• Brendan Golledge
    82
    I have been puzzling over for a while what may have actually happened in the New Testament. If I choose to believe that it really happened exactly as recorded, then I am confused. If I choose to believe that it was totally made up, then I am confused. I will explain further in the rest of this post. I realize it's impossible to know with certainty what happened in a historical event based only off testimony, but I believe I have an explanation that fits the evidence, that is at least, not entirely impossible.


    On the Confusion in the Church

    If the Church were really being led by God, why is there so much confusion in the church? I would think that if there were a single authority guiding it, then consensus would increase with time. But like all other religions, factions and confusions increase with time in Christianity, rather than decrease.

    This compares poorly to science, for instance. There are arguments in science, but with time, knowledge and consensus increase. This is because science is based on sensory observation and on math, and these are the same for everyone. If the Holy Spirit were guiding the church, and it were the same for everyone, why would not the churches increase in knowledge and consensus, like in science?

    Even if I did decide that I believed every word written in the New Testament, I would not know what to do next. What doctrine of salvation would I choose? What would be my relationship to the sacraments? What church organization would I attend? How would I deal with the fact that I'm commanded to pray, but I've never received a tangible answer to prayer from an external entity?


    On the Unlikelihood of the Gospels Being Fabricated

    On the other hand, the gospels being entirely fabricated makes no sense either. The disciples knew that they were going to be persecuted, and apparently, most of them were tortured to death.

    It could be argued that other religions were fabricated to serve their creators. For instance, Joseph Smith and Muhammad both became rich polygamists. This argument does not work with Christianity. The disciples of Jesus had no self-serving motives.


    There is also a lot of textual evidence that at least something vaguely resembling what is described in the New Testament actually happened. Roman and Jewish sources, for instance, never argued that Jesus never existed, nor that he had never been crucified.

    I've recently found a YouTube channel called "Testify" which talks about unplanned coincidences in the Bible. There are hundreds of examples you can find by surfing the videos, but I'll give just a couple here.

    In the story about Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes, one of the four books mentioned that the event took place in Bethsaida, and that Jesus asked Phillip where they would get food to feed the people. A different book mentioned that Jesus recruited Phillip from Bethsaida. So, in one book, Jesus asked Phillip where they could get food in Bethsaida, but the reason why wasn't explained. A different book didn't mention that event, but did mention that Phillip was recruited from Bethsaida. These fit together nicely, but a casual reader would never notice the connection. Another coincidence from the same story is that one book mentioned that the people sat down on the green grass, and another mentioned that the event took place around passover. Apparently, it just so happens that the grass is brown in Jerusalem for most of the year, and is only green around passover. This is good evidence (especially considering that there are hundreds of coincidences like this) that the different people who wrote the books were recalling different details from actual memories of the event.


    Two Choices:

    Because I disbelieve that every single one of the disciples would have chosen persecution for a lie, I am convinced of their sincerity. Therefore I can think of only 2 choices:

    1. God really did come to Earth to speak to us, but he was content to let us be confused about what he said for the next 2000 years.
    2. There was some extraordinary confusion concerning a man coming back from the dead about 2000 years ago.

    Some of the explanations I have come up with for how they could have believed in a miracle that didn't really take place are a bit of stretch. Under normal circumstances, you would not believe that the extraordinary coincidence is the most-likely explanation. However, we KNOW that the events that took place at the time were extraordinary. A world religion was founded, and that does not happen every day. Whether the extraordinary event came from God, or from human confusion, we know that the event was extraordinary.


    Before I get into the discussion of events 2000 years ago, I'll talk about some research I did on eyewitness testimony and on Near Death Experiences (NDE).


    On the Reliability of Eye-Witness Testimony:
    I don't have any of my sources written down, so you'll need to do your own research to verify.

    While puzzling over this, I decided to look at the reliability of eye-witness testimony in court cases as a proxy for the reliability of testimony generally.

    I remember one study in particular where participants were asked to watch a video of a criminal activity taking place, and then asked to recall details from the video. When asked individually, the accuracy rate for the details was 80%. However, when the participants were asked to discuss the video amongst themselves and then report their findings, the accuracy dropped to 40%.

    It seems to be a strange fact of life that matters of social consensus are less likely to be true than some random individual's opinion.

    I remember another study of 10 000 police reports of events that were filmed. Some small percent of police reports (it might have been 5%, but I can't exactly recall this stat) contained testimony from the police that contradicted the video evidence. I'd assume that the police often knew that they were being filmed, so I'd not believe that most of these discrepancies came from deliberate lying.

    I concluded that if you're asking a random Joe about an event that took place, and he's recalling true memories, then about 80% of the details will be correct. If you're talking to a professional (assuming he's being truthful), then you can't expect better than 95% accuracy. If you're talking about a matter of social consensus that people have widely discussed, then there's more than a 50% chance that it's wrong.

    Now, that doesn't mean that over 50% of history that is agreed upon is wrong. It means that history that is BASED upon social consensus is probably wrong (the kind that would get you ostracized if you even question it). If you have individual testimonies of a thousand soldiers who fought in a war, then you can have a very high degree of confidence that there was a war, especially if most of these soldiers didn't know each other. About 80% of the details in most of the testimonies will probably be true (like who did what at a particular time on a particular day). That means about 20% of the details will be false. But if a thousand people all agreed that there was a battle, and if there's only a 20% chance that each individual person got it wrong, then there's a 0.2^1000 chance that the battle didn't actually take place. But it could easily happen if 3 men witnessed some specific event and discussed it beforehand, that their memory was corrupted by the discussion and that the event didn't really happen that way at all.


    Near Death Experiences (NDE)

    I once looked on YouTube at 13 testimonies of near death experiences and recorded details, like whether there was a hell or not. I concluded that if you believe in an afterlife, but have no other preconceptions about it, then up to 60% of the testimonies could have been true. If you believe in specifically Christian doctrine, then only about 25% could have been true.

    I came to this conclusion by finding contradictions between testimonies. For instance, if one testimony said that there was no hell, but that people just are reunited with God when they die, and another said that there definitely was a hell and he was going to go there if he didn't straighten out, then that is an irreconcilable contradiction.

    Things that excluded a Christian interpretation of the NDE would be like if somebody saw Mohammed, or if they saw God the Father as an old man (nearly all theology states that God the Father doesn't have a body).

    My interpretation (I'm not a doctor, BTW), is that when the brain shuts down, strange things happen. Maybe when information from the eyes quits coming to the visual cortex, the visual cortex starts to get information from places that it normally doesn't, like the unconscious. In this case, a NDE would be a visual interpretation of meaningful ideas already within one's self.

    I personally like Jung's psychology. He interprets dreams as symbolical representation of emotionally significant events. So, I like to go to a dream dictionary, like "dreammoods.com", and figure out if the elements in my dream can reasonably represent things that I'm struggling with in my waking life. I'm usually able to make some kind of explanation of a dream that makes sense.

    I would interpret NDE then as something like an extreme version of a dream. They are dreams taking place when the brain is trying to be awake, but systems start failing.

    There were 2 NDE in which it was claimed that they saw something in the real world while unconscious, and this detail was later verified. I have no way of explaining these cases. I would guess that since they are such a small proportion of the cases, they must have got it right by coincidence, or seen it while they were awake. The only other interpretation I can think of is that there is an afterlife which people have actually seen, but that a large portion of reports are still made-up BS.


