Live Science Takes Up A Question About Jesus

With Easter approaching, secular science joins in on the celebration of this particular holiday with their own take on Christ.  This is a classic religion-vs-secular science confrontation found in Live Science.

“Jesus Christ may be the most famous man who ever lived. But how do we know he did?

“Most theological historians, Christian and non-Christian alike, believe that Jesus really did walk the Earth. They draw that conclusion from textual evidence in the Bible, however, rather than from the odd assortment of relics parading as physical evidence in churches all over Europe.”

“That’s because, from fragments of text written on bits of parchment to overly abundant chips of wood allegedly salvaged from his crucifix, none of the physical evidence of Jesus’ life and death hold up to scientific scrutiny.”

Does this sound familiar? Reporter Natalie Wolchover writes about distinctions between scientific evidence and belief – as if the evidence requires no belief or assumption or interpretation. She also eliminates eyewitness testimony by demanding the evidence must only contain the physical.  After reviewing relic stories, she turns her attention to textual evidence.

Let’s compare other textual sources in the ancient past such as Herodotus’s historical works, whose originals were written in 480-425 BC. How many copies were documented from this source? A mere eight copies! Aristotle’s writings have found their way to the 20th century have only five copies. And there are 20 copies of the historian Tacitus as well. What about the Bible? Over 6,000 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today! In other words, the Bible is the most documented book in existence today!

Wolchover tries to include non-canonical gospels as though they were equal to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John which by the way they are not! She also failed to explore the early Christians criteria for authenticity nor the social dynamics of heretics and cults who might have reasons to write distorted or inaccurate accounts, nor the science of textual analysis, concerned with the authenticity of texts.

She put herself in middle ground on the historicity of Jesus, quoting Marcus Borg, a secular scholar at Oregon State: “We do know some things about the historical Jesus – less than some Christians think, but more than some skeptics think.” The conclusions however rests on what particular texts are viewed as credible. Borg did not question the fact that Jesus lived, but from the textual evidence, presented a synopsis of Jesus’ life sanitized of the miraculous.

“He was executed by Roman imperial authority, and his followers experienced him after his death.  It is clear, Borg said, that they had visions of Jesus as they had known him during his historical life.  Only after his death did they declare Jesus to be “lord” or “the son of God.”

No philosopher of science would affirm that the opinions of Borg and Wolchover presented were dictated to them by the scientific evidence itself.  Clearly a different set of authorities would produce different conclusions. Understand what goes behind these writings, it is critical for Live Science to try and debunk Jesus therefore could also claim that creationism is not a science, that making conclusions about a young earth based on the evidence is a religion not science even though many of their theories have been debunked by advancements.

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6 thoughts on “Live Science Takes Up A Question About Jesus

  1. What can I say? When Michael talks about science, he is plain ignorant. If he spent his time talking about this particular subject, then he would probably have a better following on his blog.

    That said, I do not agree with everything Michael is saying per say, or even with the Live Science article really.

    The article says:

    The best argument in favor of Jesus as a once-living person is, of course, the Holy Bible itself. The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are thought by scholars to have been written by four of Christ’s disciples in the decades after his crucifixion. There are still other Gospels, never canonized but written by near-contemporaries of Jesus all the same. Many details differ between the various accounts of his life and death, but there’s also a great deal of overlap, and through centuries of careful analysis biblical scholars have arrived at a general profile of Jesus, the man.

    I don’t quite agree with the wording given here, but it is true that the Gospels are thought to be written mere decades after Jesus lived. A few decades is actually close enough to the actual time for someone to say with authority that Jesus did not exist, and yet no one ever objected to Jesus’s existence. That itself is an indication.

    Now, excluding the Testamonian Flaviamun (which many believe has been tampered with), Josephus mentions “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” (Antiquities 20:200) This particular passage is considered authentic because of the non-committal nature of calling Jesus “Christ” in the original Greek of the text. Claims that this Jesus is the same as the “Son of Damneus” mentioned a paragraph down don’t hold water (20: 203). — The passage mentions James’ murder which ocurred in 62 AD. Though Josephus was born in 37 AD and therefore not contemporary to Jesus, he WAS contemporary to James, and he would have been 25 years old when James was killed, so there is no reason he would have not had actual knowledge on this topic. The implication here is since James was known through his brother, then his brother was definitely known at the time.

