YES, JESUS REALLY DID EXIST: Refuting Maclean’s Magazine’s Latest Madness

© 2016, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

 INTRODUCTION

Maclean’s madness is back.

Like a bad B-grade horror movie series, Maclean’s, “Canada’s National Magazine,” used to celebrate Christmas and Easter every year by publishing sensationalistic cover articles attacking the historical reliability of Christianity.  The claims in these articles were presented as the assured results of neutral scholarship but were invariably one-sided regurgitations of the assertions of liberal scholars with little or no opportunity given to conservative scholars to rebut the nonsense being presented as fact.[1]

Like all bad movie series, in which essentially the same plot is rerun every time, this practice eventually ran its course and Christmases and Easters came and went without the biennial Maclean’s attack on the historicity of the Jesus of the Bible.  But now, like a director trying to revive a long dormant series (“It’s ba-ack!  Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the newsstand!”), Maclean’s is at it again, with their new issue, out just in time for Easter, with the cover article titled, “Did Jesus Really Exist?”[2] and with the provocative cover blurb, “The science is in: New memory research is casting doubt on the few things we thought we knew about Jesus.  Now a growing number of experts think he didn’t exist at all. P.38”

Anyone expecting anything different in the series reboot (such as an objective weighing of evidence pro and con) will be disappointed (and must be considered to have been quixotic).  The article is the same farrago of unsubstantiated allegations, bald assertions, and refusal to consider relevant evidence that always characterized this sort of article.  The reader does not have to read long before this starts becoming obvious.

 

THE HISTORICAL BASIS FOR CHRISTIANITY

In the very first paragraph, Bethune avers that “memories of Jesus the man have proven stubbornly elusive for historians who are convinced the truth of the son of God lies beneath the surface of Gospel accounts written decades after his death.”[3]  Really?

Let’s unpack this before moving on.  Are “historians” convinced of this?  Which historians?  Is it all historians or only those who hold to naturalism and/or atheism?  Does it comprise only liberal historians?  If so, why should their opinions be seen as correct (and, indeed, as universal, as is implied)?  Yet Bethune presents this claim as if were unquestioned fact, and the bias that permeates every part of the article is seen immediately.

In fact, matters of history must be decided on the basis of the available evidence.  The authors of the Gospel books are all identified in their titles.  The party line of liberal scholars is that these titles were added later to anonymous works, yet the extant manuscripts that include the beginnings of Gospel books have the titles there as far back as we can see.[4]  Surely there is some burden upon liberal scholars to offer at least one piece of evidence for their theory of original anonymity, but they do not.  They simply make the bald assertion, and bald assertions are worthless.

Furthermore, even if we assume that the first Gospel book was indeed anonymous, titles would have had to be ascribed to them as soon as the second was published (to distinguish between them), and the author of the first would still be known at that time, and certainly the author of the second (and the two subsequent ones) would be known, as the titles would have been added immediately upon publication.

In addition, we have the authorships confirmed by early Christian writers who were in a position to know, men such as Papias, writing around the end of the 1st century/start of the 2nd, who got his information from those who had talked to the apostles and Gospel writers themselves, and who had met the apostle John; and Irenaeus, who was a student of Polycarp who was himself a student of the apostle John.  We do not have such extensive corroboration for any other historical work from ancient times.[5]

In fact, the Gospel books comprise two direct eyewitness testimonies by two apostles, Matthew and John, and apostles were the people best placed to know the facts about Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.  A third, Mark, would be accepted in a US. Court of Law as the direct eyewitness testimony of the apostle Peter.[6]  Luke, the author of the remaining Gospel book, tells us that his account is based on data “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2)

Nor were these Gospel books “written decades after [Jesus’] death,” as Bethune blithely asserts.  A careful examination of the evidence reveals that Matthew was published around AD 40-41, eight years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, not “decades.”  Mark was published two years later, in AD 43-44 (and not later than AD 45), and Luke probably five years after that, in AD 48 (and not later than the early 50s).  Only John’s was written “decades after,” in AD 64-65 (though not in the 90s, as is often asserted).[7]

In sum, then, we have three eyewitness accounts (and a fourth based on eyewitness testimony) of the life, ministry, miracles, and death and resurrection of Jesus written at early dates by men who emphasized that they were writing what they had personally seen[8] and who were writing “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:4).  This constitutes better and more certain documentation for the events of the career of Jesus than there is for any other ancient personage, including Alexander the Great (whose earliest surviving biography, by Diodorus Siculus, dates to more than 300 years after his death) and for the two emperors who ruled Rome during the life of Jesus, Caesar Augustus and Tiberius.[9]

It should be understood, therefore, that there is absolutely no possible justification for any of the assertions made in Bethune’s article, viz. that “the truth of the son of God lies beneath the surface of Gospel accounts written decades after his death”[10] and that it is necessary to “separate the historical wheat from the theological chaff in the Gospels.”[11]  This sort of claim is manifestly absurd and, inasmuch as these same historians accept the accounts of Alexander, August, Tiberius, and others with little question, it is also special pleading of the first water.   And the subheading to the article, which states that there are only a “few things we knew about Jesus”[12] is utter nonsense.  With this in mind, let us continue on to examine the claims detailed in Bethune’s article.

 

BETHUNE AND MEMORIES

After this risible opening, Bethune turns his attention to a new book by Dr. Bart Ehrman,[13] a former evangelical who renounced his faith and has made a career of trying to undermine the historical basis for Christianity.  In this book, says Bethune, “Ehrman’s aim was to illuminate the role of memory in crafting the stories of Jesus that would appear in the Bible, and to see how well the assumed role of eyewitnesses in supporting miraculous events stood up.  There’s a twist in the tale, though, and frailty of human memory turned out to be more profound than Ehrman suspected or, perhaps, welcomed.”[14]

According to Ehrman’s book, as Bethune puts it, “[C]hanges in oral memory… are actually more radical than in literary transmission, because the literary tends to fix, unchanged, the received text”[15] – which seems axiomatic and no great discovery.  But Ehrman seems to want to conclude that oral memory is utterly unreliable. So much so that “it would have been impossible to control the contents of stories about Jesus”[16] and that “eyewitnesses tend to offer the least trustworthy account, particularly when recalling something spectacular or fast-moving, like Jesus walking on water.”[17]

The thinking reader will, of course, at this point reflect on the sheer lunacy of this claim.  Since any non-eyewitness must rely on the testimony of an eyewitness for any account, his own account can be worse than that of the eyewitness from whom he heard it (if he has forgotten things or misunderstood them in the first place), but it cannot possibly be better (since a non-eyewitness has no independent knowledge by which to correct errors in the account handed down to him or to add additional, accurate details).  This is beyond any possible dispute, and the fact that Bethune and Ehrman can pass along such a patently ridiculous claim as that “eyewitnesses tend to offer the least trustworthy account,”[18] and apparently without realizing how patently ridiculous it is, certainly undermines their credibility.

