This is a reposting of my comments on JT's (zerowing21) blog (link
) and Bryan Harris' (oeshpdog2) blogger (link
). Their debate has concluded as has our discussion about it.
Note, I am Ben, tkovrtwrld, and WAR_ON_ERROR.
My first comment:
Hello! I don't really understand where JT (zerowing21) is coming from by calling the gospel writers liars. He doesn't seem to substantiate the claim and I certainly don't see that it is necessary from a skeptical perspective to think of whoever wrote the gospels that way.
I do think you are blowing JT's comment out of proportion about targeting audience readers. I've seen Christians who have the same mentality and I don't see what the problem with it is. Anyone that has experience in online debates knows that the probability of converting someone to their perspective is rather low and that a more fruitful goal is be mindful of fence sitters in the audience. You seem to jump the gun and associate JT with Satan? Really? Is that necessary?
I think what skeptics don't understand is how believers can take everything the gospels say at face value as though gospel authors could not possibly have biases, agendas, or be making gross assumptions (or using unreliable mystical methods to validate those assumptions) about what they think they know. You point out the 30 pieces of silver as though that is a specific prediction, but what if the actual number of silver pieces was unknown? Did someone count? Who knows, but even assuming we can trust the gospels to even the ballpark of that particular claim, why should we trust that the gospels authors wouldn't have assumed they knew how many pieces of silver it was based on their reading of scripture? The expression of betrayal has stood for 2,000 years and the saying of "here's your thirty pieces of silver" is now a common enough metaphor. No one cares about the amount or whether it is even that kind of currency. Of course there are cultural differences to take into account between now and then, but that actually doesn't do the gospel authors any favors. The NT has the disciples overtly searching the scriptures for the meaning of the events in question and it would be only natural for them to assume. We certainly can't assume they didn't or be confident they knew directly without begging the question.
You comment is well received. It is hard for me (and I am trying) to keep from adding in some emotional responses to what I feel are inflammatory comments being made by JT and those who seem to follow him and comment on his site. I wanted to keep this respectful and civil and I feel some of JT's writings tend to be a bit condescending. That may be my emotion reading more into it than what is there. If so...I stand corrected.
I think you still have to ask, even if the writers had biases or agendas, how could they have collaborated enough to harmonize their writings so well without some major bias coming to the surface?
The 30 pieces of silver is part of a larger, even more specific prophecy encompassing who it was who would betray Jesus, how much would be received, and even where the money would then be spent. JT argued vagueness, triviality and self-fulfillment. The whole prophecy goes against the idea of vagueness, being trivial and somehow self-coerced. Does it not?
I have to again ask...what would have been the motives of writing such specifics in the name of self-promotion or having a personal agenda when, what they wrote and believed in, cost them their life. The N.T. addresses how most of the Apostles where killed because of their faith, but so does a book entitled "Foxes Book of Martyrs." That book is also validated by other historic accounts showing the methods that were used to kill and torture Christians in the 1st Century.
Thanks for your comment and please continue to follow along and interject as well.
I respond to Oesh on Zerowing21's xanga:
@oeshpdog2 - Hey Oesh.
I don't hold to the "disciples as liars" hypothesis, but if we were wondering what a possible reason might be for pious fraud, it is always possible that the disciples believed in a core moral and spiritual message of a historical Jesus' teachings. To the extent pushing a mythological construct around him (in the gospels) to bolster that message may have seemed worthy of their time. There are many different types of believers even in one church and if I'm not mistaken there are plenty of examples of church leaders who have a different less extravagant set of spiritual beliefs than their parishioners. That doesn't mean they didn't really care about those beliefs any more than liberal Christians are any less Christian than Bible thumping Southern Baptists. They both may well be willing to die for their versions of Christianity. Many people of many faiths have been willing to die for all manner of claims whether well attested or not. So even on the pious fraud hypothesis, even if we take all the martyrdoms at face value as recorded in the Christian traditions (which I don't), there's really not a lot to explain. They aren't dying for a lie. They're dying for the core truth regardless of the way the explain it to others.
Perhaps such evidence might count against a charlatan hypothesis, but even then it seems there might be evidence to support that. In one essay of the "The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave" skeptic J Duncan M Derrett writes:
Pg. 395: "...the fates of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) show that the earliest church knew how to attract rich recruits and how to exploit their capital."
Interestingly enough the deaths of these two folks (if there is any truth to it at all) in light of the general skeptical conclusions of this book cast an extremely unpleasant shadow across Luke-Acts and the early church. If there was no divine origin, and if these two people were killed in conjunction with the church's communism, that would almost have to mean the early church was a financial scam that was willing to resort to murder. I would never argue from this conclusion, but I would think if you input the three variables that's pretty much what comes out by default. Maybe their deaths were incidental and the story is a little embellished, and they just swallowed it with a theological spin or something. Who knows, but it's kind of creepy to think about.
Both of these (pious fraud or charlatanism), I think are two of the least likely naturalistic origins explanations for the rise of Christianity and so I'm not going to do anything more than present these as food for thought. There are much better explanations in the rest of The Empty Tomb, but I think they are both still more probable than the orthodox supernatural version, in my opinion.
lalalandsucks4ever responded:@WAR_ON_ERROR - the liar hypothesis doesn't explain why they would kill themselves but the truth core hypothesis does.
