Thursday, August 21, 2008

Atheists run from Jesus

To be fair, I want to say first off that I sincerely believe that most atheists who blog are far too intelligent and well read to buy into the nonsense about which I’m going to write. On the other hand, as I meander through their blogs, it seems that more and more sceptics are saying things like, “You should read this book or this blog. It proves that Jesus never even existed.” Yikes!! This isn’t entirely new of course.

First it was, They tried to prove that Jesus never died.
- Didn’t work. The history of crucifixions and the forensic evidence from the record of Jesus’ crucifixion shows beyond any doubt that He died on the cross. It wasn’t a swoon. It wasn’t a faint. Jesus was dead - period.

Then it was, They tried to prove that Jesus’ tomb was never empty
- Didn’t work. There is absolutely no chance that if the body of Jesus was in that tomb, the religious authorities wouldn’t have produced it and put an end to Christianity on the spot.

Next it was, They tried to prove that Jesus never rose from the dead
- Didn’t work. It’s obvious that Jesus’ followers had neither the ability nor the opportunity to steal the body. As well, the dramatic change in the disciples lives and character, plus the very existence of the Christian Church shows that what the disciples saw was the real deal. Of course naturalism allows no miracles so . . .

As a last resort it was, They tried to say that there is no extra Biblical reference to the life of Jesus.
- This has come close to working. For most of us, we simply don’t have the time and barely the inclination to fully study everything that we claim to believe. Actually this is true for both sides of the debate. Some people actually believe the atheist lie that there isn’t any extra Biblical reference to the life, death and resurrection. Why do they accept this as true? Because many if not most atheists have neither the time and they certainly don’t have the desire to investigate these false claims by their comrades. And, because what’s being said matches what they want to believe, they simply take what’s being said as, um Gospel truth.

Finally, having given up as futile attempts to refute the historical narrative of Jesus’ life, sceptics are attempting the biggest gambit ever. They are trying to say that Jesus never existed at all. And, incredibly, many atheists are buying it. Such is their desperate need to do away with Creator God, that many atheists seem willing to do away with nearly all reason, knowledge and critical thinking.

My O my how desperate can one get? I try you know. I really do. I try to respect those of the atheist faith. But this last surge is just sad, sad, sad. And embarrassing!!! To go against all of historical scholarship, eyewitness testimony, and extra Biblical references to the life of Jesus by both friend and foe alike, well, that is just about as desperate as any person can get.

I can understand attempts to explain away the first three historical events; His death, burial and resurrection. But this? To say that Jesus never existed? That’s just pathetic. Even the sceptics security blanket, the supposed non existence of extra Biblical witness to the life of Jesus goes against them. I mean, don’t adherents of this delusion care how stupid this makes them look?

Now, it’s clear that the most trusted documents telling us about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the Gospel accounts that are found in the Bible > Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts. And I know that sceptics reject those out of hand. Doing that shows the sceptic’s profound ignorance in the fullest sense of the word. On the other hand, what else can they do? Resurrections are not allowed. But to ignore even the witness of the enemies of Christianity as they attest to the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts and to the reality of the life of Jesus, well, again, it makes the head to shake and the brow to furrow.

First of all, the trustworthiness and accuracy of the Gospels are referred to by a whole series of writers, right from those who lived at the time of Jesus and His disciples and continuing in close and steady succession on into the third and forth centuries. Whether the literature is secular or religious, you simply don’t get a higher form of historical testimony than this type of documentation. Where ever it is found in secular works, those writings are declared absolutely trustworthy based chiefly on that pattern of documentation. Documents that recorded the historical life of Jesus can be traced from the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas all the way, without break, to Eusebius in 315. There is better testimony for the authenticity of the New Testament books than for ANY classical work of antiquity. That these authors talk about a historical figure who existed in real space and real time is beyond dispute, except - EXCEPT with those whose conscience, it appears, is completely seared and completely hardened and scarred by repeated lies and falsehoods. These are the people who are now perpetrating the twisted history that does not allow for one and only one historical figure to have lived.

Theophilus, Hippolitus and Origen all cite the Gospels as authoritatively accurate. Very early on the Gospels were collected into a distinct set of documents which Ignatius first calls the Gospel of the Apostles. Quadratus wrote of the life of Jesus. Irenaeus and Melito also refer to the collection as the Gospels in their writings and affirm their historical accuracy.

