The Qur'an does not give an accurate picture of the Historical Jesus
I thank PRO for instigating this debate. PRO has asserted that the "Qur'an does not give an accurate picture of the Historical Jesus." As CON, I will argue against this by demonstrating that there is insufficient evidence regarding the details of the historical Jesus to warrent such a claim.
In this debate I will ignore claims of Divinity, or whether or not Christ was the Messiah. I will simply analyze the evidence with a Skeptic's eye by comparing both the Bible and Qur'an in their different ideas of who Jesus was. Now, this debate isn't about sufficient evidence. It's about whether or not the Qur'an or the Bible is right in their interpretations of the Historical Jesus, I will also draw from outside sources in order to make my point.
1. Multiple, independent sources. Events which are reported by independent, and especially early, sources are likely to be historical.
2. Dissimilarity. If a saying or event is different from prior Judaism and also from later Christianity, then it probably doesn"t derive from either one and so belongs to the historical Jesus.
3. Embarrassment. Sayings or events that would have been embarrassing or difficult for the Christian church are unlikely to have been invented and so are likely historical.
4. Rejection and execution. Jesus" crucifixion is so indisputably established as an anchor point in history that words and deeds of Jesus must be assessed in terms of their likelihood of leading to his execution as "King of the Jews." A bland Jesus who just preached monotheism would never have provoked such opposition.
When we apply such criteria to the New Testament, we"re able to establish a good deal about the historical Jesus. Let me discuss just three of the facts that emerge about this remarkable man.
1. Jesus"s Radical Self-Concept. The Qur"an says that Jesus thought of himself as no more than a human prophet who told people to worship the one, true God. However, on the basis of the criteria, it can be shown that among the historically authentic words of Jesus are claims which reveal his divine self-understanding.
Take, for example, Jesus" claim to be the Son of Man. The criteria of multiple sources and dissimilarity show it belongs to the historical Jesus. Now most laymen probably think that this title refers to Jesus" humanity, just as the title "Son of God" refers to his deity. But that"s a mistake. It fails to take into account the Jewish background of the expression. In the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 7, Daniel sees a vision of a divine-human figure coming on the clouds of heaven to whom God will give everlasting authority, glory, and dominion. No mere human being could be accorded such status, for this would be to commit the sin which Muslims call shirk, giving something which properly belongs to God alone to someone else. Yet this is the status which Jesus claimed for himself. Probably the most famous "Son of Man" saying by Jesus comes at his trial before the Jewish high priest. I quote:
Then the high priest stood up . . . and asked Jesus, . . . "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"
"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
The high priest tore his clothes. . . . "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. (Mark 14:60-64 NIV)
Every Muslim would have to agree with the high priest and the Council that Jesus is a blasphemer who is worthy of death because he had made himself equal to God.
Not only did Jesus claim to be the Son of Man, but he also thought of himself as the unique Son of God. Jesus" self-understanding as God"s special Son comes to expression in his parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard, which even the radical, sceptical critics in the so-called Jesus Seminar recognize as authentic. In this parable, the vineyard symbolizes Israel, the owner of the vineyard is God, the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and the servants are the prophets send by God. In Mark 12.1-9 we read:
"A man planted a vineyard . . . [and] rented [it] to some farmers. . . . At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, "They will respect my son." But the tenants said to one another, "This is the heir. . . . let"s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours." So they took him and killed him. . . ." (Mark 12:1-9 NIV)
Now what does this parable tell us about Jesus" self-understanding? It tells us that Jesus thought of himself as God"s only, beloved son, distinct from all the prophets, God"s final messenger, and even the heir to Israel. He did not think of himself as merely another human prophet.
Jesus"s self-concept as God"s special Son comes to explicit expression in Matthew 11.27: "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." It is unlikely the church invented this saying because it says that the Son is unknowable--"no one knows the Son except the Father"--, but for the post-Easter church we can know the Son. So by the criterion of dissimilarity this saying is authentic. What does this saying then tell us about Jesus" self-concept? It tells us that he thought of himself as the exclusive Son of God and the only revelation of God to mankind!
