David Hume is one of many great enlightenment philosophers. Hume is a bit long winded, and hard to read, but you’ll be happy you did.
Sorry, is you want the punchline you’ll have to check out Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. It is a book by Thomas Wilson Cathcar and Daniel Martin Klein. I was flopping through it in the book store yesterday an liked what I saw.
The writings of Falvius Josephus have been touted by Christians and some non-Christians alike as being indisputable evidence that the Jesus of the New Testament, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, was a historical figure that actually existed. The evidence for this view has be stated in a previous blog. In this blog, I will critically examine this claim and show that not only is it not sufficient evidence to show that Jesus of Nazareth really existed but the evidence for the claim has been cherry picked and greatly flawed and thus isn’t all evidence for the existence of the historical, real Jesus of Nazareth. The sentence that is cited as evidence is “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” (Source:http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/ant20.html#EndNote_ANT_20.24b). I was astonished by this, until I found the sentence in the paragraph in question. In order to make an objective test, let us examine the paragraph in full, not it part, as the proponents have done.
“1. AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, (23) who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”(Source: The Antiquities of the Jews, CH20, Paragraph 9:1)
One should take notice of something quite striking; the bolded text above doesn’t say “Jesus of Nazareth”. It says “Jesus, the son of Damneus”. Strictly deriving from context, there is nothing inconsistent in asserting that the James mentioned in the line in question, which is italicized and underlined in the text above, is the bother of the Jesus mentioned in the bolded line. Context dictates this since they are not separated explicitly (ie Josephus didn’t say that Jesus, the son of Damneus is not the same as Jesus brother of James who they called Christ). Also, there exists no break in the story such that anyone could assert they are different people in the context. It is quite common for writers to be general about the mention of a name, in this case of Jesus in the italicized and underlined line, and then when the story begins to center around that aforementioned character, to be far more specific about the character, as in the bolded line. Furthermore, Christ is Greek means nothing more than “the anointed one”. Literally, this means that one would be blessed with or covered in [holy] oil. (Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_anointing_oil, Greek meaning of Christ) It wouldn’t be out of the question, as far I know, that a “high priest” such as “Jesus, the son Damneus” was, would be called a Christ, an anointed one. So from this line of reasoning, we have a different Jesus than the one of bible who is contemporary of Josephus who not only could very well had a brother named James.
However, this could also be where the Gospel writers got their Jesus of Nazareth who had a brother named James. This proposition isn’t all all out of the realm of possibility in the slightest, for several reasons.
- Around the time Josephus was writing, it has been well established that there was rampant Jewish Messiahism among some groups of Jews in modern-day Israel.
- Although the earliest possible date for the first Gospel, of what would become the New Testament, is 70ad; the earliest, physical, dated Gospel of Mark dates, approximately, to around the year 90ad. This would give ample time to the author of the Gospel of Mark to construct his Jesus character based on the high priest, Jesus, the son of Damneus. The author of Mark obviously would have embellished the story, which is also not out of the question. Further, as the above point indicates certain groups were actually looking for the Messiah and thus had a bias towards those who appeared to have the features of the Messiah.
- The name of Jesus was quite common in the first century, and even before. This can be demonstrated by the fact that there exists an apocryphal Old Testament book called “Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach” which is considered part of the “Deuterocanon”. (Source: Early Jewish Writings) Although this writing isn’t in the canonized bible, Jewish or Christian, it does show that the name Jesus wasn’t a particularly unique name in the biblical scheme of things.