Some very desperate atheists would have you believe that all these people were part of a massive conspiracy to begin a new religion.

Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian all upheld the authority and accuracy of the Gospel records as they describe the life of Jesus, as does that book written by the doctor and historian Luke ie. the book of Acts of the Apostles. Citations from Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian were publically read as authoritative and reliable.

More importantly from a sceptics perspective, a new genre of literature, harmonies and commentaries of the Gospels, were compiled within a decade of Jesus’ death. The best known of these were ones written by Tatian. In fact, historical records attest to the fact that no commentary was ever written during the first three hundred years after Christ on ANY book(s) except of the New Testament. Even more important for today’s sceptic to note is that the Scriptures were accepted as trustworthy by all the heretical groups of the day. The Valentinians and the Carpocratians are just two groups who held to the historical accuracy of the Gospels. None of these people were so foolish as to try to say that Jesus of Nazareth was a figment of someone’s imagination. They couldn’t say that because witnesses, to the life of Jesus, including the enemies of Christianity were still alive when these histories were written.

The Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1st John and 1st Peter were received as authentic and trustworthy historical documents even by those who doubted the authenticity of other books now in the canon. Early opponents of Christianity like Celsus, Porphyry and the Emperor Julian acknowledged that the Gospels contained an accurate record of Jesus’ life. While they argued against the tenets of Christianity, it never occurred to them to include in their arguments something so absurd as saying that Jesus never lived. Athanasius and Cyril compiled catalogues of authentic Scriptures which always, always, always contained the Gospels and Acts and upheld their accuracy and historical dependability. Beyond any doubt, the Gospels and Acts contain the original story that was spread abroad by the apostles, an account for which they willingly died - that Jesus died, was buried and that He rose again from the dead. People simply don’t do that type of thing for a lie that they made up.

Another reason that the New Testament can be trusted as a true and accurate historical record of Jesus is because of its use in teaching new converts. What difference does that make? Because of this use, these writings were copied over and over and over. Quotes from the New Testament counting literally into the millions are available from that time in history. In fact no other ancient writing comes anywhere close to the volume of early copies of literature that document the life of Jesus. It is absolutely impossible that so much literature, spread over such a wide geographical area, and within the reach of such varied people from paupers to princes, rulers to slaves, men and women, Jews and Gentiles could have been gathered together and corrupted with a fictional person. Neither was there time to do this. These writings were put together when witnesses to the events surrounding the life of Jesus were still alive.

Yet this is what some hard-core atheists would have you believe happened.

To throw into doubt the reliability of the Gospels would require that all and every rule of historical criticism be tossed aside. And, since the reliability of every single work of antiquity is far, far less attested to than the writings of the New Testament, the reliability of these works would also need to be denied.

Yet this is what atheists and sceptics are saying that you should do. Well, not exactly. They’re saying you can trust the works of antiquity with the least corroboration, while you should discount, distrust and throw out anything that upholds the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth even though those documents are far more trustworthy. How’s that for reason and logic? We are witnessing a situation whereby sceptics, who are completely out of excuses for not acknowledging their hostile relationship toward Jesus are forced to tell you that the writers of these works were either lied to or were themselves liars. Clearly the apostles weren’t lied to for in order for Christianity to take wings and fly, the lie had to have been their own. We also know however how impossible it is to believe that these men lived in hardship and died from torture maintained the lie to the bitter end.

The letters of Barnabas and Clement tell about the miracles of Jesus. Why would they invent a fictitious person? Polycarp writes about the supposed resurrection of Jesus. Why would he write about someone who never existed? Irenaeus writes of Jesus' miracles as though Jesus was a factual character. Why would all these people put their own reputations on the line to perpetrate a lie? Are we to believe that these men were somehow incorporated into this massive conspiracy to invent a superhuman being? In his writings, Quadratus states that people were still living who had seemingly been healed by Jesus. Why would he say that if Jesus wasn’t a factual character? How would any of these people benefit by perpetrating this falsehood? In all of history, such a conspiracy and corruption in written transmission has never before been recorded. Yet today's sceptic's attempt to state that such was the case with the New Testament, and it shows just how desperate they are to avoid the truth.