    The Disciples were Preselected for Impressionability

    As I recall, Jesus recruited his disciples by wandering around the countryside and talking to them briefly before they decided to follow him. Can you imagine that you're at work doing your business, and some stranger comes and talks to you, and the very same day, you decide to quit your job and leave your apartment and follow him? This does not seem like normal behavior to me. Even if somebody made the most convincing argument in the world to me, I'd personally be inclined to at least sleep on it before leaving everything else behind.


    Possible Explanation of Some Miracles

    I imagine that the testimonies given in the New Testament were based on true events, but that the miraculous parts were exaggerations created by confusion, excitability, and social consensus. This would explain why the unplanned coincidences only pertained to the trivial details (like whether the people sat on green grass or not), but not to the miracles themselves. I believe that when the "miracle" occurred, the disciples discussed it and convinced themselves that it was a miracle. But their consensus was highly exaggerated. When it came to the trivial details, they recalled true uncorrupted memories, because they did not discuss these details amongst themselves.

    Also, all these guesses rely on almost deliberate gullibility, or extreme coincidence. This would not normally be expected, but considering that the disciples were preselected for impressionability, and that we know that something unusual happened, these are my best guesses.

    Multiplying the Loaves and Fishes:
    Maybe more loaves and fishes were brought to the people from some outside help (maybe just friendly villagers who didn't even discuss it with the disciples). Maybe the disciples saw their initial bread and loaves being distributed, and then saw that more and more baskets were being passed around, but they never saw the original source of these new baskets, and concluded that there was a miracle. In a crowd of several thousand, where the initial offering was made in the middle, and new baskets were being brought to the outside of the group, this does not seem totally impossible.

    Jesus Walking on Water:
    The testimony was that it was stormy, so maybe there were rolling waves on the lake. Maybe Jesus was standing upright in another small boat looking for them, and the waves hid the boat from view. Maybe the wind blew Jesus' boat towards them, or somehow he had an oar or something to push his boat. All of this together meant that from a distance, it looked like he was walking on water. Maybe by coincidence, the storm really did calm down shortly after Jesus told it to (maybe Jesus wasn't even trying to perform a miracle, but just personifying the storm and talking to it out of frustration).

    I realize this is a bit of a stretch. It depends on the waves being big enough to hide the boat from view, but not so violent as to topple Jesus over when he stood up in it. It also depends on Jesus somehow gaining ground on them while standing up, while they were both in boats being blown by the wind and waves (maybe the orientation and shape of the boats made one boat get pushed more than the other?). It also depends on the disciples being so excitable that they were convinced that a miracle had taken place, and so did not notice the boat Jesus was on when he got closer. The whole idea of this post really depends on the disciples being very excitable and blowing things out of proportion, and then sticking to their misperceptions.

    Raising Lazarus:
    Maybe Lazarus hadn't actually died, but was just very sick and mistaken for dead. Even in the modern day, doctors (very rarely) falsely declare people to be dead. Maybe it was just by coincidence that Lazarus happened to wake up at about the same time Jesus came. Even if Jesus had spoken to Lazarus, and then Lazarus hadn't actually gotten up until the next day, it would probably have made a big enough impression on the people that they were convinced that a miracle had taken place.

    Jesus Rising from the Dead:
    I've heard that medical professionals who look into the matter say that given the description of the crucifixion, Jesus certainly died on the cross. I also heard that even if he wasn't crucified, he might have died of blood loss from being flogged. I also heard that even if he had survived, his hands and feet would have been swollen, and he would have looked beaten up, and would not have been able to convince his friends that he had come back from the dead. Well, swoon theory still seems like the most likely naturalistic explanation for the faith of the disciples to me. So, what if maybe the testimony of his crucifixion wasn't entirely accurate?

    Apparently there was a Jewish historian Josephus who saw 3 of his friends being crucified. He was friends of the Roman official in charge, so he asked for his friends to be taken down. 2 of his friends died anyway, but one of them lived. So there is a precedent that it's possible to survive crucifixion if it's ended early.

    Suppose Jesus was given only a light flogging (it appears from the New Testament that Pilate wasn't really thrilled about crucifying him anyway, so this doesn't seem like a big stretch to me). Then suppose he was only on the cross for about 3 hours when he was given that liquid to drink from the sponge. Suppose maybe his supporters put whatever painkiller/narcotics were available at the time in order to try to ease his passing, and as a result, Jesus passed out. Then the Roman guard stabbed him, but missed the heart. I've heard that maybe he stabbed the pericardium (a sac around the heart), which would explain the mixture of blood and water. In the New Testament, it explains that Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so quickly. Apparently it usually takes days to die of crucifixion, but Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours, so it's not impossible that he survived, if the Roman guard missed the heart. Then Joseph of Arimathea takes Jesus, and realizes that he isn't actually dead, and then begins a conspiracy to convince the Romans that he is dead. I don't know what happens in the tomb after that, but if Jesus is alive and with a disciple after being crucified, that disciple has reason to try to deceive. Apparently Josephus actually owned the tomb, so it would have been easier for him than anybody else to control events. A few days later, Jesus is partially recovered and goes to his disciples to say, "It's alright, I'm not dead. But I really gotta go," and then he leaves the country and is never seen again (he doesn't want to get crucified twice). The disciples, as usual, are overly excitable and misinterpret, and the religion is started.

    I'm not going to try to explain every miracle. I think you get the point.


    Note that part of this argument depends on the disciple's memories being corrupted by discussing the event after the fact. There was one study that found that accuracy for detail recall in individuals was 80%, but for groups, it was only 40%. There is actually at least one passage where it says explicitly that the disciples discussed the miracle after the fact: "And they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the way and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” " Luke 24:32. Maybe Jesus had swollen hands and feet at the time and was really exhausted (that could explain why they didn't recognize him), but their discussion after the fact convinced themselves that he had resurrected.


    What Jesus' Teachings May Have Actually Been

    It is reported repeatedly in the New Testament that the disciples were confused about Jesus' teachings (like when they told the children to go away, or when they rebuked the woman for buying expensive perfume). They were also confused AFTER the crucifixion, since they believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes, and evidently, he didn't. This doesn't give great confidence that Jesus' teachings were accurately relayed to us by the disciples.

    I heard something Alan Watts said about Jesus. He said that he thought Jesus wasn't uniquely claiming to be the Son of God, but that anyone who has had spiritual experiences has a feeling of oneness with the universe. He believed that Jesus meant that anybody could be like him if they tried.

    I have found personally that if I interpret Jesus' teachings in a purely psychological sense, they usually make sense. I've written whole other posts on this, so I'll give just a couple examples here.

    Once I puzzled over Jesus talking about taking the plank out of one's own eye before rebuking one's brother for the speck in his eye. I was confused, because it seemed to me that Jesus was saying that harsh judgement is ALWAYS hypocritical, and I didn't see how that could be the case. After a great deal of puzzling, however, I found that whenever I harshly judged another person, it was usually to cover for my own insecurity. Like if I just see an obese person walking by, or a smoker, and I'm not insecure about my own weight, my own self-control, or my own habits, then it really doesn't matter to me (except maybe worrying about their health). But if I harshly judge those people, it probably means that I am trying to direct my attention away from similar faults in myself. I don't think this command not to judge probably applies when one actually has to make a decision (like should I marry her, should I work for him), because then we actually have a reason to judge. But it does seem true to me that pointless judgment comes almost exclusively from insecurity.

