The Instigator
InquireTruth
Pro (for)
Winning
30 Points
The Contender
cameronreilly
Con (against)
Losing
10 Points

The Jesus of History Probably Existed - C

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 7 votes the winner is...
InquireTruth
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/9/2009 Category: Religion
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 5,975 times Debate No: 6542
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (54)
Votes (7)

 

InquireTruth

Pro

==========
Introduction
==========

I will make my case and address the most common arguments presented by the mythological Jesus camp.

The Historicity of Jesus as reported by extrabiblical sources, biblical sources, and basic logic:

==========
The Case of Tacitus
==========

1. Tacitus was an early Roman historian who wrote early in the 2nd century. In his writings we have a reference to Jesus as the founder of Christianity and his being crucified under the thumb of Pontius Pilot. Unfortunately much of Tacitus' work has been lost, including portions from 29-32 AD – an area which would have included Jesus' trial had he recorded it (1). The Tacitus quote is as follows:

"Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind."

Tacitus' great historical ability is lauded by most all historians and scholars (2). With Tacitus' reliability it seems unreasonable that he would be wrong in his assessment. Also, Tacitus' obvious disdain for Christianity stands to reason against any notion that Tacitus was biased in the matter.

==========
The Case of Josephus
==========

2. The Jewish historian Josephus is especially interesting (3). Josephus has given us reliable information regarding the existence of high priests Annas and Caiaphas, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, King Herod, John the Baptist, even Jesus' brother James. There is a larger passage in Josephus which talks about Christ which is obviously a later Christian interpolation – and there is evidence for that. But Josephus gives us non-disputed testimony for the existence of many biblical characters, and he also has a small passage that talks of Jesus:

"But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned (4)."

There is no evidence that such a reference is an interpolation because it is in every extant manuscript we have available. The textual evidence suggests that it is genuine specifically because of the nonchristian terminology and even disagreement with Christian history regarding the martyrdom of James (5).

==========
Extrabiblical Accounts
==========

3. Also, if we have extrabiblical accounts that verify the identify of most all major biblical characters (including Jesus himself), why would we presume the Gospels to by lying in regards to the identify of Jesus Christ? Recently in 1961 the first archaeological evidence concerning Pilate was unearthed in the town of Caesarea (6). Even more recently, in 1990 the actual tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who presided over Jesus' trial, was discovered south of Jerusalem (7). We have mounting evidence for the reliability of the NT's biblical characters, which makes it very unlikely that the Gospels are lying. The Gospels are also separate and confirming accounts for the validity of the historical Jesus – to say nothing of the epistles which are an even earlier witness.

==========
Insufficient Time
==========

4. William Lane Craig points out the fact that, "There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts (8)." That is to say, no modern scholar thinks of the gospels as bald-faced lies, the result of a massive conspiracy. What is rarely addressed by skeptics is the fact that there was not enough time between Jesus death and the writing of gospels for there to have been a formulated Jesus legend hypothesis. Many modern scholars respond to the Jesus legend idea by saying, "The fact of Christianity's beginnings and the character of its earliest traditions is such that we could only deny the existence of Jesus by hypothesizing the existence of some other figure who was a sufficient cause of Christianity's beginnings - another figure who on careful reflection would probably come out very like Jesus!"

==========
The Rule of Parsimony
==========

5. The rule of parsimony applies here (9). It is used explicitly as a criterion for deciding between rival hypothesis of equal explanatory power, and the simplest theory wins. If we were to permit the outrageous idea that the Jesus-myth hypothesis has equal explanatory power, it would be negated and rejected by the law of parsimony. However, since it fails to explain the vast majority of the details - passion of the few, triumph in closed locales, resistance to modification by subsequent cultures, uniformity in variegated sources, etc. - it never even makes it this far. Parsimony, we say in summary, is closely related to plausibility, and the most plausible explanation for the origin of Christianity in this regard is that Jesus actually existed.

Common arguments used by Jesus-Mythers:

==========
1. Comparing Osiris, Horus and Jesus
==========

This is the idea that Jesus is merely a derived character from Hellenistic mythology. Mythers compare the life of Jesus to the mythology of Osiris and Horus. Unfortunately, most all of the connections made there is not a shred of evidence for. Therefore, any use of this argument necessitates the use of the original Egyptian literature to back up this claim. Any such regurgitation of Gerald Massey or Godfrey Higgins should promptly be ignored by the voters as dishonest debating.

==========
2. Comparisons with Mediterranean mystery religions
==========

If this argument is to be used, my opponent must supply the sources for the original material and cite extant manuscripts that confirm his hypothesis. The comparisons must also be from sources that predate Christianity. My opponent then must explain how this myth was promulgated in light of the fact that Christianity was a rapidly growing movement so quickly after Jesus' death, with eyewitnesses still alive.