Are we therefore to believe that in the reign of Tiberius Caesar a certain number of persons went about establishing a new religion, in the propagation of which they voluntarily submitted to great dangers, suffering, and ultimately torturous deaths? Would men in such circumstances pretend to have seen what they never saw; assert facts which they had no knowledge of, go about lying to teach virtue; and, while presenting a fictitious character persist in carrying on; and so persist, as to bring upon themselves, for nothing, and with full knowledge of the consequence, enmity, hatred, danger and death? All the while, from beginning to end singing the praises of a relationship with this fictitious character. The apostles had absolutely nothing to gain in worldly terms by attempting to either teach that Jesus had risen from the dead if he hadn’t, OR even more astounding, teach that Jesus had risen from the dead when Jesus never existed in the first place. Such strange and mentally unstable behaviour seems reserved for today’s atheists.

I know that most atheists are not so brazen or foolish as to propose that Jesus was not a historical figure. But some, whose mental status can only be called questionable, would have people believe that one man got together with several other men and said, “Let’s invent a superhuman individual and start a new religion. And let’s make that religion as offensive to the communities in which we live as we possibly can. In fact let’s invent a religion that will clearly be a threat to the Roman empire. Sure we’ll probably be tortured and killed, sure we be fed to wild beast and used as human torches in the courtyards of Nero, but it’ll be a blast. Regardless of what horrors befall us, let’s all agree to maintain the lie to the bitter end.”

Amazingly, today’s atheists would have you believe the other men agreed to that idea. Therefore they set out on their plan to perpetrate this colossal lie and lo and behold, it worked. The whole of civilization was changed and transformed as never before by a simple lie; that Jesus of Nazareth, a fictitious super hero could and would transform your life. Ding dong, it worked. Or so today’s sceptics would have you believe.

The fact is, the Christian Church was born and became established on the reality of a person named Jesus of Nazareth who lived, died and rose from the dead. The proclamation of these facts, in Jerusalem of all places, right in front of their enemies who were powerless to stop this movement shows that what the apostles were saying is true. Christianity bears witness to the reality of Jesus the Christ. Jesus' empty tomb, His appearances before at least 500 people over a forty day period and, His eating and drinking with them, conversing with them, teaching and encouraging them and more than anything else, the existence of the Christian Church itself prove beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus Christ existed in real time and real space.

I guess I need to stop. It’s just that it saddens and even scares me a little to see men and women, some of them quite intelligent people, lying to themselves and accepting virtually without question the lies of others for no other reason than to block out the reality of and historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. God help us.


Michael Edward Davis said...

Well, well, well, you are certainly well versed in the history and writings of the early church fathers and some of the extra-canonical scriptures. I would say that most likely Jesus (Yeshua) did exist, that he was a 1st century rebbe whose entire public ministry lasted perhaps only a year or so, even though John has it as about three. He apparently was viewed by various factions among the people as a political messiah, and judging from his cleansing of the temple and other acts of threat to the status quo, probably very nearly precipitated a riot during Passover the year he was crucified. Whereas treason against Caesar was a capital offense, and most (but not all) of the jewish religious hierarchy wanted to do nothing to "rock the boat" with the Romans, it should come as no suprise that crucifixion would be the probable outcome. Did he die on the cross? Well, Mark is considered by all competent scholars to be the earliest of the canonical gospels, written perhaps around 70 CE. Let's look at Mark 15:33-47, shall we? Darkness fell over the land at the sixth hour. At the ninth hour Jesus prays the opening lines of Psalm 22 and apparently expires. The veil of the Sanctuary is torn in two. What is going on here. I'll give you one interpretation: Pilate has condemned Jesus to death in order to defuse a riot at Passover, after attempting to get him released as he could find no crime and really didn't want to be involved in a jewish religious dispute. His interest as the Roman governor in charge was to maintain public order, and with the least amount of violence possible. There is a violent thunderstorm brewing, with high winds and probably the threat of lightning, judging from verse 38 of chapter 15. The only witnesses to the death are women who were observing from a distance. How much could they actually see, and where are all the male disciples of Jesus? Answer to the latter question: all the male disciples had fled in terror and were hiding themselves. Yeshua was utterly abandoned by his followers. The Roman soldiers had no interest in being struck by lightning or caught out in a thunderstorm on a prominence outside the city gates (great place for lightning strikes, by the way). Certainly not for the likes of an itinerant Jewish carpenter turned "pop rebbe", a person of no account to the Romans, the centurion's comment not withstanding (and how did any witnesses hear it if only women followers were observing from a distance?) Now turn to Mark 15:42-47, particularly verse 44. A prominent member of the Sanhedrin asks for the body, and Pilate is ASTONISHED THAT HE SHOULD HAVE DIED SO SOON... and asks the centurion if this is so, and is assured that Yeshua has been dead for some time. Why is Pilate astonished? Because crucifixion, which incidentally took many different forms and didn't always involve nailing or nailing in the same manner, typically took one to two DAYS to kill it's victims, usually from shock, dehydration and exposure. Yeshua apparently died in a matter of HOURS. This is most peculiar, as is the fact that a prominent Sanhedrin member is asking for the body, not at all typical in matters of public execution. Typically crucified criminals were left to rot on the cross or thrown into a pit if there was need for the cross stake to be used again. For jews, part of the ignominy of crucifixion was the very fact that proper jewish burial was forbidden them, if for no other reason than the fact that the Roman authorities would not permit it. So who ( or what, burial spices, perhaps?) was buried in the tomb? I submit to you that Yeshua's death is not certain and that there were no reliable witnesses close enough to verify it, with the only witnesses being Romans and jewish religious authorities, none of whom left any written record of the events.

