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April 04, 2007

Comments

Paul, you really are a quick wit, and a good writer...

...but when are you going to mention something about the religious, theological, or philosophical?

...now if we could just turn your attention to serious matters...

Have we ever discussed things of substance, or have we always just played with each other like this?

Tom -

Regarding your 4/7,8:14 pm reply.....let's back up one step because, I think we're talking past each other again.

There are just (2) facts on the table and maybe I went past them too fast so let's dive a little deeper into what we know.

We know that all (4) gospels record Christ's death by crucifixion. While I believe the bible is an inspired text, I understand you do not and respecting your position, I am not suggesting that you assume my position to acknowledge Christ's death by crucifixion as a "fact" of history. For our discussion, I am referencing the new testament books as reliable historical documents ONLY.

Further, we know that the following (5) extra-biblical sources record the death of Jesus by crucifixion as well:
- Josephus
- Tacitus
- Lucian
- Mara Bara Seripion
- The Talmud.

When referring to the death of Jesus by crucifixion as a "fact", it is because these documents from ancient history record it as such. It is a fact that the (4) gospels record the death of Christ as do these other extra-biblical texts. Calling the death of Jesus by crucifixion a "hypothesis" or "conjecture" is a category error. For example, it is not a "hypothesis" that there are blog postings by someone claiming to be Tom at str.org. That is a fact. You may not be Tom. But I don't have any reason to believe you are not. I don't have any significant reasons to believe you are not who you say you are. It is a hypothesis of mine that you are a man and that you are a non-Christian. But I wouldn't call those assumptions facts....clear distinction there.

Again - let me be clear about what I am trying to establish with you in the discussion up to this point - a.) that Jesus died by crucifixion and b.) that the disciples believed he rose from the dead.

Now, believing something does not make it true. The disciples may have been wrong...there could be a whole host of reasons why they believed what they proclaimed. And we can examine this as a possible explanation later.

But for right now, I'm very narrowly trying to anchor our discussion in something real....in objective reality that both you and I have access to and can then as you say "inductively draw conclusions". Until we establish some basic facts that are as widely accepted as even the "Jesus Seminar" folks, we have nothing to inductively explain and we end up discussing the musings of our imaginations instead of the real world.

Now, you bring up a good, thoughtful point. You say you're reluctant to call the crucifixion of Jesus a "fact because the Romans kept incredibly good records of their activities, especially their legal proceedings" and you don't think there are any known documents that record Pilate trying Jesus or executing him. Does this correctly summarize your objection to fact #1?

Thanks,
John

Hi Tom,

"Paul, you really are a quick wit, and a good writer..."

Well, thanks. :) Seems like you enjoy the "friendly" banter... (is it just the attention?). ;)

"...but when are you going to mention something about the religious, theological, or philosophical?"

Tom, as I have mentioned, I don't even know where to begin with you. This is why I originally suggested that discussions be kept short and to the point, so that each response isn't multiple pages in length, on half a dozen issues.

But, in the interest of dialogue, I responded to your other posts (see newer thread... I forget the name).

"...now if we could just turn your attention to serious matters..."

Fine with me. I'll do my best to keep more civil. :)

"Have we ever discussed things of substance, or have we always just played with each other like this?"

I think we tried, but it was like teenagers fumbling around in the back seat of a Chevy. (... don't take the simile too far...) :)

Let's try... let's take one question and run with it. (By the way, that's what you did in the newer post we're bantering in, and it is starting to look promising...)

At the risk of encouraging you gentlemen...

Tom, John Willis, please continue this discussion. I would be most delighted to follow along, and in fact I was rather sad in a way to come to the last post and find so much of your discourse not yet complete.

I hope this is not too presumptuous of me, but I am just now struggling with similar issues after a life of faith (20+ years) and I can't tell you how interested I am in this discussion - while not possessing the historical or mental acumen of any of you.

Unfortunately, the "comments" section of a blog isn't really the best place for these discussions to occur, since the post slides off after several days. If you want to view such material in a more robust and suitable location, check out:
www.theologyweb.com

That's unfortunately true, as I really wanted to see this discussion continue.

Whew, the site you linked is rather menacing on first glance - maybe because I've read far too much today. Is it only religious scholars there though?

And is there a specific thread or area you can point me at? And is there any hope of this discussion continuing somewhere?

Sorry for all the questions.

Yeah Step...I think the "Our certificate of debt" Blog is where all the action is about to take place.

Unfortunately...I'm tired. Long day at work. I'll pick up the pace tomorrow. I used the little time I had tonight to respond to Derek.

I really want to blog on Melinda's new "Pluralism" venue too.

Actually, wait, I owe John a response. I'll get to that too.

Step -

If Tom worked too hard today to muster the mental gas to throw a few skeptical hammers while I present FACTS, I don't mind discussing the resurrection with you my friend!

Later,
John

(It's a joke Tom!)

I've banged out a few masterpieces even in my sloth.

See you tomorrow

Well, I'm not quite so sure. While I'm enjoying the discussion, let's not forget a gang of facts beats up even the best "masterpiece" of a theory everyday of the week.

Step - I've got a "hall pass" from the lady of the house until 9pm and you can reach me by email anytime. As I told Tom earlier, I am not a historian by trade, or a scholar of the resurrection in the formal sense. Just a believer for a lot of reasons...one of them being there are really good reasons to believe. I don't mean for that to sound like a bumper sticker, because it isn't. It's just that I was raised in a Catholic home, but didn't "get" the Gospel until later in life when I was able to further research and explore my intellectual objections to Christianity.

In retrospect, I see God's hand in this process all along the way, but while it was happening, I thought it was all me!

As I have only been a Christian for a little less then (5) years, I still find myself questioning and doubting many of the cores elements of the Christian worldview.

