The Instigator
philochristos
Pro (for)
Winning
27 Points
The Contender
Stephen_Hawkins
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

This House believes that Jesus Christ was a historical figure

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 7 votes the winner is...
philochristos
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/21/2013 Category: Religion
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,061 times Debate No: 30498
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (27)
Votes (7)

 

philochristos

Pro

Before starting this debate, I want to lay out some definitions and rules.

Definitions

Jesus Christ: The person called Jesus, Jesus of Nazaretch, Christ Jesus, Lord, teacher, son of God, son of Man, etc., who was believed by the apostles Peter, John, Paul, etc. to have been the Christ. This is not a debate on whether Jesus actually was the Christ. Nor is it a debate on whether all of the things attributed to him in the gospels or elsewhere are true. However, I will be arguing that at least some of them are true.

Historical figure: Luke Timothy Johnson makes a distinction between the "Real Jesus" and the "Historical Jesus."[1] The real Jesus is the actual person who lived 2000 or so years ago. The historical Jesus is what we can reconstruct about the real Jesus from ancient sources. For the purposes of this debate, "historical figure" will be taken to refer whatever we can find out from ancient sources that corresponds to a real person who actually existed. Saying that Jesus was an historical figure will mean basically the same thing as saying that Jesus actually existed as a real human being.

Rules

1. No game playing. For example, let's not pretend that we don't know who we're talking about. Granted, there were many people in the first century named Jesus, but the one we're talking about is the one who is supposedly behind the Christian movement in the first century.

2. The burden of proof is shared. That is, it will be my burden to show that Jesus existed. It will be Con's burden to show that Jesus did not exist. If neither one of us is able to bear our respective burdens of proof, we should be tied on arguments. However, you can still give us points for conduct, sources, and spelling & grammar.

3. Voters should vote on the content of the debate; not on your own opinions or arguments that you would like to have made; nor on whatever goes on in the comment section or elsewhere.

4. Honesty and fairness are required by both debaters and all of the voters. But no motive mongering. If you can't read another person's mind, you should give them the benefit of the doubt.

5. Round 1 is for acceptance, well wishes, definitions, rules, clarifications, etc. Round 2 is for opening arguments. Con may rebut Pro's opening in Round 2. Round 3 is for rebuttals and any additional arguments either sides wants to make. Round 4 is for conclusions. No new arguments for our respective positions are allowed in round 4; however, whatever new arguments are necessary to refute/rebut whatever is said in round 3 are allowed. Or, in Con's case, he will be allowed to refute/rebut what I say in my conclusion.

That's about all I can think of.

[1] See The Real Jesus by Luke Timothy Johnson. http://www.amazon.com...

Stephen_Hawkins

Con

I accept this debate. For clarification, historical figure means simply that we can reach reason to believe Jesus Christ existed through a historical lens. I'll be attempting to show two things: firstly an importance on Prussian forms of history, which means the acceptance that second-hand sources are astronomically unreiable as evidence, and that primary sources are the key to proving any real case, which includes the criticism of much of the historical work by biblical scholars as not truly following a justified historical method. I shall then address the evidence my opponent puts forth in favour of the historical figure of Christ. Thank you, and I look forward to his opening pitch.
Debate Round No. 1
philochristos

Pro

Thanks to Steven_Hawking for accepting my challenge even though I didn't meet the criteria in your debate proposal.

Sources

No argument can get off the ground without mutually agreed upon premises, so I'm going to begin with some relatively uncontroversial assumptions in hopes that Con will not dispute them. We have limited space.

You might think the Bible is one source because it's usually bound under one cover, but it's actually a collection of writings from various authors, places, and times.

The earliest writings are from Paul, and there are seven authentic letters that date from c. 50 CE to 59 CE: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, & Philemon.[1] Mark was written c. 70 CE, Matthew and Luke in the 80's, and John in the 90's.[2]

Within these writings are earlier sources. Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source, but they share material not found in Mark, which scholars designate "Q." There is also material unique to Matthew and Luke designated 'M' and 'L' respectively.[3] Luke claims that by the time of his composition, many had already written an account of Jesus (Luke 1:1-2), so he apparently had several sources. There is also an Aramaic substratum in both Paul and the gospels, which is evidence of earlier sources of information.[4] In addition, there is evidence of oral traditions and early hymns about Jesus in Paul's letters, the gospels, and in Acts.[5]

I. The presumption of historicity

Apart from any good reason to think Jesus did not exist, we ought to presume he did. All of our earliest sources talk about Jesus as if he were a real person living in the recent past. There is nothing extraordinary about the existence of Jesus. He was one among many Jews in the first century who made lofty claims about himself, made people believe he could do miracles, gathered followers, and got himself killed. Josephus mentions several revolutionary type figures (some messiahs) who are only mentioned once, and scholars don't doubt their existence because there's no reason to.

II. Authority

Of the thousands of New Testament historians around the world, there is only one who doubts the existence of Jesus--Robert Price. There is also one ancient historian (Richard Carrier) who doubts the existence of Jesus. As far as I know, though, neither Carrier nor Price have published in academic journals on the non-existence of Jesus. They only raise their objections to the historical Jesus in popular literature that does not require peer review.