However, let us take an aside and begin by assuming that this passage does refer to Jesus Christ. What does this mean exactly? Suspending what has previously been said in this work and simply starting with the assumption that the passage does, in fact, specifically refer to Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition, we can better understand the positive implications promoted by believers, namely, that this passage is definitive evidence Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition was a real historical figure. The problem with this idea is that it is not “definitive” evidence. Such a claim is vast overstatement. This is due to the fact that one cannot assert the following isn’t a real possibility: Josephus may very well have been writing about a healer, seer and “moral teacher” being talked about and believed in at the time her wrote the passage above. Problem is we have the first Gospel, Mark, being written about the same time, nearly 40 years after the supposed death of Jesus Christ, in the year 70ad (as said before this is earliest date scholars can agree upon based solely on context and the fact they are disregarding the notion that Mark was writing prophecy; how could he since he was writing history? Furthermore, how reliable is a 40 year old, unverified story about a traveling preacher, of which there were many for a good part of the first century. (Source: Michael Shermer, from his appearance on Penn & Teller: Bullshit)). If this is the case, then, like the first paragraph of the first book of the Antiquities of the Jews (discussed later in this paragraph in more detail), Josephus could simply be writing the story down as if it really happened when he had no way of knowing whether or not it really did or not. This doesn’t say much for Josephus’ credibility which, as far as I know, has gone unchallenged. Although it is true that Josephus was a fairly accurate and reliable historian, it should be pointed out that in the first paragraph of the first book of the Antiquities of the Jews that Josephus copies, nearly verbatim, the first chapter of the book of Genesis of the Torah (and/or Old Testament). This is no surprising given that Josephus was a devote Jew. However, the Genesis is not in anyway history. At best it’s mythology. It should be further pointed out that if the passage in question is authentic and speaking about Jesus Christ of Nazareth as spoken about in the New Testament, it is the only one from the First Century. All other “historical” references to the figure, known as Jesus Christ, come to us much later, the earliest of these being the beginning of the second century, coming only with more Gospels which were mostly copies of the Gospel of Mark, with minor changes and embellishments.
Further, if the both the passage of Josephus is authentic and the Gospel tradition are to be reliable (which they are most certainly not, given the historical inaccuracies in them, which will discussed more detail in the next blog) then, Jesus (according to the aforementioned tradition) would have caused quite a stir in then Roman province of Judea; claiming to be or having it claimed of him that he was the King of the Jews (direct challenge of Roman authority which wasn’t tolerated), claiming to be or having it claimed of him to be the Son of (the Living) God (same issue as the last), and causing a social disturbance in the Temple (which the Romans watched closely as to be able to quell any uprising or rebellion of any kind, no matter how small). Also, Josephus leaves a majority of the story out, suggesting that it wasn’t a large or important movement of the day, given that, as mentioned before, there were many such “messiahs” walking the Earth in the first century. However, assuming it was a big deal and Jesus was a real threat to Roman authority, there were a great many Roman historians who had a opportunity to write about him (and the fact that the Romans prevailed by killing him). The Roman historians had every reason to write about him, insofar as they were able to defeat him and his “movement”, which it should mentioned constituted of, at minimum, 12 other men, 11 excluding Judas later in the story, and about 2 women, Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene. So, this “world-changing-messianic” movement, had at most a total 14 people (not including Jesus himself). This wouldn’t have been much of a threat and one Roman historians would have been very inclined to record since the Governor of Judea, a member of the overall Roman governance system, was successful in stopping him and his “movement”. Yet, to date, not a single document, produced by these many Roman historians of the day, has been provided to me or anyone else in the study of this issue, that mentions Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition.
Thus, from the evidence and analysis given above, it is not likely that Josephus was writing about Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition. Also, even if it was truly authentic, it is not clear that it wasn’t written in a contrived way (just hearsay, as what he wrote in book 1, paragraph 1) or that it is terribly important given he is the ONLY source, outside of the Gospel stories, to “prove” Jesus Christ existed. The bar I have set for the evidence that would definitively prove the existence of Jesus is no higher than it is to prove that other ancient figures existed. For example, for Alexander the Great, we have many records of him that are not Greek or Egyptian in origin, which lends a great deal of credibility to the claim that Alexander the Great existed; this is of course aside from the monuments that bore his name and the military victories he oversaw and orchestrated. Further, if this one reference by Josephus is not speaking of Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition, then the one solitary piece of evidence outside the Gospels that he existed is no longer valid and it further unlikely that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition never existed at all.
Metro State Atheists
Sources are listed inline with the material or linked inline.
Please read “The Jesus Fraud” Blog Series before reading this
The first “pro” argument for the existence of Jesus Christ that will be discussed in this series is the writings of Flavius Josephus. I will presented the argument by using quotes from those who support the claim, which is, that Flavius Josephus clearly and definitively refers to Jesus as a historical figure in the Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20 Paragraph 9.
