Monday, November 10, 2008

Who is this Joseph guy?

This is the fourth in a series of posts dealing with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In their desire to cast doubt on eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, one of the things that anti-theists run up against are details in the account that simply wouldn’t be there if the accounts were invented, exaggerated, or flat out lies.

An example of this is someone we read about called Joseph who was from Arimathea. If you know the account, you’ll remember that this was the guy who apparently went and asked to take the body of Jesus from the cross. He then, with the help of others, prepared the body for burial and placed the body in his very own tomb. This tomb by the way wasn’t just an old cave. That was common practice in that area at that time in history. Instead, this was a tomb that had been carved out of rock. Joseph of Arimathea was rich. However, that is not what makes his mention in the ancient texts confirming or authenticating.

The inclusion of this man in the text goes to proving the truth of the story is because Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin; the very group that was responsible for arranging the murder of Jesus. Other details about this story include facts like:
- All of the members of the Sanhedrin that were present on the night in question voted unanimously to kill Jesus, and
- Joseph of Arimathea was not present for the vote.
Those two points are a little interesting, but the biggest authenticating factor is, the early Christians were furious at the injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion and they didn’t hesitate to lay it out for the public when the opportunity arose. There is no way that they would have invented a good or friendly or helpful member of the Sanhedrin unless it was true. Think about it, as the account goes, all of Jesus’ disciples run and hide while a member of the very party that put the hit on Jesus went to His, albeit late aide. As well, this was a member of a specific well known group. Whether or not he was involved in the way the writer mentioned could have been checked out with ease.

Joseph of Arimathea is a historical figure as are the accounts that include him as part of the story.

Sceptics would have you believe that the Gospel accounts were written by New York Times best selling authors who wrote a fiction so refined and so diabolical that billions of people have been duped.

Reality is, the writers were not refined or gifted authors. They would have never thought of some of the things that I’m describing in this series of posts if they hadn’t taken place.

4 comments:

John D. Moore said...

Independent verification of Joseph of Arimathea, please? Is there evidence of Joseph outside the Bible?

Using the Bible as a primary historical source when attempting to make some sort of case for the veracity of the resurrected Christ, which is something you have taken to frequently of late, is flawed. The portion of the Bible you cite is the New Testament, so call for being a testament of Jesus Christ. The entire purpose of the book is to convince us of Jesus's divinity, works, and power over death. So when you try to prove the Bible with the Bible, you're using a fundamentally flawed method of circular reasoning.

Another flaw in your reasoning: why would the writers of the Bible invent a character who was on the surface an enemy, but in fact an ally? Because it's compelling. Need I remind you Jesus's parable selecting as the oddball hero one Good Samaritan?

But let's assume Joseph (I could note that Arimathea is mentioned in no other contemporary text outside of the Bible, by the way, but it doesn't seem all that important) existed. Sure, why not? Like most atheists, I don't disagree with the historicity of a Jesus of Nazareth. Some Jews and/or Romans defected to the Christian side. Even still, what would that prove?

People are often willing to die for beliefs that aren't true. It's not something you harp on in this post, but you've been citing it a lot recently. If you do so, do you not have to accept the martyrs of all religious, moral, and cultural causes throughout human history? Or at least the stories of them?

Talk about how Jesus comforts you, great. Talk about how great it makes you feel that a lapsed-Christian, now-heathen like me is going to suffer for eternity if that pleases you. But your attempts to argue history are quite feeble. Details in these accounts could exist for any number of reasons. Some may be true, some may have been to spice up the stories in a fashion that would be appealing or appeasing to certain factions. Some element of truth to a story does not certify it as 100% truth.

Makarios said...

“The entire purpose of the book is to convince us of Jesus's divinity, works, and power over death.”