The consensus on the existence of Jesus is much stronger among NT historians than the consensus on evolution by random mutation and natural selection among biologists. There are many scientists in the field of biology who doubt evolution by random mutation and natural selection.[6]

Arguments from authority are not fallacious as long as the authority you cite is actually an expert on the subject, and as long there's a strong consensus among the experts on the point. In this case, what I mean by "expert" is a person who holds a PhD. in the field, is published in peer reviewed academic journals, and teaches (or has taught) in their field at the university or seminary level. I grant that it's possible for the experts to all be wrong, but if you're going to take a stand against the consensus of experts, you ought to have really good reasons.

III. Explanatory power

The existence of Jesus is the best explanation of the origin of Christianity. One would be hard pressed to find a more obvious, natural, simple, parsimonious explanation than the one that jumps out at us. It explains, in a straight forward way, why all of our sources point to Jesus as the originator of the movement, why there were people claiming to be his apostles, and why the movement was successful even though it originated in the city where it was claimed that he made a public scene and was publicly crucified.

IV. Crucifixion

Messianic hope resulted from the belief that God had promised that David's dynasty would last forever (2 Samuel 7:16) and the fact that David's dynasty ended during the Babylonian crisis in the 6th century BCE. The messianic king was supposed to be a fulfillment of that promise (Jeremiah 33:14-22). He would be a descendant of David, and his coming would be accompanied by a full return from exile that included the reunion of Judah and Israel (Ezekiel 37:21-23), national sovereignty, and an era of peace and prosperity free from the shackles of oppressors (Ezekiel 37:24-28).

Messianic expectation was especially intense from 6 CE to 70 CE because after the failure of Archeleus (son of king Herod) to govern Judea, Roman prefects were sent to govern.[7] While Herod had negotiated with Rome for religious liberties on behalf of the Jews, the Roman prefects continuously threatened those liberties.[8] The Jewish people yearned for a deliverer who would free them from Roman oppression and usher in all the promises God had made to Israel.[9] Their hopes were met with many failed messianic movements.[10]

If a group of people wanted to make up a story about a messiah, and get people to believe it, the last thing they would include in the story is that the messiah--the one to kick out the Romans and sit triumphantly on the throne of David--was defeated by the Romans. They didn't even claim Jesus was killed heroically in battle. Instead, he was killed in the most humiliating way a criminal can be killed--by public crucifixion.

The early Christians were well aware of how counter-intuitive a "crucified messiah" was. Paul said it was a "stumbling block" to Jews and "foolishness" to gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). Luke reports that the disciples were originally disillusioned (Luke 24:21). Besides that, no messianic movement in the first or second century survived the death of its leader.[11] The bar Kochba rebellion was fought over the belief that Simon bar Kosiba was the messiah, but nobody continued to believe in him after he died in failure. The number one reason Jews today reject Jesus as messiah is because he died without fulfilling all the promises.[12] The earliest Christians admitted that Jesus was crucified, but tried to redeem it by claiming it was for sins. Such a damage control operation would not have been necessary if Jesus had not be crucified.

The crucifixion of Jesus is a lucidly clear historical fact.[13] That entails that Jesus existed.

V. Personal acquaintance

Paul was personally acquainted with Jesus' brother, James (Galatians 1:18-19), so we have a first hand account of somebody who knew Jesus' brother. That entails that Jesus existed. Matthew and Mark also mention that Jesus had a brother named James (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).

VI. Nazareth

The messiah was supposed to be from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). However, all four gospels--M (Matthew 2:23), L (Luke 2:39-40), Mark (Mark 1:9, 24), and John (John 1:45-46)--report that Jesus was from Nazareth. We know they were aware of the problem because Matthew and Luke both go to the trouble of explaining how Jesus was born in Bethlehem inspite of being Jesus of Nazareth, and John reports the opposition raised against Jesus on the basis that he was from Nazareth in Galile rather than from Bethlehem (John 1:46; 7:41-42, 52). If Jesus was made up, then the gospel writers were knowingly creating problems for themselves they could've easily avoided.


*****

[1] L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, 146

[2] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 42-43

[3] Ibid., 44

[4] White, p. 122ff

[5] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p. 143ff

[6] http://www.discovery.org...

[7] Werner Foerster, trans. Gordon E. Harris, From the Exile to Christ, 92

[8] Ibid. 84

[9] David Goldberg & John Rayner, The Jewish People, 75

[10] Foerster, 107-108

[11] N.T. Wrght, Jesus and the Victory of God, 110

[12] http://jew-with-a-view.blogspot.com...

[13] Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI), 792



Stephen_Hawkins

Con

A note on sourcing

I’ve had this problem before when people source something yet do not quote the relevant bit, and I drudge through 20-page sources to debate. As such, I’m going to only refer to the arguments given. In other words, if it is not quoted, it’s not evidence; otherwise we could just be posting random quotes linked to random books. I'll of course quote citations when possible.

