Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jesus: fact or fiction?

In a previous post, I mentioned various things in the Bible that I consider to be fiction: God, Jonah and Noah, along with the entirety of the Bible itself. I did not mention Jesus and someone has taken me to task for that. I replied with a bit of a (admittedly) confusing double negative, which I won't bother to reprint here because it really was confusing.

So do I believe that Jesus was a fictional character? First of all, this is not the sort of question that I am qualified to answer definitively, so I will not attempt to do so. From what I can gather, there may well have been some sort of actual person named Jesus (or some variation thereof), and he may have even done some of the things that are described in the Bible. But the things that make him an important, significant and necessary element in the Christian faith I wholeheartedly reject as false: the virgin birth, all of the miracles and the resurrection.

In his comments to me, (which I sincerely appreciate) Makarios lists a large number of historical examples that are supposed to convince me that Jesus did, indeed, rise from the dead. The examples do not cite the Bible as a source, which is fantastic. They are independent, secular writings that mention Jesus in one way or another. I have not heard of many of the writers he mentioned and I will certainly do my best to research them for myself. But the thing is, historical writing is not - forgive the term - gospel. As time advances and technology improves, journalism and historical writing improve alongside, but even now there are glaring holes in what we know about recent events. Consider the assassination of JFK - cameras everywhere, eyewitnesses aplenty and still there is debate about how many shooters there were (that's a nod to conspiracy theorists - I do not mean to imply that there is truly mystery in this case, but there is enough reasonable doubt for some people to seek alternate explanations). We are accustomed to taking current news stories with a grain of salt to account for misperception and journalistic bias. How much salt do you need to take to accept the disperate and fragmentary (and often contradictory) writings of people who lived years, decades and even centuries after the facts that they are claiming? The writings themselves have been translated, miscopied and tampered with for centuries. Add to that the fantastic claim that a man - not just a man, a god! - rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven. I'm sorry, but I really do need more than a few lines by a handful of historians. I am not going to trot out examples of my own, the well-worn rebuttals of Josephus and the gospel writers themselves. These rebuttals are almost as well known as the claims themselves and need no repetition here.

The next part of the Jesus argument is that no one would have died for such a cause if it were not true - at least, if they did not believe it were true. Well then I present to you the terrorists of 9/11 and the unfortunates of the Heaven's Gate cult. Does their devotion to (what we would consider) patently false claims make them true?

I will also mention here that the tale of Jesus is not unique. Many, many stories have been told of men sent from heaven, often born of virgin mothers, who died and were resurrected. I do not bring this up as proof that Jesus was a myth but as a reminder that those who lived during those times would have been familiar with this storyline. Their thinking and assumptions would have been informed by these tales. So just because Mark (allegedly) wrote an account 70 years after the fact it does not mean that the events actually happened.

Makarios concludes his comments:
'The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus demands a verdict. With the evidence so overwhelmingly pointing to the fact of His resurrection, one can do three things:

. Submit to Jesus as Lord and Saviour - Or
. Lie to yourself that none of this proves anything - Or

. Say to yourself, “I don’t care if God is real, I’m going to live my life, my way.”'

I reject (obviously) those options as the only ones, because I do not believe that the evidence provided does point overwhelmingly in favor of his resurrection. I will do some research, but I'll admit that I don't have high hopes. If the evidence were, indeed overwhelming, then there would be no doubt at all. Faith would not be a virtue, much less essential. Faith is essential preciesly because the evidence is so thin. If I do find evidence that I consider irrefutable and compelling, I will convert, and happily so. Who doesn't want to live forever with 42 delicious raisins?


Makarios said...

“the entirety of the Bible itself.” “he may have even done some of the things that are described in the Bible.”

It’s still kind of confusing. If the Bible in it’s entirety is fiction, how could Jesus have done some of the things described in it?

“The next part of the Jesus argument is that no one would have died for such a cause if it were not true - at least, if they did not believe it were true. Well then I present to you the terrorists of 9/11 and the unfortunates of the Heaven's Gate cult. Does their devotion to (what we would consider) patently false claims make them true?”

You’re missing the point son. The people I mentioned in my reply did not die for what someone else told them was true. If what Jesus’ followers said and died for was a lie, it was THEIR lie. Peter allowed his wife to be crucified, not for what someone else claimed to be true. I suppose the number of those who have done that could be counted in the thousands. You’ve given couple examples. This is in no way similar. Peter allowed his wife to be tortured to death, and his own crucifixion followed for what would have been HIS lie that Jesus has risen from the dead. People don't do that. The 9/11 bombers didn't do that. the Hale Bob goofs didn't do that.