==========
Conclusion:
==========

This is all I can write for now, my character limit approaches. But let the readers note that I still have Suetonius, Pliny, Thallus, Talmud, and Acts of Pilate as extrabiblical sources for the historicity of Jesus.

I wish my opponent luck and look forward to his/her response.

==========
Sources:
==========

1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
2. http://books.google.com...
3. http://en.wikipedia.org...
4. Antiquities 20.9.1
5. http://en.wikipedia.org...
6. http://en.wikipedia.org...
7. http://www.kchanson.com...
8. http://www.leaderu.com...
9. http://en.wikipedia.org...
cameronreilly

Con

Introduction

I will argue that there is extremely little evidence to support the theory that Jesus of Nazareth existed.

No Direct Eyewitnesses

The most important concept to understand why we should be skeptical about the Jesus myth is that we do not have a single direct eyewitness or contemporary account of the life of Jesus. Most biblical scholars agree that the NT gospels are probably not first-hand eyewitness accounts. In fact, we cannot even be certain who wrote the NT gospels, as they are written anonymously. The names attributed to them (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) were provided by Papias somewhere around 150CE. We know this because Eusebius, writing around 330CE, tells us so. So, the best we can say is: A guy living in 330CE (Eusebius) tells us that a guy who lived 180 years earlier (Papias) was told by someone else (we don't know who) that another guy (Mark) knew a guy (Peter) who said he witnessed the life of another guy (Jesus) who performed miracles. It's a terrible case of Chinese whispers that loses even more credibility when you realize that everyone involved was a religious zealot living in the Middle East 1700 - 1900 years ago.

The Argument From Silence

It's important to understand that aside from the fact that we don't have a single eyewitness account of the life of Jesus, we also don't have a single CONTEMPORARY account, or a recorded mention of such an account, that was written during his lifetime. There were plenty of literate people, including writers and historians, that lived in and around Jerusalem in the 1st century. None of them even mentions Jesus. For example, Philo of Alexandria (c25 BCE - c47 CE) wrote extensively about the Jewish religion and commentaries on contemporary politics. We have copies of about thirty manuscripts. Yet Philo doesn't write a single word about Jesus, Christianity nor any of the events described in the New Testament. Surely such writers would have written about a Jew who was raising the dead, overturning tables at the temple, healing the sick, walking on water, and who rose from the dead? Even if it was to deny that he was the Messiah, he would have deserved a mention.

The Case of Tacitus

This clause in Tacitus has problems. For a start, no early Christian writers refer to Tacitus. The Christian defence is that this is because his reference is negative, but Tertullian, Lactantius, Eusebius and Augustine of Hippo don't even make reference to Tacitus when discussing Christian persecution by Nero, when it would have been entirely relevant. Perhaps they weren't aware of the work, but that presents a problem in the case of the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus (c. 363 – c. 425), where the a clause is present almost word-for-word, without reference to Tacitus.

Tacitus:

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.

Severus:

He therefore turned the accusation against the Christians, and the most cruel tortures were accordingly inflicted upon the innocent. Nay, even new kinds of death were invented, so that, being covered in the skins of wild beasts, they perished by being devoured by dogs, while many were crucified or slain by fire, and not a few were set apart for this purpose, that, when the day came to a close, they should be consumed to serve for light during the night. (1) The Tacitus passage also mistakenly calls Pontius Pilate a procurator instead of a prefect. Tacitus, a proconsul himself, would have known the difference. Furthermore, recent investigations by Oskar Augustsson, Institute for Higher Critical Studies, using ultraviolet photography on the oldest existing copy of Tacitus, shows what appears to be alterations of the word chrestianos ("the good") overwritten as christianos ("the Christians") by a later hand. (2)

Josephus

As my opponent correctly points out, the section of Josephus' "Antiquities Of The Jews" most commonly referred to by Christians, the "Testimonium Flavianumm", is considered a forgery by most scholars. This in itself is a telling point. We have to accept that the early Christian authorities were happy to, and felt the NEED to, create forgeries in order to bolster their assertions that Jesus actually lived. Once they had become a major power in Rome in the 4th century, they had the ability to destroy documents that didn't suit them and doctor whatever other documents they required. The section of Josephus referred to, which is found in Book 20 of the Antiquities, mentions SEVERAL men called Jesus, including Jesus, the son of Gamaliel, and Jesus, the son of Damneus, who were both high priests. If we accept that the works of Josephus were tampered with by Christian authorities, we should automatically be skeptical of any reference contained within them about to Jesus. The oldest versions we have of Josephus date from around 1000CE (3). It is quite possibly a later insertion.

Extrabiblical Accounts

Reference in the Gospels to actual living persons is not evidence that the Jesus in the Gospels actually lived. The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer are just two examples of mythologies involving Gods and humans with supernatural powers set in actual places and involving characters which may have been historical.