The historical Method

Should we presume an individual existed before any analysis? Let us consider the very basics of analysis. The way we analyse things is through hypothesis testing, in which we always assume the null hypothesis until an alternative hypothesis shows otherwise, “arguably the most widely used method of analysis of data” [1]. When true, the null hypothesis means “any difference found [between the expectation and reality] is due to sampling fluctuation” [2]. The logic of hypothesis testing is: “Given the null hypothesis is true, how likely it is for the occurrence shown by the data to surface? When the p-value is 0.001, it means that 1 / 1000 times the data will surface as it did under the assumption of the null.”[3] To see whether it is fluctuation, we compare the likelihood of the alternative hypothesis. The inexistence of pattern is the null hypothesis, as we instead should assume things come down to natural deviation instead of a design. For example, if I flip a coin twice and gets two heads, the probability is only a quarter, but we do not assume the coin is fixed. A fair p-value is 5%, meaning if there is evidence making it 0.95 likely that Jesus existed historically, we should believe it, and if not, we should reject it. Though this seems excessive, consider: if we flip a coin five times and get 5 heads, the probability of this is less than 5% (0.03125 to be precise), which seems massively generous already. We should assume the null hypothesis is, furthermore, against the existence of Christ for a number of reasons. For one, we’d assume that natural fluctuations will produce a small amount of proof in favour of Christ. For another, existing evidence can only support an alternative hypothesis by the nature of evidence: evidence cannot exist to disprove a null hypothesis except by positing an alternative hypothesis. In other words, we cannot disprove “I don’t know what happened” except by saying “This happened”, and the latter is making a claim. And finally, my claim is this; that the evidence does not justify the existence of a historical Christ.

Explanatory power

What explains the origin of Christianity best? A guy made it, it snowballed, and became popular. Christianity is not unique in being a religion: my opponent has to explain why it is distinct from Islam, Sikhism or even postmodernism in that why its success is proof its truth, while these others’ success isn’t relevant. Note explicitly I deny the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion in its entirety, due to its inexistence outside of the Bible, which my opponent agrees is a mess of cross-plagiarism and based on oral hymn, which is so bias that it goes without saying it is as strong evidence for historicity of Christ as Life of Brian.

The success of Christianity is also surprisingly simple: it was appealing. Though some argue that the fact that they died for their beliefs made their sacrifice irrational if they didn't believe, their sacrifice was in fact a crude blessing for them. Their martyrdrom bought a place in heaven and eternal paradise, something Roman Paganism couldn't grant.

Authority

I have many problems with this case. Firstly and swiftly it is an appeal to consensus and authority, which most who are against the historicity will agree is fallacious and most for the historicity will deny. Of course, no matter what we believe, scholars will disagree with us, so we should take argument, not their credentials, as relevant.

However, there are two other problems. Secondly, the claim that there is consensus is just flat-out wrong. Consider evolution: the scientific support is 99.9%[4]. This is of a field which is near-requires evolution, and scientists arguably go into it already believing evolution. This is certainly similar to bible scholars. But of bible scholars, Habermas finds “approximately 75% favor one or more of these arguments for [the historicity]”[5]. In other words, a group we’d expect to be more bias has vastly less support than another paradigm group.

And finally history as a whole is a theory in crisis: “historians have suffered a major theoretical challenge to the validity of their subject”, “poststructuralism threatens to throw historians out of work”, and as Spiegel wrote, postmodernism “entails the dissolution of history” and “necessarily jeopardizes historical study as normally understood”[6]. Yet this is an extreme minority opinion, with only a few postmodernist interpretations per hundred produced [6]. This moves onto my third problem: history itself has suffered “an air of complacency [6] in which shoddy history is done, and none moreso than the biblical historians, who seem oblivious to how a quarter of scholars disagreeing with them within their own community is in reality a massive amount. History has become about confirming their metanarrative, not analysing properly the original evidence but instead simply referencing other scholars to create a circle of confirmation bias.

The Bible

When it comes to the evidence of the crucifixion and similar events, my opponent essentially just cites the Bible, without external documentation. Though this looks impressive, in reality this means that the evidence of the events documented in the gospels is the gospels. Now, I want to attempt to discredit the source quickly:

  1. The Bible is, as mentioned, a jumble of cross-plagiarism to create the story of Christ. This implies that instead of being four independent accounts, these are accounts using one another to create the story. This means that if one rested on a false judgement, the rest generally followed suit. In other words, the Bible is not many independent sources, but a large source which self-references to prove itself. For example, ‘Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the New Testament through Christ’ can be explained by the New Testament being made to do such a role.
  2. The Bible’s later books builds on itself to exaggerate. For example, the gospel story of resurrection, the gospels slowly gain in brilliance of what happens: going from “a man in white” to “two angels”[7] over the course of the gospels. Unless we assume that when the story was retold someone thought “it probably wasn’t an angel that was around when Jesus came back to life, it was a bloke instead”. A more clear example is when in the Old testament the Judaeans "slew in Judah a hundred and twenty thousand in one day" (2 Chn 28:6).
  3. The Bible contains many events around the resurrection that are just ahistorical. For example, there was a supposed earthquake when Jesus resurrected, yet this, which should be able to be found with modern detection, cannot be documented. Moreover, no other contemporary documents such an event. In general, in fact, it is true that the events of the Bible which should be documented, such as Jesus’ astonishingly great orating skill, the earthquake, the souls being let on the streets, or even things about Jesus like the census of Quirinius simply doesn’t have any documentation. These events not being documented seriously brings into question whether the event happened at all.