And this isn't what I would call a primary argument for Christianity, but it's something C.S. Lewis also wrote about - that if Christianity is true, then we should expect that when we think we just have "it figured out", you learn or experience something that requires a modification to your view of it. (paraphrase). In other words - the real world works this way!....and if Christianity is true, we should expect it to not be simple...it's messy and not tidy and just when we think we have mastered something that was a significant questions for us, we get to the top of the hill and realize there are a dozen more valleys to explore.

There are a lot of things in the bible for me to "wrap my brain around" and accept on purely rational grounds. And I think this is exactly what we should expect if the bible really is God's word....it would stretch our understanding...it would require study. A lifetime really...of exploration and discovery.

And I think if there are good reasons to believe the beginning of the book (that we were created and did not evolve) and that the resurrection is true, then I think everything else follows. That doesn't mean I don't have questions about the "everything else", just that the created world and the resurrection are really the linch pins that everything else turns.

Later,
John

Tom, thanks. I think I found the thread:
http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2007/04/our_certificate.html

Looks like I've got some catching up to do!

John, I'm actually several hours ahead of your timezone, so missed your post last night.

I will want to email with you and maybe open some new lines of discussion, but first I just want to follow what's going on and stick with one thing at a time.

I will say that my main problem has been an increasingly humanistic worldview, and an attempt to openly understand other worldviews led to me now questioning my own worldview.

Your argument on what we should expect from Christianity if it were true actually was a helpful reminder - but it's not a good argument in that it pretty much allows for continual modification of any religion (such as mormonism) and claiming that as truth.

But let's not discuss that yet. I'll jump over to the other thread if that's where all the action is. :D Keep going, guys, I'll catch up with you and ask if I have questions or disagree with anything.

I've got sometime at lunch today....

Step wrote: "Your argument on what we should expect from Christianity if it were true actually was a helpful reminder - but it's not a good argument in that it pretty much allows for continual modification of any religion (such as mormonism) and claiming that as truth."

Awesome....great point. Thank you for pressing me to be much clearer with this.

You are exactly right - the religion or the worldview should not change or evolve to force it into an intellectually acceptable position. However, because we are talking about God and Him revealing Himself to us through a text, then we should expect that our understanding of that text to change. Critical distinction there. That's why it is so important to know church history...at least a cursory working knowledge of the fundamentals.

There are customs and views accepted as "biblical" and traditional today in our American church that are absolutely foreign to the early church. The rapture is one of them. Now I don't think whether or not there is a rapture is a death blow to Christianity. My view is that the important things are repeated in scripture and the less important things are presented with less emphasis. The resurrection is not one of those lesser things. It is prophesied from the beginning and is the turning point of the New Testament. It is the litmus test of Christianity as Paul tells us in 1 Cor 15.

We don't have the samething with Mormonism. The missionaries that come to my door, tell me that in order for me to know that Mormonism is true that I have to pray and God will reveal to me that the book of mormon is true. I tell them, my problem is that I prayed and God told me it is the work of the devil!....so what do we do now? There is a fundamntal difference there in methodologies.

The traditional Christian view of truth is correspondence....that the central truth claims must correspond to reality - to something outside of the religious text that makes those claims true. This is not the case with the book of mormon.

While I think internal, logical coherence of a religious system is important, I don't think it is more important then correspondence to reality. If the fundamental truth claims of a religious view do correpond to reality, then what appear as internal logical conflicts of the text are more likely the result of my false assumptions of that text then an actual contradiction.

Briefly, this is what I mean - if Jesus died and rose from the dead, - if this is true - then what He says about the afterlife (and basically everythng this side of eternity too) obviously carries enourmous weight. When I approach a problem in the text, having first satisfied my doubts that the text is reliable, then I can safely proceed in my search for understanding, knowing that a reasonable God has placed a reasonable answer there for me to discover.

Now, there are somethings He has not revealed to us. I believe the revelation is true, but it is not exhaustive. But again - the resurrection is not one of those things. There is amazingly incredibly good evidence for this event, which is why it makes such a popular topic of study for even secular historians.

Regards,
John

Step,

Don't sell yourself short. A college professor I had said this once to the whole class.

"Always treat your own mind as of significance".

I wrote it down and kept it on a post-it. It's good advice. No matter where you are on the "learning" scale, your opinion always matters. In fact, it matters most since it is the one you have to live with.

This is like a ropin rodeo. Step has "stepped up" to be wrangled in.

Now it is up to John and I to present alternatives that could decide his eternal fate. Will he "believe" in the historical Jesus? So much hangs in the balance. Go git em evangelist. Yeehah.

I'm just kidding. This is like court. John and I are opposing attorneys charged with explaining the "facts" of the case to the jury, who is Step in this case. We are in the "court of public opinion". Or is it the "court of popular opinion". Let's see.

No matter what the outcome, it is a matter of step "appropriating" christianity himself, a very deep, profound personal matter that will determine how he conducts himself. But how he conducts himself doesn't depend on presenting historical facts. It depends on his situation in life. It depends on the people around him, and his loved ones. It is his relation to these people that matters, not a relation to historical facts, unless historical arguments come between them and then he has to consider his future.

OK, first let's address your "non-canonical" sources.

1. Josephus.

Josephus was a roman Jew who wrote a history, transcribed events supposed to have happened, of Roman Judea during the rule of Vespasian.

Remember that Josephus did not think Jesus was the "Son of Man" or the "Son of God"…but his leader, his emporer, was the supposed "Son of God". Normally the Roman ruler was deified as a "representative of Jupitor", but Josephus used the generic word "GOD", and so confused the Roman top god with the Jewish top god "Yahweh".

So we cannot believe that Josephus was testifying to ANOTHER "son of god" or "son of man" named Jesus.

