Flawed Subject Matter
I have been reading the correspondence between Cliff and the priest. There are a couple of points that I think Cliff could argue a bit better:
The priest wrote in the 17th letter:
One issue, among many, stands out in our correspondence, this issue of "errors, discrepancies, and contradictions" in the Bible and these "eliminat[ing] the claims of those books from the realm of serious consideration." As I have read your correspondence, I have found misspelled words, words missing, and grammatical errors as well. You have a modern computer, probably a spell-check, maybe even a grammar-check, yet you made these errors.
It is one thing to say that the document contains minor grammatical and spelling errors. It is another thing completely to claim that primary subject is flawed.
Let's suppose for a moment, that the ancient story tellers retold the original story in perfect detail from the time it was original told to the time it was inscribed. That still assumes that the original storyteller was accurate and objective. It assumes that the apostles interpretation of the events surrounding Jesus life and resurrection were accurate. This is where the gospel falls apart. Both Romans and Jewish people of time were very superstitious. They believed that many events in life were "caused" by the gods. The mysterious disappearance of Jesus' body could have easily been interpreted as supernatural.
A question that I have always wondered is, "Why didn't the Roman tomb guards immediately convert?". They were there. A mysterious force has just moved a two ton stone out of the way and flown the coop. The reason is that they assumed (rightly so in my opinion) that a Jewish contingent broke into the tomb while they were sleeping and took the body.
The problem with the gospel is that, regardless of how accurate it has been transcribed, tells a rather far-fetched story with very little objective evidence. My experience tells me that if a modern surveillance team had been watching the tomb that it would have identified the culprits. If a modern forensics team had analyzed the tomb they would have found tampering. The nice thing about the gospel is that it is sufficiently old that we have no one but the these cult fanatics to act as eye witnesses.
On a numerous occasions Cliff has questioned the existence of Jesus. There are Roman records of the time that validate the existence of such a man. Further, there are Roman records which verify that a social upheaval caused by this cult occurred during this time period. Thanks to the Romans (not the Apostles) it is very difficult to question that such a man did exist. It is, however, logical to question whether he had some supernatural powers.
Also, I don't think the priest understands what you mean by presupposing the existence of God. Simply, it means that all of your arguments are based on the existence of a supernatural being. Before any argument regarding faith or spirituality can ensue, you must establish the existence of the supernatural.
For example, the following arguments could not be used:
"Faith exists because of God"
It assumes the existence of a God.
"How do you know you dream? It must be spiritual"
Again, it assumes that a supernatural or spiritual universe exists to be the cause of the dream. It also utilizes one of the greatest flawed arguments by theists, "That which cannot be explained must be spiritual". The existence of "tomorrow" can be quantifiably and independently verified. The existence of my brain can also be quantifiably and independently verified.
The Bible IS in fact an historical document. By that I mean, it does contain references to events that have been independently verified. The Babylonians, for example, did exist and were known to be brutal. It also, however, contains interpretations of events ("The God(s) did X") that scholars consider useful only for understanding the culture. For example, no anthropologist actually believes that Moses (whose existence, I believe, has also been verified through Egyptian records) parted the Red Sea ala Charlton Heston in the "Ten Commandments". It is widely accepted that this was meant to portray the Reed Sea and perhaps a convenient flooding. (Another flawed theist argument: "Coincidence must be spiritual".)
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 04:31:21 -0700
Thank you for your thought-provoking letter. I will expound on the "Jesus
Myth" argument -- for the sake of the readers, not because I hold
this viewpoint strictly. Though I do think this argument has some merit,
I personally prefer the "Jesus as Jewish Messiah" model described
by Hyam Maccoby.
On a numerous occasions Cliff has questioned the existence of Jesus. There are Roman records of the time that validate the existence of such a man.
While nobody can prove the historical nonexistence of Jesus, neither can we establish the fact of his existence. With many historical figures, you can establish historicity (the fact that they existed) to a point very near to certainty. Jesus of the Christian religion is not one of those figures.