    Also, Tacitus’ mention of Jesus in Annals 15:44 is one that I accept as authentic. It is not a Christian interpolation because of the anti-Christian language it contains. — Some have tried to argue that Tacitus uncritically sourced the Christians themselves, but this suggestion fails for so many reasons:

    1) Tacitus did not EVEN source people he DID trust uncritically. For example, he trusted Pliny the Younger, yet he called information that Pliny gave him “absurd” in Annals 15: 53. It makes no sense for Tacitus to uncritically source people he did not trust when he did not even give that kind of room to people he DID trust.

    2) Saying that Tacitus sourced the Christians for his information is as ridiculous as saying that he cited the Jews for all his Anti-Semitic statements he made of them in Histories 5.2-5. Obviously, Tacitus did not get his anti-semitic statements from the Jews. I see no justification for him getting his anti-Christian info from the Christians.

    Some tried to say he uncritically sourced Pliny. (Somewhat covered above.) — A major reason I don’t believe this is because both of these Roman politicians differed so greatly on their assessments of Christianity. Pliny thought that Christianity was an absurdity, but that it was also harmless. Tacitus, on the other hand, accused Christians of crimes against humanity.. If one uncritically sourced the other, one would not usually expect such divergence.

    However, there are some flaws in Michael’s logic:

    Let’s compare other textual sources in the ancient past such as Herodotus’s historical works, whose originals were written in 480-425 BC. How many copies were documented from this source? A mere eight copies! Aristotle’s writings have found their way to the 20th century have only five copies. And there are 20 copies of the historian Tacitus as well. What about the Bible? Over 6,000 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today! In other words, the Bible is the most documented book in existence today!

    Um, yes and no.

    Historians DO cite Herodotus despite the fact that he wrote CENTURIES after certain facts…And the Gospels were written decades after, and some hyper-skeptics hold them to a much higher standard.. So I partially agree with Apologists here..

    But, where I disagree is here: Herodotus has been called the “father of history,” however, he has also been called “the father of lies.” He is not the most accurate historian. But I would have to agree I do see somewhat of a double standard.

    But another place where Michael’s logic fails is that his is citing the number of manuscripts of the New Testament to indicate it’s accuracy… The great number of close matching manuscripts does NOT indicate that the history in the New Testament is accurate… If anything, it just indicates it had a large following.

    Clearly a different set of authorities would produce different conclusions. Understand what goes behind these writings, it is critical for Live Science to try and debunk Jesus therefore could also claim that creationism is not a science, that making conclusions about a young earth based on the evidence is a religion not science even though many of their theories have been debunked by advancements.

    Critical for them to debunk Jesus in order to deny Creationism? Not at all. Go tell that to a Hindu Creationist. (Yes, Micheal, Hindu’s can be Creationists too). Also, even though I do believe Jesus existed (his existence is a fact to me), I do accept evolution… The existence or non-existence of Jesus would not indicate anything on Creation/Evolution one way or another..

    I got an idea: Stick with non-scientific apologetics. You would do a lot better.

  2. With Easter approaching, secular science joins in on the celebration of this particular holiday with their own take on Christ. This is a classic religion-vs-secular science confrontation found in Live Science.

    Once again, Michael’s entire thesis is wrong, because he has no understanding of the purposes and methods of science.

    Why should a study of the historical authenticity of Jesus be a “confrontation” between religioon and science? By the same standard, a stuidy of America’s history would be a confrontation between science and patriotism.

    \Michael’s overweening instinct for teleology is apparent here as everywhere else. He cannot conceive that anyone might undertake to assemble evidence on a subject without having a preconceived conclusion already set in mental concrete..

    .

    BTW, Michael and Kris: One of the best short histories of 1stC Christianity I have read was a 3-part series in Free Inquiry—the atheist magazine.