Plus if we accept Josephus as a source attesting to the life of Jesus, we should also take seriously his claims concerning the history of Antiochus, the Seleucid King who overran Jerusalem (twice), and understand that it contradicts most "prophecies" in the book of Daniel.

But regarding Jesus, Josephus' most famous passage is called the "testimonium flavianum". The problem is this passage suffers from misunderstandings among translations and additions since there is known to exist a copy of the "testimonium flavianum" without the controversial statements "He was the Christ" or "He was the messiah".

For the sake of controversy, I will post the most "unfriendly" translations to illustrate the difficulty with using this passage as testimony.

Josephus writes…"Now about this time arose an occasion for new disturbances, a certain Jesus, a wizard of a man, if indeed he may be called a man, who was the most monstrous of men, whom his disciples call a son of God, as having done wonders such as no man has ever done.... He was in fact a teacher of astonishing tricks to such men as accept the abnormal with delight.... And he seduced many Jews and many also of the Greek nation, and was regarded by them as the Messiah.... And when, on the indictment of the principal men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, still those who before had admired him did not cease to rave. For it seemed to them that having been dead for three days, he had appeared to them alive again, as the divinely-inspired prophets had foretold -- these and ten thousand other wonderful things -- concerning him. And even now the race of those who are called 'Messianists' after him is not extinct." R. Eisler's reconstruction.

Josephus is just reporting on the history of the movement via hearsay. He attests to the movement, not to the "divine" status of their leader. He says his followers believed Jesus to be divine, as Josephus believed Vespasian to be divine, and their movement had not gone away.

Tacitus Annals 15.44

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, [that he was responsible for the fire that razed Rome] Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [Latin spelling of the Greek `Christ'] from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre 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. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired."

Tacitus, like Josephus, attests to the movement itself. That christianity was started and that it persists is not the issue. The question is "how did it start"? Tacitus does not attest to the resurrection.

Lucian's account is also hearsay.

(Lucian is also writing in the 2nd century.)

Lucian writes…""The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the comtempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property."

He simply describes the movement, and does not attest to believe what the Christians believe, but only attests that THEY believe it.

This stuff is easy to look up...

here's a few links...or find your own links...

http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~humm/Topics/JewishJesus/

http://www.utoronto.ca/religion/323/r_roman_writers.htm

Now what does that do to the status of your so called "facts"?

Well, they are "contested facts" if that is not already a contradiction in terms, or an oxymoron.

Not only that, but they are "reasonably contested". That is, using the same source documents, and the same power of "reason" we don't know what to conclude about these "facts", and therefore they are not "facts".

As I've said before, "reason" would also lead us see that inductive evidences are never "facts", as in "indisputable facts" or "absolutely certain". Inductive reasoning can never lead to "absolute certainty". (Constrast that with the born-again experience as "evidence"…or personal evidence, and DOES lead to "absolute certainty"…properly understood it is absolute certainty of "faith"…and that depends on your devotion, and of course the proper "object" of devotion, which is not a set of "facts" but devotion to others in our daily lives, in our existence, where the born-again experience always happens.)

It is as if we dragged witnesses before the court and asked "Did you see this Jesus resurrect and ascend?" and they all say one by one "No, we didn't see THAT, but the christians sure do believe it!"

Now the gospels of the NT are traditionally regarded as eyewittness testimony. Now here we supposedly have some eyewittnesses to the resurrection and ascension. But there are also other "gospels" that are not "canonical" and must be addressed.

There is also the problem of "harmonizing" the gospel accounts since these "eyewittnesses" do not tell the same story.

At this point, Christians use a tricky defense. They say the discrepancies give even MORE weight to their testimonies since in everday criminal proceedings it is common for eyewittnesses to describe different details. So it is up to the reader to decide if they really do "jive" up to their own standard. It is no longer a matter of "reasonable doubt". If it were a matter of meeting a standard of "reasonable doubt" then the fact that they tell different stories is reasonable enough to assume that they were not "eyewittness accounts".

So what do we have?

We have a bunch of writers that attest to the existence of the christian movement which is not in question.

Or we have contradictory historical accounts pertaining to the life of Yeshu.

Now what about the "Canonical" sources?

Remember, the writings of Paul are also "canonical" and PRE-DATE the writings of the gospel "eyewittness" accounts. (If you believe the historical scholarship about Paul's writings. It is my contention that Paul first heard of Jesus from James and Peter, then went away for 14! Years, then came back to Jerusalem to "instruct them how to preach the gospel" as he says in Galations.

So the canonical gospels are often devoid of theological explanation. It does not say how to "become" a christian if you were not one of the original disciples. You need Paul to explain that. Paul has his "born-again" experience on the road to Damascus, and this is what it is like to be a "follower at second hand", who did not witness Jesus' ministry.

Paul explains that Jesus is to infiltrate your mind, infiltrate your spirit, infiltrate your body, so that you have "Christ IN YOU". That is the "secret of the ages", or the "secret of the mysteries" according to Paul. When Christ enters into you, you are said to experience a rebirth, become a "new creature", and no longer feel "in bondage" to your evil desires. (which Paul usually takes to be sexual in nature, like a St. Augustine, Paul was famous for struggling with the "sin in his members")

Ok, Tom, so I would take your several posts above to say that you are agreeing then that Christ did exist and was crucified? Or do you think that he did not exist, or that it is uncertain whether he existed and was killed?

John, that is a good point about Mormonism. Still, in a 1000 years will they point back to all the testimony now from believers as proof the miracles actually happened, gold plates and all? I'm asking you to predict the future which is of course impossible, so maybe the related question is, does this apply to other "mainstream" religions such as Islam - do they claim miracles and events that Christianity specifically denies happening? I am not enough of a scholar to know the answer to that, so perhaps someone here does.