If the gospel accounts have any validity whatsoever as fragments of eyewitness accounts and teachings of Yeshua pasted together later for purposes of conversion, etc., then it follows from my interpretations of scriptures that the "post resurrectional" appearances of Yeshua are accounts of his contact with his disciples after being resuscitated from a coma or near death state. If it actually rained, which detail Mark omits, and the rain of a severe thunderstorm would have been quite cold, the effect on the body might even have been more pronounced. It is also quite likely, as has been pointed out by some jewish studies scholars, that Yeshua was probably engaged in a form of early cabalistic meditative prayer and probably achieved trance states using repetitive prayer, fasting and other known methods for inducing visions and deep hypnotic trance. He might have naturally slipped into one, praying as he was, at the hour of his death, the 22nd Psalm.

In short, I submit to you that there was no death and no subsequent resurrection. Only a near death experience. Incidentally, the roman catholic church was using a vocational aptitude test a few years back called the "priest perceptor" test. One of the questions on the test was, "Archaeologists find the body of christ, how does this affect your faith?" And my answer (yes, I was once a devout roman catholic seminarian and a monk postulant) was, "It doesn't," which is precisely the answer they were looking for, according to what they told me when we reviewed the test together.

We could go on endlessing about scriptural and extra canonical "witnesses" to the life and resurrection of Yeshua, but it really proves nothing. Personally, given all the evidence and scholarly analysis, and after a lifetime of study, I believe that all the details will never be known with certainty. Suffice it to say that the man was mythologized after his "disappearance," and people will believe what they most deeply long to believe in their hearts because it comforts them, even if it's not the truth. I am a naturalist, a humanist, and last, but only incidentally, an atheist. Atheism follows inexorably as one of several corollaries from naturalism and humanism. It is merely the repudiation of belief in god or gods. If you piece together all the images of god from all the scriptures, jewish, christian, and muslim, you find that you have no coherent, credible concept of anything, only human notions of divinity and humanity, love and hate, good and evil. Behind it all, there is only a universe that appears to be indifferent. Caring, purpose, and meaning are human attributes, derived from human existence and experience, and meaningful only within the scale of human life. If there is some grand, ultimate purpose to life and the universe, it remains obscured. This is what I have learned after a lifetime of experience and reflection. So what remains? To act, as far as one is able, according to one's best impulses, to love those that are given us by the world to love, to stand in awe of a universe far more immense and awesome than any mythological gods ever rumored in legend. To find meaning and purpose and joy and contentment in whatever lives we have here and now. And to, as far as is humanly possible, dispel the clouds of ignorance and delusion from the world of human experience. We are, in the end, only left to care one for another, as Yeshua apparently tried to show us. That's it.... no gods necessary, nothing supernatural required. Just add humanity, civility and love, stir vigorously, and LIVE!

Makarios said...

Hmm, I’m guessing that you just got tired of writing since you didn’t address some pretty important points. First of all, the narrative says nothing about a storm. It only speaks of darkness. There is no evidence whatsoever that the soldiers were in a hurry to get off the hilltop. As well, the soldiers who were to ensure that the “criminals” were dead broke the legs of the first two and pierced the side of Jesus with a spear. The forensic evidence that water and blood, in that order flowed from Jesus’ side shows beyond doubt that He was already dead.