From krissmith777: “there is the second mention of Jesus made by Josephus. You can argue that this is a forgery as well, but that argument falls when a word study is done on the passage.” (here is referring to the claim above)
krissmith777: “The second mention of Jesus made by Josephus is believed almost universally to be authentic and written by Josephus himself.”
krissmith777: “It’s in the 20th book of the Antiquities of the Jews in the ninth chapter. Depending on which system you prefer to cite Josephus you’d find it in “Antiquities of the Jews 20: 9, 1″ which is entire paragraph system.”
The argument is that since this passage is authentic, written by Josephus himself, and he mentions Jesus in passing along with his brother James, then this implies and proves Jesus Christ was a historical figure and existed.
Please let me know if there is anything wrong with this presentation of the Flavius Josehpus argument. I will not accept anything about the Testimonium Flavium as krissmith777 said “Personally I would not appeal to the Testimonium Flavianum to show that Jesus existed” because we have agreed that it is most likely an interpolation and thus not written by Flavius Josephus himself and, consequently, not evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ.
Proponents will have one week to suggest corrections. If you disagree with this argument, please hold your comments.
Metro State Atheists
Due to some sources having some validity issues (the Zietgeist wasn’t a ‘source’ per say. It was a place holder since I was using many of the same sources they did, independent of knowing they used said sources). These sources include but are not limited to G. Massey and Acharya S. Also influencing this decision is the many good comments and challenges to this idea. Therefore, I will be doing this as a series of blogs. The structure of which will be the following:
A blog will be posted giving as full account of the argument I will be refuting in the unbiased way possible. Sources may include comments i have received on previous blogs. I will leave this up for about a week so that I may receive feedback on the “pro” argument so I do not commit the Strawman fallacy. Feedback should be an attempt to correct something in the argument that I have missed or misrepresented, thus, please do not post refutations on these. Then, once I have that, I will post a blog in refutation of the argument. Comments on this are also appreciated, and all manner of comments are welcome.
Thank you to all that posted comments on the original Jesus Fraud blog. It is because of you that this series is possible.
To access the blog series please use this link: https://metrostateatheists.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/the-jesus-fraud-blog-series/
I recently had the displeasure of reading some essays by the revered G.K. Chesterton, a man whom only very nice things are typically said about — which is a troublesome circumstance that I’d like to do my part in mitigating. Chesterton makes an irritating habit of writing entirely too much in defense of the truth of Christianity, while forgetting to actually address the matter of the truth in Christianity. He occasionally seems like he is going to say something related to this weighty issue, but instead prates endlessly on topics that require the affected proposition to have already been settled. The overall effect seems to be that several of his readers, maybe more, forget that he never addressed the issue of truth, and in silent befuddlement, follow Chesterton to the conclusions of his baseless chatter; rather than insist he start from the beginning like an ordinary person.
Though it would be fun to go through all of his essays that I have here and rebuke each of the nasty things he says about scientists, naturalists, people living before Christianity, Pagans, philosophers, Orientals, and well, pretty much anyone who isn’t a Christian — I’m instead going to select one essay from the bunch, by virtue of it being as bad as any other, and look at it more closely than one would ordinarily want to; which is to say, from a moderate distance.
In “The Paradoxes of Christianity” Chesterton gives a heartwarming account of how he, too, was once a dirty agnostic who read atheistic pamphlets and really, just gave the whole anti-Christianity thing his best. All was going well, torches and fuel had been collected for his first midnight church burning, and it seemed as if Night’s sordid chores would be brought unto completion; until he began to realize that everything he had read against Christianity contradicted itself: “Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars. Christianity had deluged the world with blood. I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian, because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the earth and smoked to the sun. . . . It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Lion did.”
I believe this was the first point in this particular essay at which I had to stop and reflect: “Hmm, this guy is supposed to be brilliant? Well, he’s certainly not that; unless he’s dishonest — well, at least maybe he’s just dishonest. I mean, the writing itself is pretty, would be a shame if its author were a dullard. Maybe he’s just dishonest.” It doesn’t seem very difficult to me to conceive of Christianity being both at once overly violent and overly meek. Actually, it seems the simplest thing to conceive of — I had a very similar experience the other day: I held one hand to a block of ice and another to a flame, and both at once I became too hot and too cold. I didn’t even pause to think about the inherent paradox in the situation; for if something is too cold and too hot at once, it must be a cozy 72 degrees Fahrenheit in total. Nope, instead, like a sensible person, I quit trying to freeze part of me while burning the other and withdrew from flame and ice alike.