    Take his teaching about how you clear one demon out of your house, and then a dozen more come to live there. I do not believe it's possible to shut off one's brain, or to not desire comfort. If one has a bad habit as a comfort, and you get rid of it without replacing it with something else, the brain seeks desperately to replace it with something, which could very well be another bad habit. So the teaching seems to be that if you want to get rid of a bad habit, you have to replace it with a good habit, or else it just won't work. It is maybe similar to how you can't not think of a pink elephant, but you CAN think on purpose of something else.

    Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains. If I interpret the mountain as some obstacle within myself that stops me from being the way I'd like to be, then it seems to be true. I've concluded that whereas sensory experience comes from the outside, values are asserted arbitrarily from within. So it is often the case that simply deciding that I can and will be different is enough to make it so. In a similar vein, being able to drink poison and handle snakes without being harmed could mean that if you have the right attitude, you can deal deal with malicious lies and malicious people without being inwardly harmed.

    He also commanded us to pray constantly. This seemed very mysterious to me, until I realized that it often seems to be the case the Christians do not distinguish between their own conscience and the voice of God. If prayer just means conversing with one's own conscience, then I have been doing that for a long time. Jesus also teaches that if you ask for something, it will be given to you. If this is interpreted psychologically (Jordan Peterson has said the same thing), then it means if you ask how you can be a better version of yourself, an answer IMMEDIATELY comes to mind.

    So, in the sense that I believe in Jesus' teachings, since I have experienced them myself (given these interpretations of his teachings), I am a follower of Jesus, even though I doubt that he was uniquely the son of God.

    Going back to Jesus being the Son of God: I have come to the conclusion myself that a person's values are the core of his being. The thing about values though, is that you can choose to change them. So, if Jesus was likewise a very value-oriented person (as I believe he is, based on my interpretations of his teachings, as explained above), then when he claimed to be "one with the father", it could have just meant that he worked very, very hard, and succeeded, in making his values aligned with the God that the people of Israel believed in. In a certain sense, the virtues are immortal, since they can be practiced by anyone. If I have worked hard to embody certain virtues, then in a certain sense, I can say that I am immortal. This is not because my own body is immortal, but because I am participating in the immortality that existed before I was born. If I am confident enough in being an avatar of the virtues/values that I am practicing, then I could speak on behalf of them as if I were them.


    Conclusion

    I believe Jesus taught good sense psychology with symbolic language within a Jewish context. I can verify many of his teachings (when interpreted in a psychological context) from my own experience. It's hard to know the details of all his teachings, since they probably weren't accurately related to us, but he may not have meant that he was uniquely the son of God.

    His disciples were impressionable and excitable. They misinterpreted much of what Jesus said, and were a part of some extraordinary coincidences, and so they were willing to die for their belief in Jesus. The unquestionable faith they had in their teacher is what convinced others to also believe in Jesus, and so the religion was born.

    The extraordinary coincidences in the life of Jesus would not have been sufficient to start a religion if he were not also teaching things that made at least some sense. There is a great deal of wisdom in his teachings, even if it's difficult for people outside of that cultural context to explicitly understand what they meant.

    CS Lewis said that the options one had for one's conception of Jesus were "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord". I believe there is a 4th option, which I have described here. It is "Misunderstood."
  • Tom Storm
    8.4k
    Remember the gospels are anonymous accounts, written many years, in some cases many decades after the supposed events. Most reputable biblical scholars today would say that the stories in the NT were likely inspired by someone, perhaps more than one person. Myths are often inspired by actual people.

    Of course, there is no shortage of similar miracle stories even today. Sathya Sai Baba (who died in 2011) to name one, healed the sick (cured cancer, etc) raised the dead, he materialized gold and jewelry for followers. Indeed some followers even now are awaiting his resurrection. You can talk to scores, thousands of first hand eyewitnesses to Sai Baba’s miracles.

    I understand there are no contemporary extrabiblical eyewitness accounts of Jesus. Some writers like Josephus writing 60 years later, references the belief and it's origins story. This is not evidence of Jesus himself or any events described. There is also scholarship to say the Jesus reference in Josephus was put in later by others.

    Whether people were willing to be martyred for their beliefs (and many of these stories are unlikely to be true) is irrelevant to the truth of those beliefs. Suicide bombers and martyrs to religious or political causes are not uncommon. Hinduism. Buddhism and Islam all have martyrs. So? People do astonishing things for belief, whether true or not. Note also that the early church probably fabricated martyr stories. Candida Moss, a Christian scholar, writes about this in The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

    CS Lewis said that the options one had for one's conception of Jesus were "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord". I believe there is a 4th option, which I have described here. It is "Misunderstood."Brendan Golledge

    Most people I have heard address Lewis go with ‘Myth’ as the fourth option. Given we know virtually nothing about whoever the real person behind the Jesus stories might have been, we can't claim to know enough to offer liar, lunatic or lord. I do think myth covers off on this one pretty well.
  • Paine
    2k
    I don't have any of my sources written down, so you'll need to do your own research to verify.Brendan Golledge

    This is not the mark of those who try to engage with original texts or interested in those who do.
  • Lionino
    1.4k
    A related conversation happened in the thread about humour, starting properly with this comment by Amadeus https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/878625 , but the topic was brought up by me in an unfortunate analogy that derailed the thread in the same page
    :sweat: https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/878470

    I don't have any of my sources written down, so you'll need to do your own research to verify.Brendan Golledge

    That much tells me there is a good possibility you are misremembering them.

    Also relevant:

    You do find Jesus calling himself God in the Gospel of John, or the last Gospel. Jesus says things like, "Before Abraham was, I am." And, "I and the Father are one," and, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father." These are all statements you find only in the Gospel of John, and that's striking because we have earlier gospels and we have the writings of Paul, and in none of them is there any indication that Jesus said such things.If Jesus Never Called Himself God, How Did He Become One?
  • Wayfarer
    20.7k

    Not ego speaking. The ‘I Am’ is the ‘I AM’ of Exodus - the ‘I am’ of the Cosmos. That is something imparted by the Advaita guru Ramana Maharishi. Not orthodox doctrine, but :ok:
  • Ciceronianus
    2.9k


    Things were in such a mess during the creation of Christianity it's hard to tell what was going on.

    There was the conflict between Paul of Tarsus and James the Just; other miracle workers and holy men were wandering about, like Apollonius of Tyana, who was said to have ascended into heaven; the Gospels conflict in several respects, most problematically for traditional Christians in the case of Jesus saying the kingdom of heaven shall come within the lifetimes of those listening to him (Luke); the similarity between Christian sacraments and those of other religions. The early Church Fathers claimed that devils inspired the communion meal engaged in by members of the cult of Mithras because they knew Christianity would have the same sacrament. Then there was the dispute between the followers of Arian and Athanasius, regarding whether Jesus was of the same substance as the Father, and other early versions of Christianity like Christian Gnosticism and Montanism and Marcionism (later declared heresies). And the heresies kept coming.