To be sure, studies are adduced (“We got gen-u-ine science!”) to try to support this nonsense.  Ehrman, however, has no academic training in science (nor, as far as can be determined, does Bethune), and it shows.  It really shows.

For example, Bethune writes, “False memories are easily implanted.  Just imagining being at an unusual event – seeing Lazarus rise from the dead, say – can cause a hearer to ‘remember’ being personally present.  A group of students in one test Ehrman cites were led, one by one, to a Pepsi machine; half were asked to get down on one knee and propose to it, the other half to imagine doing so.  Two weeks later, half of the second cohort remembered actually making the marital offer.”[19]

Anyone trained in real science, however, will be singularly unimpressed with this study.  The experimental set-up in no way emulates an event such as the raising of Lazarus.  If Ehrman read and understood the study, he should realize that it was designed to maximize confusion and thus the chance of inducing false memories.  For example, “In Session 1, the experimenter took the participant on a 1-h campus walk that included 48 locations, with 24 familiar and 24 bizarre actions randomly associated with these locations.”[20]  Does Ehrman or Bethune think that a one-hour walk with 48 locations each with actions – thus allocating 1 minute and 15 seconds per action – is remotely like watching a one-time event like a resurrection unfold?  (Not to mention the fact that Lazarus remains around after he was raised as on-going proof that he was raised from the dead).  Yet despite the set-up of the experiment, the researchers noted that “The level of false performance judgments of .10 to .12 for both familiar and bizarre actions after a single imagining … studies typically find levels of false performance recollection (.10 to .20) that are far below the levels of accurate performance recollection.”[21]

It seems that these crucial points went right over the heads of our non-scientists.  Had they understood them, they would have realized that this study in no way supports the idea that the raising of Lazarus, say, could have been a false memory.  That is impossible.[22]

It should be noted that, inasmuch as the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the best attested facts of ancient history, as we have seen, if these claims about the untrustworthiness of memories were true, we would have to throw out everything we know about ancient history.  Naturally, mythicists never suggest doing that; such claims are wielded as weapons solely against the historic truth of Jesus, not against anything else (though it is hard to quell the suspicion that if turning all of ancient history into a black hole is the price of discarding the truth about Jesus, it is a price mythicists would be willing to pay).

Fortunately, most people already know that these claims against the trustworthiness of memories are nonsense.  The studies do show that with a maximum of effort to mislead subjects, including lying to them, you can under certain circumstances get a small fraction to have faulty memories about unimportant things; that does not change the fact that memories are generally reliable.

In fact, everyone has memories from their past and, while they are not perfect, they are certainly essentially reliable.  The earliest memory I have of an historical event is now almost forty-nine years old, the celebration of Canada’s centennial year with the Expo ’67 world fair.  (I remember, at the tender of age of four, being impressed that the country was one hundred years old and mentioning that to my mother, whereupon she replied, “Actually, Hungary is over a thousand years old!”[23] I remember watching the Apollo moon-landing in 1969, Game 8 of the Canada/USSR Summit Series in 1972, and listening to Nixon’s resignation speech in 1974.  And these were all real events, regardless of the imperfections of my memory.  And, yes, if my mother had “interjected [her] version” of our visit to Expo ’67, I would have “let it slide unchallenged,” not because I was unconcerned with accuracy but simply because of the realization that she was in a better position than I to remember details from 1967.

Bethune has one more gambit.  He asks, “What are the chances, 50 years after the fact, that the author of the Gospel of Matthew remembered hearing the Sermon on the Mount – a polished and nuanced discourse – exactly as it was said?”[24]  But this is a red herring.  Even though Matthew was writing about ten years after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, not fifty, there is no chance that he would remember it “exactly as it was said” (though it is possible he made shorthand notes during Jesus’ preaching and used them later).  All that matters for establishing the historicity of the life, ministry, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus is whether people can remember the main facts of historical events years later, not whether they can remember every word spoken at the time – and that they can certainly do.  So the historicity of Jesus is beyond any reasonable doubt.[25]

In sum, then, Ehrman’s diatribe against the reliability of human memory can be dismissed.  People’s memories are not perfect, but they do not have to be to recall the essential facts of historical events, and particularly of important historical events, accurately.  No study cited by Ehrman changes this fact, no matter how enthusiastically Bethune promotes Ehrman’s balderdash.

 

GOSPEL ORIGINS

It is exceedingly difficult to cast doubt on the reliability of the Gospel books if they were written directly by eyewitnesses, and especially if they were written not long after the facts.[26]  To take advantage of the putative memory shortcomings touted by Ehrman, it is much more profitable to claim that there is a “crucial gap in written records, lasting four decades or more, between the death of Jesus (which is established today at no later than 36 CE) and the earliest gospel, that of Mark (in scholars’ near-universal view, sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE),[27] which then allows the skeptic to insist that memories became hopelessly garbled during this time period when the accounts about Jesus were passed on orally, and before they were written down.  And, according to Bethune, “one of the few pieces of common ground between believers and skeptics” is that there was a period of “oral transmission of stories about Jesus in the time between his death and the composition of the Gospels,”[28] although, he says “the faithful … do tend to shorten” this gap.[29]

Not surprisingly, Bethune offers not the slightest shred of evidence either for the late dates he assigns to the Gospel books or that Mark was the first one written or that there was a period of oral transmission between the events and the writing of the Gospel books.  We should not be surprised, as there is no such evidence and never was.  Liberal scholars proclaimed the date of AD 70 as the earliest possible date for a Gospel book for one reason and one reason only:  Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24:1-2/Mark 13:1-2, an event that came to pass in AD 70, and since liberal scholars dismiss the possibility that Jesus could foretell the future, AD 70 became the terminus post quem for the writing of the first Gospel book, as the “predictions” about the destruction of the temple could only have been written after the fact.[30]  Needless to say, this is not evidence; it is metaphysical bias.

The actual evidence, as we have seen, shows that the Gospel books were written early, the first three predating the earliest of Paul’s letters.  Bethune’s assertion that “[T]he seven genuine letters of St. Paul [are] older than the oldest Gospel”[31] is flat-out wrong.  Furthermore, Paul wrote thirteen genuine letters, not only seven – but it seems that Bethune accepts any unsubstantiated liberal assertion without any critical thinking getting in the way.