Of course there are the incidentals that you didn't speak of. How did Jesus get himself out of the tomb? What was there about a beaten and blooded Jesus that made His followers believe that He was a superhuman Messiah who was victorious over death. They had to believe this or else we’re back to the ridiculous notions that these men went to their deaths for a lie.

You only talk about the book of Mark so I won’t push you to accept what you probably a priori reject but let me just mention that Luke was written before Acts, and since Acts was written prior to the death of Paul, Luke must have an early date, which speak to its authenticity. And for what it’s worth, all the Gospels write of Jerusalem with details that show intimate details before the fall
(70AD) and nothing about Jerusalem after that date. Beyond that I’m going to write as though the Gospels are reliable witness accounts because that is what I believe.

I disagree totally that the location of the tomb was unknown to Jesus’ followers. At the very least it was known by the women and by Joseph of Arimathea. But let me concede that point for now. More important, the enemies of Jesus knew exactly where He was buried and they had a vested interest in keeping in that tomb.

Again, how did He get out? The soldiers say that the disciples stole the body while they were sleeping. Ya like those cowards, (you admit they all ran away), would confront a Roman Guard. And anyway, how would the soldiers know it was them if they soldiers were asleep? If the disciples didn’t do it are we to believe that a man who has gone through a Roman scourging, crucifixion, being pierced with a spear and wrapped in burial dressing, rolled away this huge stone on His own? Apparently if we’re to go by your beliefs that's what happened.

Even the enemies of Christianity acknowledged Jesus’ resurrection. They didn’t deny the disciple’s charge that the authorities had bribed the guard to keep silent. If the charge was false they would certainly have done so.

Again, the disciple’s dramatic change in character and behaviour show that they were absolutely convinced Jesus had risen from the dead. They went from the depths of despair, doubt and fear to a joyful certainty of such height that they preached the resurrection openly and boldly and suffered mightily for it.

If Jesus did not die and rise from the dead how do you explain the rise of the Christian Church and the transformation of the world? Jesus' empty tomb, His after death appearances convincingly portraying not a barely alive straggler but a victorious Messiah and the origin of the Christian Church all point to an actual resurrection.

The proclaiming faith of the disciples can be investigated as historical. Jesus’ appearances at definite times and places to a particular number of person can be investigated as historical. The empty tomb can and was investigated as historical.

As stated, the empty tomb was known to both enemies and friends of Jesus. If the disciples had preached an empty tomb when the body was still there, it would have ended the Church on the spot. Of course you accept that Jesus did in fact appear after His burial, so I don't need to go there.

From a historical scholarly perspective, the fact that Joseph of Arimathea was involved in the burial stands as proof of authenticity of the narrative, not against it. The presence of potentially embarrassing details in any historical document provides powerful confirmation that the authors are telling the truth. Joseph of the Sanhedrin, all of whom according to Mark condemned Jesus, is the last person one would expect to care properly for Jesus. It’s inexplicable why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus if it was not true. As you may or may not know, historians think that they have hit historical pay-dirt when they have two independent accounts of the same event. But in the case of the empty tomb we have no less than six, some of which are among the earliest materials to be found in the New Testament. Mark's account of the resurrection is remarkably straightforward and unadorned with extra details as one would expect if it was a lie. There is no reflection of fulfilled prophecy, no description of the Risen Lord or fanciful powers blasting the stone away.

This is getting long so I’ll just address a theory that you seem to cling to which has been all but given up on by all scholars. The theory has fallen for all the reasons one would expect of such a silly idea. Again, how did Jesus move the stone from the inside. Jesus would have been in desperate need of medical care and hardly convinced anyone that He was a Risen Lord and conqueror of Death. More problematic is what you have tried to put forward. If the disciples had in fact seen Jesus after His burial, they would have assumed, like you, not that He had risen from the dead but that He hadn’t died in the first place. That of course takes us back to believing that the disciples gathered together to put over an enormous lie and that every single one of them maintained that lie to a tortuous death and that their families and other witness to Jesus’ resurrection went along with the lie. There is not a medical person on the planet who would accept that, based on the forensic evidence available, Jesus would not have succumbed to His wounds.

Well, since your mind is made up there is no point in saying even this much let alone going on and on. Nevertheless, I find it amazing that a man of your intellectual ability can convince yourself that Jesus did not die.