Insufficient Time

My opponent writes "there was not enough time between Jesus death and the writing of gospels for there to have been a formulated Jesus legend hypothesis". This argument makes no sense. If Jesus never existed or, as some people believe (4), the story was based on the legends of Yeshu ben Pandera (a Jewish mystic whose mother was Mary, who was born out of wedlock, who performed magic feats in Egypt, challenged the authorities and was crucified around 70 BCE), or is just an amalgamation of other mystery cults, then there was plenty of time for a mythology to evolve before it was codified.

The Rule of Parsimony

In contrast to the claim made by my opponent, the Rule of Parsimony actually works in FAVOUR of the Jesus myth hypothesis. See my conclusion for details.

Comparisons with Mediterranean mystery religions

As this debate is trying to determine the historicity of Jesus, and not where the individual elements of the Jesus myth may have been adapted from, there is no need to attempt to draw analogies between other Mediterranean mystery religions. All that we need acknowledge is that other Mediterranean mystery religions not only existed but were commonplace during the 1st century CE as they had been for many centuries and that the fables of Mithras, Krishna, Dionysos, and other mystery gods contain elements of the Jesus story (5) (born on the Winter Solstice, virgins birth, a son of a god, the saviour, was crucified, resurrected, ascended into the sky, etc), although none matches all of the elements.

Conclusion

Here are the basic facts as I understand them:

1. Not a single firsthand eyewitness account of Jesus exists.
2. Not a single contemporary account of Jesus exists.
3. The majority of historians writing in and around Judea in the 1st century make no mention of Jesus.
4. The few historians who do seem to mention him are either proven frauds or suspect.
5. The details of Jesus' life and his deeds are paralleled in the story of many other mystery gods that predated or co-existed with him.
6. Logic states that if it looks like a mystery cult and it smells like a mystery cult, and there is no firsthand eyewitness evidence to the contrary, then it probably *is* a mystery cult.

Sources:
5. Mystery Cults and Jesus http://tinyurl.com...
1. Severus http://www.ccel.org...
2. Augustsson http://chrestianos.jesuspusslet.se...
3. Josephus http://www.windmillministries.org...
4. Ben Pandera http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 1
InquireTruth

Pro

==================
Introduction
==================

I would like to sincerely thank Cameronreilly for accepting this debate and putting forth a provocative opening argument. I will start by critiquing his listed contentions.

==================
No Direct Eye Witnesses
==================

My opponent not only makes the mistake of saying that the absence of DIRECT eye witness accounts is the single most important reason to be skeptical, but he assumes with certainty that the recorded gospels were not direct eyewitness accounts. Most humorous, however, is my opponent's whole hearted acceptance of what "most scholars" believe (a dubious assertion) with an obvious disregard for the fact that those same scholars most likely believe that Jesus actually existed – in fact, the amount of historians and scholars that believe as my opponent believes can probably be counted on one hand.

Let us take a look at the facts:

If the Gospels (save for John) were not written by the persons said to have written them, why in the world do we not have any other surviving tradition that asserts a different author? Second-century testimony clearly attributes the authorship of the Gospels to those persons whose names the books now bear. It would be very likely that, if the Gospels had circulated unanimously for 60 years without an ascribed author, that, like many other apocryphal writings, a smorgasbord of differing titles would have arisen – this is not the case. Moreover, if the authors were arbitrarily chosen, they certainly would have done well to choose more respected authors, not a tax collector (Matthew), a virtual enigma who is mentioned twice (Luke), and a kid who left Paul high and dry (Mark).

There is no available text that is without title. My opponent would do well in showing some extant manuscripts that do not have a title attributing the authorship to its supposed author, or, better yet, that attribute it to some other person.

Even still, if my opponent wishes to be consistent in his approach, he must also respectively deny that Alexander the Great existed, and even, unfortunately, our great George Washington.

As it is, the only way my opponent can deny traditional authorship of the Gospels is to also deny Tacitus' authorship of the Annals and virtually all other ancient texts whose authorship is not currently questioned.

It is more probably that the synoptic Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark and Luke – eyewitnesses.

==================
The Argument From Silence
==================

Really? Any argument entitled "the argument from silence" should already be considered wanting. One should always be skeptical of an argumentum ex silentio.

But let us consider my opponent's claims. Certainly if Jesus was as the Gospels purport him to be, he would have been noteworthy and contemporary historians would have included him in the tracts of history. This is my opponent's damning assumption.

Let us consider some primary reasons that Jesus may not have made the docket (though we don't know for certain that he did not).