    It's fascinating, but a god-awful mess.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2k


    I would say Ehrman is vastly overstating his thesis, especially when including Paul in these assertions.

    During his lifetime, Jesus himself didn't call himself God and didn't consider himself God, and ... none of his disciples had any inkling at all that he was God.

    Here is how Paul refers to Christ:

    12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

    13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

    14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

    15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

    16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

    17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.


    18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

    19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

    20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
    — St. Paul - Colossians 1

    Granted, there are some who contest Paul's authorship of the letter, but then I recall one scholar pointing out that the same methodology (mostly looking at how often words reoccur across different letters) would have it that they didn't write many of their own papers either. IIRC, this is one of the lesser contested of the "contested epistles." But Jesus seems quite divine in others too.

    Both James and Peter refer to Jesus as "Lord" (kyrios) in seemingly the same sense that the word is used for adonai in the Septuagint, e.g., "hold on to the faith in our glorious lord Jesus Christ" (James). Peter also attests to the Transfiguration in his letter. At any rate, the idea of praising the glory of a human being in this way, or of offering prayers to him, doesn't make sense in the context of Second Temple Judaism if Jesus is simply a final prophet. Luke likewise features the disciples "worshiping" Christ after the resurrection, which is of particular note because Luke and Acts are thought to have the same source/author and in Acts Paul goes out of his way to tell people not to worship him because he is only a man (although Luke might not even be older than John).

    The dating for the Gospels all have a lot of overlap in date range. Part of the arguments for later composition dates for John are that it contains some of the references Ehrman is talking about, but then this just makes the argument circular. It must be later because it has "later" material, and the material is said to be "later" because it is in John. In any event, the gap in average proposed dates for Luke and John is like all of a decade.

    IMO, nothing really definitive can be said until a good deal past these dates. It's also really impossible to determine what the intent was behind different narrative choices either.

    The Gospels certainly don't rule out a sort of subordinate relationship ala Arianism or Doscetism, but Jesus as non-divine seems like quite a stretch as a thesis. The reason the pharisees are decrying him as blasphemous in Matthew 9 is because he is saying he is the Son of Man, with authority to forgive sins (something only God can do in the religious context). Similar events play out in Mark and Luke. Then there is the application of Isiah's "make clear the way of the Lord" to Christ in Mark and the voice of God calling Christ "Son" during the Transfiguration (not in John).

    But probably more conclusive is Jesus in Matthew 28 declaring "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Son is placed between the two clearly divine entities, and then there is the promise that Christ will always be with his followers.
  • BitconnectCarlos
    1.8k
    Ehrman is one of the top biblical scholars (biblical historians?) and he tows pretty mainline, well-researched positions so I don't think his views are particularly controversial or should be treated as prima facie wrong. I think it's possible that his views are being misrepresented here.

    In any case, by gJohn Jesus is clearly divine while in the earlier gospels it's a little more ambiguous with some of Jesus's statements conveying a clear separation between him and God. So, as the gospels progress Jesus gets increasingly divine and the gospels also become increasingly pro-Roman and paint the Jews in an increasingly bad light. Sort of similar to what happened as the gentiles took over the movement from the early Jewish followers. Paul however clearly views Jesus as divine, and Ehrman would surely agree that Paul viewed him as such.

    Regardless, as a thinker I'm quite sympathetic to Jesus and find his views to be profound and radical but also quite controversial. He's a quite dangerous thinker and dare I say his death was even somewhat fitting for a thinker who preached such a hardline dualism/anti-materialism.

    EDIT: Jesus does have quite a few parallels with the prophet elijah who existed ~900 years prior. A few examples off the top of my head:

    - both conduct food multiplication miracles
    - both raise the dead
    - both are highly mobile, wandering from place to place, rarely settling down
    - both come from humble roots and preach against materialism
    - both ascend to heaven

    Robert Alter is of the position that the Elijah was used as a template for the Jesus of the gospels. Personally however I find Jesus to be the richer character.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2k
    Ehrman is one of the top biblical scholars (biblical historians?) and he tows pretty mainline, well-researched positions so I don't think his views are particularly controversial or should be treated as prima facie wrong. I think it's possible that his views are being misrepresented here.

    Really? I am familiar with him largely through his name being synonymous with a sort of liberal "debunking" of the Scriptures. It certainly isn't a confirmed fact that any Gospel was written before any other. If Colossians wasn't written by Paul it still likely was written by someone very familiar with Paul around the time that the Gospels were written, and so represents one of the very earliest Christian voices calling Christ the entity through which all things are created and sustained (sounds a lot like God). I Peter is dated to the early 60s AD if Petrine authorship is accepted, and this puts Jesus being called Lord and prayers to Jesus in with the very earliest Christian texts in existence.

    Attempts to deflate Jesus in the early church aren't unique to Ehrman of course and there has been a trend of them since the 1970s. The extreme end of this is "Jesus as a misunderstood social critic," which seems to have more to do with the desire to co-opt Jesus for contemporary political debates than anything in the Gospels, as Jesus does things in Mark like affirm he is the Christ and talk about coming down on a cloud with the Might One, etc.

    The current academic system preferences novelty and creativity, which unfortunately leads to provocative theses gaining ground simply for being provocative. This isn't just true for Biblical studies. This is the driving factor behind Ionannodis' famous paper "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False." The drive to get citations and standout for tenure just make this worse, and it effects a wide array of fields (e.g., there has been a lot of work on this incentive structure in economics)

    The most true thing you could say about the church prior to the late third century is that it seems like it was quite diverse and no one really knows the order in which major texts were composed or who wrote them or why different editorial decisions were made. But this is obviously uninteresting and so you get all sorts of theories and supposition that rise and fall in popularity despite the underlying evidence staying the same.

    Being mainstream doesn't mean "being supported by good evidence," in this area. From the late 1800s to the latter half of the 20th century biblical scholars "knew" there had been a Council of Jamnia in the late first century where the Hebrew canon was fixed in response to Christianity. Now this is a theory embraced by virtually no one. But the rise and fall of such theories has little to do with new evidence, and more with arguments over the same old evidence, which gain currency.

    Jewish followers. Paul however clearly views Jesus as divine, and Ehrman would surely agree that Paul viewed him as such.

    Paul's letters are widely taken to be the earliest Christian sources though, which makes the temporal argument seem a bit off. Luke is coming significantly later, perhaps after John, and in any event Luke taken with Acts shows Jesus as quite divine.




    If the Church were really being led by God, why is there so much confusion in the church? I would think that if there were a single authority guiding it, then consensus would increase with time. But like all other religions, factions and confusions increase with time in Christianity, rather than decrease.

    Consider than even if the Old Testament account of ancient Israel they are often divided against each other and unclear of what to do. Even as the authors want to present things there is division. Man is forever backsliding and unsatisfied. There is a very comical part of Exodus where, as God is literally splitting the sea for the Hebrews, and they cry out to Moses "why have you led us out here to be caught by the Egyptians. Were their not enough graves left in Egypt that we should die here in the wilderness!"