Furthermore, and most germane to this issue, three of the Gospel books were written directly by eyewitnesses (one through his agent, Mark).[32]  That means none of them was a product of oral transmission regardless of the length of time between the events and the written Gospel; each author was writing what he himself had seen and heard.[33]  The significance of this should not be overlooked: the idea that the accounts in the Gospel books became distorted through time as they passed from one person to another is simply a nonstarter.   They are eyewitness testimony, not the result of a chain of transmission through many people.  And the fact that they were not written contemporaneously with the events does not change that fact.[34]

The attempt by Ehrman to discredit the Gospel books, which is so avidly promoted by Bethune, then, is a failure.  It founders on the basis of the actual evidence, which proves the historical reliability of the Gospel books, as we have seen, and knocks Ehrman’s claims into a cocked hat.  It seems that evidence has the same effect on liberal scholars as water has on the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.”

 

BETHUNE AND MYTHICISM

As we’ve seen, Ehrman seems to be content with undermining the trustworthiness of the Gospel books, portraying them as “rife with ‘distorted’ (that is, false) memories,”[35] but Bethune thinks Ehrman does not go far enough.  He expresses surprise at “how much of the Gospels he still thinks he can accept as reasonably accurate ‘gist’ memories, how lightly he applies his new criterion.”[36]  Bethune seems to think that Ehrman’s arguments about memory should be sufficient to discard the historicity of the Gospel books entirely and, in fact, to deny even the very existence of an historical Jesus.

Yet we have already seen the vacuity of Ehrman’s arguments from memory research, and the idea that this thin gruel can suffice to discard the historical Jesus is sheer lunacy; Bethune’s attempt to argue for this can charitably be described as a muddled mess.  In regard to the meagre list of facts about Jesus that Ehrman accepts as historical (which, quelle surprise, omits both His miracles and His resurrection), Bethune cavils that “however appealing and reasonable such a list is to modern skeptics, it is still drawn almost entirely from within the faith tradition, with buttressing by the slimmest of outside supporters – brief references from Roman observers.”[37]  In fact, what it is drawn from is two eyewitness accounts written within ten years of the events, a third account based on direct eyewitness testimony written within fifteen years of the events, and a third eyewitness account written thirty-two years after the fact (a time span well within the memory range of people today).  Bethune’s persistent refusal to recognize this fact does not change it.

And, as we have said, these facts make the life, ministry, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus the best attested events of ancient history – by far – and by any fair application of the rules of ancient historiography they must be accepted.  Bethune’s thinly veiled hint that they should not be because they were written by Christians (i.e. “from within the faith tradition”[38]) cannot be accepted; he may as well dismiss all ancient Roman history that was written by Romans.  Bethune should realize that his is committing both the “genetic fallacy” here and the fallacy of “stacking the deck.”

It is as Bethune continues his case that he shows he is not a man who can be taken seriously.  Regarding Jesus’ condemnation by Pontius Pilate, Bethune writes

But that wasn’t what all early Christians thought.  The apocryphal Gospel of Peter says King Herod signed the death warrant. Others who thought Jesus was nearly 50 when he died believed that happened in the 40s of the first century, long after Pilate had been recalled to Rome.  The Nazorians, an intriguing sect of Torah-observant early Christians discussed by a fourth-century scholar, believed Jesus died a century before the canonical Gospels, around 70 BCE.  (And, since they were descended directly from the first followers of Christ, called Nazarenes before they became known as Christians, the Nazorians cannot be easily dismissed.[39]

Now, isn’t this fascinating?  According to Bethune, memory is so unreliable that by the time the first Gospel book is written, about forty years after the putative events, people cannot even remember that Jesus didn’t exist, so how can he appeal to the spurious Gospel of Peter, which dates to no earlier than the late 2nd century AD, to establish what “early Christians thought”[40]?  If people can forget in forty years that Jesus didn’t actually exist, how can they possibly retain accurate memories of who signed Jesus’ death warrant more than a century and a half after that event?

Then Bethune appeals to “Others who thought Jesus was nearly 50 when he died believed that happened in the 40s of the first century, long after Pilate had been recalled to Rome.”[41]  (p.40) He does not tell us who these are, but the earliest known claim of such a sort dates to the latter part of the second century.  Again, then, by Bethune’s own standards, such testimony should be completely ignored – yet Bethune wants us to take it seriously.

The most blatant example of Bethune’s double standard, though, is his appeal to the “Nazorians.”[42]  According to Bethune, they “believed Jesus died a century before the canonical Gospels”[43] and “they were descended directly from the first followers of Christ.”[44]  Where does Bethune get this information from?  Well, the Nazorians were “discussed by a fourth-century scholar.”[45]   A fourth-century scholar!  Bethune would have us believe that we cannot trust memories for even forty years, even to establish the bare existence of Jesus, but we are supposed to trust memories handed down through three hundred years to tell us about the Nazorians.

We see, then, that in his attempt to challenge the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts in this way, Bethune has well and truly tripped himself up.  He certainly seems to accept the reliability of historical testimony even hundreds of years after the fact, with no concern about the effects of fallible memories, so it is difficult to see his attempt to discredit the Gospel books on that basis as anything other than special pleading on a colossal scale.

Not content with that, Bethune presses on to more nonsense.  He concedes that it is not only all four Gospel books that make it clear that Pilate was responsible for the execution of Jesus,[46] but that this fact is “also in the annals of the Roman historian Tacitus and writings by his Jewish counterpart, Josephus,”[47] and he admits that “Those objective, non-Christian references make Pilate as sure a thing as ancient historical evidence has to offer.”[48]  Just so.

But Bethune laughably tries to discredit even this “sure thing” by adding, “unless – as has been persuasively argued by numerous scholars, including historian Richard Carrier in his recent On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt – both brief passages are interpolations, later forgeries made by zealous Christians.”[49]  (It should be noted that Carrier is an atheist and a “mythicist” i.e. one who believes that Jesus never existed but is only a myth.)  Now, it would certainly be interesting to ask Bethune for the names of these “numerous scholars”; as far as I know, while some scholars try to argue that the reference in Tacitus is to someone other than Christ, I can find no scholar other than Carrier who argues that this passage is an interpolation.[50]

To be precise, Carrier contends that the sentence “The author of this name, Christ, was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius” was a Christian interpolation,[51] and Bethune avers that Carrier argues for this “persuasively.”  Really?  One wonders exactly which of Carrier’s arguments Bethune finds persuasive.

Carrier’s main argument is that the original manuscripts of Annals identify the persecuted group as “Chrestiani” (which was later corrected to “Christiani”).  This is not just not persuasive, it is no real argument at all inasmuch as we do not have the original manuscripts of Tacitus.  The oldest one we have dates to the 11th century, so we do not know which reading was in the original; the correction to “Christiani” may have been done precisely because of the realization that “Chrestiani” was a scribal error.  Furthermore, it is insignificant either way, since at the time of the original writing “Christiani” was often written as “Chrestiani.”[52]  So not only is Carrier’s main argument not persuasive, it is not an argument at all.