1. Jesus did not change the political, social, or economic climate of Palestine
2. Jesus was executed as a criminal – making him significantly marginalized
3. He associated with societies rejects – offending many people
4. His own lifestyle was offensive to many
5. He was a poor carpenter living in a land full of wealthy urbanites

Jesus was not a huge name during his lifetime, at least among those who write the histories, so there is no reason to believe that he would be recorded by his contemporaries. It was not until after his resurrection that the movement spread like fire – but even then, approximately 95% of persons during that time were illiterate, especially those who Jesus influenced the most (the poor and down-trodden) – I do not think they could write a formulated history.

==================
The Case of Tacitus
==================

By the way, the majority of scholars believe this passage to authentic – since my opponent is fond of arbitrarily choosing when to affirm majority scholarship. My opponent disregards Tacitus by again using argumentum ex silentio. Moreover, in the case of Severus, to suggest a later Christian interpolation to Tacitus is ridiculous, why would a Christian use Tacitus' name to deride Christianity. Moreover, why in the world is it more probable that Tacitus copied Severus and not vice versa?

As far as alterations go, one manuscript bearing a scribal mistake is not evidence that Tacitus was referring to something entirely different.

It is more probable that Tacitus' mentioning is Genuine.

==================
The Case of Josephus
==================

My opponent disregards Josephus by essentially saying that because there were some Christian interpolations, that means Christians gon der and dun em all. Unfortunately, it is most likely that Christians altered previously existing material about Jesus in order to reflect Christianity more positively. If Josephus' later mentioning was an interpolation, it seems the terminology would have been changed to reflect Christianity positively. My prior statement stands.

There is no evidence that such a reference is an interpolation because it is in every extant manuscript we have available. The textual evidence suggests that it is genuine specifically because of the nonchristian terminology and even disagreement with Christian history regarding the martyrdom of James

It is more probable that Josephus' mentioning is Genuine.

==================
Extrabiblical Accounts
==================

This point remains unscathed. Since the Bible is consistent in representing history and geography correctly, it stands to reason that it makes correct historical assertions regarding the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

==================
Insufficient Time
==================

My opponent misses the mark. If Jesus was not a historical character, it is very unlikely that a formulated Jesus mythology could have formulated so quickly after his supposed death. The problem is that the time between the events themselves and the authorship of the gospels is too short for the MEMORY OF WHAT ORIGINALLY HAPPENED (or had not happened) to be erased. My opponent is also forgetting that the gospels are most probably based on oral tradition, as they draw upon the supposed gospel Q – a much earlier tradition. Paul's letter to the Galatians was written sometime in the 40's – approximately ten years after Jesus' death (1).

==================
The Rule of Parsimony
==================

1. It is more probable that the Gospels reperesent direct eyewitness testimony.
2. It is more probable that Tacitus and Josephus represent history genuinely.
3. It is more probable that Paul in his ministry very early after Jesus' death was in response to actual events.
4. It is more probable that the Christian movement revolved around the actual person, Jesus of Nazereth.
5. It is more probable that contemporary historians would NOT have mentioned Jesus' life in their recordings.
6. It is more probable that the followers of Jesus – the ones who would have known it was a formulated lie (namely his disciples) – would die for something they thought was true and not something they knew was false.

As I see it, the law of parsimony favors the existence of Jesus of Nazareth

==================
Comparisons with Mediterranean mystery religions
==================

My opponent says there are many parallels that predate Christianity. If he could please list these parallels as well as the extant manuscripts where they can be found, that would be helpful. It is mere casuistry to say there are "many" parallels and then not list them, because when these supposed parallels are considered, we can see it is like saying Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger are truly twins.

==================
Conclusion
==================

Really?
cameronreilly

Con

I thank my opponent for his thoughtful and considerate response.

==================
No Direct Eye Witnesses
==================

Inquiretruth asks why we don't have traditions that assert different authors of the NT gospels than the ones attributed to them today. While that may be an interesting question to speculate on, it doesn't add any historical credibility to the attributions made by Papias in the 2nd century. Questions like this are an attempt at misdirection which can only lead to avenues of speculation and not historical evidence.

He asks me to show extant manuscripts without the title which of course I cannot because the oldest version of the manuscripts available are post-Papias and therefore conform to his attributions.

He asks me to deny the historicity of Alexander and other historical figures. While this, again, might be an interesting discussion, it doesn't add historical evidence to the question of Jesus and is another attempt at misdirection.

In short, he has not provided any historical evidence to support Papias' attributions. He has also not denied by position that most scholars do not believe the NT gospels are direct eyewitness accounts (1). We must accept, therefore, that the NT gospels are written anonymously; that we have no hard evidence as to who the authors were; and we certainly cannot claim they are direct eyewitness accounts.

==================
The Argument From Silence
==================

My opponent claims the reason none of the scholars or historians living in and around Judea in the early 1st century wrote about Jesus was because he "was not a huge name during his lifetime". Considering the claims made in his name by the NT gospels - that he magically healed the sick, walked on water, multiplied fishes and loaves, raised the dead(!) and, most importantly, claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, I find it beyond comprehension that at least the Jewish scholars of the day didn't mention his feats or his claims. Anyone claiming to be the Jewish Messiah who could also demonstrate unlimited magical powers would have attracted the attention of the Jewish scholars. In fact, isn't that why the NT claims he was executed? Because he offended the Jewish leadership of the day? Yet none of their historian mentioned him, not one word.