    Factions haven't really increased either. The early church was incredibly diverse, with various sorts of gnostics, Arians, Donatists, docetism. If anything, it was more theologically diverse than today.

    This compares poorly to science, for instance. There are arguments in science, but with time, knowledge and consensus increase. This is because science is based on sensory observation and on math, and these are the same for everyone.

    Science continually has paradigm shifts where we realize that the way we thought about things before has been entirely wrong. It isn't stable, but goes through massive shifts. Consider the history of understanding what heat was, the dominance of views that proposed an eternal universe prior to the Big Bang Theory, Newtonian absolute space and time versus relativity, the "quantum revolution," the "chaos revolution," etc.

    I would say science is much less stable than theology. Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics can all look back and agree on much in St. Augustine, St. Maximus, etc. What science agrees with attempts at scientific theories from the years 400-800?

    If the Holy Spirit were guiding the church, and it were the same for everyone, why would not the churches increase in knowledge and consensus, like in science?

    If God acted like you think God should act, sure. But if God is truly God couldn't God just autopilot us into all being saints and agreeing? So even if Christianity led to far more consensus than science you could still throw out the same argument, claiming that "if it isn't perfect, it isn't divine."

    I was writing a short story about this. Suppose a second Moon appeared in the sky one day. A giant rosey sphere about four times the size of our Moon in the sky with a huge cross on it, visible by day. How much would it really change?

    You might get an initial surge in religion, but I imagine it wouldn't change much in the long term. Denominations would still fight over the meaning of the sign. Muslims could claim it was a trick or the devil or had some other meaning. If the appearance of the thing caused some flooding due to a shift in the tides, this would be taken as evidence of its non-divine nature.

    Eventually we'd land probes on the thing and come to understand what it was made of. We'd have theories about ETs and wormholes. People would get used to it and the second moon would become mundane, "that thing that happened."


    But if throwing a giant cross in the sky isn't enough, what is?

    Interestingly, the Bible starts with God commanding man directly from on high in this sort of obvious way, in a pillar of flame, etc.. Over time, God shifts to speaking to a corporate people through prophets. God now reached man through man. This culminates in God becoming man and speaking to man face to face. Then there is a third switch to indwelling Spirit. God will now live in man, every mind a temple to the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul had it.

    Man is expected to mature here. The relationship becomes more hands off. I would consider that if mankind is to become truly self-determining, this can't be otherwise. Divine autopilot or vast signs only work so long as the signs remain. But there is to consider Jesus' claim that it is better if we don't see signs and wonders.

    Of course, we tend to look at things in a highly individualistic way these days. How does the individual become free, etc. So the old explanations in terms of mankind as a corporate body maturing and developing seem to lose their hold. We tend to think of our species as in its adulthood, rather than being adolescents, so we expect that the fruits of any historical process should be clear to us by now.
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    Ehrman is one of the top biblical scholars (biblical historians?) and he tows pretty mainline, well-researched positions so I don't think his views are particularly controversial or should be treated as prima facie wrong. I think it's possible that his views are being misrepresented here.

    Really? I am familiar with him largely through his name being synonymous with a sort of liberal "debunking" of the Scriptures.
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    There's 2 Bart Ehrmans. There's the Bart Ehrman that literally writes textbooks that people who study Christianity in respected universities frequently read, and then there's the Bart Ehrman that writes books for the public about the Bible and about jesus from a slightly more speculative (but still evidence and reason based) perspective.

    The latter Bart Ehrman and the former Bart Ehrman share all the same beliefs, the latter one is just a little more liberal about which beliefs of his he's willing to publish.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2k


    Apparently there is a third Bart Ehrman who goes on NPR and states that there is no evidence in Paul that Jesus is divine, and this is what I find to be completely counter to the text.

    I find the overstatement of confidence in this field to be frustrating in general. For example, overall I find Diarmaid MacCulloch's "Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years," to be excellent, and his being secular is probably actually helpful in that I notice that Orthodox and Catholic authors can't help re fighting 1,200 year old arguments in their histories. But he also does this sort of thing, presenting the idea that James is Jesus' biological brother as a sort of well supported fact. It isn't though. "Popular in secular Biblical Studies," can often be quite far from "well supported fact."

    The claim about James is popular today particularly because it's provocative and contradicts Church doctrine, but is based on very scant evidence given the same word for brother gets continually used for all Christians and by the Apostles to refer to one another (plus Jesus telling John to take care of Mary makes less sense if she has surviving sons). There is no sort of stepping back and looking at the field and how often it changes and saying, "I should really just say no one knows."

    There is plenty in the Synoptic Gospels that shows Jesus is divine. The difference in presentation is just as often explained as the Gospels having different targets audiences. The Synoptic Gospels target Jews, particularly the less hellenized, for whom Jesus' divinity has to be rolled out slowly through the continual fulfillment of prophecy and signs, with Christ only asserting his identity fully near his execution in Mark, because a blanket assertion would be rejected outright. John is for Hellenized audiences for whom divinity as such is not the main controversial issue, but rather the sole divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must be stressed.

    It reminds me a bit of Strauss' "ironic thesis," on Plato's Republic. A decent argument can be made on the text alone, and it's novel so it gained currency. However, you'd have to assume that Aristotle, who spent twenty years studying with the man, completely misunderstood his work for the ironic thesis to be true. Likewise, deflationary Jesus as a "preacher" has to assume that the people directly taught by Paul and Peter either radically misunderstood them or utterly transformed what they had said over a short period. Although, the deflationary Jesus seems even less likely due to Peter and Paul's own words, and that the dates of John's letters are hard to pin down (John is at least as clear that Jesus is divine in his letters as Paul).
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    I think that if you want to read Bart Ehrman's thoughts on the Bible or Jesus, you should do so *not with the understanding that he's going to tell you the unambiguous truth about Jesus*, but instead that he's going to *tell you some interesting perspective on Jesus, based on connections you maybe hadn't considered before*.

    Bart Ehrman isn't communicating this stuff as the be-all end-all truth, he is studying the texts deeply, in the original Greek often enough, to find out intereting things to question or to say. Some of his evidence for his ideas is undoubtedly going to be flimsy. It's an invitation to question certain things and look for evidence in interesting ways - if you don't want to accept that invitation, because that party doesn't seem very fun to you, then... don't. You don't have to go to that party, reject the invitation.

    He says interesting things, he finds interesting lines of skepticism, interesting sequences of evidence for speculative ideas - if that sort of thing doesn't interest you, that's okay.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2k


    Ok, but he chooses to present his opinion as something much closer to "consensus historical fact:" "during his lifetime, Jesus himself didn't call himself God and didn't consider himself God, and ... none of his disciples had any inkling at all that he was God. ..." Strangely, he appeals to St. Paul on this point too, stating that "the Gospel of John is providing a theological understanding of Jesus that is not what was historically accurate."