Laughably, Carrier goes on to suggest that the “Chrestiani” were followers of some other trouble maker named Chrestus, who is mentioned by Suetonius – but the “Chrestus” mentioned by Suetonius is in fact widely acknowledged to be Christ![53]  It should also be noted that rioting by the Jews in response to the preaching of the Gospel occurred in many cities, as is documented in the New Testament, so it is reasonable to think that it happened in Rome as well, whereas Carrier must, without warrant, posit another man utterly unknown to history causing riots that just happened to be among the Jews and to the extent that they were expelled from Rome by Claudius.  Again, it is exceedingly difficult not to see this as first-rate special pleading.

And there is more; as to Carrier’s suggestion that this was a later Christian interpolation, one would ask why these supposed Christian interpolators would not correct the supposedly problematic “Chrestiani” at the same time that they made this interpolation; after all, they are already changing the text.  There doesn’t seem to be an answer.  Why would the interpolators not soften the viciously anti-Christian tone of the passage, if they are changing the text anyway?  No answer.  Why did they not make more, and more significant, interpolations to buttress the case for Christ, such as a mention of the resurrection?  No answer.

In sum, it does not seem that Carrier’s case for a Christian interpolation in Tacitus can be considered a serious argument, let alone a “persuasive” one.  And the case for a Christian interpolation in the more important passage mentioning Jesus in Josephus is equally risible.[54]

Bethune presses on, however.  He moves from the ridiculous to the outrageous by saying “Snap that slender reed [Tacitus and Josephus] and the scaffolding that supports the Jesus of history … is wobbling badly.  What’s left are the Gospels and the other 23 books of the New Testament and the so-called apocrypha.”[55]  In light of the fact that the Gospel books are, as we have seen, very early eyewitness testimony that establish the “Jesus of history” more definitely than any other ancient personage, to suggest that the “scaffolding that supports the Jesus of  history … is wobbling badly”[56] is to part company from reality.

 

BETHUNE AND PAUL

In case any doubt remained as to the absurdity of Bethune’s arguments, he dispels it with his next gambit, claiming that while “the Gospels provide only debatable evidence for historians … the bulk of the New Testament, provide none at all.”[57]  There are two problems with this gambit: (1) it is not true, and (2) it is not relevant.

First, while the epistles’ focus is not on the life of Jesus, a number of things about it are mentioned in them, including His Deity (Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8); His Incarnation (Philippians 2:7, Hebrews 2:14) and His consequent humanity (1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 2:17), His descent from David (Romans 1:3), that He was born of a woman under the Law (Galatians 4:4), the voice from heaven endorsing Him at the Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18), the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), His trial before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13), His crucifixion (1 Corinthians 2:8, Hebrews 12:2, 1 Peter 2:24), His death and burial (1 Corinthians 15:3-4a), His resurrection (Romans 1:4, 6:4, 1 Corinthians 15:4b), His post-resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-7), the redemptive nature of His death (1 Corinthians 15:3, Hebrews 9:12-14), and His ascension (Hebrews 1:3).  As data about the historical Jesus, this is hardly “none at all.”[58]

Second, Bethune’s point is irrelevant.  It was the Gospel books (three of which were already available before Paul wrote his first epistle) that were written to tell the facts about the life, ministry, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and there was no reason for Paul to repeat them in his epistles, which were written to people who were already Christians and so already knew these facts; rather, the epistles (Paul’s and the others) were written to present doctrine and explain correct praxis to Christians.[59]

The cavil, then, that Paul does not mention the events of Jesus’ life in his epistles is beyond reason.  But that does not stop the mythicists from waxing farcical.   According to Bethune, Carrier is “relatively restrained in his summation of the absences in Paul’s letters. ‘That’s all simply bizarre.  And bizarre means unexpected, which means infrequent, which means improbable.’  Historicists have no real response to it.”[60]  If Bethune thinks calling this obvious and expected phenomenon “bizarre” is “relatively restrained,” he is using a highly idiosyncratic definition of “restrained.”

There is something bizarre here, however, and that is the claim that “Historicists have no real response to it.”[61]  Of course they do; let us reiterate that Paul’s letters are written to people who are already Christians and therefore already know the facts of Jesus’ life.  The letters were not written to restate what was already known by the readers and available to them in other written sources, but to teach doctrine and proper praxis.  Contra Bethune, then, this matter is not “a puzzle for historicists.”  I hope that is now clear enough that there will be no more silly objections along these lines.

 

BETHUNE AND THE MYTHICISTS

Of course, simple facts and logic do not stop the determined mythicist.  Carrier avers that “If this was Osiris we were talking about…most historians would have moved to the mythicist position long ago.”[62]  The rational person, on the other hand, will note that there are no eyewitness accounts of Osiris, while there are four about Jesus, so there is no comparison between the two as far as historical credibility goes.[63]

Meanwhile, Bart Ehrman chimes in, carping that that Christians today see the outlandish stories in extra-biblical accounts such as The Protevangelium of James as myths but “scarcely notice the contradictions between the Gospels.”[64]  That is a very strange attitude coming from someone who is considered an expert in such matters.  First, extra-biblical accounts such as The Protevangelium of James, which was composed in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, are far too late to have any claim to historical value (and are, indeed, myths).  Second, Christian apologists spend a great deal of effort on reconciling the discrepancies (not “contradictions”) between the Gospel books; it is passing strange that an expert could claim that Christians today “scarcely notice” them.

But then Ehrman goes on to show why no thinking person should pay the slightest attention to him; he grouses, “I don’t know why people feel that way…For me Gospel stories are hugely important, whether they’re factual or not.”[65]  Let us let Paul enlighten him: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty … And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17-19).  Perhaps now the expert can understand that if the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are myths, then, yes, the whole thing is worthless.

The madness continues.  Bethune avers that “For a century there are no other Christian witnesses.”[66]  Apparently he has never heard of Clement of Rome, who wrote ca. AD 69-70, or of Papias (ca. AD 100), or of Ignatius (ca. AD 110), or of Polycarp (also ca. AD 110).  Frankly, a man who has never heard of these writers is out of his league in addressing this subject – but that does not stop Bethune from repeating the blatant error that “the first adherents can’t agree, within a century, when their founder died or who killed him.”[67]

And then the madness boils over.  Bethune avers that “The mythicist answer to all this is far more logical, according to Carrier, a solution that requires no special pleading”[68] – which, as we will see, only indicates that Carrier has no idea of what logic is or what special pleading is if indeed he believes this.

What exactly is this “logical” answer offered by Carrier? Why, it is that in 1st-century AD Judea “fringe Tea Party-type groups … [came] to believe defilers ruled over them.” [69]  This gave rise to a “spiritual response”[70] wherein Peter made up “a celestial being made human flesh, killed by the forces of evil in a sacrifice that combined and eclipsed both Yom Kippur and Passover, who rose from the dead and will very soon come again to save the faithful.  Soon enough, as the tendencies of human memory predict, the cosmic Christ, like central figures in other contemporary mystery cults, was ‘factualized’ to better attract adherents.”[71]

The mind boggles, folks.

