Sunday, October 19, 2008

Christian Apologetics - Can it be proven that Jesus was a real Historical figure?

Christian Apologetics is the field of writing in defense of Christianity and it's doctrines. This relates specifically to the Bible and the historicity of Jesus, and the interaction with other faiths and philosophical systems. Now I have found in dialogues with Christians that they will consistantly bring up the Bible, in particular the New Testament books refering to Jesus as if it is objectively proven to be completely true, ie infallable. Thus, the Bible and Jesus are played as trump cards that override any other arguments or evidence. In fact, several people have suggested to me that I am "picking at straws" to question the accuracy of the Bible. Just quickly, I'd like to point out that it is traditional for writers on both sides of this topic to patronize their
opponents with personal attacks, I'd like to ask if we can avoid that please.

As this is the first post on this topic, I will be quite general. If you object to what I've written, then point out where and how you think I've gone wrong, and we can go into detail. Whether or not I get responses, I will go into greater detail later. As I mentioned in my previous email on Sin, Salvation & Hell, I am finding that I've bitten of more than I can chew, and finding it impossible to fit all the detail that I want into a single post, and that I don't seem to have the time at the moment to edit the posts to a level that I'm happy with. So I'll just post as-is and deal with any criticism I recieve.

The single most fundamental issue relating to Apologetics is Jesus Christ. Christian doctrine relies absolutely upon the belief that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are accurate and literal. Over the past 3 hundred years there have been many writers who have brought this into question, however they are generally seen as being in the fringe. The vast majority of "experts" on this topic today (Christian, Agnostic, Atheist or other) at least concede belief that there was a genuine historical figure called Jesus who founded the Christian religion. As well as the writers that believe that Jesus was a Myth, there are countless alternative theories on Jesus, as a Kabbalist Initiate, the Jesus that went to India and studied Yoga, and then some wacky theories about ET's or Freemason which probably aren't even worth mentioning. Most Christians consider the issue of Jesus to be non-debatable as fact, yet I would like to see some of the Apologetic writers engage in step-by-step debate with writers such as Kenneth Humphreys (author of the book and website "Jesus Never Existed" I'm convinced that there is good reason for debate, and as such I put forth the following challenge: If the issue is so clear cut as Apologists maintain, then they should find it easy to dismiss the claims of their oponents in a debate.

Whilst other Religions do have significant figures and stories related to them (Krishna, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Hermes Trismegistos etc), New Age and Eastern traditions can survive relatively unaffected if it were proven that the founding figures were in fact myths. Orthodox Christianity however could not survive such a revelation, without a literal Jesus you have Gnosticism, the Arch-Heresy of Orthodox Christianity, and according to the particular sect and how you choose to translate their teachings, Gnosticism fits in nicely with New Age as Perrenial Philosophy. So for this reason, debate will be very hot on this topic.

Ok lets start off with a common arguments that is used by Apologists. Their are a vast number of copies of the Bible texts, spanning over a wide period of time, all with very few inconsistencies between them. Apologists therefore argue that this proves that the texts are accurate, as this is one of the ways in which scholars test the accuracy of classical texts (works of ancient Greece and Rome), along with the period of time from when the events were believed to have occured and the earliest remaining texts. The closer the earliest texts to the date of the events, the more accurate according to this reasoning. Therefore, they conclude, that if you reject the accuracy of the Biblical texts then you should also reject all classical learning!

A related argument is the Gospel accounts and Pauline Epistles appeared too early for them to be myths, it is argued that Myths generally take a few generations at least too form, whereas the New Testament documents are dated by Conservative Scholars from the middle of the first Century AD. Therefore, the apologists conclude that as the origional writings were too early to be mythological, and that there is a vast amount of copies of these texts with very few inconsistencies, that therefore they are accurate. Going further, the New Testament texts contain the occasional reference to events and figures that have been confirmed via other means.

Now the fallacy of this is easy to see, this only shows that the current texts are accurate in relation to the way they were origionally written. It doesn't say anything about the context in which they were origonally written. The dating of the New Testament documents as first century can be contested and the assumption of them as being close to the actual events assumes that the events described really happened, something of which external proof is lacking. But in this situation, Apologists use circular arguments.

A major factor in Apologist arguments is the writtings of Paul, in that they cary on from the Ressurection and Ascension accounts to the formation of the early Church. However, on close scrutiny, these Pauline epistles fall apart completely, seemingly written by various authors, also from the mid second century. Have a read of these articles on Kenneth Humphrey's website, he clearly shows how absurd and impossible the claims of the Pauline Epistles are. A major tell is that the towns that are listed as being visited by Paul on his Journey show no evidence of early Christian settlement, where as the towns that Paul supposedly skipped (which are often the major ones in the most obvious locations, which would require unusual detours to avoid) actually contain evidence of Christian settlement in the Second Century. The claims therefore of the 500 eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus are nothing more than a single claim in a highly suspect document.

As for the famous non-christian attestations of Josepheus, Tactitus, etc, close inspection reveals them as frauds, references to other people with similar names to JC, and reports of the existence of people referring to themselves as Christians in the late first and second century. Obviously this movement called Christianty started at some point, so it is not particularly suprising to references to people referring to themselves by that name at some point in history. The question is of course how did the moment start, by the Orthodox account or as an allegorical myth that was gradually taken literally. Study of this evidence leads to the conclusion that there is really no evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ!

The Mainstream account of early Christianity puts the writings of Paul in the Mid-1st century, with the canonical Gospels following in the later half of the 1st Century, and then presents Gnosticism as a 2nd Century aberration, but I see good reasons to question this time-line. The arguments for the early dating of the Gospels is based upon very weak arguments (the fact that they do not mention the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD)

There are a handfull of references to historical people and places, that could easily have been pulled out of a copy of Josephus when they were actually written (in the second century). (There are heaps of stories in the Epistles that bear enormous resemblence to part's of Josephus writings). There is really no mention of Jesus, Paul or the Apostles in Historical records of the day (Hence, the argument from silence).

Christians proclaim that they have a mountain of evidence to support their beliefs, yet every single point they raise relies upon unproven assumptions (ie Jesus existed, the Bible is accurate etc).

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