Chapter 3 Christ

by Datechguy | February 17th, 2009

Readability

Chapter 3 Christ

My reli­gious series con­tin­ues. Pre­vi­ous chap­ters are here, here, here and here.

Hav­ing decided the para­me­ters for belief we now come to Jesus Christ.

When dis­cussing Christ there are two big ques­tions to deal with, his exis­tence and if he is or is not a divine being.

When deal­ing with this ques­tion one mis­take that our Protes­tant friends tend to make is using the Bible as proof of both. The Book can’t be proof of itself, that is: One can’t argue that a book is true because the book itself says so.

We can how­ever in this step of our inquiry take the bible as a col­lec­tion of ancient text that actu­ally holds up quite well in many details.

There is dis­pute about the date of the author­ship of the var­i­ous New Tes­ta­ment books We can estab­lish that what we would call Chris­tians existed dur­ing the reign of Claudius and Nero in the 1st Cen­tury AD we also note that there no Roman record of Chris­tians exist­ing at the time of the reign of Augus­tus Cae­sar or before, nor any roman his­tor­i­cal record stat­ing this.

This tends to sup­port the bib­li­cal time line which specif­i­cally men­tions both Augus­tus Cae­sar and Tiberius Cae­sar. Mind you at this point we are only try­ing to estab­lish the exis­tence of Christ not the divin­ity thereof.

Before I go deeper into evi­dence it would be worth­while to recall this state­ment I made before:

good sci­ence:

Is will­ing to accept that new data or evi­dence may take cur­rent assump­tions and throw them for a loop.

Under­stands that such new data or evi­dence has to stand up to a higher level of scrutiny than cur­rent assump­tions in order to replace them.

This state­ment becomes very impor­tant because for nearly 1800 years the ques­tion of the exis­tence of Jesus Christ was an accepted fact among schol­ars and sci­en­tists, it was accepted among Chris­tians, Jews, and Muslims.

Cri­tiques and argu­ments to the con­trary didn’t start appear­ing until the very late 18th cen­tury and until the mid 19th cen­tury didn’t take root. Ger­many appears to be the cen­ter of this school of thought, how­ever it was in fact a school of thought and remem­ber our rule that if you are going to over­turn estab­lished facts it is incum­bent to bring a pon­der­ous­ness of evi­dence. Strangely enough many choose the exact oppo­site take.

Now lets look at the evi­dence. I am going to lean on Will Durant:

He first cites Jose­phus circa 93 AD and points out that the praise given to Jesus by a per­son out to please both Jews and Romans is a tad sus­pect but the big gun comes from a 1st cen­tury AD man named Thallus.

Lets Jump to the Gospel of Matthew briefly:

From noon onward, dark­ness came over the whole land until three in the after­noon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you for­saken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is call­ing for Eli­jah.” Imme­di­ately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Eli­jah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. Matt 27:4550

Now Thal­lus the pagan isn’t going to put up with this. About 50 AD he states that the dark­ness is a purely nat­ural phe­nom­e­non and just a coincidence.

Durant put this argu­ment in its mod­ern perspective:

the argu­ment took the exis­tence of Christ for granted. The denial of that exis­tence seems never to have occurred even to the bit­ter­est gen­tile or Jew­ish oppo­nents of nascent Christianity.

And remem­ber that par­tic­u­lar frag­ment to the best of our knowl­edge pre­dates the Gospel of Matthew that it unin­ten­tion­ally col­lab­o­rates by two decades. The pagan pro­vides the proof. Talk about work­ing in mys­te­ri­ous ways.

Hav­ing estab­lished the exis­tence we can then exam­ine the Gospels. This is a favorite tar­get of skep­tics who in their zeal to dis­prove Christ’s exis­tence they as Durant says:

applied to the New Tes­ta­ment test of authen­tic­ity so severe that by them a hun­dred ancient wor­thies –eg., Ham­murabi, David, Socrates would fade into legend.