1 – Raymond Nickerson, Null Hypothesis Significance Testing: A Review of an Old and Continuing Controversy

2 – R. P. Carver, The case against statistical significance testing

3 – http://www.creative-wisdom.com...

4 - http://www.jodkowski.pl...

5 - http://www.garyhabermas.com...

6 – In Defence of History, Richard J Evans.

7 - http://carm.org...

Debate Round No. 2
philochristos

Pro

Con's note on sourcing

The purpose of giving citations is so people will know where to look to verify what was said. Just because Con doesn't want to look up the references doesn't mean I didn't provide evidence. It is unreasonable (not to mention poor writing) to quote all of your sources. It's better to sumarize/paraphrase them, then cite them, and that's what I do most of the time, not only because that's good writing style (as you'll learn if you ever take upper level classes in history or philosophy), but because in this debate format, we have limited space. Con can ignore my arguments if he wants to, but he shouldn't get away with it when it comes time for voting.

"How much should I quote? As few words as possible. Remember, your paper should primarily contain your own words, so quote only the most pithy and memorable parts of sources."[1]

Quoting all my sources wouldn't save Con that much time anyway if he wanted to verify them.. He'd still have to make sure I was quoting them correctly and wasn't taking them out of context, which would require him to read the surrounding paragraphs.

Con quoted his sources, but his citations are inadequate. In notes 1, 2, and 6, he didn't give us a page number. He complains about having to "drudge through 20-page sources to debate," yet I'd have to read three books to verify his! And as we'll see, he took Gary Habermas out of context.

Presumption of historicity

Whereas I argued for the presumption of historicity, Pro argued for the presumption of non-historicity. If I understand him correctly, he's saying that since there would be "natural fluxuations" in which evidence for Jesus would exist even if Jesus himself did not, we should assume he did not exist unless we have substantial evidence that he did.

I'm not sure natural fluctuations would produce evidence of Jesus even if he didn't exist. If Jesus didn't exist, Christianity might not exist, and nobody would ever have even thought of him.

Even if true, it wouldn't follow that we should assume Jesus didn't exist apart from substantial evidence. At best, we should be neutral about it. This is the only argument Con gave us for the non-existence of Jesus, and it's a non-sequitur.

This line of reasoning also leads to absurdity because it would require us to deny the existence of anybody just in case it's possible they were made up. Such radical skepticism is unjustified.

Explanatory power

Con's response commits the strawman fallacy. The issue isn't whether Christianity is true or even why it was successful. The issue is why it began. I don't deny that the founders of other religions existed. Lao-Tzu (Taoism), Gautama Buddhia (Buddhism), Muhammad (Islam), Baha'u'llah (Baha'ism), and Joseph Smith (Mormonism) all existed, and their existence is the best explanation of the origin of their respective religions just as Jesus' existence is the best explanation of the origin of Christianity.

Con compares the NT account of Jesus to The Life of Brian, but this is a confusion of genres. The intention of Monte Python was to produce fiction, whereas the intention of the NT authors was to report history (cf. Luke 1:1-2).

Con thinks a better explanation is that Jesus was just made up, but he doesn't tell us why that's a better explanation. The existence of Jesus explains why he had followers who actually believed in him as well as why Christianity took the particular shape that it did. It's consistent with the origin of other messianic movements in the first century in the fact that those leaders had followers as well.

Authority

Con mistakenly thinks all appeals to authority are fallacious, but appeals to authority are "fallacious only when the person is not a legitimate authority in a particular context."[2]

Con denied my claim of concensus on the existence of Jesus among scholars, then quoted Gary Habermas out of context as evidence. What Habermas actually said was, "Of these scholars, approximately 75% favor one or more of these arguments <i>for the empty tomb</i>," not for the existence of Jesus.[3] The consensus on the existence of Jesus is just one person shy of 100%, or two people if you count Richard Carrier. Contrast that with the large number of credentialed scientists who "are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life," which I cited in the previous round.[4] Clearly, there is a stronger consensus on the existence of Jesus than on Dawinian evolution in their respective fields.

Ironically, Con commits the fallacy of false appeal to authority when he cites Spiegel on postmodernism's attack on historical realism. He admits that it's "an extreme minority position." He gives no first name for Spiegel, and in his footnote, he references Richard Evan's book, and doesn't even give us a page number.

The Bible

Con thinks the Bible counts as only one source, and an unreliable one at that.