Yes, that's the purpose of the Bible but it wasn't the sole purpose of the writers. Something that critics seem to forget is that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life as well as “Acts of the Apostles” and the other letters that are included in the New Testament weren’t written FOR inclusion into the Bible. The New Testament didn’t exist. They didn't even know that it would exist. These guys weren’t journalists working for something like, “Bible Magazine.” The documents that were compiled into what we know today as the New Testament were separate ancient documents, written by people who were interested in the life of Jesus. These documents were circulating throughout both the Christian and non Christian community, just like many other works of antiquity. Some of the writers had been followers of or students of Jesus. Others, like Dr. Luke were historians. These people had no idea that what they’d written would one day become part of the biggest and most important movement in history. They were not interested in creating a legend.

I’m curious John. A week or so ago I gave you a whole swack of extra Biblical support for the resurrection? How did you rationalise that away? I’m particularly interested in how you explain the conversions of Paul and James, both sceptics like you until they met face to face with the resurrected Jesus. Accounts of both conversions come complete with extra Biblical support from both friends and enemies of Christianity. What do you do with that kind of information?

“People are often willing to die for beliefs that aren't true.”

Yes but they aren’t willing to die for THEIR OWN set of lies. And even if someone WAS willing to endure extended torture for a story that wasn't true - for HIS lie. It would be one thing for ONE person to die for a lie that he’d made up but we’ve got extra Biblical support, again from both enemies and friends of Christianity that prove the historicity of numerous Jesus' disciples willingness to live lives of hardship and to be tortured to death for what you are proposing to be THEIR lie. They were willing to give up everything that most people consider to be of worldly importance in order to promote, again, what you say if pure fabrication. Do you really think that probable? People that I’ve read, people who themselves intimately know about conspiracies because they’ve been involved in them believe that it is utterly impossible that a group of people would go to their deaths via torture without most of them caving in and telling the truth.

“Talk about how great it makes you feel that a lapsed-Christian, now-heathen like me is going to suffer for eternity if that pleases you.”

That doesn’t make me feel good! I think that it’s profoundly sad. I think it's tragic! That’s why I write what I do. It might not be effective in your case or in any case, but I don’t know what else to do. I only know that I not willing to go to my grave without doing something.

“But your attempts to argue history are quite feeble. Details in these accounts could exist for any number of reasons. Some may be true.”

Actually, and I’m not saying this to be confrontational or mean spirited, these arguments only seem feeble to those who are completely ignorant of the ways and means of historical scholarship. If you will notice, throughout these posts, and particularly in that one response that you asked for re: Extra Biblical confirmation about events surround the resurrection of Jesus, I’m not using ANY events that are described in these ancient documents that haven’t been verified and accepted by atheist, agnostic and Christian historical scholars. You don’t need to listen to me. You don’t even need to listen to the Bible. But I think that it would be quite unwise to reject what experts say just because it doesn’t support your philosophy.

Again, John, none of this is said in snark. I’m seriously trying to understand how and intelligent man like you goes about setting all this aside yet still, I assume, to see yourself as an individual with integrity and self-honesty.

John D. Moore said...

I would like to see these sources of extra biblical confirmation. So far you have pointed me to none, merely assured me of their existence.

You cite the martyrdom of the original disciples of Christ as proof that they were willing to die, but you're applying some bizarre conventional wisdom that says that people will never die for their own lies. That is a major assumption.

I don't know what you know about Mormons, but Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion, described with much corroboration and co-visioners many accounts as vivid and lucid as those from the far more likely-to-have-been-muddied-by-time stories of the Apostles and Paul of Tarsus. These visions also starred Jesus Christ, as well as God the Father and a host of other Biblical and heavenly beings. Many Mormons died at the hand of persecution similar to that tragically faced by the early Christians. Joseph Smith was shot dead and never renounced his revelations. So, applying your logic, everything he preached was necessarily true.

I'm considering whether or not to bother with a response to the epic amount of bullet points you strung together in my attempt to ferret out a source of your impenetrably sound information. I've done a brief search for your posts across the Internet, often jumping into atheist blogs' comments to pose the same sorts of questions over and over again. You're never satisfied, and I know that another similar list awaits me if I bother to even answer some points.

For what it's worth, one of your few testamentary sources for Christ's resurrection was Cicero, a man who died 43 years before Christ was born.