==================
The Case of Tacitus
==================

My opponent hasn't provided any response to my previous questions:
1. No early Christian writers refer to Tacitus. Why not?
2. Why do Tacitus' words first appear in Severus, copied almost word for word but without attribution?
3. The "scribal mistake" referred to is in our oldest extant copy of Tacitus and therefore the one that all other copies are likely to be based upon.

As I mentioned earlier, the fraudulent reference to Jesus in the Testimonium Flavianum is evidence that early Christians were prepared to doctor historical documents in order to bolster their case for a historical Jesus. We must acknowledge this when assessing the validity of any other document which has questions around it's authenticity.

==================
The Case of Josephus
==================

Again, we have undisputed proof that early Christians deliberately altered non-Christian documents in order to bolster their case for a historical Jesus. There is no reason to suspect they wouldn't have also added clauses to documents written by people known to be antagonistic to Christianity for the same reasons. Adding positive references to those documents would have been obviously fake, so it makes sense that the references are critical. As with the TF, the early Christians only motivation would have been to bolster the historicity argument. We have to wonder why they felt the need to fake documents if there was already existing proof? As I mentioned previously, the oldest versions we have of Josephus date from around 1000CE, so it is no surprise that all copies already show the Christian section. If it was doctored into the original document in the 4th century, all copies produce in 1000CE would already contain it.

==================
Extrabiblical Accounts
==================

My opponent claims that "Since the Bible is consistent in representing history and geography correctly, it stands to reason that it makes correct historical assertions regarding the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth." Would he also make the same claims about The Iliad by Homer? Historians have now decided that Troy and Athens were actual historical places and many believe the Trojan War is historical. Does it stand then that my opponent also then believes that Achilles was immortal except for his heel and was assisted in battle by the Athena?

==================
Insufficient Time
==================

My opponent still misses the point. If Jesus was not a historical character, then he HAD no actual date of death and therefore there is an indefinite amount of time for the mythology to develop. As we don't have a single direct eyewitness account of him AT ALL, the "insufficient time" excuse is completely invalid. It's like arguing there wasn't enough time between the death of Darth Vader for the filming of Star Wars to be mythology. A mythological character HAS no date of death to be used as a reference point.

==================
The Rule of Parsimony
==================

My opponent writes a list of "more probables" but they are pure speculation and none of them contradict the evidence presented earlier. We have no direct eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus' life and many of the details reflect other mythological figures. If it looks like a mystery cult and it smells like a mystery cult, and there is no firsthand eyewitness evidence to the contrary, then it probably *is* a mystery cult.

==================
Comparisons with Mediterranean mystery religions
==================

My opponent asks me to list details of the many parallels between Christianity and other Mediterranean mystery cults that preceded it. I actually provided a reference to a Christian-friendly comparison in my last response but will provide it again here for easy reference (2). I would add to this list, as I did in my previous response, the story contained in the Talmud of Yeshu Ben Pandera (3).

==================
Conclusion
==================

I feel confident in repeating my previous conclusion as my opponent has not refuted a single point. All he has done is speculate that the NT gospels *might* be genuine accounts of eyewitness testimony and that later historians *might* have had access to more data than we do to verify these accounts. Unfortunately, the bottom line today is that we do *not* have any hard evidence to verify Jesus' existence. We can only speculate and while that is good enough for people of "faith", it does not make for very good history.

Here, again, are the basic facts as I understand them:

1. Not a single firsthand eyewitness account of Jesus exists.
2. Not a single contemporary account of Jesus exists.
3. The majority of historians writing in and around Judea in the 1st century make no mention of Jesus.
4. The few historians who do seem to mention him are either proven frauds or suspect.
5. The details of Jesus' life and his deeds are paralleled in the story of many other mystery gods that predated or co-existed with him.
6. Logic states that if it looks like a mystery cult and it smells like a mystery cult, and there is no firsthand eyewitness evidence to the contrary, then it probably *is* a mystery cult.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
2. http://www.bringyou.to...
3. http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 2
InquireTruth

Pro

==================
No Direct Eye Witnesses
==================

My opponent's entire argument – not just this particular point – stems from the tenuous assumption that there were no direct eye witnesses. We have unanimous 2nd century testimony that asserts traditional authorship. A priori assumptions - bad ones too - have led some scholars to conclude that the synoptic gospels were written too late for them to have been authored by authors generally ascribed to them. There is no reason to doubt traditional authorship. All extant manuscripts confirm apostolic authorship - or eyewitness scholarship. There are no manuscripts or surviving traditions that assert different authorship - which is common of anonymously written material (this suggests that unanimous traditional ascriptions of the 2nd century were drawing upon much earlier tradition).