    But this makes sense with claims that he has an "axe to grind," consistent with his arguments against the faith in general in "God's Problem." Hence the provocative titles "Forged" and "Misquoting Jesus." It's possible to be a well trained scholar who does good scholarships and to still have a non-scholarly agenda you want to push vis-á-vis contemporary belief. This is precisely what happens all the time with religious Biblical scholars. It's not that they don't know Hebrew and Greek well or carefully search the sources, it's that they approach the work with an agenda and present it with an agenda, whether that agenda is "showing how Catholic doctrine goes all the way back to Peter" or claiming "Christianity is largely some sort of later invention without much to do with the historical Jesus."
  • flannel jesus
    1.3k
    I am not qualified to confirm or debate with you if Jesus called himself God in his lifetime, or confirm what most biblical textual scholars would think about that statement. I do know that Bart Ehrman writes a lot, and included in those writings are his reasons for thinking what he thinks. Before you take a conspiratorial view, I would urge you first to try to understand why he thinks what he thinks, if you care to.
  • J
    189
    It certainly isn't a confirmed fact that any Gospel was written before any other.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I hold no brief for Ehrman or any other particular Biblical scholar, but surely this is taking skepticism about history too far. What counts as a "confirmed fact" is debatable, of course, but I don't know of any scholar or historian who seriously doubts (and provides some evidence for their view) that Mark was the first Gospel. If you do, could you share that? I'd be grateful.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2k


    What counts as a "confirmed fact" is debatable, of course, but I don't know of any scholar or historian who seriously doubts (and provides some evidence for their view) that Mark was the first Gospel. If you do, could you share that? I'd be grateful.

    The Synoptic Gospels were very likely not written like War and Peace, set out for publication by a single author, and then distributed. Material in the Gospels is widely thought to date to different periods and to be drawn from various sources, with adjustments occuring over an overlapping time period. This is what I mean by overlap - which material is oldest is difficult to determine.

    Mark is widely thought to be the first Gospel compiled in roughly its eventual format, and it is generally given a date before 70 AD, but there is a difference between being the first compiled in roughly its current format and having the "oldest material." The Markan Priority Theory was not always as in vouge as it is today, and Mathew is still proposed as "first" sometimes, although as often the claim is that it doesn't make much sense to think of them in serial order. Much of the Markan theory hangs on the fact that Mark shows bad grammar and word choices, while Matthew and Luke are much more polished. The thinking runs that this is best explained by the fact that the other two are later attempts to fix deficits in Mark, but of course this is supposition, and there are reasons to think that the polish of Luke and some of its unique material has to do with its continued evolution. The argument is abductive, and this is what I mean by "not a confirmed fact." Yes, it's the most widely held position, but it's also a position that has to be extrapolated on not very definitive evidence.

    At any rate, the thinking is that there are later additions to Mark and also that the other Gospels draw from sources used to compile Mark, as well as others. So, when we talk about "what the earliest sources say about Jesus," the priority of Mark shouldn't be thought of in the way modern books are published, with a single final manuscript coming out and being faithfully transcribed from that date on. And so my point would be more than we have a hard time knowing which material is the oldest out of all of these -
  • J
    189
    Clear and helpful, thank you.
  • Lionino
    1.4k
    I have to say that your investment on the topic overtakes mine in such a way that I can't give a reply on the same level. I welcome the counterarguments, and as a topic it seems we will never really reach a good degree of certainty, and I agree with the frustration of things being presented as "consensus" when it is little more than a "generally agreed upon opinion".
  • BitconnectCarlos
    1.8k
    Really? I am familiar with him largely through his name being synonymous with a sort of liberal "debunking" of the Scriptures.Count Timothy von Icarus

    He does have more popular works, but he is a serious scholar. I browse /academicbiblical from time to time and here's what one PhD in the New Testament had to say about Ehrman:

    "Ehrman tends to stick to very mainstream positions, but that doesn't mean there aren't substantial groups of scholars who disagree with him. The first example that comes to mind is that he believes in Q, whereas a growing minority of scholars (often influenced by Ehrman's colleague on the other side of the Tobacco Road rivalry, Mark Goodacre) are dispensing with that hypothesis."

    I Peter is dated to the early 60s AD if Petrine authorship is accepted, and this puts Jesus being called Lord and prayers to Jesus in with the very earliest Christian texts in existence.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I don't doubt this, I think Ehrman's concern is whether during Jesus's ministry he and his disciples considered him as God in the flesh.

    as Jesus does things in Mark like affirm he is the Christ and talk about coming down on a cloud with the Might One, etc.

    Yes, Christ from the Greek christos or "messiah." Ehrman agrees that Jesus considered himself the Jewish messiah. The messiah is a person chosen for a specific purpose or special role by God.

  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    I googled again for the study on eye-witness accuracy, and found this:

    Link: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/testbookje/chapter/eyewitness-testimony-and-memory-biases/

    Quote:

    "The misinformation effect has been modeled in the laboratory. Researchers had subjects watch a video in pairs. Both subjects sat in front of the same screen, but because they wore differently polarized glasses, they saw two different versions of a video, projected onto a screen. So, although they were both watching the same screen, and believed (quite reasonably) that they were watching the same video, they were actually watching two different versions of the video (Garry, French, Kinzett, & Mori, 2008).

    In the video, Eric the electrician is seen wandering through an unoccupied house and helping himself to the contents thereof. A total of eight details were different between the two videos. After watching the videos, the “co-witnesses” worked together on 12 memory test questions. Four of these questions dealt with details that were different in the two versions of the video, so subjects had the chance to influence one another. Then subjects worked individually on 20 additional memory test questions. Eight of these were for details that were different in the two videos. Subjects’ accuracy was highly dependent on whether they had discussed the details previously. Their accuracy for items they had not previously discussed with their co-witness was 79%. But for items that they had discussed, their accuracy dropped markedly, to 34%. That is, subjects allowed their co-witnesses to corrupt their memories for what they had seen."


    I recalled (I originally found this info a long time ago), that the stats were 80% and 40%, but the actual numbers were 79% and 34%. I hadn't remembered the detail that the test participants were shown different videos at all. I suppose this is an example of my own memory not being entirely reliable.
  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    I do not find the arguments that the New Testament was entirely myth convincing at all. They were at least based on real events. I made an argument in my original post about the unplanned coincidences. Apparently, the writers were very familiar with geography too. There are lots of other arguments you could look at which I won't go into. I just don't find the idea that they were entirely fabricated plausible at all.
  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    A lot of people were talking about Bart Ehrman. I never read him, so I didn't really follow.

    People were also arguing about whether Jesus/Peter/Paul actually claimed that Jesus was divine. My argument was that the disciples definitely believed he was divine (or else why die for him?) but I'm not certain that's what Jesu actually meant. Considering the confusion the disciples have about what Jesus meant both before and after the crucifixion, it wouldn't be at all surprising to me that Jesus said some word similar to the words they reported that he said, but that they misunderstood what he actually meant.

    It seems like some of the conversation about Ehrman was actually about an argument which is different than the argument I made.
  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    Whether people were willing to be martyred for their beliefs (and many of these stories are unlikely to be true) is irrelevant to the truth of those beliefs. Suicide bombers and martyrs to religious or political causes are not uncommon. Hinduism. Buddhism and Islam all have martyrs. So? People do astonishing things for belief, whether true or not. Note also that the early church probably fabricated martyr stories. Candida Moss, a Christian scholar, writes about this in The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of MartyrdomTom Storm

    It is not surprising to me that people continue to believe things that lots of other people believe. It is more surprising to me that a dozen men were so totally convinced that Jesus had come back from the dead when nobody else did. If their beliefs were caused by peer pressure (as I presume the beliefs of suicide bombers are), then the pressure only came from the original 12 (or 11, depending on how you count Judas & Paul).