Let’s see if we have this “logical,” special pleading-free mythicist answer straight:

Because Peter, a Tea Party type, thought defilers were ruling over the Jews, he made up an imaginary friend.  Yes, people who feel oppressed do that all the time, don’t they?  Look at how many made-up people the Tea Party claimed had risen from the dead.  (It was zero, for those who don’t know).

Not only did Tea Party Pete make up an imaginary friend because Judea was being defiled by Gentiles, he made this imaginary friend to eclipse “both Yom Kippur and Passover,” the two holiest days in Jewish life.  Because Jews who want to get rid of outsiders who defile Jewish practice always do that by eclipsing Jewish practice.  Right.

And then not only did Tea Party Pete make up this imaginary friend, he got thousands of Jews, who were trained from the cradle to worship no one as “Lord” but God, to worship Tea Party Pete’s imaginary friend as Lord.  Logical.

And then persecution started, but none of these converts ever asked Tea Party Pete for actual evidence showing that his imaginary friend was real.  This was a time when people who had seen Imaginary Friend walking around after he died were supposedly still around, but Tea Party Pete’s converts never bothered to check to see if anyone had actually ever seen Imaginary Friend after he rose because, hey, why bother to be sure just because persecution faces you?

And then, of course, “as the tendencies of human memory predict,” Imaginary Friend was “‘factualized’ to better attract adherents.”  Because we all want our countrymen to believe in Imaginary Friends.  L-o-g-i-c-a-l.

And of course “the tendencies of human memory predict” this, as shown by research done in the late 20th/early 21st century; after all, we see so many Imaginary Friends being “factualized” nowadays, don’t we?  Not.

This, folks, is what passes for “logical” in the mythicists’ Land of Make Believe.

And the claim that this harebrained proposal “requires no special pleading” is equally asinine.  The requirement to ignore the Gospel books when all other ancient writings are given the initial presumption by the standards of ancient historiography is a textbook example of special pleading.  The requirement to believe that Jews would follow an imaginary Jewish messiah that no one had ever seen is special pleading in light of the fact that history has seen more than fifty claimants to the mantle of Jewish messiah,[72] none of whom are followed today, indicating that the bar for acceptance is too high to be met by the mythicists’ Invisible Man.  The requirement to believe that people would believe that this messiah rose from the dead, when the standard for believing such a thing is so high no one else has ever even dared try suggesting their leader rose from the dead, is special pleading.[73]  And, of course, the requirement to ignore facts, logic, ancient historiography, and common sense just to get rid of the truth of Jesus is special pleading.

In sum, then, the case for mythicism, as propounded by Carrier, is so ludicrous that it is actually beneath contempt and can safely be ignored by anyone who cares about facts and logic.  Bethune’s article, which reads very much as if it was written by a mythicist fanboy, is, as we have seen, tendentious, careless, and error-ridden, characterized mostly by its tendency to overlook basic facts.

So, does this Maclean’s article give any reason to wonder seriously “Did Jesus Really Exist?”[74]  No.  Is it true that “Memory research has cast doubt on the few things we knew about Jesus, raising an even bigger question?”[75]  No.  Is it true that we know only a “few things” about Jesus?[76]  No.  All the article shows is the absurd lengths to which atheists will go in their attempt to discredit the historical basis of Christianity.  It is not something to which any reasoning person need pay attention.

 

APPENDIX 1: THE EVANGELICAL BETRAYAL OF THE BIBLE – AGAIN

It is worth noting that the case made by the mythicists has a sine qua non requirement, one that is shared by all attempts to discredit the historical reliability of the Gospel books.  For Ehrman’s case or Carrier’s case to work, it is essential that there be a “crucial gap in written records,[77] specifically a gap of decades between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first Gospel book (and that should ideally be the Gospel According to Mark).  It is essential for Ehrman’s case that such a gap exist, and that during this gap the stories about Jesus were passed on orally, because it is the ability of the human memory to pass on stories accurately across long periods of time that the memory research he adduces attacks.  As Bethune says, “one of the few pieces of common ground between believers and skeptics – that the oral transmission of stories about Jesus in the time between his death and the composition of the Gospels could be (more or less) trusted – is turning to quicksand.” [78]

In sum, the skeptics and the mythicists absolutely require that there be a lengthy period (“decades”) of oral transmission between the events of Jesus’ life and the writing of the first Gospel book.  Without such a gap, the case of the skeptics and of the mythicists collapses.  And, as we have seen, the evidence shows that there was no such gap; the Gospel books were written early (the Synoptic Gospel books between eight and fifteen years after Jesus’ ascension) and by eyewitnesses directly writing their own testimony (in the case of Matthew and John) or an agent writing the direct eyewitness testimony of Peter (in the case of Mark), or a man writing down what he heard directly from eyewitnesses (in the case of Luke).  Not one of the Gospel writers was writing down “oral tradition” handed down through decades.  Game over for the skeptics and the mythicists.

Except, as we have seen, “one of the few pieces of common ground between believers and skeptics” is that there was a decades-long period of “oral transmission of stories about Jesus in the time between his death and the composition of the Gospels.”[79]  Yes, folks, although the evidence shows that this was not the case, evangelical scholars and their fawning followers have accepted this liberal paradigm assumption with little apparent critical thought.

Drs. D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, for example, blithely write of “the earliest stage of transmission, during which eyewitness and others handed down the tradition about Jesus, much of it oral; then at the stage when written sources began to grow and become more important; and last, at the stage of final authorship.”[80]

One looks in vain for hard evidence to support these bald assertions.  All these evangelical scholars offer is an attempt to justify this putative process by appealing to Luke’s prologue.  Carson, Moo, and Morris write, “Luke acknowledges three stages in the genesis of his work: the ‘eyewitnesses and servants of the word’ who ‘handed down’ the truth of Jesus; those ‘many who have already written drawn up accounts of Jesus and the early church ; and Luke himself, who, having ‘carefully investigated’ these sources, now composes his own ‘orderly account’.”[81]

But Luke says nothing of the sort.  He says (a) many have undertaken “to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us”; (b) that this was done on the basis of eyewitness testimony; and (c) that Luke was now writing his own account based on eyewitness testimony.  He manifestly does not “acknowledge” (or even hint) that there are “three stages in the genesis of his work”[82] or that he investigated or even looked at other sources; what he says is that he is basing his own work on direct eyewitness testimony, not on any oral tradition.  It is a wonder that Carson, Moo, and Morris can be so careless.