Similarly, most scholars agree that the gospels draw upon oral tradition (the thing most common in that era considering the 90% illiteracy level). Moreover, many have contended that the even earlier tradition, the Gospel Q, was indeed oral tradition. And actually, some scholars are now recognizing that Mark was probably written in the mid 50's (1). Circulated tradition about Jesus comes almost immediately after his resurrection - with oral tradition and Paul's epistles (that make use of what seems to be even earlier Christian creeds).

Here are the assumptions:
1. Matthew was not written by an eyewitness.
2. Luke and acts were not written by an eyewitness.
3. John was lying and was not indeed an eyewitness.
4. The author of Peter's epistles was lying and was indeed not the apostle Peter.
5. The author of Jude was lying and it was not written by the brother of Jesus.
6. The author of James was lying and not written by the brother of Jesus.
7. Paul was lying and he did not actually meet and talk with numerous eye witnesses.

Since all these assumptions are poised against contradicting evidence, and are based on little or no evidence at all, it seems probable that at least one of these assumptions is incorrect. If one of these assumptions is incorrect then my opponent can not rightly claim that we do not have eyewitness attestation for the existence Jesus.

My opponent has not shown that "most" scholars agree that there is NO eyewitness attestation. Indeed, even his wikipedia source says "some reject traditional ascriptions." That's hardly MOST. Moreover, he has not explained why he finds it acceptable to rely on majority scholarship when it comes to this point, but it is, for some reason, not acceptable to rely on majority scholarship when it comes to the matter in question.

==================
The Argument From Silence
==================

First, my opponent disregards the reasons given in my former post. Alexander the Great was a revolutionist. He DID change the social, economic and political climate – yet, ironically, all we have is secondary sources. So the claim that because Jesus was doing some pretty radical things, he MUST have been recorded is simply not salient. The contemporary historians had no good reasons for including Jesus in their scrolls. (1) In his life time, he did not revolutionize political, social or economic systems, (2) He was a criminal, (3) he hung out with the marginalized and untouchables and (4) and he was a poor amidst wealthy urbanites.

This critical assumption, if applied universally to other historical figures, nearly robs us entirely of the existence of any ancient character.

==================
The Case of Tacitus
==================

Since this is important to my opponent, let me say this: The consensus among scholars is that Tacitus' reference is a genuine one. The reason why early Christian writers did not refer to Tacitus is because his words were not all that becoming – indeed they were hostile. The quote quite nearly blames the great fire of Rome on Christians – hardly something a Christian interpolator would do.

Severus seems to have drawn from Tacitus' material, not quoting it entirely.
My opponent assumes that all later manuscripts were predicated on the earliest one we have now (a marvelously preposterous assumption) and he assumes that it is not a scribal mistake (though those are known to very common in ancient manuscripts) (see Texts and Transmission).

==================
The Case of Josephus
==================

It is blatantly false that there is "undisputed" evidence that Christians were seeking to bolster there case of a historical Jesus. In fact, many scholars contend that Christians only changed previously existing references to Jesus to reflect more positively on Christianity. There was clearly no reason to bolster a historical case for Jesus, why would there be? - No one doubted it at that time! We only have evidence that Christians would say positive things about Jesus.

My opponent's entire point hinges on the false assumption that early Christians needed to bolster a case for the historical Jesus, but that was not an issue until millennia later. Therefore, any Christian interpolations would have been positive ones. There is no reason to doubt Josephus' later attestation.

==================
Extrabiblical accounts
==================

I said historical validity of the person, not the titles or deeds ascribed therein. There is a copious amount of evidence for virtually all described geography and numerous biblical characters. Since we know that the Bible is making generally correct historical claims – what reason do we have for doubting the actual existence of Jesus?

==================
Insufficient Time
==================
I am not sure why my opponent is not understanding this point. Let me try to clarify with an analogy:

Consider you have lived in the same neighborhood for 30 years. If someone comes and tells you that a man named Bob Jerky lived just a few blocks down from you and he healed people and manipulated matter, and he often had large followings of people – and he generally always called attention to himself. But there is one slight problem – you, and all your surrounding neighbors, have never heard of this man, indeed, the house he supposedly lived in had been occupied for 35 years.

You would rightly disagree with the person telling you this.

Similarly, there is no way that this movement could have spread so rapidly during the time that supposed eyewitnesses were still alive – but it did.

==================
The Rule of Parsimony
==================

My opponent has not addressed this point adequately. The rule of parsimony is, essentially, the argument with the same explanatory power and least amount of assumptions is to be preferred.