Also, on this comment of yours:
"my problem is that I prayed and God told me it is the work of the devil!" Do you actually say that, and did it actually happen? I guess I haven't heard from God in so long that, now that I am questioning myself, I don't remember what it is like to hear from God. But this is rather off-topic from our focus here, so let's not lose that - I want to get back around to today's experience later, though Tom seems anxious to talk about it now.

Tom, I disagree. There are practical and day-to-day real life issues at stake - but not at this moment, not for me. I am interested in (and struggling with) the intellectual and historical and worldview issues, not with emotional or relational issues (this is not 100% true probably, but it is accurate for the purposes of this discussion so far - that is to say, we are not far enough along on the intellectual issues that there is any value in determining whether I also have other motives in the way - though I suspect if the Christian worldview is correct that I do).

OK, put it this way, you can "struggle" with the "intellectual problems and historical problems all you want.

You can study them professionally. You can spend the rest of your life learning ancient languages, and researching the primary sources, the papyri, the history of the canonization of the bible, and all the relevant written texts, in an attempt to syntesize a consistent view.

But ultimately you will have to answer the question. You will have to decide. What is it that will ultimately decide this question. When is enough research enough? What if the result of your research is not a unified, sythesized, harmonious view, but a complicated hodge-podge of views. What will finally push you "over the edge"?

Nowadays, with so much information to be processed, you may never come to a decisive point.

But you may come to another decisive point if life, when you become devoted, and acquire a defining comittment.

You may be able to suspend judgement as long as you are being "objective", but ultimately you will have to become subjective, extremely passionate, about it.

Mostly people set about memorizing history to "impress their friends", or justify their "beliefs", and hope that acquiring "beliefs" will produce experiences.

As Nietzsche says...it is not the belief that informs the experience, but the experience that informs the belief, and furthermore...if you've had the experience you don't need the belief.

It is all uncertain.

That is why it is so strange that this question should decide your fate.

If you want to impress your friends read the "Philosophy of Science" literature on the nature of induction, and inductive evidence, and the "scientific method".

Historical Christians want to solve the problem scientifically, objectively. But they forget it may be "undecideable".

For example, who prevailed in Sennacharib's seige of Jerusalem?

If their are differing written accounts,and there are more for one explanation than the other, that just proves that more accounts of the one explanation have survived. It is not "reasonable" to assume this is "the objective truth", that it represents what "really happened".

The muslims believe that Muhammed went into a trance like state and rocked back and forth while sitting in a circle, while his scribes sat outside the circle and transcribed what he said.

The muslims make a huge deal out of the fact that Muhammed was "illiterate" and yet what was coming out of his mouth was a "pure" form of the Arabic language usually spoken by well educated men.

It is the Muslim belief that the words coming out of Muhammed's mouth were literally "the word of God". It was not a claim to "divine inspiration" the way the christian writers claim, but it was using Muhammed as a "channel" for Allah to speak.

That is why the Koran is "divine". It is not the god talking through a mediator, it is god speaking.

So if you believe that Allah pulled off this "miracle" and spoke the Koran then you are muslim.

This is supposedly the same god as YHWH of Abraham. But the Jews do not recognize this as an act of their god. Niether do the Christians.

The important point is that they all have different versions of history and different visions of the future. Jews expect their messiah to come (for the first time) and subdue their enemies and rule from Jerusalem (Zion). Muslims expect their imam to come back and subdue their enemies and rule from Mecca. And Christians expect their messiah to come (for the second time) and eliminate the non-believers, and establish a "new Jerusalem".

Obviously they can't all be right, and while they are fighting over who has the right history, they pick up arms and fight.

The answer is, nobody knows what the future holds. You have to face it. You determine your future. And if you think any of those "gods" are coming...then keep waiting.

Tom -

Thanks for the replies.

I have an idea...it's not a new one...actually it's one I've mentioned here before....and I think we can save you so much time on this thread, you'll have more time to beat me up on other threads.

Here we go.....
Two facts. Just two. Not one, not three. Just two. Dose. Zwei. Two. The facts don't mean anything. They exist in a vacuum. We only want to know two things and two things only. We don't care if Josephus believed Vespasian was divine or if Josephus drove a vespa...we aren't interested if Christ rose from the dead or if Zeus walked out of Cesar's palace in Vegas. We are not interested at all in any of the theological, moral, political, socio-economical, spatial, physical, or emotional implications of these two, very narrow, very specific facts of history.

To use your court analogy...I am submitting evidence. If I can't submit Christ's death as a fact, then you have to provide stronger evidence. You can't just use my evidence that supports my conclusion and editorial-ize. You have to present something even more reliable that supports your view that Christ didn't die...or that he never lived. When the evidence I present is (9) independent sources...all from the 1st century...and they all attest to the same thing - THAT JESUS CHRIST DIED ON THE CROSS....then you have to provide FACTS that are significantly better then the one's you're critiquing!

You asked me a question about history and I want to make sure I answer it completely. And if you want to beat me up over it fine - but let's do it slowly and thoroughly - Agreed?

I tell you what.. let's forget two....let's go back to one and stay there until we're done.... Do you accept the death of Christ as a fact of history? And if not, why?

I look forward to your clear, concise reply of either "yes"....or a one paragraph explanation with links to (15) historical 1st century ancient documents verified by scholars for thousands of years that have just become known by the general public because the Pope was hiding them that all record Christ was taken up in a spaceship.

Regards,
John

Step wrote: "Also, on this comment of yours:
"my problem is that I prayed and God told me it is the work of the devil!" Do you actually say that, and did it actually happen?"