"Actually, and I’m not saying this to be confrontational or mean spirited, these arguments only seem feeble to those who are completely ignorant of the ways and means of historical scholarship."

ZING!!!

Makarios said...

Because this is in print I just want to say again that none of this is said in anger or frustration or anything but a tone of trying to reason with you :-)

“I would like to see these sources of extra biblical confirmation. So far you have pointed me to none, merely assured me of their existence.”

Do you think that I’m making this up? Kind of like the New Testament is this huge conspiracy of lies and fabrications. Surely you’re not saying that you’ve never heard of Tacitus, Josephus, Origen, and the like?
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“but you're applying some bizarre conventional wisdom that says that people will never die for their own lies. That is a major assumption.”

John! Come on. You can’t be serious! From your picture I know that you’ve lived long enough to have gained enough experience in life that you should at least know this much about human nature.

Humans do not endure torture for their own lie, and it’s even more absolute that when you have a group of conspirators, not ALL would maintain the lie to the bitter end. While it may be conventional or common knowledge, there is nothing bizarre about it.

Just sit and think about it for even a minute. People confess in a much shorter period of time to things they didn’t even do than do the disciple’s to their claims of seeing Jesus alive again after he’d been crucified.
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“I don't know what you know about Mormons, but Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion, described with much corroboration. . .”

There is zero corroboration from Joseph Smith. Zero! He tells of places that have never existed, for which there is zero archaeological evidence and for which there are zero CREDIBLE witnesses. Six of the eleven so called witnesses to the gold plates left the Mormon Church. And they did so simply because they knew they were part of a true conspiracy and they were about to be caught. No torture. No threat of punishment. Just the realisation that they’d been scammed.

Imagine what we would think about the credibility of the testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection if Peter, Paul, James, John and two other disciples had left Christianity within a few years. Remember, this is not like you or I leaving the faith. That happens all the time. We’re talking about Mormon first-hand eyewitnesses and first-hand eyewitnesses to Jesus’ post resurrection appearances. Not a single one of Jesus’ followers left the movement or recanted to some lie. AND there is extra Biblical testimony to prove it. Even IF and that’s a big if several persons did see gold plates, this says absolutely nothing about their content. The issue with Smith’s tales is not whether there actually were eyewitnesses to the plates, but whether the plates contained revealed truth from God. Of that we have ZERO evidence at all.

Unlike the New Testament documents, no specific archaeological findings have been linked to events and places described in The Book of Mormon. On the contrary, there is evidence showing that the Mormon documents are NOT true, including the lack of archaeological evidence where it should be if the Book of Mormon is true. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence outside of the testimony of the disciples, to support the claim of Jesus’ resurrection.

For you to compare the tales of Joseph Smith to the documents that now make up the New Testament well - now I’m starting to feel embarrassed for you. Or perhaps you’re just playing with me? Is this some kind of joke? I don’t mind having a serious discussion but if you’re just trolling, please stop.
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“far more likely-to-have-been-muddied-by-time stories of the Apostles and Paul of Tarsus.”

That is something, beyond any doubt - from a scientific basis no less - that you are not able to say with ANY credibility. John, the comments of Paul, particularly the Creed that is found in 1st Corinthians 15 is perhaps THE earliest written attestation to the life, death and resurrection Jesus.

I’ll say it again, atheist, Christian and agnostic Scholars are in agreement that Paul’s statements are absolutely historically accurate and trustworthy PRECISELY because of their early dating and eyewitness testimony. We are talking within ONE MONTH John, of Jesus resurrection that the creed was being passed around orally and within a year that Paul had received it and was passing it one to new congregations. There is no time for any muddying.
See my tomorrow’s post on the Legend challenge to this whole affair.
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“These visions also starred Jesus Christ, as well as God the Father and a host of other Biblical and heavenly beings.”