    I suppose maybe it would be simpler to conclude, "People believe crazy things" and not worry about it more. It just troubled me how those beliefs were formed in the first place without precedent, and how the testimony regarding these beliefs have at least some verifiable historical elements.
  • Alkis Piskas
    2.1k

    I'm afraid that you are trying to make head or tail with fiction.

    The New Testament was written at least 50 years after Jesus died. It was mainly instigated by the writings of apostle Paul, who was not even present in any of these events. There are very few historical facts about the life of Jesus during his death. The New Testament has a lot of gaps and ungrounded, senseless stories that raise a lot of questions. E.g. According always to NT, when Jesus prayed to God, his disciples were sleeping and there was no one else near. Who has listened to his prayer and recorded it? Totally silly.

    The NT was written with the purpose of creating a new religion. A religion that is based on the resurrection of a human being, a story that was most probably created by Paul and based on ancient mythology.

    The NT is religious fiction.
  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    I would say science is much less stable than theology. Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics can all look back and agree on much in St. Augustine, St. Maximus, etc. What science agrees with attempts at scientific theories from the years 400-800?Count Timothy von Icarus

    I would argue that modern science didn't even really exist until Isaac Newton, so there is no science from 400-800. Science went from not formally existing at all to putting a man on the moon in less than 300 years. That is very impressive.


    If God acted like you think God should act, sure. But if God is truly God couldn't God just autopilot us into all being saints and agreeing? So even if Christianity led to far more consensus than science you could still throw out the same argument, claiming that "if it isn't perfect, it isn't divine."

    I was not imagining that God would autopilot us. I was imagining that if the Church were truly being guided by 1 person, that there would be much less confusion. I'm not aware of any human ruler in history whose followers were so confused about what he wanted while he was still alive.

    "if it isn't perfect, it isn't divine." Actually, for some things, this is not a bad argument. I can accept that humans trying to follow God's will are imperfect. But I cannot accept it if a church claims that its teachings are infallibly inspired by God, and then even 1 of their doctrines was found to be inconsistent with something they said earlier. If a human was 95% right in everything he said, I would forgive him for being human. But if somebody is claiming inspiration from God and gets 1% wrong, then he is 100% wrong about being infallibly inspired.


    Here is what I wrote in my original post:
    "Even if I did decide that I believed every word written in the New Testament, I would not know what to do next. What doctrine of salvation would I choose? What would be my relationship to the sacraments? What church organization would I attend? How would I deal with the fact that I'm commanded to pray, but I've never received a tangible answer to prayer from an external entity?"

    It is a serious problem for me if I'm trying to follow a God who commanded me to participate in church life, but his church is split into factions, who for most of their history didn't recognize each other as being legitimate. Unless there's some really clear way of figuring out which church is right, then my salvation is in question, even if I believed every word of the gospels. Also, if God is a person trying to have a relationship with me, and he's omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, then why can't he personally reveal himself to me when I'm confused about his will?
  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    If it's religious fiction, then why did the disciples die for it?

    If it's entirely fabricated, then why is it universally accepted that Jesus was baptized and crucified? Your argument is not even consistent with the wiki page on the subject. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_reliability_of_the_Gospels

    The New Testament has a lot of gaps and ungrounded, senseless stories that raise a lot of questions. E.g. According always to NT, when Jesus prayed to God, his disciples were sleeping and there was no one else near. Who has listened to his prayer and recorded it? Totally silly.Alkis Piskas

    The quality of the prose in the NT is totally unrelated to its historicity. The disciples didn't have to know the content of the prayer to know that he was praying. I would presume they assumed he was praying when they were sleeping because he told them that is what he was going to do.

    You have not addressed any of the arguments in favor of the historicity of the NT.

    I don't know what Paul has to do with my original post, because I was talking about the 4 gospels, and unless I'm mistaken, Paul didn't write those. Even if his physician wrote Luke, that still leaves 3 gospels that weren't written by Paul. The entirety of my argument was based on accounts of events that took place before Paul's conversion, by people who recalled similar details and who had a lot of geographic knowledge of the region. I don't think Paul is very relevant at all to my original argument.
  • Alkis Piskas
    2.1k
    If it's religious fiction, then why did the disciples die for it?Brendan Golledge
    What apostles died for it? (And, BTW, what "it"? The NT? It doesn't make sense.)

    James, the brother of John and one of the original Twelve Apostles, was killed by Herod (see Acts 12:1–2). Peter and Paul were also killed during New Testament times. We don't have records of the deaths of all the Apostles, but we do know that all but John the Beloved died and, after a time, ceased to be replaced.
    (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2005/02/what-happened-to-christs-church?lang=eng)

    If it's entirely fabricated, then why is it universally accepted that Jesus was baptized and crucified?Brendan Golledge
    Because it is a religion, Brendan. And people who follow a religion believe in whatever that religion says. This does not change the fact religions may be based on fiction. (Most are.)

    You have not presented any serious argument. Only childish questions. You cannot defend your position. No wonder you are confused, as you say yourself. I tried to give you something to get out of this condusion.
  • Brendan Golledge
    82


    If it's religious fiction, then why did the disciples die for it?
    — Brendan Golledge
    What apostles died for it? (And, BTW, what "it"? The NT? It doesn't make sense.)
    Alkis Piskas

    I asked Chat GPT this:

    "
    Read the following quote:
    "If it's religious fiction, then why did the disciples die for it?"

    What do you think "it" refers to in this sentence?

    ChatGPT
    In the context of the quote, "it" likely refers to the beliefs or teachings propagated by religious fiction. The implication is that if the beliefs espoused in religious texts were merely fictional, then it seems unlikely that the disciples (referring to the early followers of the religious figure in question, such as Jesus Christ in Christianity) would have been willing to die for those beliefs. This argument is often used to suggest the sincerity and conviction of the early followers of various religious traditions.
    "
    ^ ChatGPT has better reading comprehension than you.


    I am confused by your next quote, because it talks about apostles dying, as if to answer your own question about what apostles died.

    If it's entirely fabricated, then why is it universally accepted that Jesus was baptized and crucified?
    — Brendan Golledge
    Because it is a religion, Brendan. And people who follow a religion believe in whatever that religion says. This does not change the fact religions may be based on fiction. (Most are.)
    Alkis Piskas

    The source I used was Wikipedia, which last I checked, is not a religious source. I used Wikipedia merely to show that it is the consensus view.

    You have not presented any serious argument. Only childish questions. You cannot defend your position. No wonder you are confused, as you say yourself. I tried to give you something to get out of this condusion.Alkis Piskas

    I searched for your name on this page, and read your posts, and I did not find anywhere where you argued about anything I wrote in my original post.
  • Tom Storm
    8.4k
    They were at least based on real events. I made an argument in my original post about the unplanned coincidences.Brendan Golledge

    The problem being that we don't know what (if any) events described were real. It might be as simple as a man preached and stories were told about him It's probably safe to say that anything supernatural didn't happen. What mechanism do you have to demonstrate which parts of the NT happened and which parts did not?