He then quotes Joseph Klausner:

If we had ancient sources like those in the Gospels for the his­tory of Alexan­der or Cae­sar, we should not cast any doubt upon them whatsoever.

Lets con­sider some­thing impor­tant; One mis­take that 20th and 21st cen­tury peo­ple tend to make is apply­ing what I like to call “twi­light zone” think­ing to peo­ple of ear­lier times. The first rate series Twi­light Zone pre­pared and gave us twists that the like of which we had not seen before. They are such an estab­lished part of our set of thoughts that we nat­u­rally think crit­i­cally of almost every­thing and expect the unexpected.

Now think of the 1st cen­tury AD; No means of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion. A con­stant strug­gle to sim­ply live. The Advanced civ­i­liza­tion of Rome depen­dent on a huge slave pop­u­la­tion. The fastest means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is horse­back on land and Triremes and gal­leys by sea. We read about great ora­tors and philoso­phers but remem­ber this is the minor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion. You are deal­ing with a group of peo­ple who are largely illit­er­ate and liv­ing at a sub­sis­tence level. The idea that wealth, might and power were a sign of the favor of the Gods was not just dom­i­nant but was basic com­mon sense.

Lets take the Gospels them­selves. The entire idea is back­wards, the last shall be first and the first last. The fat­ted calf is killed for the do noth­ing son. The son of God is tor­tured and killed on a cross.

Can some­one explain to me how you are going to con­vince 1st cen­tury peo­ple some­thing so oppo­site of their basic com­mon sense?

Now I’m going to use the favorite argu­ment that comes from my parish priest and expand on it. We see Jesus killed. We have a group of fol­low­ers of Jesus scat­tered. It’s appar­ently all over. The estab­lished power of Rome and the elders of Israel have fin­ished him. He would be rejected by both the estab­lished reli­gious and civil authorities.

Now lets look at what hap­pens within a period of time these fol­low­ers of Christ are not only back but are stand­ing up to estab­lished author­ity even to the point of death. We see all but one of the dis­ci­ples of Christ killed violently.

Again remem­ber the time and place. Some­thing has con­vinced a group of early 1st cen­tury Jews in a soci­ety that rejects non-​conformity that they will not only chal­lenge the estab­lished reli­gious law but the power and majesty of the Roman empire.

Log­i­cally some­thing pretty damn impres­sive had to turn a bunch of guys flee­ing to peo­ple unafraid of death and dis­grace. We have a writ­ten expla­na­tion writ­ten at a con­tem­po­rary time vs cart­wheels being turned by peo­ple who say otherwise.

As Spock once said:

If I let go a ham­mer on a planet hav­ing a pos­i­tive grav­ity, I need not see it fall to know that it has, in fact, fallen.

There are a lot of loops that peo­ple tie them­selves into to explain this away. It’s part of the whole Jesus the man, Jesus the teacher theme. C.S. Lewis says this:

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a mad­man or some­thing worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon’ or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patron­iz­ing non­sense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

This is what we are left. From what I can see I think Lewis’ choice #1 is the most rea­son­able. It’s up to you to come to your own conclusion.

My religious series continues. Previous chapters are here, here, here and here.

Having decided the parameters for belief we now come to Jesus Christ.

When discussing Christ there are two big questions to deal with, his existence and if he is or is not a divine being.

When dealing with this question one mistake that our Protestant friends tend to make is using the Bible as proof of both. The Book can’t be proof of itself, that is: One can’t argue that a book is true because the book itself says so.

We can however in this step of our inquiry take the bible as a collection of ancient text that actually holds up quite well in many details.

There is dispute about the date of the authorship of the various New Testament books We can establish that what we would call Christians existed during the reign of Claudius and Nero in the 1st Century AD we also note that there no Roman record of Christians existing at the time of the reign of Augustus Caesar or before, nor any roman historical record stating this.

This tends to support the biblical time line which specifically mentions both Augustus Caesar and Tiberius Caesar. Mind you at this point we are only trying to establish the existence of Christ not the divinity thereof.