While it's true that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source, John is independent of the synoptic gospels, and Q is independent of Mark. Also, as E.P. Sanders said, "Paul did not know the gospels, and the authors of the gospels did not know Paul's letters."[5] So the Bible contains multiple independent sources that all agree that Jesus existed. At the very least, we have Mark, Q, John, and Paul.

Con claims that the Bible builds on itself with "exaggerations." To call them exaggerations is to beg the question against their historicity. Actually, when Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source, they sometimes expand on what Mark says, and they sometimes abbreviate what he says (cf. Mark 1:40-45//Matthew 8:1-4). But none of this is relevant to any of my arguments.

Con claims that many of the events recorded in the gospels (especially surrounding the resurrection) are a-historical, but his arguments are all arguments from silence. But again, this is irrelevant. Even if the whole resurrection narrative was made up, it wouldn't follow that Jesus didn't exist anymore that it would follow that George Washington didn't exist just because the story of him chopping down the cherry tree was made up. Con's reasoning is fallacious.

Ignored arguments

Con ignored my argument from Paul's personal acquaintence with Jesus' brother unless you take his general critique of the Bible to amount to a refutation. It's not, though. My argument doesn't depend on multiple independent attestation or the general reliability of the gospels. Rather, it's a first hand account of somebody who actually knew Jesus' brother, James. I think Con needs to give us a better response against this argument.

Con's arguments against the general reliability of the gospels also fail to refute my arguments from the crucifixion and from Nazareth. Neither of these arguments depended on the gospels being generally reliable in all their details. I argued from both multiple independent attestation and the criteria of embarrassment that Jesus was crucified and that he was from Nazareth. While Con thinks bias works against our sources, in the case of embarrassment, it actually works for us. Since they had a bias in favour of Christianity, we would not expect them to make stuff up that would make it harder for them to sell the Christian message. The fact that we have multiple witnesses admitting that the messiah was crucified by the Romans and that he was actually from Nazareth instead of Bethlehem is good evidence that both of those are true. That entails that Jesus existed.

Conclusion

Con tried to cast doubt on my case for Jesus' existence, but made no substantial case against Jesus' existence. His burden is unmet.



*****

[1] http://writingcenter.unc.edu...


[2] http://www.nizkor.org...


[3] http://www.garyhabermas.com...


[4] http://www.discovery.org...

[5] E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 4







Stephen_Hawkins

Con

Sourcing

I agree with my opponent: you should quote as few words as possible for conciseness. However, this still means tohave quotes. His source agrees to quote when citing. Otherwise, we have to guess where one another got their evidence from. To answer a query, sources one and two are 6-page papers on the issue, quotes being on the second page of both, while the quotations In Defence of History are on p4: http://tinyurl.com...

Presumption of History

Firstly let me cover natural fluctuations. They are quite easy to show existing, mostly because they are obvious when we see them. If we flip a coin & get 3 heads in a row is this foul play? The chance of this is 0.125, which is greater than our p-value of 5%. We'd say no, this is simply luck. The technical term is natural fluctuation, as it is simple probability. If we get 12 heads in a row, the chance of this is less than our 5%, and as such we should assume foul play.

Now, is there foul play in history? Firstly, let me take a general history example, the most infamous: The Hitler Diaries, first thought authentic, but then recognised as a "crude forgery.""[1] These fakes are why we don't rely on a single source. Regarding the resurrection, we have the most obvious foul play of Josephus' works[3]. This is natural fluctuation. This evidence does not prove or disprove anything: it can easily be ascribed to something which just occurs from people wanting to find evidence. Moreover, a single piece of evidence can be ascribed to natural fluctuation, and as such a single source is not perfect evidence.

So am I really being unfair? Is saying that if something comes from a dubious source, then it is unjustified to dogmatically support it, “radical scepticism”? Of course not – it’s being critical. We shouldn’t embrace something because one source says so – that’s foolishly gullible. In a field dominated by dogmatists we should be even more sceptical of cases.

Authority

Though I could list Wells, Hoffmann, Doherty, Zindler, Ellegård, Price, Brodie, Thompson, Murdock, Akenson, White etc. etc. etc.[4][8], then demand literally a hundred scholars for Christ for every scholar against to get anywhere near the evolution mark, but as I’ve said, this is pointless listing. In a bias field (by its very nature), it relies heavily on consensus rather than evidence. However, I do demand that my opponent show how his list of 700 creationists making up 0.016% counts as controversy, and the postmodern controversy which is “an extreme minority opinion”, as my opponent rightly says, yet there is controversy in postmodernism and not in evolution. The truth is, numbers don’t matter, it’s the argument posed. 50 years ago, no-one espoused postmodernism and 500 years ago no-one espoused democracy. Moreover, he is yet to establish how this group of clearly bias authorities is a strong source.

Historical Figures

Imagine I am claiming Jesus was a historical figure. I make five claims:

1) Jesus is French

2) Jesus led the French nation against the Germans in the Second World War

3) Jesus became President of France

4) Jesus led a right-wing ideological tradition in France which dominates to this day.