    Apparently, the writers were very familiar with geography too.Brendan Golledge

    So? Spiderman comics are set in New York city - doesn't mean Spiderman is real.

    I just don't find the idea that they were entirely fabricated plausible at all.Brendan Golledge

    Ok. So do you accept the numerous miracles of Sathya Sai Baba too - raising the dead, curing cancer, materialising precious metals? At least in Sai Baba's case we can meet eyewitnesses today and talk through those miracles

    It is more surprising to me that a dozen men were so totally convinced that Jesus had come back from the dead when nobody else did. If their beliefs were caused by peer pressureBrendan Golledge

    We have no evidence that this happened other than in the 'fan fiction' as some people describe the New Testament. We do not know if any of the disciples described were real people. However we have hundreds of living people who witnesses Sai Baba perform miracles.

    I suppose maybe it would be simpler to conclude, "People believe crazy things" and not worry about it more.Brendan Golledge

    Perhaps more accurately we could say humans believe a range of stories and these stores sustain them in many situations - this might even include Buddhists who set themselves alight (self-immolation) and sit totally calm as they burn up.

    Can you name a single big event from the New Testament that has extra-biblical corroboration - other than some geography and later the claim that there were followers of an itinerant rabbi who had stories?
  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    The problem being that we don't know what (if any) events described were real. It might be as simple as a man preached and stories were told about him It's probably safe to say that anything supernatural didn't happen. What mechanism do you have to demonstrate which parts of the NT happened and which parts did not?Tom Storm

    This is in line with the general idea of my main post. I believe that there are historical elements in the NT, but I do not know how much of it is true, or how it happened that nonmiraculous events could have occurred to convince people that they were miraculous. I argued that probably the trivial details which the different gospels agree on are probably true, but that the disciples' excitability and impressionability led them to occasionally see miracles which weren't really there.

    So? Spiderman comics are set in New York city - doesn't mean Spiderman is real.

    I just don't find the idea that they were entirely fabricated plausible at all.
    — Brendan Golledge

    Spiderman would be a good comparison to Jesus, if there were people living today who were willing to be put to death for the sake of spiderman. It's not just that the people knew details, but that people from the time period knew details and were willing to die for their testimony regarding the details they provided.

    I honestly had never heard of Sai Baba before. I don't think people are claiming that he was uniquely raised from the dead, are they? Or are people willing to die for their belief in his miracles? I guess I'm not surprised that some people believe in miracles that didn't really happen. The existence of people like that today I think might actually support my view that the disciples could have sincerely believed in the miracles of Jesus while being mistaken.


    Can you name a single big event from the New Testament that has extra-biblical corroboration - other than some geography and later the claim that there were followers of an itinerant rabbi who had stories?Tom Storm

    I think the least controversial claims regarding Jesus were that he was a historical person, and that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate.
  • Brendan Golledge
    82
    I think I could rewrite the main idea of my original post much more succinctly.

    I believe these three things:
    1. There are historical elements to the testimony in the New Testament
    2. Early Christians were willing to die for their belief in the content of the New Testament
    3. Current evidence does not support the faith of the disciples & early Christians (the claims are extraordinary compared to our usual experience, and there is confusion in the church)

    Points 1 & 2 would ordinarily lead me to believe the testimony, but point 3 throws everything into confusion.

    Coming to these 3 conclusions would take a lot of time and whole books could be written on each point. So, it's not surprising that this post has not made much progress. I could still try to briefly summarize my beliefs in each of these 3.

    1. Based on the testimony of scholars, there are many unplanned coincidences within the gospels (which corroborate each other) and geographic knowledge in the New Testament. Also, nonchristian sources agree on some of the main points, such as that Jesus was crucified.

    2. I was surfing Wikipedia just now, and I found, "The consensus of scholars dates Matthew and Luke to 80-90 AD", and "Literary analysis of the New Testament texts themselves can be used to date many of the books of the New Testament to the mid-to-late first century. The earliest works of the New Testament are the letters of the Apostle Paul. It can be determined that 1 Thessalonians is likely the earliest of these letters, written around 52 AD."

    If Jesus was crucified in 33 AD, then that easily puts the earliest manuscripts within living memory of his crucifixion. This is why I don't believe it was a myth. I think of a myth as a story whose origin is unknown. An event within living memory cannot be a myth, because people are still alive who remember the events.

    3. I understand that it was the historical position of the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox that the others were anathematized (and therefore probably damned). All 3 would not agree with the protestants either. So, historically speaking, whoever was right, a large portion of Christian believers were wrong.

    There is also the issue that I found inconsistencies in the testimonies of near death experiences (indicating that these experiences were probably psychological in origin rather than divine). And I cannot understand why an omniscient omnipresent omnipotent God interested in a personal relationship would hide himself from sincere seekers.


    I attempted to resolve these issues by suggesting that the gospels were based on actual events, but that the disciples were confused and mistakenly believed in miracles which had not actually occurred. I suggested several ways that natural phenomena could have convinced people that there were miracles, but those were of course all speculation.

    I also described a psychological interpretation of Jesus' teachings which actually make them sensible advice and verifiable through personal experience.


    This interpretation of events explains points 1 - 3, it explains why the Christian story resembles earlier myths (when the disciples were confused, they interpreted their experiences in relation to their prior knowledge), and it explains why so many people historically have found Jesus to be a compelling person (this make no sense if the story was completely made up nonsense).

    I suppose the one thing I can conclude for sure is that humans are bad at figuring things out. If it isn't even true that Jesus was a historical person who was crucified, or that his early believers weren't willing to die for him, then that throws all historical knowledge into doubt. It also means that all Christians are very badly mistaken. If his disciples were mistaken (as I believe), then that means that it is sometimes possible for a dozen grown men to be unable to tell whether another man is dead or alive. If the events really did transpire as described, then it still leaves the issue of the confusion within the church, in which large portions of the church did not recognize the other portions. I suppose that does mean for sure that a God who leaves his teachings in the hands of human testimony is not very wise, unless he thinks it's funny to cause confusion.



    BTW, I think most events in the Bible were probably at least based on true events. Take this for example, gotten from a quick google search:

    "In 1997, William Ryan, Walter Pitman, Petko Dimitrov, and their colleagues first published the Black Sea deluge hypothesis. They proposed that a catastrophic inflow of Mediterranean seawater into the Black Sea freshwater lake occurred around 7600 years ago, c. 5600 BC"

    For the people living in the area, it probably seemed like the whole world was flooding. The survivors would have given testimony that the whole world had flooded. People who lived far away would never even know that the flood had happened, so they would have not bothered to give testimony that the whole world had not flooded. A long time from then, the testimony that the world had flooded would probably have been widespread and taken to have been a historical reality. Or the story could have been based on any really large catastrophic flood.

    Another thing I heard of is that they think they found Sodom and Gomorrah. Apparently, a big asteroid exploded in the air and vaporized everything for miles.

    It's likely then that much of the testimony in the Bible is actually based on history, but that the details and the interpretation of what happened are not entirely accurate. But even the interpretations which might not be true are of psychological significance, because the people who lived back then had the same hearts and minds that we do, and they were very concerned with proper living. They were very ignorant on material things, but much of the testimony about what it feels like to be a human and about how to orient one's self properly are still true.
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