Yet they unwarily go on to say, “there was indeed a period of mainly oral transmission of the gospel material; much of it was probably in small units; there probably was a tendency for this material to take on certain standard forms; and the early church has undoubtedly influenced the way in which this material was handed down.”[83]  Now, words such as “indeed” and “undoubtedly” indicate certainty even in common English and certainty requires strong evidence, but Carson, Moo, and Morris offer none whatsoever.  “Probably,” meanwhile, indicates that the claim being advanced is more likely to be so than not to be so, and that, too, requires evidence, but, again, there is none.[84]

To top all this off, Carson, Moo, and Morris champion Markan priority[85] and tell us that “Mark, then, is to be dated either in the late fifties or the middle sixties.”[86]  Regardless of which of these dates is chosen, the “decades” needed by Erhman are provided, and Carson, Moo, and Morris have set the stage for Ehrman’s nonsense.

Dr. Craig Blomberg, similarly, blithely avers that there was a “period of oral tradition[87] and speaks of “the period before the Gospels were written when stories and excerpts of Jesus’ life and teachings circulated almost entirely by word of mouth.”[88]  He, too, seems to accept Markan priority[89] and dates Mark “somewhere in the 60s”.[90]  Thus he, too, provides all that is needed to set the stage for Ehrman’s nonsense.

Meanwhile, Mark Strauss, in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, speaks of “oral (spoken) traditions which lie behind written documents.  Form critics recognize that religious tradition is generally passed on by word of mouth before being codified in written forms”.[91]  Strauss’ subsequent comment about analyzing “how these oral traditions changed and developed as they were passed down”[92] would no doubt be warmly welcomed by Ehrman.  In the same volume Howard Marshall baldly proclaims Mark to be “The earliest Gospel[93] and leans toward a date of AD 70 for this book.[94]  Marshall bases this date for the Gospel on the date of the destruction of the temple, which, he says, is “referred to in coded language in 13:14”.[95] One would have thought that it was predictive prophecy, not “coded language.”  So The IVP Introduction to the Bible also provides all that Ehrman needs to set the stage for his nonsense.

We see the same phenomenon when we look at popular-level apologists.  For example, Creation Ministries International’s golden child Lita Cosner tells us that “Of course, the Gospels were written decades after the resurrection of Jesus”[96] – and she does so in a review of Ehrman’s book!  In fact, she has repeatedly made such claims, averring that “the Gospel accounts … [were] penned decades after the events they describe”[97]; they were “penned from AD 55–85,”[98]and, quelle surprise, she tells us that they “go back to early oral tradition.”[99]

In fact, Miss Cosner’s case is even more muddled than one usually finds at this level.  In an article posted on April 10, 2009, she tells us that the Gospel books were “penned from AD 55–85”[100] and that they “go back to early oral tradition.”[101]

But three years later, in an article posted on April 9, 2012, under the same name “The Resurrection and Genesis” but with a different URL,[102] she tells us that the Gospel books were “penned from AD 67–85“[103] and that they “go back to early oral tradition and/or personal recollection.”[104]  Strangely, the terminus ad quem for the Gospel books jumps a full dozen years for no apparent reason and with no new evidence, as the sources she cited previously for the terminus ad quem of AD 55[105] are exactly the same as the ones she now cites for a terminus ad quem of AD 67![106]  Nor is it clear why “and/or personal recollection” has become a possibility, whereas previously it wasn’t.

Then, three years after that, on April 5, 2015, Miss Cosner returns to telling us that the Gospel books were “penned from AD 55–85”[107] (with the terminus ad quem dropping back down by a dozen years) and that they “go back to early oral tradition”;[108] it seems that now the “and/or” possibility of “personal recollection” is back off the table.  Yet the sources still remain the same![109]  This does not inspire confidence.

Even more puzzling, in Miss Cosner’s review of Ehrman’s book, one of the criticisms she levels against Ehrman is that “he dates [the Gospel books] absolutely as late as possible.”[110]  Yet according to Ehrman, “The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of our canonical Gospels and the earliest, written in about 70 C.E.”[111] – in other words, he opts for essentially the same terminus ad quem for the Gospel books that Miss Cosner herself championed a few years ago![112]  Nor is Ehrman’s date for the last Gospel book, John, of “say, 90-95 CE”[113] greatly from the AD 85 proposed by Miss Cosner or the AD 90 championed by her CMI colleague Russell Grigg.[114]  This criticism, then, hardly seems fair.

The bottom line that comes out of all this is that Creation Ministries International also sets the stage for Ehrman’s claims by accepting the idea of a decades-long oral tradition phase prior to the composition of the Gospel books.  It is doubtful that they are the only popular level apologetics ministry to do so.

We can only say that it is tragic that so many evangelical scholars and their acolytes so readily accept the claim that the Gospel books were composed after a lengthy period of oral transmission, when the evidence simply does not support such a view.  More careful research on their part would cut off the claims of the mythicists at the knees.

 

[1] This sort of thing was also done by the American newsmagazines Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report.

[2] Bethune, Brian. “Did Jesus Really Exist? Memory research has cast doubt on the few things we knew about Jesus, raising an even bigger question.” Maclean’s Magazine 129:12 & 13, (March 28 & April 4, 2016), pp.38-41

[3] Bethune, p.38

[4] The oldest extant manuscript with the beginning of a Gospel book is P66, which includes most of the Gospel According to John and dates to AD 100-150  (See Comfort, Philip W. and David P. Barrett. The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1999, pp.366-369).  It has the title “Gospel According to John.”

[5] See Wenham, John. Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992 and Robinson, John A.T. Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976, for details.

[6] For details, see Ewen, Pamela Binnings. Faith on Trial: An Attorney Analyzes the Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

[7] In addition to Wenham (op.cit.) and Robinson (op.cit), see the evidence of the Family-35 colophons (Pickering, Wilbur. The Greek New Testament According to Family 35. Lexington, KY: 2014, p.56). Eusebius also records in Chronicon that Matthew published his Gospel book in the third year of Caligula (AD 39-40) and that Mark wrote his Gospel book prior from his departure from Rome to Alexandria, “in the third year of Claudius,”[7] which puts the publication of this book to AD 43 (or possibly 42, since he wrote “prior to” his departure in AD 43).  This should be enough evidence to convince any fair-minded, thinking person of the early dates of the Gospel books.  Regarding the date of the Gospel According to John, see Tors, John. “Creation Ministries International and the Three-Headed Monster: Why the Monster Wins (Part 1) (2015), at http://www.truthinmydays.com/creation-ministries-international-and-the-three-headed-monster-why-the-monster-wins-part-1/

[8] “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe” (John 19:35); “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).  Also: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that our joy may be full.” (1 John 1:1-4); “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

[9] For Caesar Augustus we have only one eyewitness account (for which we have to rely on a single, no-longer extant error-ridden manuscript) and a brief summary of accomplishments written by himself (of which there are three extant copies).  The other three sources date from one hundred to two hundred years after the death of Augustus and so were well out of eyewitness times.  Of Cassius Deo, there are eleven known manuscripts, one from the late 9th/early 10th century, one from the 10th century, and the rest from the 15th and 16th centuries.  For Tiberius, we are dependent upon the same historical sources as for Augustus, and also some minor details in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 18.6.