Someone with knowledge of French History will be able to say this is De Gaulle, not Jesus. To show Jesus existed, we need to show that the defining characteristics of this person, whether events or traits, are true. For Jesus, the most obvious are:

1) Jesus was born in the Judaean region

2) Jesus as a child was thought of as “King of Kings” to the extent Herod tried to have him killed

3) Jesus was an extremely talented orator and prophet, committing miracles around the area.

4) Jesus was killed on the cross, and resurrected 3 days later

5) Jesus promoted the Christian religion, or at the least a New Judaism

This isn’t unreasonable; these are the facts that all Christians adhere to. If we argued Jesus was an American revolutionary leading the USA to its formation, signing the American Declaration, we would deny his existence. Similarly, we cannot claim Jesus was real if he had none of these characteristics. This is a different person, not Jesus Christ.

And if we are to again point to the 25% who deny the fourth fact, which includes the Empty Tomb, are we truly to say that Christ was real? Are we truly to say that Jesus Christ’s resurrection is irrelevant when it comes to defining him? No: his resurrection define Christ: it invariably leads to “the truth of Christian theology”[4a], “This early belief in the resurrection is the historical origination of Christianity.”[4b]

Explanatory Power

There are numerous reasons why the fictitious nature of Jesus is a better explanation of the factual one.

1) It is simpler: parsimony dictates immutable laws of nature are simpler than ones that break repeatedly. Miracles are by their very nature so extraordinry that for us to believe them we need overwhelming evidence, to disprove chances of fake sources.

2) It makes sense with the time: a figure claiming divinity and perfection so common to Judaea that Christ is unsurprising. Supposed existence of divine figures is also commonplace. A rallying symbol of Christ simply makes sense. His entire character makes sense, in fact: a great man, an allegory of Israel, beaten down by the Romans, tricked by others, yet rising like a phoenix from the ashes to become such a great person, as long as we hold true to the faith. It is poetically useful as nationalistic writing, but not history. The false claims of historicity by Luke also make sense, when we notice this fact: he is trying to create hope, and claiming reality is better than acknowledging lies.

3) It makes sense of the strange words of Christ. For example, Jesus’ proclamation that a woman divorcing her husband is adultery makes no sense culturally, as in Palestine only men could get divorces. This was for Gentiles, the non-Palestinians: “the evangelist [writer] put into Jesus' mouth in order to give [his view] authority”[5].

4) It makes sense of the lack of biblical events, like the census or Jesus' astounding oration, being properly documented or even referred to by contemporaries.

Paul

“[Paul's] Jesus is nothing more than the thinnest hearsay, a legendary creature which was crucified as a sacrifice, a creature almost totally lacking a biography.”[5]. The letters never refer to a place of birth, his virgin birth, or parents. They don’t indicate the time or place of his earthly existence. They don’t refer to his trial, nor to his execution. They mention neither John the Baptist, nor Judas. They do not mention his miracles, which define Christ. Finally, they do not mention even that he taught: it is devoid of ethical teaching, instead imposing its own ethic. In short, his Christ is Voldemort, or Aslan: A symbol to make a larger point, not real in its own right. That is why the crucifixion helps, not hinders, the faith: it is powerful symbol. This implies fiction, not fact.

The Gospels

My opponent claims gospels are reliable, as they are independent of Paul. That doesn’t stop them being cross-plagiarisms, of which we cannot find any reason to believe their truth outside of themselves.

James

He was a spiritual brother. “Not James the brother of John, an apostle, but James, the brother of the Lord”. “Some have been of opinion [of] a third James”. “He is called here the brother of the Lord, to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee”[7]. Analysers of the Bible point out how this is a spiritual brother – meaning nothing of history, but that James was Christian. I don’t deny people were Christian, I deny that there was Christ.


1 - http://tinyurl.com...

2 - http://tinyurl.com...

3 – "20 accept it with some interpolations, 9 with several interpolations; 13 regard it as being totally an interpolation" http://tinyurl.com...

4 – http://tinyurl.com.... (a) is a quote from Habermas, (b) is paraphrasing Ehrman.

5 - George A. Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p13

6 – Ibid, p22

7 - http://tinyurl.com...

8 - tinyurl.com/2w2yucw

Debate Round No. 3
philochristos

Pro


Sources

If Con's sources 1, 2, and 6 in his opening were papers, not books, he should've mention the publication, and he should've put their titles in quotes instead of italics. I didn't leave Con to guess about my sources. I cited titles correctly and gave page numbers.

Presumption of history

I agree that forgeries, legends, and embellishments exist in our records. However, the existence of occasional bad information does not justify us in assuming that all of our sources are wrong until proven right. The presumption ought to be historicity until closer examination reveals otherwise because historicity is more frequent than legend. For example, The Twelve Ceasars by Suetonius was an over-the-top satire about the excesses of twelve Caesars. Some of it probably is exaggerated or made up, but the vast majority of it is true.

My presumption argument is that our initial hypothesis ought to be that Jesus existed until we have good reason to think otherwise, and the reason is because all of our earliest sources put him in a recent historical context and take it for granted that he existed. Before a closer look, one might entertain the possibility of legend, but the presumption going into it ought to be that he existed.