This is really incredible! Yet this is what the historical Jesus believed. C. S. Lewis was right when he said,
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said . . . would either be a lunatic--on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. . . . You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.2
2. Jesus"s Trial and Crucifixion. According to the Gospels Jesus was condemned by the Jewish high court on the charge of blasphemy and then delivered to the Romans for execution for treason for claiming to be King of the Jews. Not only are these facts confirmed by independent biblical sources like Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, but they are also confirmed by extra-biblical sources. From the Jewish historian Josephus and the Syrian writer Mara bar Serapion we learn that the Jewish leaders made a formal accusation against Jesus and participated in events leading up to his crucifixion. From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, we learn that Jewish involvement in the trial was explained as a proper undertaking against a heretic. And from Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus, we learn that Jesus was crucified by Roman authority under the sentence of Pontius Pilate. According to L. T. Johnson, a New Testament historian at Emory University, "The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion."3
Perhaps the single most egregious historical error found in the Qur"an is its claim that Jesus was not in fact crucified. Not only is there not a single shred of evidence in favor of this remarkable hypothesis, but the evidence supporting Jesus" crucifixion is, as Johnson says, "overwhelming." Those of you who are Muslims need to appreciate that no one who is not already a Muslim believes that the historical Jesus was not crucified. The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the sceptical critics in the Jesus Seminar as--to quote Robert Funk--"one indisputable fact."4 Indeed, Paula Frederickson, whose book From Jesus to Christ inspired the PBS special by the same name, declares roundly, "The crucifixion is the strongest single fact we have about Jesus."5
3. Jesus" Resurrection. What happened to Jesus after his crucifixion? The majority of scholars who have written on this subject agree that three things happened:
First, on the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, Jesus" tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
Second, on multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
And third, the disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their every predisposition to the contrary.
I think that the best explanation of these three facts is that the disciples were right: God had raised Jesus from the dead. This has enormous theological significance. For as the German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg explains,
The resurrection of Jesus acquires such decisive meaning, not merely because someone or anyone has been raised from the dead, but because it is Jesus of Nazareth, whose execution was instigated. . . because he had blasphemed against God. If this man was raised from the dead, then that plainly means that the God whom he had supposedly blasphemed has committed Himself to him.
When you think about it, however, this situation isn"t really surprising. I mean, which would you trust: documents written down within the first generation of the events they record, while the eyewitnesses were still alive, or a book written over 600 years after the events with no independent, historical source of information?
In fact, the Qur"an contains demonstrably legendary stories about Jesus which evolved during the centuries after his death. I"m referring to the Aporcryphal Gospels,
Thank you PRO for your comments. I would like to first point out that PRO has not yet compared the historical Jesus with the Qur’anic Jesus; he has compared the Biblical Jesus to the Qur’anic Jesus. I will demonstrate why the bible is not acceptable as a source to establish a historical picture of Jesus. Then, I will paint a picture of the historical Jesus using non-biblical sources, after which I will show that PRO cannot make the claim which titles this debate.
The Bible cannot be accepted as a source without extra-biblical verification of its claims. The bible contains both scientific absurdities (such as the order of creation , an absurd cure for leprosy , or Jesus claiming that stars can fall from heaven ), and historical inaccuracies (such as Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, and the lack of a census throughout the Roman Empire ). Of course some will say that these “alleged” inaccuracies are simply the result of misunderstood parables, symbolism, or poetic writing; if this is the case, there is no way to determine what is actually true, and we need to look for external verification anyway.
Also, the Gospels, which are the main accounts of Jesus’ earthly life, are known to have been written at least decades after Jesus’ alleged death , by anonymous authors , who borrowed heavily from previous writings . Also, it is likely that none of the authors ever met Jesus . This makes their accounts no more than hearsay, again requiring extra-biblical verification.
While there are several extra biblical references to Jesus, they give us only the smallest glimpse into the life of the historical Jesus. Pliny the Younger and Tranquillus went no further than to report that there were people who followed and worshiped a Christ . Celcius wrote that Jesus was born in a Jewish village, and spent some part of his life in Egypt .
One of the most well-known extra-biblical accounts is from Josephus. One of Josephus’ references is if a man named Jesus who was a wise man and had a brother named James . The other mention of Jesus by Josephus is recognized as having been altered, and perhaps totally forged . Therefore it is of no interest here.
By these accounts, we know that Jesus was born in a Jewish village, had a brother named James, and spent some time in Egypt. We also know that there were people who worshiped a Christ.
It should be noted that Pliny the Younger began writing in 75 AD , Tranquillus in 117 AD , Celcius in the second century , and Josephus in about 93 AD . None of these authors could have met Jesus, and as their accounts were written at least decades after Jesus’ alleged death, further complicating our modern day ability to verify any of the alleged history. There is one other non-biblical account of Jesus, written by the Roman historian Tacitus, which will be discussed in the next section.