Yes, I actually say that. No, it didn't actually happen. I did not hear from God about the book of Mormon in the way my missionary friends are claiming they heard from God about the book of Mormon. It is a tactic I use to steer the conversation into the realm of objective reality, that is verifiable by something other then a "burning in the bosom". When I say God told me TBOM is the work of the devil it puts my Mormon friends and I on a level playing field. We both have subjective, contradictory testimonies and now we are lost on a sea of relativism. Without some thing objective to settle the discussion, it's either a very awkward moment, or it's very effective. (or both). Remember, these Mormon missionaries are knocking on my door to convert me and my family. It's not unfair of me to use their test in my way.

I say I use this test in "my way"...meaning the Christian way, so to speak. You see it's not that I don't think God told me TBOM is from the devil, I think He did. It's just that I don't think He whispered it in my ear...or burned my bosom or that I heard a voice. I mean I guess if other people hear the voice of God, who am I to say they haven't? They're the one's having the internal mental experience. What access do I have to their internal experience, unless they tell me about it?

The way God told me the TBOM is from the devil is actually something a lot more reliable then that. I'm not sure, if I'd recognize the still small voice of God over my own stubborn thoughts anyhow. I know that God tells me through scripture that there will be false teachers...that I should test all things....and that I should beware of those who preach a different gospel then Paul preached. Curiously, my Mormon friends don't deny the inspiration of the bible - they just don't think it's been translated correctly. Again - we're back to our agreement and your very thoughtful point, that we can't just make this up as we go along. So I'll leave it at that.

By contrast, Christianity does not have this problem. We don't have to rely on our subjective experiences ONLY to verify if our religious text is true. I write "only" in capitals because I want to make sure our friend Tom does not misunderstand what I am saying. Subjective, emotional, personal experiences of God are a.) possible, b.) emotional, c.) real...and I would say highly likely that everyone has experienced one at one time or another.

The litmus test for Christianity is an event outside of the religious text. Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead? End of story. Find the bones and what I thought I knew about my subjective, personal experience with Jesus Christ, over the past 5 years would have to be explained in some other fashion, because that man is still dead and I would then be the most committed hedonistic Nietzchian that ever walked the earth.

Take care my friend.

John

John…

I will give you more than 15.

I'll give you all the pertinant documents.

This is a great site!

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/asbook.html

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/asbook11.html

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/asbook10.html

Let me know when you are done.

Of course you could just take the easy way out and deny that any of this "history" is relevant, but that would be rather "subjective" opinion. Like the pope who refused to look into the telescope.

It is not as if the Pope suppressed all these documents (though the papacy did suppress many things).

It was just that for 1500 years nobody was literate! Nobody could read! Nobody had access to these documents. The catholic church read the bible TO YOU. You did not get to read the bible for yourself unless you joined their monastaries or seminaries.

Now we can all read them, and these documents are available at the push of a button.

It was public literacy that brought on the Reformation. The reason they hailed "Sola Scriptura!" is because they swore off the papacy reading the bible TO them. They could read it for themselves. Of course that was the beginning of a new era of criticism.

Tom - on a cursory glance I didn't see anything in there that answered the question. Not to be rude, but do you intend to actually answer John's question?

I do appreciate the reference site, and will spend more time there soon - I have to head off tonight for a meeting, not sure if I'll make it back on until tomorrow morning or not.

If I missed the clear answer on the site you linked to, I apologize. But can you just state whether you accept that, as best as we can currently know, Jesus died, or not?

John said..."We don't have to rely on our subjective experiences ONLY to verify if our religious text is true. "

I'm saying that if you don't have the right subjective experience you are not a true christian.

I'm saying those people who have the "born-again" experience "understand" christianity better than historical studies help you to "understand" Jesus.


John said..."The litmus test for Christianity is an event outside of the religious text."

I'm saying the "litmus test" is also an "event outside of the religious text", it is the "event" in your own personal life, dependent on your own personal circumstances, when you experience "grace", and results in a new devotion.

That is the test to understand christianity. Jesus understood this...John3:3.


John said..."Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead? End of story. Find the bones and what I thought I knew about my subjective, personal experience with Jesus Christ, over the past 5 years would have to be explained in some other fashion"

What you are saying is if I can't produce a set of 2000 year old bones, then I have to believe he is not here? Or do I have to believe that he WAS here and left?

It's such an important question....I better start looking.

You would certainly have to do some rethinking. Let's just say it would be a very powerful, personal, SUBJECTIVE experience.

John said..."I would then be the most committed hedonistic Nietzchian that ever walked the earth."

No you wouldn't...your mother would have your hide, your father would be dissapointed, you might dissapoint your whole family!

This is where we get our moralities. Our morality exists between our family members and our closest friends...the people we "love".

I don't need no fancy moral theory tied to the creation of the universe to tell me what would hurt my family.

What is it with the sexual repression thing anyway? Why is it always "hedonism" with you guys.

Sheesh.

For the sake of argument, I'll say my best guess is that Jesus existed and he died.

Now what?

Thank you Tom. Although I would love to ignore your qualifier, I can not.

If you have to write "for the sake of argument" after all that has been presented in favor of this fact and the lack of opposing, relevant evidence, then I am not going to drag you kicking and screaming into the next line of evidence.

Respectfully, it is disingenous of you to question me about the resurrection and then when I'm presenting my case for you to challenge every fact I present without opposing facts. In all due respect, if Jesus Christ doesn't even exist in your opinion and you are merely stroking me to only grant this "for the sake of argument", then how can you expect me to take precious time away from my family and my livelyhood to convince you that someone who never lived or died, rose from the dead?

I fell off the turnip truck, but it wasn't yesterday my friend!

Facts matter. Your conclusion as to what the facts "mean" is your business - that's your inductive conclusion that you can doubt. You can draw your own opinion, but you can't draw your own facts.

"Now what" you ask? You tell me Tom.

So far you have presented no credible evidence that directly attests to witnessing two miraculous events...the resurrection and the ascension.

So I will grant you "death" occured. However it should be stated that no Roman record of his trial and execution exists, only the obvious fact that the christian movement grew after Jesus' death.