[10] Bethune, p.38

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid.

[13] Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior. New York: HarperOne, 2016.

[14] Bethune, p.38

[15] ibid., p.39

[16] ibid. (Bethune’s words)

[17] ibid. (Bethune’s words) Interestingly, Ehrman thinks this memory research only justifies pruning the Gospel books; he “sees the Gospels as rife with ‘distorted’ (that is, false) memories,” but he still thinks that much of the material in the Gospel books is “reasonably accurate ‘gist’ memories” (though not, of course, the miracles and the resurrection).  Bethune, on the other hand, finds it “surprising … how lightly [Ehrman] applies his new criterion,” and it becomes clear as the article unfolds that Bethune seems to think Ehrman should dispense with the historical Jesus entirely.

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] Seamon, John G., Morgan M. Philbin, and Liza G. Harrison. “Do you remember proposing marriage to the Pepsi machine? False recollections from a campus walk.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 13:5 (2006), p.753

[21] ibid., p.755 (Bolding and underlining added)

[22] The other studies cited in the article are equally problematic.

[23] Paraphrased from the original Hungarian

[24] Bethune, op.cit., p.39

[25] The verbal exactitude in the Gospel books is a result of the supernatural help that Jesus promised to His apostles (John 14:26).  However, this is not necessary for general historical reliability.

[26] Of course, people can write accurately from memory many years after the fact. I, for example, could write a fairly detailed and accurate account today of our move from Montreal to Toronto in 1972, though it happened almost forty-four years ago.

[27] Bethune, op.cit., p.39

[28] ibid.

[29] ibid.

[30] Eventually, liberal scholars allowed a slightly earlier date for the Gospel According to Mark, as far back AD 66, under the assumption that the destruction of the temple could have been guessed by an astute man once the Jews had risen in revolt against the Romans, which they did in AD 66.

[31] Bethune, op.cit., pp.40-41

[32] The Gospel According to Mark would be accepted in an American court of law as Peter’s eyewitness testimony recorded by his authorized agent Mark, as is shown by Pamela Binnings Ewen (op.cit.).

[33] Again, Mark would be writing what Peter had seen and heard.

[34] The gap in time between our move to Toronto and my accurate eyewitness account of it would 5.5 times longer than the gap in time between Jesus’ ascension and the publication of Matthew, and 33% longer than the gap in time between the ascension and the last Gospel book, John.  It would nevertheless be eyewitness testimony, because I would be writing what I myself had seen and heard.

[35] Bethune, op.cit., p.39

[36] ibid.

[37] ibid., p.40

[38] ibid.

[39] ibid.

[40] ibid. (Italics added)

[41] ibid.

[42] ibid.

[43] ibid.

[44] ibid.

[45] ibid.

[46] About this, Bethune writes, “Pilate is in Mark as the agent of Jesus’s crucifixion, from which he spread to the other Gospels,” as if the other Gospel writers had no independent information about this fact.  This is unsubstantiated nonsense, and a serious person would not write such a thing, at least not without offering some sort of supporting evidence.

[47] Bethune, op.cit., p.40.  The reference in Tacitus (in Annals 15.44) reads, “But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”

[48] ibid.

[49] ibid.

[50] The late Herbert Cutner took this view.  According to James Patrick Holding, Cutner, “[who] was certainly no Biblical scholar … is citing badly outdated non-authorities to make his points.  Cutner’s sources in this matter are 18th- and 19th-century scholars named Taylor, Ross and Hochart. One of these … claimed that the entire works of Tacitus were late forgeries … even when [Cutner] wrote in 1950, there was more than enough material available to refute the Tacitean-forgery position.” Holding, James Patrick. “Herbert Cutner: A Critique”, posted at http://www.tektonics.org/af/cutner01.php.

[51] Carrier’s arguments are detailed in Carrier, Richard (2014) “The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44” Vigiliae Christianae, Volume 68, Issue 3, pages 264 – 283

[52] Brown, Raymond E. and John P. Meier. Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity.  Paulist Press, 1983, pp.100-101.  In addition, “Christus” was often written as “Chrestus.”

[53] Feldman, Louis H. and Meyer Reinhold. Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings. Continuum International Publishing, 1996, p. 332

[54] Tors, John. “The Testimony of Josephus: Powerful Evidence for the Truth of Christianity, or an Interpolated Fraud?” (2015) at http://www.truthinmydays.com/the-testimony-of-josephus-powerful-evidence-for-the-truth-of-christianity-or-an-interpolated-fraud/.

[55] Bethune, op.cit., p.40

[56] ibid.

[57] ibid. The epistles, by the way, do not make up “the bulk of the New Testament”; the twenty-one epistles combined comprise 44,951 (32.6%) of the NT’s 138,020 words.

[58] Bethune illegitimately wants to restrict the witnesses to “the seven genuine letters of St. Paul” (all thirteen letters of Paul in the NT are genuine); even if we do this, ten of the fourteen points listed above are found in these seven letters.

[59] It seems clear from 1 Timothy 5:18, where Paul quotes Luke 10:7 and calls it “Scripture,” that Paul’s readers had access to the Gospel According to Luke, and perhaps to others, so that there was truly no reason for Paul to detail the events of Jesus’ life in his epistles

[60] Bethune, op.cit., p.41

[61] ibid.

[62] ibid.

[63] Bethune’s risible claim that Osiris “displays close parallels to Jesus in his life, death and resurrection” (ibid.) puts it beyond doubt that he has not done his homework properly but seems to be relying sources that simply cannot be taken seriously.  According to the Osiris myth, Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, who tore his body into thirteen pieces and scattered them.  Osiris’ sister Isis tried to recover the pieces but found only twelve of them.  The phallus was missing, so Isis made a magic phallus of gold that brought Osiris back only long enough to impregnate her, after which Osiris remained the lord of the underworld.  Only on the Bizarro World version of Fantasy Island does this story “display close parallels to Jesus in his life, death and resurrection.”

[64] According to Bethune (op.cit., p.41)

[65] Bethune, op.cit., p.41 (Bolding added)

[66] ibid.

[67] ibid.

[68] ibid.

[69] ibid.

[70] ibid.

[71] ibid.

[72] Rabow, Jerry.  50 Jewish Messiahs. Jerusalem and New York: Gefen Publishing House, 2002.