Before I go deeper into evidence it would be worthwhile to recall this statement I made before:

good science:

Is willing to accept that new data or evidence may take current assumptions and throw them for a loop.

Understands that such new data or evidence has to stand up to a higher level of scrutiny than current assumptions in order to replace them.

This statement becomes very important because for nearly 1800 years the question of the existence of Jesus Christ was an accepted fact among scholars and scientists, it was accepted among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Critiques and arguments to the contrary didn’t start appearing until the very late 18th century and until the mid 19th century didn’t take root. Germany appears to be the center of this school of thought, however it was in fact a school of thought and remember our rule that if you are going to overturn established facts it is incumbent to bring a ponderousness of evidence. Strangely enough many choose the exact opposite take.

Now lets look at the evidence. I am going to lean on Will Durant:

He first cites Josephus circa 93 AD and points out that the praise given to Jesus by a person out to please both Jews and Romans is a tad suspect but the big gun comes from a 1st century AD man named Thallus.

Lets Jump to the Gospel of Matthew briefly:

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. Matt 27:45-50

Now Thallus the pagan isn’t going to put up with this. About 50 AD he states that the darkness is a purely natural phenomenon and just a coincidence.

Durant put this argument in its modern perspective:

the argument took the existence of Christ for granted. The denial of that existence seems never to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity.

And remember that particular fragment to the best of our knowledge predates the Gospel of Matthew that it unintentionally collaborates by two decades. The pagan provides the proof. Talk about working in mysterious ways.

Having established the existence we can then examine the Gospels. This is a favorite target of skeptics who in their zeal to disprove Christ’s existence they as Durant says:

applied to the New Testament test of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies –eg., Hammurabi, David, Socrates would fade into legend.

He then quotes Joseph Klausner:

If we had ancient sources like those in the Gospels for the history of Alexander or Caesar, we should not cast any doubt upon them whatsoever.

Lets consider something important; One mistake that 20th and 21st century people tend to make is applying what I like to call “twilight zone” thinking to people of earlier times. The first rate series Twilight Zone prepared and gave us twists that the like of which we had not seen before. They are such an established part of our set of thoughts that we naturally think critically of almost everything and expect the unexpected.

Now think of the 1st century AD; No means of mass communication. A constant struggle to simply live. The Advanced civilization of Rome dependent on a huge slave population. The fastest means of communication is horseback on land and Triremes and galleys by sea. We read about great orators and philosophers but remember this is the minority of the population. You are dealing with a group of people who are largely illiterate and living at a subsistence level. The idea that wealth, might and power were a sign of the favor of the Gods was not just dominant but was basic common sense.

Lets take the Gospels themselves. The entire idea is backwards, the last shall be first and the first last. The fatted calf is killed for the do nothing son. The son of God is tortured and killed on a cross.

Can someone explain to me how you are going to convince 1st century people something so opposite of their basic common sense?

Now I’m going to use the favorite argument that comes from my parish priest and expand on it. We see Jesus killed. We have a group of followers of Jesus scattered. It’s apparently all over. The established power of Rome and the elders of Israel have finished him. He would be rejected by both the established religious and civil authorities.

Now lets look at what happens within a period of time these followers of Christ are not only back but are standing up to established authority even to the point of death. We see all but one of the disciples of Christ killed violently.

Again remember the time and place. Something has convinced a group of early 1st century Jews in a society that rejects non-conformity that they will not only challenge the established religious law but the power and majesty of the Roman empire.

Logically something pretty damn impressive had to turn a bunch of guys fleeing to people unafraid of death and disgrace. We have a written explanation written at a contemporary time vs cartwheels being turned by people who say otherwise.

As Spock once said:

If I let go a hammer on a planet having a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has, in fact, fallen.

There are a lot of loops that people tie themselves into to explain this away. It’s part of the whole Jesus the man, Jesus the teacher theme. C.S. Lewis says this:

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon’ or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

This is what we are left. From what I can see I think Lewis’ choice #1 is the most reasonable. It’s up to you to come to your own conclusion.

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