Now your theory is that the 4 canonical gospels are credible eyewitness testimonies, testifying to the miraculous resurrection and ascension.

It is my theory the Paul informed the disciples how to "preach the gospel" of their dead leader's cause according to the dying-godman religions of the day.

Now what? How can we settle this question? How can I "become" a Christian if I remain "objective" and open to the idea that there is another explanation for the rise of Christianity, and for the spread of christianity?

Is there another experience that informs my "belief"? That sways me either way?

John said..."You can draw your own opinion, but you can't draw your own facts."

Wait a minute...how do I establish fact? Do I not do it for myself?

John said..."Your conclusion as to what the facts "mean" is your business - that's your inductive conclusion that you can doubt."

I think you are using the term "inductive" incorrectly.

If I have already established "the facts" and then it is a seperate process to "interpret" the facts, then I think you mean "hermeneutic".

I am not doubting the "interpretation of the facts"...I am doubting your facts as facts.

I never said he didn't "exist".

You don't have to convince me that he lived and died...just that he resurrected and ascended.

That's quite a claim. I may need more than just a few eyewitnesses. Do you believe in UFO's?

BTW John, please don't neglect your family on my account.

John said..."Respectfully, it is disingenous of you to question me about the resurrection and then when I'm presenting my case for you to challenge every fact I present without opposing facts."

What would you accept as "opposing facts"? Do I need a document that says it didn't happen in order to establish your document as false?

The answer is no. Your document might still be false.

That's my point...both sides use the same relevant source documents...but they draw very different conclusions.

Tom, it would help if you pointed to a document that says "it didn't happen", yes. :)

But I assume we are no longer discussing whether Jesus existed and died. That means we are now discussing whether his believers really believed he rose from the dead. Then I think we get to the difficult part, the part you outlined above.

Do you have any documents or evidence that indicates the followers did not believe he actually rose (regardless of whether this was due to Paul's masterful story-telling or an actual event?

I ask because I'm curious to get to the interesting part - discussion of the mystery religions and what possible part they played, what we know about them, if they provide an actual realistic framework. We're going to have to get detailed though - so let's discuss one question at a time - this format doesn't allow for more. (or we could move to a forum if you guys can agree on one - but perhaps this format forces us to think more carefully about how we construct our paragraphs?)

Tom wrote: "I never said he didn't "exist"."

Then what are you saying?!?

Tom wrote: "You don't have to convince me that he lived and died..."

How can you even write such a thing after what you just put us through?...after all this "well I don't know if we can trust Josephus because he claimed Vespanian was divnine, blah, blah, blah,...?" It's blantant contradictory statements like these Tom that are making it excruciatingly hard for me to take anything you write seriously.

Tom wrote: "Do I need a document that says it didn't happen in order to establish your document as false?"

Tom - this is a great question. I have one for you:

Do I need a document that says your version of history didn't happen in order to establish the documents you haven't presented are false?

The answer is no. Your document that you haven't presented might still be false. All I need are reliable, early ancient documents that virtually accepted by all secular that support the facts I am claiming. I have not claimed the resurrection is true.

Tom - you can sit back, without doing any work and take pot shots at my theory - which is built with factual contraints - in favor of your imagined theory which does not have any such ties. But no one is under any rational obligation to even consider your view.

I could be wrong about the resurrection. Now, I don't think I am. I don't think I am because I have significantly better reasons to believe it did happen then it didn't happen. That's it.

I'm laying out those reasons for you. These reasons are facts established from multiple, early, ancient documents, that virtually all the skeptical secular critics acknowledge as trustworthy.

John said..."How can you even write such a thing after what you just put us through?...after all this "well I don't know if we can trust Josephus because he claimed Vespanian was divnine, blah, blah, blah,...?" It's blantant contradictory statements like these Tom that are making it excruciatingly hard for me to take anything you write seriously."

...Because there are different extant versions of Josephus' famous "Testimonium Flavianum". One is "christian friendly" and one is not.

Your naivete on these scholarly matters is "making it excruciatingly hard for me to take anything you write seriously".

Josephus testifies to the movement, not the resurrection event, but that the followers of jesus "believed" he was the "Son of God" and "appeared to them after three days". Josephus considered his Emporer to be the "Son of God". (but that's beside the point)

John said..."Do I need a document that says your version of history didn't happen in order to establish the documents you haven't presented are false?"

I presented EVERYTHING.

Did you go to the Fordham university SOURCEBOOK?

Are you not familiar with all of these documents?

Then how can construct historical theories based on documents if you have not accounted for all the documents?

John said..."But no one is under any rational obligation to even consider your view."

That is like saying that the court is not under any obligation to hear evidence. What are you trying to do, suppress evidence?

John said..."How can you even write such a thing after what you just put us through?..."

You do understand that claiming someone lived and died is different in kind from claiming someone "resurrected" and "ascended" don't you?

We haven't even considered theological arguments, such as why resurrect if he is my substitute, and why leave us here without his direct assistance.

These are two different kinds of claims. You have attempted to lump in his "crucifixion" with Jesus' death, even though there is difference.

There is no evidence from Pilate's court of Jesus' trial and sentence.

So, as I said, for the sake of argument, let's just assume the Romans threw him up on a cross without a trial, or without a record of the trial. OK, we have another failed messiah (there were others). Now what?

(BTW-According to Matthew and Mark, Jesus was both tried and sentenced by the Jewish priests of the Sanhedrin. Luke has it that he was tried by the Sanhedrin but not sentenced by him. And according to John, which is late, Jesus does not appear before the Sanhedrin at all.)

Now you were about to claim he resurrected right? What documents do you have that testify to that event? What documents do you have that testify to the ascension? Just a few incongruent "gospels"? If this were just a normal historical claim, I might only need the word of a few zealots, but it is not a normal claim, they are testifying to miraculous events.