They did not!! When you say that you’re a lapsed Christian, are you saying that you were a Mormon? Good grief man, the only thing Christian about the Mormon Church is that it has the name of Jesus Christ in the title. I don’t want to go too far and belittle something that may have been an important part of your life John, but how in the world can a polytheist religion like Mormonism be equated in any sense with a monotheistic religion like Christianity?
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“Many Mormons died at the hand of persecution similar to that tragically faced by the early Christians. Joseph Smith was shot dead and never renounced his revelations. So, applying your logic, everything he preached was necessarily true."

No, no and again no. They are not similar. Again, Jesus’ disciples were not tortured to death because they believed "someone else’s" lies. As you have noted elsewhere that happens all the time and I have no doubt that it’s happened to many Mormons. The people that I’m talking about, and there were hundreds of them, were tortured to death - not shot - because they maintained to their deaths that they saw a resurrected Jesus.If it was a lie, it was their lie. That’s a huge difference.

Second, the deaths of the disciples is not the only accrediting evidence for the resurrection. We also the have
. empty tomb,
. the conversion of the sceptic Paul,
. the conversion of the sceptics and brothers of Jesus, James and Jude.
. We have appearances of Jesus attested to by multiple groups of people in multiple places in many and varied circumstances.

Their renouncing of worldly wealth and dedicating the rest of their lives to the spread of the Good New of Jesus’ resurrection all the while enduring immense hardship and ultimately death is only one means of verification.
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“I'm considering whether or not to bother with a response to the epic amount of bullet points”

There’s only one reason for an epic amount of information. That’s because there really is an enormous amount of evidence supporting the conclusion, the only conclusion that fits the known historical facts and that is that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact crucified, that He died and was buried and that He rose from the dead (not by natural but by supernatural means) on the third day.
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“For what it's worth, one of your few testamentary sources for Christ's resurrection was Cicero, a man who died 43 years before Christ was born.”

Yikes! My apologies. You are right and I am wrong. When I get a chance I’ll edit the posts to correct this mistake. I had been meaning to insert him later on for something he wrote about the horrors of crucifixion and his name seems to have made it into the wrong paragraph. My bad.

While we’re on the subject of Cicero you might be interested to note that nine SECULAR (I push caps on because secular seems to be unusually important to sceptics - like Christians would only lie about their experiences), non Christian sources mention Jesus within 150 years of Jesus’ death: The Jewish historian Josephus, The Roman historian Tacitus, The Roman politician Pliny the Younger, The freed slave who wrote histories Phlegon, The Greek satirist Lucian, The Roman philosopher Celsus and historians Suetonius Thallus as well as Mara Bar Serapion. In all at least forty-two authors, nine of them secular, mention Jesus within 150 years of His death.

Now, stick with me here, in comparison, let’s look at Julius Caesar, was one of Rome’s most prominent and famous leaders. Yet only five sources report his military conquests. We have Caesar himself, Cicero (there’s the connection), Livy, The Salona Decree, and Appian. No one questions whether Julius made a tremendous impact on the Roman Empire, yet more NON-CHRISTIAN authors alone comment on Jesus than all of the sources who mentioned Julius Caesar’s great military conquests within 150 years of his death.

One more example. Tiberius Caesar was the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus’ ministry and execution. Tiberius is mentioned by ten sources within 150 years of his death, Tacitus, Suetonius, Velleius paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Seneca, Valerius maximus, Josephus and Luke. Compare that to Jesus’ forty-two total sources in the same lenth of time. That’s more than four times the number of total sources who mention the Roman emperor during roughly the same period. If we only considered the number of secular non-Christian sources who mention Jesus and Tiberius with 150 years of their lives, we arrive at a tie of nine each.

I can’t remember where I was going with that but I’m sure it was quite profound :-)
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"Actually, and I’m not saying this to be confrontational or mean spirited, these arguments only seem feeble to those who are completely ignorant of the ways and means of historical scholarship."
ZING!!!"

No, that is not a zinger. I meant “ignorant” not in a pejorative sense but in the fullest and true sense of the word - lacking understanding, lacking information as to how historical scholarship works. It is not a put down John. It’s just a statement.

Gotta go and put kids to bed. Good night.