Authority

Con misunderstands my point in comparing the concensus on Jesus with the concensus on evolution. I am not saying there is controversy on the subject of evolution. Quite the opposite. There is a very strong consensus in favor of Darwinian evolution among experts, and that is good reason for us to believe in Darwinian evolution even though most of us do not have advanced degrees in biology and have not done the research ourselves.

What I am arguing is that since the concensus about Jesus' existence is stronger than the concensus about Dawinian evolution, if we're justified in believing in evolution on the authority of the experts, then we're also justified in believing in the existence of Jesus on the autohrity of experts.

I argued that the concensus on the existence of Jesus is just a couple of people short of 100%. Con attempts to show more dissenters, but none of these people (except Robert Price[1]) are experts in New Testament history as I defined it in my opening.

G.A. Wells is a professor of German, not Biblical studies. Besides that, he now believes Jesus existed.[2]

Frank Zindler is a scientist and has no credentials in Biblical studies.

Thomas Thompson is a Hebrew Bible scholars, but has no degrees in New Testament or early Christainity.

Earl Doherty has no advanced degrees in Biblical studies or any related field. Just an undergraduate degree in classics.[3]

D.S. Murdock (aka Acharya) is a well-known kook and conspiracy theorist who no scholar takes seriously. She has no expertise in Biblical studies and is unpublished in any academic journal. Even Robert Price, who actually agrees with her conclusion, said: "The Christ Conspiracy is a random bag of (mainly recycled) eccentricities, some few of them worth considering, most dangerously shaky, many outright looney."[4]

When I say there is nearly a 100% consensus among experts on the existence of Jesus, I'm talking about actual experts with PhDs in fields relating to New Testament studies and early Christianity who are published in peer reviewed academic journals, and who hold teaching positions in those fields at universities or seminaries.

As far as bias goes, there is a wide variety of backgrounds among New Testament scholars, including people who are hostile to Christianity. It includes many atheists and agnostics, like Bart Ehrman and Gerd Ludemann.

The identity of historical figures

Con seems to be arguing that Jesus was not real because many of the things said about him in the gospels are not true. I agree that if two people named "Jesus" have nothing in common, then they're not the same person. Con would probably agree that two people can talk about the same Jesus even if they have disagreements about some things about him. So the question is where do we draw the line?

I have maintained throughout this debate that Jesus is the one behind the Christian movement in the first century who was a Jew from Nazareth who had a brother named James, who claimed to be the messiah, who gathered followers, and who got crucified in Jerusalem. I don't think there is any ambiguity about who we're talking about even if there is disagreement on some of the details of his life.

Explanatory power

Con gave four reasons why Jesus being a fiction has more explanatory power than Jesus being a real person, which I respond to presently:

1. The simplest explanation for the origin of Christainity is that Jesus existed because that's the one that stares us in the face. Non-historicity is an ad hoc conspiracy theory that doesn't explain why the original apostles appeared to actually believe in Jesus. You'd need an additional ad hoc assumption that they were all in on the conspiracy or that some of them were duped.

2. Inventing a messiah who didn't exist was not common at the time. If Jesus didn't exist, then he was the only such invention. A "crucified messiah" made no sense in the historical context of first century Judea. According to Marcus Borg, "The notion of a crucified Messiah was apparently unknown in the Jewish tradition, and was perhaps an impossible combination of terms."[5] The existence of Jesus is the most powerful explanation of why the earliest Christians would claim that "Christ" was crucified.

3. This point carries no weight. As a moral reformer, we should expect Jesus to introduce counter-cultural ideas.

4. Mark, Q, and John all agree on Jesus' teaching style--that he taught in parables.

Paul
Con seems to be arguing that Paul did not think of Jesus as an historical person just because Paul didn't give a detailed biography of Jesus. But there was no occasion for Paul to do so. He wrote his letters to churches that were already established, and the purpose of the letters was to deal with issues those churches were having.

But if Con think Paul didn't provide any historical information about Jesus, he is mistaken. Paul knew that Jesus was a human being, born of a woman, under the law (Galatians 4:4), meaning he was a Jew, that he was a descendent of David (Romans 1:3), that he had living brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5), including James (Galatians 1:19), that he had a meal on the night he was handed over (1 Corinthians 1:23-25), and that he was crucified (Philippians 2:8).

And Paul certainly thought Jesus existed in recent history because he had living brothers. Also, Paul claims that Jesus rose three days after his death and appeared to Cephas (1 Corinthians 15:4-5). So Jesus was no "once upon a time" character to Paul. He was a real Jewish man who died in the recent past.

The Gospels

I didn't claim the gospels were generally reliable. I claimed that they contain multiple independent attestation about Jesus since Mark, Q, and John are independent sources. Con takes my claim that Matthew and Luke used Mark and Q as sources, and distorts that into "cross plagarism" in which we have no independent sources.