(BTW-Tacitus and others call Pilate a "procurator" when he was a "prefect"...just an aside that suggests even these outside sources are not familiar with all the "facts")

I still maintain that Jesus' movement would not have succeeded if it were not tied to an experience available to everybody, not just the academics, that the "truth of Christianity" is "being born again" which "corresponds" to an experience available to us in our culture - rebirth.

So if I get some guys together and agree to write a story, and we each make a copy, then how can you disprove the story? I understand you need to look "outside" the story to see if details in the story are "corroborated" elsewhere, but you can never "prove" it (inductively), and you will never find another story to "refute" the one we wrote.

Now add 2000 years. And try to find a document that "refutes" the story.

Porphyry, Plotinus' biographer, did write a supposed "devastating" book about the Christians, but the Catholics destroyed it and it only survives in fragments.

If you take the Talmudic references to Yeshua as referring to your Jesus (some debate that this Yeshua is the Christian martyr) then it says he died and was burried. (also that he had 5 disciples instead of 12 with completely different names)

Do I really have to drag them all onto this blog. I thought the fordham.edu sourcebook was everything. I mean, I take it you guys are willing to do a little work. I don't think this blog is a good place to post LONG referrences.

Tom,

Come now, you didn't post "EVERYTHING". ;) And if you did, that wouldn't help your case - you would want to point specific pieces that we can then discuss. It looks like you studied history - I did no such thing, so I am way out of my depth here, so that may be part of the problem.

I did go to all three links you provided, though I only spent a short time there. I am there again now, but the links 10 and 11 didn't tell me anything about the points we are currently discussing. I now see that the mystery religion section from link 10 is more substantive than I thought, so I will read more there now.

So - where are we now? For the sake of this discussion, Tom has agreed that Jesus died. In your last post, it looks like you also agree that the believers thought he appeared to them after three days. So we agree that someone thought Jesus had died and then rose from the dead?

John, there is a question about different extant versions of Josephus' "Testimonium Flavianum". What do you make of that? And where are we if Tom does agree on your first two points for this discussion, that Jesus died and his believers thought he rose again? Can we take it from there, or do either of you object?

Tom, let's table the mystery religion question as well as the resurrection question until it actually becomes relevant to the discussion - we can't take this whole thing in one bite, and we shouldn't put the horse before the cart. (Though I suspect we are almost there).

Tom, Thank you for those links, btw. I had not found resources such as this in the past.

The mystery religions section is not easily yielding its fruit, though - most of the documents are from 50-300 CE, and I am not finding so far anything that talks about the god-man myths or anything else related. Can you, when we get to that part of the discussion, provide some direct and explicit links (even if several pieces are needed to put together the puzzle)?

Just a clarification...

Step said..."In your last post, it looks like you also agree that the believers thought he appeared to them after three days. So we agree that someone thought Jesus had died and then rose from the dead?"

There are two claims being made here. One claim is that we have some "beleivers" that attest to witnessing Jesus' presence "post-resurrection".

The other is that "someone thought Jesus rose from the dead".

The latter is obvious. Billions of people for the last 2000 years have "thought Jesus rose from the dead".

Let's stick with the "eywitness testimonies" if that is what they are.

Step said..."Tom, Thank you for those links, btw. I had not found resources such as this in the past.

AND

The mystery religions section is not easily yielding its fruit."

Call me in a year after you have studied this topic in depth Grasshopper.

Just Kidding. I'll do my best to represent the "jist of it" for you, and make it as "easy" as possible for you.

I just want to keep bringing us back to this point...

Let's take step for example. He is in a "suspended state" of judgement. He does not know whether to trust the histories of the christians, or to believe in a good god, and believe YHWH is the creator.

He does not know "where morality comes from" or "where his conscience comes from" or"who created the universe" or "where we go when we die".

How is it that Step finds his resolve? How is it that step determines "what to do"? How is it that Step finds a "meainging" in this life?

I suggest it is not by settling the historical question, but by finding people in his life that he can love, and devote his life to, and live a "good life". I suggest it is the people around him that give him his "meaning".

I suggest that step already knows what is important, making answering the historical question almost irrelevant.

But it is nice to know what happened in the "past" and "where we came from" and "where we are going", but you don't need to have "rational answers with textual support" to still live your life.

I submit that "Christianity" is found, the moment you find your "devotion" and answer your "calling", to someone or something, something in the "real" world.

I want to emphasize the difference between Koukhl Christianity and Billy Graham Christianity.

Billy Graham asks passionately "have any of you sinned", are you "feeling guilty" because "you have done something wrong", then come to "Jesus" and he will "give you rest". You don't need to "suffer" anymore because Jesus "sufferred for you".

This leads these new "initiates into the christian mysteries" to make a very powerful, emotional, cathartic, release and resolve "not to sin anymore", but to "love god" and "love life" and "love others".

It is a very powerful, emotional experience.

Koukhl Christianity is "historicist" because it has little, if anything, at least nobody really emphasizes "subjective" experiences as the "cause" or "moment" you "become" a Christian.

They say, you "become" a christian first, but a very "objective" process of historical research.

I think they are two different "kinds" of Christianity.

And I think the Billy Graham kind is closer to "the truth", because the moment you answer all the questions to life, is the moment you stop worrying about these things, and a great sense of "resolve" or "determination" comes from having the cathartic experience of "the passion" or "identifying with the Christ", which is in this case recognizing a "new way of life", and that person has "matured".

I think "Jesus" visits people then they "invite Jesus into their heart" and matures them, transforms them, just the way "Athena" transfomed Telemokhos in the first four books of the Odyssey, which was the first book to "represent the gods" to the Greeks. Athena had this transformative power. But the Greeks didn't think that this "Athena" function, or "Athena" experience was caused by a physical god. They didn't think they would find Athena on the top of Mt. Olympus the was Moses found "YHWH" on the top of Mt. Sinai.