My opponent has to posit too many unnecessary variables in order for his conclusion to follow. He has to assume that 2nd century attestations were lies that were not based on earlier tradition, he has to assume that all extant manuscripts bear false titles. He has to assume James, Jude, and Peter were lying. He has to assume that Matthew, Luke and John were not written by eyewitnesses. My opponent need only be wrong in one of his assumptions for his conclusion to be errant. I, on the other hand, can be wrong in virtually all the listed and still have an accurate conclusion.

==================
Comparisons with Mediterranean mystery religions
==================

My opponent merely lists a site for his attestations – all of which are sorely wanting and many do not actually exist. Please furnish extant manuscripts that confirm this hypothesis.

The parallels are drawn from a document called "Toledoth Yeshu." And, funnily enough, some people actually use it to prove that Jesus actually existed. We can discount this document entirely because, somehow, the writers of this document were able to drag Rabbi Tanhuma back through the chambers of time, because he is listed in the writing, even though he lived 400 years AFTER Jesus' lifetime.
cameronreilly

Con

No Direct Eye Witnesses

My opponent states "There is no reason to doubt traditional authorship." If there is "no reason", why have scholars debated, and continue to debate, the subject of authorship? Anyone at all familiar with biblical scholarship, knows that the "Synoptic Problem" (1) has bothered scholars for centuries. Why do the Gospels agree on some things and disagree on other things? If they were all written by firsthand eyewitnesses, and they all witnessed the same events, why do they disagree on so many things?

The dominant theory for over a century on the Synoptic problem has been the "two source hypothesis" which states that "Mark" was written first (probably around 70 - 75 CE, after the fall of Jerusalem, not 55CE as my opponent claims, referred to as "Markan priority"), with "Matthew" and "Luke" written decades later. It states that "Matthew" and "Luke" used "Mark" as a source as well using the "Q document" and their own private sources. (2) If "Matthew" and "Luke" were copied from pre-existing sources, they can hardly be considered authentic firsthand eyewitness accounts.

So that leaves "Mark". And the same source that gives Mark it's name, Papias via Eusebius, clearly states that Mark was not an eyewitness ("For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him").

Even if Papias' attribution is correct, and we have zero evidence to support it, then Mark was *not* an eyewitness.

"Luke", on the other hand, actually *states* that the author isn't an eyewitness.

My opponent can't seem to decide if he wants to take the position that the Gospels actually *are* firsthand eyewitness accounts or are merely recounting "oral tradition". Oral tradition, from an historical perspective, especially when concerning miracle workers, has to be treated skeptically. Every primitive society has passed on stories about miraculous deeds or messiahs using oral tradition and they are treated by historians as mythology unless there is evidence to suggest they are more than that. There is no reason why the oral traditions of Jesus should not be treated with the same skepticism.

I would also point out that the non-canonical Gospels were also attributed to apostles and were passed on by oral tradition. Yet the validity of these Gospels are readily denied by Christian apologists, even though they pass the same standards of authenticity as the canonical Gospels. The only difference between them is that the canonical Gospels suited the purposes of the people who ended up running the church under the guidance of the murderous Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century.

The Argument From Silence

My opponent seems to be trying to make the argument that if Alexander existed, then so did Jesus. This is a logical fallacy. We have to examine each case on its merits.

He again tries to make the argument that none of the contemporary Jewish or Roman historians wrote about Jesus because he wasn't important. I repeat my earlier point that, considering the claims made in his name by the NT gospels - that he magically healed the sick, walked on water, multiplied fishes and loaves, raised the dead(!) and, most importantly, claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, I find it beyond comprehension that at least the Jewish scholars of the day didn't mention his feats or his claims. Anyone claiming to be the Jewish Messiah who could also demonstrate unlimited magical powers would have attracted the attention of the Jewish scholars. In fact, isn't that why the NT claims he was executed? Because he offended the Jewish leadership of the day? Yet none of their historian mentioned him, not one word.

The Case of Tacitus

Early Christians didn't refer to Tacitus because he was hostile? Do you have evidence to support that claim or is it just more speculation? They refer to the crucifixion of Jesus - a hostile act. Even if the mention of Jesus in Tacitus is genuine - and I've pointed out in earlier responses why we should be skeptical about that issue - he wasn't a firsthand eyewitness, doesn't mention his source and therefore we cannot say for sure if Tacitus was just repeating commonly-held beliefs about Jesus or if he actually did have hard evidence. The best we can say is that we do not know.

The Case of Josephus

My opponent agrees with me here that early Christians changed historical documents such as Josephus, in his words, "to reflect more positively on Christianity", which supports my case that we must treat with skepticism all early documents that mention Jesus.

Extrabiblical accounts

Again I point out that human mythology was often set in real geographical places and yet contained characters who were not historical - Heracles in Greece, Achilles in Troy, King Arthur in England. It is another logical fallacy to suggest that because a place mentioned in mythology is historical, that the characters in the stories are also historical.