James

Con claims that James was just a spiritual brother of Jesus, meaning that "James was a Christian." However, Paul distinguishes the apostles from "the brothers of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:5), and he distinguishes James from Cephas and the other apostles by calling him the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19). Also, Mark 6:3 says Jesus had brothers and sisters, and it names four of his brothers, including James.

Crucifixion and Nazareth

Con didn't say anything about these two arguments in his rebuttal.



[1] I was wrong about Robert Price. He doesn't deny that Jesus existed, just that it's impossible to know. see youtube: watch?v=Qfk3Befydb4


[2] http://en.wikipedia.org...


[3] Bart Ehrman discusses all these people in Did Jesus Exist, p. 14-21.


[4] http://web.archive.org...


[5] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, 116.


Stephen_Hawkins

Con

Stephen_Hawkins forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
27 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by philochristos 3 years ago
philochristos
I can't say it's my regular approach because this was my first debate on this subject. I used only Biblical sources because I think they're more reliable than secular sources and easier to defend. Plus, there was limited space. There were other arguments I wanted to use, but they just didn't make the cut.
Posted by YouShallKnow 3 years ago
YouShallKnow
I'm fascinated that you didn't seem to feel the need of providing extra-biblical accounts philocristos (in spite of Stephen's repeated demand of it)! Indeed, you're case succeeded without them, your biblical arguments were enough.

But I'm just curious, is it just because you didn't felt it was necessary, or that it could just be a possible weak point (i.e., short extra-biblical accounts are not reliable/defensible)? Is this strategy (only biblical arguments) what you are regularly and more effectively employing?

Thanks for all I've learned on this philocristos!^^,
Posted by likespeace 3 years ago
likespeace
I just wanted to shout out that Stephen put up a great fight. Although I'm sure it's disheartening, given the time he poured into this, there's no shame in losing a well-argued debate.
Posted by AlwaysMoreThanYou 3 years ago
AlwaysMoreThanYou
Whoah
Posted by truthteller1 3 years ago
truthteller1
yes
Posted by johnlubba 3 years ago
johnlubba
Good debate.
Posted by FritzStammberger 3 years ago
FritzStammberger
well done philochristos, well done, you win this one for sure.
Posted by philochristos 3 years ago
philochristos
I decided to include my sources in the body of my post. I just prefer it that way. It's easier for people reading. But feel free to post your sources elsewhere and provide a link.
Posted by Stephen_Hawkins 3 years ago
Stephen_Hawkins
Make a new debate, impossible to accept, then post links there. Post that link on this debate. End the other debate.
Posted by philochristos 3 years ago
philochristos
Okay. Where are you going to post your sources, though? I don't know where I would post mine other than in the comments.
7 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Vote Placed by Magic8000 3 years ago
Magic8000
philochristosStephen_HawkinsTied
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Reasons for voting decision: For to the feit
Vote Placed by johnlubba 3 years ago
johnlubba
philochristosStephen_HawkinsTied
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Reasons for voting decision: I followed this debate in progression and remember thinking Philochristos had the upper hand and Stephen Hawkins offered a lot of personal opinion into the argument. But to return and find the last round Forfieted by Con was easy enough to further tip the vote into Philochristo's favor.
Vote Placed by likespeace 3 years ago
likespeace
philochristosStephen_HawkinsTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Conduct to Pro for the last round forfeit rather than a graceful concession. Arguments to Pro for showing there is more expert consensus for a historical Jesus (minus the supernatural events) than there is for the theory of evolution. This was a potent argument since Con and the vast majority of society accepts evolution, which implies that a higher bar would be unreasonable. Pro also makes one of the best "independent sources" arguments I have seen. In other debates I have seen a theist claim one verse noting 500 witnesses "proves" 500 witnesses! In contrast, Pro made a solid claim to at least 4 attesting to be independent witnesses, which should be enough in other contexts to accept a historical fact. Finally, Pro shows that the attributes of Jesus he's provided evidence for are enough to identify his character unambiguously. All need not be true--the George Washington / cherry tree story was a good example! Sources to Pro for undermining Con's sources. Great debate!
Vote Placed by rross 3 years ago
rross
philochristosStephen_HawkinsTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Con wouldn't have been able to introduce new arguments in the final round anyway, and he would have needed some new arguments to win this. I don't think a fictional account is simpler or more likely. On the contrary, it's much more likely that Jesus was a historical figure. Of course, there may be plagiarism, fraud, and exaggeration of various kinds but just as the false diaries of Hitler (Con's example) don't disprove Hitler's existence, so any "fluctuations" of historical accuracy don't disprove the existence of Jesus.
Vote Placed by Nur-Ab-Sal 3 years ago
Nur-Ab-Sal
philochristosStephen_HawkinsTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture by the Con. Philochristos anathematizes another heretic.
Vote Placed by TrasguTravieso 3 years ago
TrasguTravieso
philochristosStephen_HawkinsTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Yea, I would have forfeited too, that was impressive. (i.e. conduct + arguments to Pro)
Vote Placed by AlwaysMoreThanYou 3 years ago
AlwaysMoreThanYou
philochristosStephen_HawkinsTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit. Pro was probably winning before that anyway.