The Qur’anic Jesus
Given the purpose of this debate, and the little that is known about the historical person of Jesus, I am going to focus only on one potential area of disagreement: the alleged crucifixion. The aforementioned Tacitus wrote about Christ suffering “the extreme penalty” , which is widely believed to be confirming that Jesus was killed by crucifixion. While this would seem to contradict the Qur'an when it states that Jesus was not crucified , this is not necessarily so. Indeed, it is important to note that Tacitus was writing about 80 years after the alleged event , and that the Qur'an states that, while Jesus was not crucified, it was made to appear as if he had been . Since Tacitus was not writing something he saw, it is not necessarily in conflict with the Qur'anic interpretation which admits that it appeared as if Jesus was crucified.
I have demonstrated that we know very little about the historical person of Jesus. I have also shown that, the Qur'anic interpretation of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus is not necessarily in conflict with what we know. Therefore, PRO's initial claim is without merit.
The Bible cannot be accepted as a source without extra-biblical verification of its claims. The bible contains both scientific absurdities (such as the order of creation , an absurd cure for leprosy , or Jesus claiming that stars can fall from heaven ), and historical inaccuracies (such as Herod"s slaughter of the innocents, and the lack of a census throughout the Roman Empire ). Of course some will say that these "alleged" inaccuracies are simply the result of misunderstood parables, symbolism, or poetic writing; if this is the case, there is no way to determine what is actually true, and we need to look for external verification anyway.
Also, the Gospels, which are the main accounts of Jesus" earthly life, are known to have been written at least decades after Jesus" alleged death , by anonymous authors , who borrowed heavily from previous writings . Also, it is likely that none of the authors ever met Jesus . This makes their accounts no more than hearsay, again requiring extra-biblical verific
Pro Response: Con, tell me if I am wrong, but it seems like this debate is hinged on whether or not the Bible can be deemed a reliable source for the life of Jesus. I find it curious how you reference the Old Testament (written by completely different writers, I might add) in this part of the debate considering that the debate should be focused on the New Testament, which is where the Gospels are located. The credibility of the Old Testament does not impact the reliability of the Gospels given the fact that the writers were different, and they were written independently of each other.
You referenced the Order of Creation, however not all Christians believe that Genesis was meant to be a scientific book. I am one of them. Fundamentalism didn"t come about until the 19th century. There were various Christian Thinkers from before then who realized that Genesis was never meant to be interpreted that way. They came to that conclusion due to the obvious poetic language, allegory, etc. Now, you may say that that makes none of the Bible to be reliably true. However, thats wrong. Through analyzing the context, language, along with other factors we can know what parts of the Bible are symbolism and what parts aren"t. When we read through Exodus and Numbers we know that the author was writing these things as Historical Events, when we read through Ezekiel or Isaiah we know the author is prophesying and not being literal with his predictions.
I don"t know what part of the Bible you"re referencing when it comes to Leprosy, however I still don"t see how it matters when it comes to proving if the Gospels are reliable. Here is the verse with the stars:
24"But in those days, after that tribulation, THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, 25AND THE STARS WILL BE FALLING from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26"Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory."
This is obviously symbolism. In fact, it screams symbolism. Jesus is referencing an earlier scripture: Isaiah 13:10
"The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. "
Both verses are symbolic. Once again, I don"t think any of this matters concerning if the Gospel"s are Historically Reliable and paint an accurate picture of what Jesus said and did.
This debate is getting off topic. It is meant to prove that the Qur"an doesn"t paint an accurate picture of the Historical Jesus (which is the Biblical Jesus) and thus contradicts itself.
You"re correct in that the Gospels were written decades after Christ"s death. Around 30-60 years to be precise. However, they are not the only books in the New Testament that reference Jesus. We also have the letters of Paul which were written only 15-20 years after Christ"s death, we also have the book of Acts. (The only Historically proven book in the Bible). Also, fun fact. There have been several times that Scholars have found parts of Acts that they believed to be flawed, such as names, places, etc. However, later on a Historical dig would turn up evidence proving Acts right and the Historians wrong.
History has shown that it takes two generations for legends, embellishments, etc to start taking hold. However, what we have here is a unique situation. The Gospels are written within the same generation that witnessed Jesus"s life and death, if there was any inaccuracies someone would have came forward and corrected it. Many of these Gospel writers did go from person to person and interviewed them (mainly in the case of Luke) and got their information from those people, some of those people being disciples, relatives, etc. Given that the Jew"s were an oral society and placed emphasis on memorization we can be sure that we got an accurate picture of Jesus"s words, and that if there was any embellishments it came much later after the generation that witnessed Jesus passed on (We see this in the case of the Aporcryphal Gospels which claim to tell the story of Jesus"s childhood).
I believe by now I have proven that the Gospel"s are historically reliable. More so in the case of Luke, who was the same writer of Act"s. We can expect the same amount of minute research that went into the Book of Acts in the case of the Gospel of Luke given that they both were written by the same person.