Christianity nevertheless depends upon the existence of a historical Jesus for its validity (and much more, of course, but the fact must be established first). If we can cast considerable doubt on the historicity of Jesus, Christianity's validity crumbles to nothing. The same can be said about Islam's relation to the historicity of Mohammad (which many historians of Islam doubt) and Judaism's relation to the historicity of Moses or, at minimum, the Exodus (which almost no historians of Egypt concede).
The New Testament Gospels were not in circulation before A.D. 70 -- forty years after Jesus is alleged to have lived. Some of the Gospels were definitely in circulation by A.D. 90. The extra-biblical writings are either very suspect (Josephus) or mention events that were described by the gospels after they had been in wide circulation.
Paul's works (those that are indisputably Paul's) predate the gospels, but do not contain any clues about when Jesus lived. There is no mention of Pontius Pilate or any particular emperor with which to establish dating for Jesus' life. As far as Paul is concerned, Jesus lived in Palestine sometime in the past. When he lived cannot be established from Paul's works.
Pliny the Younger, writing around A.D. 112, wrote about "Christians" who worship "Christ. Seutonius, secretary to Trajan (117-138) also mentions a "Christ." Tacitus, writing about the same time as Pliny, states that "Christ" was executed under Pilate. None of this information predates any Gospels, and none of it contains anything unique.
We cannot disregard the likelihood that these writers used existing Gospel accounts for their sources. They demonstrate only that "Christians" existed in the early second century. None of these writers mention "Jesus," only the title "Christ." When recounting incidents about "Christians," these second-century writers may very well have consulted the then-existing Gospel accounts to provide details for their readers.
The "Testimonium Flavianum" of Josephus contains such glowing praise of his "Jesus" as to make it doubtful that an orthodox Jew would write them. Even so, if did write them, he cannot have believed them, else he would not have restricted his account of Jesus to such a brief passage. A very good case can be made that this is a later forgery, made at the hands of Christians scrambling to deal with the pronounced lack of evidence for a historical Jesus.
An ancient table of contents omits mention of this passage. Justin Martyr defended Christianity against the charge that Christians had "invented some sort of Christ for themselves: and had accepted "a futile rumor." Justin, though aware of Josephus, did not point to the "Testimonium" to make his case, though one would expect such a passage to be the first one used in such a defense.
Two apologists from the second century, seven from the third, and two from the early fourth knew Josephus' works but do not refer to this passage. Eusebius is the first, but even after Eusebius, three fourth-century writers and five fifth-century writers (including Augustine) cite Josephus, but do not cite this passage.
One excellent reason for thinking that this paragraph is a forgery is that it breaks the thread of the narrative. It is out of place within the context of the rest of this section. When removed, the surrounding text flows as a single, unbroken series of thoughts. Unlike other digressions in Josephus, this digression is neither introduced as a digression, nor is the main narrative (itself a digression) reintroduced after the digression is concluded.
The Arabic version of Josephus contains a radically different version of the Testimonium. The statements are in a different order, and the Arabic version stops at calling Jesus a man, and does not unequivocally assert Jesus as Messiah. It says nothing of miracles and says that his resurrection was only alleged by his disciples. Obviously both versions cannot be authentic.
The Arabic version has one telltale sign of tampering: it says Jesus was sentenced to be crucified "and to die." According Islam, Jesus did not die. Countering this notion would be important to Christians living in an Islamic environment; thus, it makes sense that the phrase "and to die" would be added to an Arabic version.
So, all that we know about Jesus comes from the New Testament documents. These documents are biased and contain very fantastic claims about supernatural feats. They were not written until at least forty years after the alleged events they describe.
Both "Jesus" and "Christ" existed in the mythology of the Jews for at least a hundred years before Pilate lived. The dying and resurrecting gods, born of virgins, were common among the Greeks of Paul's day. Gnosticism taught that this world was evil and needed divine intervention. Buddhism, which had not a small following in the Middle East at the time, taught many of the same morals that were eventually placed into the mouth of the biblical Jesus. It is possible to explain the existence of Christianity without there having been a historical Jesus.
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