Rather than concern himself with the fact that he’s not actually saying anything here, Chesterton continues by giving lots and lots of other examples which function in exactly the same manner and are thereby completely devoid of content, though very poetic. “Or again, Christianity was reproached with its naked and hungry habits; with its sackcloth and dried peas. But the next minute Christianity was being reproached with its pomp and its ritualism; its shrines of porphyry and its robes of gold.” He apparently is capable of tiring of this, and at some point moves on to find a superficial hypocrisy in the anti-Christians: “But I found that anti-Christians themselves had a contempt for woman’s intellect; for it was their great sneer at the Church on the continent that ‘only women’ went to it.” I would put it beyond even Chesterton to make the mistake of interpreting “women” literally here. I doubt that he even interpreted it wrongly at all, as he appears to. Why, assuming the term “women” isn’t being used literally, should it be a reference to someone’s lack of intelligence rather than lack of manliness? Probably it’s just another case of dishonesty on the part of our morally superior (I bet he’d agree with this illative qualifier) Christian author.
Let me offer one more solution to Chesterton’s paradoxes and then move on. Perhaps, Christianity is capable of promoting violence along side meekness and wealth with poverty because it is a stratified institution. Those couched in shrines of porphyry and robes of gold at the high echelons may repose on the broken backs of their lesser brothers; their brothers who, from this dominated position, have become servile, and who at the whim of their betters may also become fierce or feeble.
All of these contradictions cause Chesterton to withdraw some from his church burning, not give it up completely mind you, but withdraw some, to think about things: “I wished to be quite fair then, and I wish to be quite fair now; and I did not conclude that the attack on Christianity was all wrong. I only concluded that if Christianity was wrong, it was very wrong indeed.” However, as he didn’t conclude that it was very wrong indeed but very right indeed instead, he must also have concluded that there was something to these illusive contradictions. Which leads me to conclude that he is simple. No, he didn’t give in to Christianity at this point, rather he was just disturbed by the implied “odd shape of the Christian religion” by the anti-Christian attackers.
Eventually Chesterton progresses from finding Christianity oddly shaped to, unexpectedly, finding its attackers themselves contorted. Now the apparent contradictions may not be contradictions after all (never mind that they never were); perhaps those describing conflicting errors were using relative terms to describe them. Christianity wasn’t ‘rich’, those who said it was were just too poor; it wasn’t ‘poor’, those who said it was were just too rich. “The modern man found the Church too simple exactly where modern life is too complex; he found the Church too gorgeous exactly where modern life is too dingy.” It would have been interesting if he’d tried this philosophy on some of the contradictions which it was supposed to sort out. For example, is the Church found too violent exactly where modern life is too peaceful? Let’s also witness here further dishonesty by our author: he acquits the anti-Christian attacks of their contradictions through his subsequent attack on the anti-Christians themselves; however, the acquittal is only implicit, and his reader is left feeling that the anti-Christians should still be mocked for what they have been forgiven.
Interestingly, Chesterton’s next move is to disregard what he’d said about the relative language of Christianity’s attackers to, instead, embrace their contradictions in a new cast: “Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposite. Of course they were not really inconsistent; but they were such that it was hard to hold simultaneously.” He starts with an earnest search for truth that leads him away from Christianity, then closer back to it when its opponents ‘contradict’ each other, then closer still when the contradictions are found to be false, and then back securely home when the contradictions are termed otherwise: “Anyone might say, ‘Niether swaggor nor grovel’; and it would have been a limit. But to say, ‘Here you can swagger and there you can grovel’ — that was an emancipation.” Now the contradictions are the mother of balance and the Church’s greatest gift.
The whole journey is incoherent, and his description of it is dishonest if he actually possessed a tithe of the brilliance credited to him. I think he probably had the means for discovering the falsity of Christianity, but he was too emotionally attached. In his careless youth, he must have impetuously decided to consider his beliefs and ended up losing them. Only through much subsequent self-delusion was he able to construct elaborate enough excuses for a return to Christianity endorsed by his repressed rational mind. This is of course fine, and expected; it is in fact the only way faith could operate. The problem I see with the whole thing is that, aside from maybe C.S. Lewis, Chesterton is supposed to make the best arguments for Christianity. Instead, he makes a profound disappointment, and his attitude toward non-Christians is anything but exemplary.