You referenced the Qur"anic Jesus. However, the main issue is what the Qur"an says about Jesus. It says that Jesus only claimed to be a Prophet and nothing else. However, that"s clearly false. The debate should really focus on that point. Whether or not Jesus claimed to be God, rather than some Eschatological Prophet.
Conclusion: Con didn"t really refute my points, rather he ripped verses out of different books in the Old Testament in order to try to disprove the reliability of the Gospels in the New Testament. I have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Gospels are historically reliable in their description of Jesus and who he claimed to be.
I appreciate PRO’s comments this round. I am finding this debate quite enjoyable. I will address the points made presently.
No, the bible is not an authoritative source regarding the details of the historical Jesus. As I pointed out above, there are numerous things in the Bible that contradict modern scholarship. I also demonstrated, and PRO confirmed with his discussion of the order of creation, at least parts of the bible are likely symbolic. This, in conjunction with the fact that there are some who believe it to be historical , illustrate the point that we don’t know if parts of the Bible are metaphorical or not without external verification.
PRO has accused me of referencing the Old Testament in a discussion of a New Testament character. First of all, I don’t see how this is an issue if ALL scripture is inspired of God , but more important is that PRO’s claim is false; something that is obvious by a simple reading of my 2nd round comments. I provided examples from both the New and the Old Testament. However, if PRO demands a more thorough discussion of the New Testament, we can discuss how Jesus was able to see the whole world from a mountain , how Paul seems to think that Asians and Native Americans had access to the Gospels , or how Paul seems to think that a dead seed will germinate . Don’t even get me started on Revelations… These, and many others, are reason to doubt every word of the Bible, and to demand external verification.
One more point PRO seems to be trying to hit home is that the bible is written by many different authors, over a long period of time. Something he seems to think bolsters his case. However, we know for a fact that the authors of parts of the bible had access to previous writings , and in some cases, based their accounts on them . For instance, it is well known that the authors of Mark and Luke based their accounts on the book attributed to Matthew, as well as another document known as “Q” . So, again, the Bible cannot be accepted as the sole source to paint a historical picture.
PRO has tried to counter my point about how writings from decades after an event may not be accurate. He claims that it takes at least two generations to form a legend. I tried to verify his claim, but I couldn’t find a reference anywhere, but it doesn’t matter. I am not claiming that the Jesus story turned into a legend between his alleged death and the point at which the story was written down. My point is simply that, we have no reason to fully trust such writings.
It is well established that eyewitness testimony is not reliable . What we have in the cases I noted in the previous round is not even eyewitness testimony; it is a report of what someone else allegedly witnessed. It is hearsay. Therefore, we not only lack proper reason to accept the claims, we have sufficient reason to dismiss them.
Why Weren’t Inaccuracies Corrected?
PRO has claimed that the accuracy of the Gospels can be verified by the fact that any errors would have been corrected shortly after writing. This is no more than post hoc, wishful thinking. We know the Gospels were written long after the alleged events took place. We know eyewitness accounts are not always reliable. We also know that there were numerous Gospels that did not make it into the modern day Bible . The fact is that there were numerous writings floating around at that time, all of which added something slightly different to the story. It wasn’t until centuries later that church leaders got together to decide which ones they wanted to put together into an “official version” . The bottom line is that while the writings were written decades after the events the chronicle, there is no way to know when they were widely distributed or if anyone alive at that point would have actually known if they were mistaken. Also, what is now accepted by Christians as history was actually decided on by a committee made up of Catholic bishops . To claim that they must be right because they would have been corrected is to not understand the history of the Bible.
Did I Drop a Point?
PRO has accused me of not addressing the points he made in the second round. However, he is mistaken. His arguments were based on a biblical picture of Jesus, not on a historical one. Once I demonstrated that the Bible is not on its own an acceptable source for developing such a picture, all of his points, including the opinions of various theologians he cited based on the Bible, become irrelevant.
A Wrap Up
Once again, I have demonstrated that the bible is not an acceptable source for a historical investigation. I have answered PRO’s points, even the ones he claims I didn’t. On the other hand, PRO has barely mentioned that Qur’an, and has not even addressed any extra-biblical accounts of the life of Jesus. Even though PRO himself set this debate up as a comparison between the Qur’anic Jesus and the historical Jesus, he has focused almost entirely on the Biblical Jesus, a character that need not even be a part of the conversation.
tschuk forfeited this round.
I would like to thank PRO for an enjoyable debate. Although the discussion was not what I expected, I had a lot of fun and I feel like I learned something. I would happily debate PRO again.
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