The atheists that I’ve spoken with over the years describe themselves as some of the most morally upright people on the face of planet earth. I assume that Nathaniel feels the same about himself. According to atheists, there is absolutely no need for any intervention of an outside power to aid them in improving their character or their behaviours. That being the case, since this atheist would never knowingly mislead anyone, I can only assume that when Nathaniel tells us that there are many stories of other gods born of virgins and accompanied by resurrections that he is simply ignorant of the crucial elements needed in unravelling ancient myths and legends. He is simply unaware that the myths of which he speaks post date Christianity by hundreds of years. The same must be true when Nathaniel believes that the New Testament was written seventy years after Jesus' resurrection. Paul, who was beheaded in 64AD and who wrote most of the letter that were included in the New Testment obviously completed those within a couple decades of Jesus death. His creed contained in 1st Corinthian 15 has been dated to within one or two years of Jesus' resurrection so, again, I'll give Nathaniel the benefit of doubt and say that he is simply mistaken versus trying to mislead. I'm off topic.

What I was saying was, if someone truly rose from the dead, if a religious leader was actually seen to be alive after having died and been in the grave - No, more than that, if a religious leader predicted that he would die, if he told his friends in advance how he would die and by whose hand he would be killed, AND that he would rise from the dead and then do so in a way that excluded any suggestion of hallucination or deception, well, one would think that it would cause such a movement of believers that it would change the course of history.

Oh wait! That has happened. Not dozens of times, of course, but only once. It happened because Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed Himself to be God and proved His claims through many signs, the greatest of all signs having been raised from the dead.

This was not some culture adopting a god. This was God creating a culture. The early Christians weren’t people who were out looking for a religion. They already had a religion. In fact it was and still is one of the great religions of the world.

Something incredible happened to them that made them give up everything of earthly value and turn completely to a brand new faith. Because of Jesus, the very course of history has been changed. Powerful nations have arisen solely on the basis of Christian influence. Since the dawn of Christianity the poor have been cared for, orphans have been adopted, unwanted babies have been given homes. Those on the margins of society, those from whom the rest of society turn their gaze have been given food and shelter. All this because of the influence in people’s lives of this individual, Jesus who really was crucified, died, was buried and rose again, proving beyond all doubt that Creator God is real.

Look, Nathaniel. I've given you a number of facts of history that require and explanation. I've given what I think is the best explanation. If you disagree then give me a better one. Simply declaring that other people have believed myths doesn't account for the empty tomb. Simply saying that a virgin birth is incomprehensible to a naturalist doesn't account for the transformation in the lives of Jesus' followers.

. How do you explain the empty tomb, when even the enemies of Christianity admitted that His body was not there, and that after they had secured the tomb with a Roman seal and guards?

. How do you explain the dramatic change in the character of Jesus’ followers?

. How do you explain the conversion of Jesus’ siblings?

. How do you explain the rise of the Christian faith right there in Jerusalem where what you suppose to be a fictional resurrection could have been torn apart in a day if it wasn’t true?

. How do you explain that even atheist historical scholars agree that:
a) Jesus died on the cross
b) That Jesus was buried in a known tomb
c) That the tomb was found to be empty, as predicted
c) That hundred and hundreds of people claim to have seen eaten with and drank with and talked with Jesus for roughly forty days after His resurrection?

How do you account for these facts of history? If what the eyewitnesses say isn't true, what's your explanation?

nathaniel wallace said...

"It’s still kind of confusing. If the Bible in it’s entirety is fiction, how could Jesus have done some of the things described in it?"

Really? I think it's fair to say that William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is not a biography, and yet some of the elements may be more or less accurate.

There are a lot of things in your response. I'm not hiding from them, but I don't have the time to respond to them all. I'll get to them in time, perhaps, and as I see fit.

And look, I'm glad and grateful that you take the time to read my blog - more so that you take the time to write out long responses to it. And I'm glad that you believe that Jesus - as described in the Bible - is real. But just because you believe it does not mean that I am blind for not believing it. Either intentionally or not, you are being condescending and paternal, assuming that I am an idiot and that I have little idea what I am talking about. You may well be older than me, but that does not mean that you are right.

But as I said a few posts back, I don't really care anymore. I don't believe in Jesus, and I don't think that the Bible is any more accurate than the Koran or Edith Hamilton's Mythology. It can be a fun exercise, but there are other things to life. Honestly, I'd rather play on my XBox or read a book or watch TV than spend my spare time constantly repeating the same arguments for my atheism. They haven't changed, by the way: not enough evidence.