If fact it was Mentes who visits Telemekohs, the way a preacher might visit you and represent their god to you. But Mentes wasn't a preacher, he was a friend of Telemekhos' father Odysseus, and talking to him, "changed his mind". And then Athena, in the form of another person, goes away, the same way the Jesus born-again experience doesn't "last forever".

It is a moment of resolve, when you reach a new "stage" or "phase" in life. Telemekhos went from "being a boy to being a man".

This is something you can't do on your own. You can't just say "I'm ready to grow up now" or "I'm ready to mature today"...that's not how it works.

And you can't "reason" your way, you have to "experience the god" in order to mature, or "change your ways", the way Christians change their ways when "Jesus" visits them.

Tom -

I don't think I am the person to present the resurrection evidence for you. I am convinced there isn't anything I write that you actually read.

For example....
You wrote: "There are two claims being made here. One claim is that we have some "beleivers" that attest to witnessing Jesus' presence "post-resurrection".

The other is that "someone thought Jesus rose from the dead"."

Those aren't even the two facts on the table. I've stated this explicitly at least four times now over the course of the past week, as we aren't any further today then we were last week. I don't think you are stupid, or that you have a reading comprehension problem, so I am left to conclude that you are intentionally obtuse or intentionally mis-stating my position. This wouldn't be so troubling if you hadn't asked me to explain my position and why I believed in the first place.

Step - if you'd like to continue, we can pick up where I left off. I will address the Josephus objection shortly. Do you have any others?

Thanks,
John

Regarding the recent articles from Newsweek such as "Is God real"?

God is as real as the earth upon which we stand, which He created. And He loves us more than we could ever imagine, for we are His children.

Was Jesus the Son of God? He was, is, and always will be the Son of God and the Savior for all those who choose to accept Him. His love knows no limits and it will go on for all eternity. His love does not recognize national boundaries or the color of a person’s skin, nor does He recognize political parties or any of the other many ways we divide ourselves. For Jesus loves every single person with a love so amazing and so complete that for over 2,000 years, millions have followed Him and millions more will continue to do so.

Is Jesus the Son of God? There can be only one answer to such a question, and that answer is a resounding and absolute -yes. And no amount of debate will ever change that fact. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and the Savior of our World. He gave His all for us and one day He will return. Be ready.

Sincerely,

Theresa Fleming
Ohio

Theresa said..."God is as real as the earth upon which we stand, which He created."

Can you touch God? My feet are touching the earth now. Where is God?

God resides in an ideal realm called "heaven". You might say in an "imaginary" realm.

We "access" him though our "minds", by "thinking" about him, or "praying" to him.

It is important to note that "prayer" is not an exchange of information, it is not interacting with a "person", although you think it is. It would count as interacting with a person if you actually heard a seperate voice. Do hear another voice? And I'm not talking about a "still small voice" (that is really your own)...I'm talking about someone else.

God is not real, god is ideal.

Jesus is a historical reconstruction, known through positing historical hypotheses, a theoretical entity. Jesus is not real, he is theoretical.

Now there may come a time when you actually "feel" something. What do you "feel"? You feel your guilt and your despair resulting from actions in your own personal life that leave you in need of forgiveness.

There may come a moment where you break down (the break down is very important and usually occurs when we imagine a "Jesus" suffering FOR US...the suffering is very important for this reason alone) and you cry out "Help Me!, I don't want to be this way anymore".

And sometimes, but not always, it works! As soon as you realize you have been wrong, and see your wrong as wrong, you stop defending yourself, you let yourself "go", like being baptized you let yourself "go" under the water and "die", when you let your ego "die", and it is no longer in the way, then something "magical" happens, something "unexplainable", something "divine"...a god shows up.

Sometimes we call this grace.

And what happens is you get up off your knees, or out of the gutter, or out of rehab, or out of the front seat of your car where you have been weeping, or out of the confessional...and you emerge with a new "power of determination", determined not to act the way you have acted till now, or determined to "make it right".

Christians are very clear...that power comes from "outside", there is nothing you can do to "earn it" or "reason your way to it". Either the god shows up, or it doesn't. Sometimes people try to put themselves in this situation but they are not ready to transform.

There are other ways to transform that are very similar. Jesus' love transformed the disciples into loyal followers. It was as if they had "fallen in love" with Jesus. Falling in love is something you can't do on your own. It happens the moment you meet someone that "changes your life", and "purifies your desires", and gives you the "gift" of love, you cannot make it happen, you cannot reason your way, it is a gift.

The same thing happens in christians marriage and that is no coincident. Our gods are in our practices or they are nothing.

Another way to put it is, in the "conversion" moment...which is the moment that all TRUE christians BECOME christians, as opposed to the way Historical Christians BECOME christians the moment they can defend their historical reconstruction, when you let your ego go, you "die to the old man"...you (this is the magic word) HUMBLE yourself, or the god HUMBLES you...either way.

And what is the result? Love.

It is because you are humble that you can love. It is because you have humbled yourself (although that is incorrect, I think the change is caused by the god...or the change just IS the god changing your mood...you can't do it yourself anymore than you can change your own mood).

If God the Father wants anything from us it is to appreciate the life he has given us, while we have it. No one pretends to get more that 70 or so years out of this life. So God wants us to "enjoy" life, he wants us to be "Joyous".

If a starving heathen child in Africa were lying on the grounnd and in his last breath said "Thank you for my life"...would we not say Brother!

It is an appreciation for THIS life that is ultimately important, not the NEXT one, and it is only through humilty that we can truly appreciate life and the people in our lives.

Jesus is the god of humility.

Only through Jesus do we come to The Father.

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