heed to your beliefs.

When did non-Christians “acknowledge Jesus” and what did they acknowledge?

Even if you were to show that the Tacitus passage is genuine (it probably is), you have shown nothing about the claims contained in the Gospels other than what we already know: some of the Gospel accounts had been published by the year CE 114. That’s all we know about the Tacitus passage is that Gospel accounts (and we do not know which ones) were in circulation by the year 114 — over 80 years after Jesus is alleged to have died.

And even if you were to show that Josephus said what a tiny minority of Christians throughout Christian history have alleged that he said, you have shown only that he said it, you have not shown that it is true. You cannot claim Josephus’s information as first-hand knowledge because by the time Jesus is supposed to have died, Josephus was not yet born.

I may take heed to your beliefs.

I don’t have any beliefs as you describe. I submit to liberal scientific method as a discipline for discovering truth and weeding out falsehood, but that’s all liberal scientific method does, that’s all it is good for. I have certain viewpoints, such as that religious liberty is best accomplished by the separation of religion from government, and I tend to agree with those historians who show that Ethan Allen, Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were not pious Christians and did not think that they had established this as a Christian nation. I say this after having spend much of my life, off and on, studying the American Revolution in 1776 and the founding of the new Republic in 1789. This is of interest to me because two of my ancestors signed the Constitution and one signed the Declaration. What these newfangled “Christian Nation” revisionists say goes completely against everything I have ever learned about American history and everything I have read of these men’s words.

But I don’t have any religious beliefs. I don’t even believe that no gods exist. Rather, I simply lack a god belief. This is because nobody has ever given me a valid reason to believe that any gods do exits. So, I remain an atheist.

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe


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