Insufficient Time

There are several problems with my opponents analogy.
1) The existence of the non-canonical Gospels. They, too, ascribe to Jesus many wonderful feats and deeds, written around the same time as the Gospels, in the 2nd century. If the canonical Gospels are accurate, surely these are as well and for the same reasons? And yet no modern Christians ascribe any authenticity to them.
2) The first Gospel, "Mark", wasn't written in Palestine or Judea, where people might have had some local knowledge. It was written in Rome.
3) Paul's letters weren't read by the general community, only by a small group of believers. The general public (or the Jewish and Roman authorities) who lived in the 1st century didn't have an opportunity to discuss and debate the authenticity of them.
4) We're talking about mostly uneducated, illiterate and unscientific people living in the Middle East 2000 years ago, at a time when most people believed in pagan gods and all sorts of crazy stuff.

The Rule of Parsimony

My only assumption is that without a single firsthand eyewitness or contemporary account of Jesus' life, it falls into the same category as all of the other mythologies of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. Human around the world in those ages believed all manner of mythologies that have as much (or as little) evidence behind them as Christianity. The simplest explanation is that Christianity is just another ancient mythology.

Comparisons with Mediterranean mystery religions

I am asked for extant texts depicting other Middle Eastern gods and I suggest my opponent starts with the "Pyramid Texts", dated to 2400 - 2300 BCE, the oldest texts to mention Osiris and the oldest known religious texts in the world. Osiris, however, is also mentioned on the Palermo Stone which dates to 2500 BCE. (4)

Conclusion

Here, again, are the basic facts that my opponent has not been able to refute:

1. There is not a single firsthand eyewitness account of Jesus exists.
2. There is not a single contemporary account of Jesus exists.
3. The majority of historians writing in and around Judea in the 1st century make no mention of Jesus.
4. The few historians who do seem to mention him are either proven frauds, suspect, or, at best, do not reveal their sources.
5. The details of Jesus' life and his deeds are paralleled in the story of many other mystery gods that predated or co-existed with him.
6. Logic states that if it looks like a mystery cult and it smells like a mystery cult, and there is no firsthand eyewitness evidence to the contrary, then it probably *is* a mystery cult.

Sources:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
2. http://tinyurl.com...
3. http://tinyurl.com...
4. http://tinyurl.com...
Debate Round No. 3
54 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by InquireTruth 8 years ago
InquireTruth
lol, independent verification is a property of physical perception and thus still properly circular. How is that inconvenient? You could very well be a brain in a vat, all your shared experiences are merely illusory.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Except for the inconvenient fact that physical perception is a shared phenomenon that can be independently verified... theistic experience is not.
Posted by InquireTruth 8 years ago
InquireTruth
My practice is completely rational within the epistemic system it resides. Theistic experience is known the same exact way physical reality is known - through experience. Using physical reality to prove physical reality is properly circular. So me using theistic experience to prove theistic reality is exactly = to physical perception.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
>> "There is no such thing as a non-belief-based system... I think you lost something in translation."

I said the practices based on the belief - not the system of belief itself. It's exactly like believing there are UFO's (belief) based on the fact that you saw something in the sky (evidence) you didn't recognize (say... a strange bird) and building a bomb shelter (practice) because of it...

I think YOU lost something in translation...
Posted by InquireTruth 8 years ago
InquireTruth
There is no such thing as a non-belief-based system... I think you lost something in translation.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
>> "Classic epistemic imperialism. Doxastic practices need only have evidence within the system they operate."

Translation: Your view is too rational. Belief-based practices only need minimal evidence related to the belief itself.
Posted by InquireTruth 8 years ago
InquireTruth
"Its the brain dead bible study majors who sadly spread most of the poison in this planet and need to stump up with some evidence for the sky fairy or shut up....."

Classic epistemic imperialism. Doxastic practices need only have evidence within the system they operate.
Posted by unlikely 8 years ago
unlikely
It does seem likely that jesus existed...it would be a bit bizarre for all the fuss from a completely invented character. At the very least a variant of the character probably existed.
BUT the real issue is the sky fairy nonsense thats associated with him by the severly deluded religious types clinging to the hope they'll get a better bite of the cherry after they koof it. Newsflash! you wont.
Its the brain dead bible study majors who sadly spread most of the poison in this planet and need to stump up with some evidence for the sky fairy or shut up.....
Posted by cameronreilly 8 years ago
cameronreilly
Yuanti, can you please reference the part of the mystery cult article that states "the "mystery cults" actually took on attributes of Jesus rather than the other way around"?
Posted by Yuanti 8 years ago
Yuanti
To Tarzan,

Well, I care whether or not the actual Jesus existed - especially in the case of trying to prove Him to be "the Christ" and all that entails. It'd be a little awkward attributing miracles to a man who never existed.
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