  3. @Olorin

    Why should a study of the historical authenticity of Jesus be a “confrontation” between religioon and science? By the same standard, a stuidy of America’s history would be a confrontation between science and patriotism.

    True. A good read on American History that would be such a “confrontation” is Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It’s just that: A history of the people themselves telling the story of the Trail of Tears through the eyes of the Indians, the Civil War through the eyes of the Irish immigrants who fought on both sides, and through the eyes of the workers at the time of the depression..

    And another Book I would recommend is Stolen Continents: 500 Years of Conquest and Resistance in the Americas, by Ronald Wright. This book is completely through the eyes of Indians peoples.

    True, if we tell the story of America through the eyes of the Indians, the workers and the Irish exclusively, then it will not be a really pretty story. Some have even accused those who tell of the downside as being “biased” and unpatriotic, and that we should “teach both sides.” (Sound familiar?) Funny that when we tell it through the Euro-American perspective, those same voices never talk about teaching both sides at all.

    I guess some people might want to call me “unpatriotic” for being supportive of those two books. I guess this all depends on your definition of “patriotism.” Patriotism to me does not mean looking the other way when my country commits a crime any more than a parent’s love for his child means he will look the other way when he disobeys.

    BTW, Michael and Kris: One of the best short histories of 1stC Christianity I have read was a 3-part series in Free Inquiry—the atheist magazine

    Appreciated. I am a history major, so I appreciate any good historical source. One of the best books I have read on the history of Early Christianity is from Reader’s Digest. It’s called After Jesus: The Triumph of Christianity. It covers time from the crucifixion of Jesus and goes all the way to the Middle Ages.

    My biggest historical interests lately, however, have to do with American Indians. I just got through Reading Trail of Tears: Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle, and I am currently reading Chief Joseph & the Flight of the Nez Perce by Kent Newburn.

  4. Some other things to detail about the article from Live Science:

    The article mentions a work from Simcha Jacobovici. Anyone who knows his work also will know that Jacabovici is prone to sensationalistic claims such as claiming that the Talpiot tomb is the family tomb of Jesus. His film called The Exodus Decoded is at the hight of sensationalism. Even Biblical Inerrantists have condemned his film as factually incorrect.

    But notably, Michael has once again shown that his reading comprehension is quite low. The article from Live Science is not attacking the existence of Jesus; rather it is assessing what certain pieces of “evidence” have turned out to be. It does not deny, nor does it even come close to denying the historical Jesus. In fact, the author indicates between the lines that he did. The author just does not accept certain pieces of evidence as valid (i.e., the shroud of Turin)

  5. Re American Indians: Tony Hillerman wrote a longhouse-full of novels featuring Navajo characters. Although the plots are always engaging, the characters themselves are the most interesting. Joe Leaphorn is a reservation policeman with a degree in anthropology, who is also learning to be a shaman from his uncle. At one point, he is engaged to a Navajo lawyer; they break up because he wants to stay on the reservation, but she wants a white-man’s career in Washington. Conflicts abound, and different people reract to them in very different ways. Some of ther plots involve belief systems (“skinwalkers,” e.g.). And Hillerman’s imagery of the landscape is magnificaent.

    PS: I rerad recently that ther last of the WWI Navajo “code talkers” had died.

    PPS: My interest in pseudo science also brought me up against the Lenape (Delaware) Indians. Constantine Rafinesque’s 1836 book, “The American Nations” (vol. 1) purports to be a translation of the Walum Olum, a history tracing their lineage back to the ten lost tribes of Israel.

  6. From the Science Daily article: “scholars called the “lead codices” (they’re written in code and cast in lead)….”

    After a cockamamie statement like that, how can we trust anything the article says?

    They’re called “codieces’ because they’re written in code.
    BWAHAHAJHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA

    .

    I did hear in a lecture once that most of the earliest copies of Christian writings were in codex form. Thuis was unusual for thqat period; most other documents were in the form of scrolls. No one seems to know why. Codices use less material than scrolls, but are harder to assemble….

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