[73] Tors, John. “The Irrefutable Case for the Resurrection: How David K. Clark’s Risible ‘Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ’ (Free Inquiry, April/May 2014) Strengthens the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.” (2014), at http://www.truthinmydays.com/the-irrefutable-case-for-the-resurrection-how-david-k-clarks-risible-betting-on-jesus-the-vanishing-of-the-christ-free-inquiry-aprilmay-2014-strengthens-the-case-for/

[74] Bethune, op.cit., p.40

[75] ibid.

[76] ibid.

[77] ibid., p.39 (Bolding added)

[78] ibid.

[79] ibid.

[80] Carson, D.A., Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris.  An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992, p.20

[81] ibid.

[82] ibid.

[83] ibid., pp.23-24

[84] It should be noted that in Biblical scholarship, “probably” isn’t used according to its dictionary definition.  It seems to be a word that is inserted in order to signal to the reader that the author likes this idea and the reader should accept it simply because the author has inserted the word “probably,” not because he has evidence to back up the claim.

[85] Carson et al, op.cit., p.38

[86] ibid., p.99

[87] Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009, p.91.  Blomberg, too, appeals to Luke’s prologue to justify his claims, but, as we have seen, this is a non-starter.

[88] ibid., p.90

[89] ibid., pp.90, 102

[90] ibid., p.138

[91] Strauss, Mark. “Introducing the Bible.” In Johnston, Philip S. The IVP Introduction to the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006, p.4

[92] ibid.

[93] Marshall, Howard. “Gospels.” in Johnston, op.cit., p.185

[94] ibid., p.189

[95] ibid.

[96] Cosner, Lita. “Can we know anything about the past? Answering an agnostic’s radical skepticism.  A Review of Jesus Before the Gospels by Bart Ehrman.” Published March 22, 2016, at  http://creation.com/ehrman-jesus-before-gospels-review.

[97] Cosner, Lita. “The Resurrection and Genesis.”  First published April 10, 2009 and re-featured on homepage April 5, 2015, at http://creation.com/the-resurrection-and-genesis.

[98] ibid.

[99] ibid.

[100] ibid.

[101] ibid.

[102] Cosner, Lita. “The Resurrection and Genesis.” Published April 9, 2012, at http://creation.com/resurrection-genesis.

[103] ibid.

[104] ibid.

[105] f.n. 3 “See Robert Guelich, Mark 1–8:26. Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), p. xxxii and D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 86.”

[106] f.n. 5 “See Guelich, R., Mark 1–8:26, Word Biblical Commentary, p. xxxi, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1989, and Carson, D., The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 86, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1991. [The only difference is that this time she cites p.xxxi instead of p.xxxii of the first source, but those two pages do not give different dates.]

[107] Cosner, Lita. http://creation.com/the-resurrection-and-genesis.

[108] ibid.

[109] f.n. 3 “See Robert Guelich, Mark 1–8:26. Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), p. xxxii and D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 86.”

[110] Cosner, Lita. http://creation.com/ehrman-jesus-before-gospels-review

[111] Ehrman, op.cit., p.242

[112] There is no substantial difference between Miss Cosner’s terminus post quem of “AD 67” and Ehrman’s of “about 70 C.E.”  Liberal scholars, as we’ve said, prefer AD 70 in order to avoid having Jesus genuinely predicting the destruction of the temple, but they are willing to date Mark as early as AD 66, which marked the beginning of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, at which time an astute man could guess that the temple would be destroyed.

[113] Ehrman, op.cit., p.256

[114] See Tors, John. http://www.truthinmydays.com/creation-ministries-international-and-the-three-headed-monster-why-the-monster-wins-part-1/

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8 Responses to YES, JESUS REALLY DID EXIST: Refuting Maclean’s Magazine’s Latest Madness

  1. Deborah Roy says:

    You are my newest hero. I’m sure that Maclean’s cover article dismayed the Lord. Thank-you for your brilliant and entertaining refutation. Bravo!

  2. D M Campoli says:

    Your refutation is superb!
    Thank you for so directly and clearly revealing the unsubstantiated claims made by Berthune and other discreditors of Jesus.

  3. Leanne says:

    Now that, is science and research based empirical evidence. Maclean’s ought to hire this author and publish their articles; might help maclean’s regain some integrity and reputability.

  4. Paul Doland says:

    Richard Carrier has responded to your article. On one hand, I understand you not being fully versed in Carrier’s material. He has a lot, and you weren’t directly responding to Carrier, you were responding to Bethune. On the other hand, if you are going to say that Bethune is wrong in accepting some of Carrier’s arguments, then, well, you do then kinda have the obligation to read and understand Carrier’s argument. In short, everything you said in this article is old-hat Christian nonsense that has nothing to do with how history actually works. You are preaching the choir.

    So, I would suggest you start reading Carrier’s rebuttal, then pick up his books and try to understand his arguments. I’m not saying he is right. I suspect he is, but, I don’t claim sufficient knowledge to assert he is correct. But, I can say his arguments are considerably more nuanced and fleshed out than you seem to realize.

    • John Tors says:

      Thank you for your input and for alerting us to Carrier’s response to our article. As you say, I was responding to Bethune’s rather short article, and it would have been off-topic to go into any of Carrier’s arguments that Bethune did not raise. Bethune mentioned only three of Carrier’s arguments, viz. that the mention of Jesus by Tacitus is an interpolation, the alleged “non-interest” by Paul in the historical Jesus, and the supposed fact that “the adherents can’t agree, within a century, when their founder died or who killed him.”

      It should be noted that Bethune adduced these as nothing more than bald assertions, with no proof offered for them. We were more than fair, then, in that we checked the substance of Carrier’s arguments for each of these points and showed them to be false. In other words, we did “read and understand Carrier’s arguments,” and showed them to be in error.

      In point of fact, this was not the first time I have encountered Carrier’s claims; I have already read some of his material in the past. It is voluminous and detailed and fleshed out (though by no means nuanced) and it may indeed seem convincing to those who lack the requisite understanding of history and historical methods to assess Carrier’s arguments carefully and who cannot or do not examine the sources he adduces to see whether they actually buttress his assertions or not. Those who do have such understanding and do examine his sources carefully, on the other hand, find his work biased and unconvincing. It is his case that is nonsense, not the Christian case.

      Truth In My Days will post a complete response to Carrier’s attempt to rebut our article. For now, we have posted a detailed analysis of two of his key arguments concerning historical attestation. It is an eye-opening look at how Carrier’s conclusions simply are not consistent with the evidence he proffers. Check it out at http://www.truthinmydays.com/are-the-events-of-jesus-career-the-best-attested-facts-of-ancient-history-a-comparison-to-the-attestation-for-caesars-crossing-of-the-rubicon-and-for-spartacus/.

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