@lalalandsucks4ever - Yeah, the charlatan hypothesis doesn't explain martyrdoms well, but incidentally I think only the martyrdom of James (?) is attested outside of Christian tradition. There we don't really know the exact reason he was killed or what precisely his version of Christianity was. So if there was a core group of charlatan disciples (notice deaths like Stephen would represent a second tier of disciples who may not be "in on it") and they were causing political trouble, their accidental murders may have just been spun by others for theological ends. I don't know. I don't spend a lot of time thinking through the charlatan hypothesis. J Duncan M Derrett's chapter is very difficult to follow and appears to just not take any of the texts very seriously. I don't know just how much we'd have to distrust whatever parts of the NT texts and to what extent in a rigorous way, so I'm just going to quit talking.
I respond on Oesh's blogger:
I'm not entirely sure what specifically you are reacting to (other than tone?), but regardless, returning emotionalism for what you think is emotionalism isn't exactly taking the higher ground in any event. You seem to understand that and I'm glad you are trying. JT seemed to stick to business in his first response especially and I think if you focus on the arguments and ignore whatever else that may seem over the top, he will be gracious enough to do the same. He's a good guy.
I'm assuming that you are under the impression that each gospel is entirely independent of the others, correct? I suppose that might be rather remarkable if that were the case, especially since they have whole sentences, paragraphs and stories that are almost identical. Another popular hypothesis (which if I'm not mistaken is the scholarly consensus or at least the majority position) is that both Matthew and Luke are taking the gospel of Mark and a hypothetical Q document (consisting of various sayings) and modifying it in different directions to suit their own agendas. For instance Matt and Luke will come up with different genealogies for Joseph, different sets of guests at the nativity. More importantly, as far as popular historical debates go, they show all sorts of signs of legendary embellishment in the resurrection accounts based off of Mark's modest story of women running off in bewilderment and telling *no one* what they had seen.
Even apologists will argue for different specific themes in each of the gospels and skeptics will argue that sometimes those themes and perspectives go as far to contradict one another. Obviously even the book of Acts records blatant disputes between Paul and others and it's fairly easy to see some of that play out in the epistles vs other epistles and the gospels. I don't want to bombard you with all the endless details of a completely different perspective given I know you have your hands full on the prophecy debate, so I'll stop there. There are just other ways to look at the evidence and it is difficult for one to prove necessarily one way or the other.
@War_on_Error Thanks for your comment and participating in the discussion. First...you have helped me in keeping my emotion in check and I have actually thought about what you have said and have gone back to edit some of the unneeded, emotional responses out of my posts. Thank you.
I do want to add some thoughts to your comments though. It seems several have commented on the Gospels concerning the idea of them being more about bias and personal agendas than that of spreading truth or simply giving an account of the Life of Jesus. I have found it interesting to hear some say that they might listen to more of what the Bible had to say if things in the Bible were substantiated by more than just Bible authors.
Here is a thought that I will be writing on later when I get into more of the evidences within the Bible that need to be considered. Historians and archeologists are the discovers of the books that we now have in bound found and compiled into the Bible. At the least, these are all separate books, written by separate men at different times. So along with the authors of the Gospels, we have Peter, James, Jude and Paul at a minimum. Regardless of how many of the books are actually attributed to Paul, he nonetheless was an author of some of the New Testament writings. History shows that Paul was not a collaborator of sorts with the Gospel writers. But you have him giving an account of Jesus in his writings and his confession of faith that He was the Christ. You have Jude, another man who may have written one of the earliest books of the N.T. also announcing his belief in the man named Jesus. You have Peter, famous Peter, writing and proclaiming Christ as the Messiah. All separate manuscripts, all dated by scholars as having their own separate origin. A minimum of 8 men all claiming belief in the Man they called Jesus and giving some account of the life and character of Jesus. The main differences in all of their writings are based on the context of who they were writing to. If we take the same rule of belief and apply this to some historical event in our world history not associated with religion, then we would get scholarly consensus that the person or event took place.
But sense the manuscripts were all written in confirmation of how one Man changed and influenced history from a religious and moral standpoint, they are ignored and all given some criticism as being biased. You see what I am saying? We apply rules for belief differently when they deal with God, which is somewhat ironic when you consider all of these books were written at a time when Deity was never in question.
It's always sad to see opportunities missed to merely communicate. I'm glad I could give the conversation a helpful little nudge in the right direction.
Perhaps you are arguing against the Mythicism hypothesis, and I would agree that at face value (though I think Mythicism is still possible), the NT documents give good enough reason to think that Jesus existed and was spiritually influential. The epistles though are especially vague on "life of Jesus" details and are therefore compatible with many interpretations of what the earliest Christians may have believed.
There is a list of contemporary local historians who made no mention of Jesus, and while internally consistent excuses may be given for that state of affairs, that's really not helpful for us from our perspective. Conversion is an overt agenda of the gospels ("this is written that you may believe" etc.), the gospels show almost no signs of critical inquiry, and do show many signs of credulous advocacy. The apostle Thomas famously demands evidence that skeptics for thousands of years will not get, and though he gets it, he is basically reprimanded for it. The overt and clear message is that believing without good evidence is the virtue that's going to sustain Christian belief after that exception. The authors of the gospels obviously had their own ideas about what constitutes objectivity and I suppose they are entitled to that. But I think the rational person is equally entitled to disbelieve their claims.
JT may need to work on his tact a bit. :s