NT Historical, Or IsN’T Historical?

Question from Malachy:
What is your theory to how Christianity started? Was it a lie? was is a legend? Was it a Historical novel? and why. the more details the better.

Answer by Andrea:
Hi Malachy,

Before I did my research, I heard that Christianity started because the times were hard for the people and at the time all kinds of soothsayers and leaders arose to “save the people” (according to my World History prof). I figured Jesus was one of those guys though exceptionally charismatic — probably telling good jokes and was a ladies’ man as much as he was a man’s man.

However, as a result of some research I did two years ago, I accidentally stumbled upon the story of the Rosetta Stone, which was found in the Nile by Napoleon’s troops, and was a sort of ancient Egyptian dictionary that unlocked the mystery of why the temples in Egypt told the story of a man who was born of a Virgin, whose birth was announced by a star in the East, who had a halo and was followed about by 12 disciples, only to be later crucified, among other things. This story seemed so much like the story of Jesus – only it was documented in stone thousands of years before the Bible was even written.

Since I had never heard of this before, I did more research and found that many comparative mythologists were united in believing that the Jesus story was “plagiarized” from earlier sources. I was shocked that this information has never been made widely available, which is why I constructed a table at Presents for the Planet. Five predominant mythologies have been selected to compare with the Jesus story, though many others show the same or additional parallels with astonishing likenesses. The Krishna story, for example, has anywhere from 100 to 300 parallels to that of Jesus, depending on the historian’s reference documents.

This history provides an insight into what has embarrassed biblical scholars for centuries: Why a man capable of performing the most astounding miracles known to civilization was not mentioned other than in the Bible and derived religious writings. History documents a King Herod, but he died two years before Jesus was said to be born and there is no mention of the mass slaughter of infants the New Testament says he ordered. There is also no mention of a Jesus, a man said to be capable of walking on water, healing lepers or raising the dead.

Due to the vast amount of information, the table should by no means be considered to be complete. For example, there were over 50 messiahs centuries before Jesus who were recorded to be 1) born of virgins, 2) to save mankind, 3) only to later be crucified, and then 4) resurrected. The majority also had the following in common:
• They were associated with the sun for the simple fact that the sun is the savior of most life on Earth, chasing away darkness and bringing light and warmth. (Hence the solar disks or halos or around their heads, why the most sacred day of the week for many of these religions is “Sunday” and why the “Son of God” is really the “Sun of God.”)
• They were born on December 25. On this day, three days after the Winter Solstice when the days begin to lengthen, the sun’s rise Northward again becomes detectable, heralding the beginning of the sun’s return to its most productive state.
• Their births were announced by a star in the East because that is the direction of the rising sun.
• They all die and are resurrected—and usually on the Vernal Equinox, when the sun rises directly East and day an night are equal in hours. Often called Easter, this symbolizes the regeneration of the Earth. Easter is defined as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, the full moon making it an ideal time to hold celebrations.
• They are associated with a cross because it represents the division of the four seasons of the year. The circle often seen in the center of the cross represents the circular path of the sun.
• They had 12 disciples to symbolize the 12 signs of the Zodiac, as well as when the sun is highest: 12:00 noon.
• They underwent their transfigurations at around age 30 since people didn’t live as long back then, so mid-life crises came earlier.
• Like Horus and Jesus, they had gaps in their life histories from the age of 12 to 30. In Egyptian mythology, the age of 12 was one of the indices of transformation from the natural or unregenerate state of humanity into the spiritual kingdom, on the symbolic basis of puberty, change of voice and development of mind. And 30 was the index of completed perfection, type of the spiritual heyday in evolution.
• The following numbers found in the Old and New Testaments are also regularly injected in scriptures associated with the other various saviors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 24, 30, 40, 70 and 300.
• The circuit of their one-year journeys throughout the year are similar and considered by many historians to be an astronomical allegory for the sun’s annual passing through the Zodiac. For example, Jesus begins his journey to Galilee (which literally means “circuit”) by visiting John, who baptizes him with water (Aquarius, the water bearer) and then visits two fishermen (Pisces, the two fish). A couple months later Aaron made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship (Taurus, the bull). Skip up three-fourths of the year to the happy time of harvest and you find Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, after which he has a temper tantrum about the money changers, who pick up their scales and leave (Libra, the scales of justice), and the list goes on.

The similar story recurring throughout the ages makes sense since the ancients, whose lives depended on agriculture, had a vested interested in studying the night skies to determine the time of year to plant, harvest, etc., and correspondingly made up stories to provide a mnemonic device of sorts in order to impart this knowledge to future generations. (See Solar Mythology and the Jesus Story for a compilation of archaeological evidence correlating the rest of the zodiacal signs with Jesus and the other “saviors of mankind.”

Piercing the Shroud

Question from Peg:
I am an agnostic and skeptic. I am curious and confused about the Shrould of Turin and wondered if you know anything about it. I have heard that the carbon dating that was done was incorrect in that the piece of cloth cut for the dating came from a re-sewn area from when the shroud was in a fire, so another carbon dating has to be done.

Also, the person who said he re-created the shroud was proven inaccurate as well. Evidently, it was not exactly the same as the shroud. From the documentaries I have watched on this, it seems the experts are at a loss to know how it was done. They even went so far as to say that the image could have been made by a “light”.

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Answer by SmartLX:
Sometimes you don’t have to know how a hoax was achieved to know it’s a hoax, and the Shroud may well be one example of this.

In 2010 Gregory S. Paul published a study of what the markings on the shroud imply about the position and dimensions of the body it would have been shrouding. Most significant (but not alone) among his findings is the fact that the corpse’s head would have been abnormally small relative to the body. The fact that no likely method of fabrication or duplication has yet been found hardly matters when the end result is apparently the imprint of a seriously deformed man. (I find it interesting, but not surprising, that no Christian has attempted to answer this study by supposing that Jesus really was deformed, for example by microcephaly.)

Meanwhile Dr Raymond Rogers, the man who concluded that the earlier carbon dating was of a newer patch of cloth, has given his own estimate. (Scroll down in this article, but read the stuff on the way there if you like.) He places it in the period between 1000 BC and 1700 AD. This estimate does include the time of Jesus but is broad enough to include the entire Medieval era and many others besides. In fact, it includes every period anyone has ever suggested as the origin of the shroud, and is therefore useless for purposes of elimination or deduction. Assuming that we can now identify which parts of the shroud are original and which are not, a new carbon dating analysis of the original material would be nice to see.

To speak more generally, the two points you bring up are instances where people debunked apparent evidence that the shroud is not that of Jesus. That’s very different news to the discovery of positive evidence that the shroud is that of Jesus, which hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to happen.

It All Comes Back To Jesus

Question from Tim:
Thanks a lot for the website! If you guys are too busy to respond I understand.
Last year I finally managed to leave Christianity, but still have a few nagging doubts that I have been trying to resolve for some time now. My uncle told me that if I look at the evidence, I will see that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact. While I do doubt this, it is something that I feel like I need to learn about and take seriously. Do you know where I can find some resources addressing the resurrection from either an atheistic or neutral viewpoint? All I have managed to find so far are Christian ones.

Answer by SmartLX:
Don’t worry, we’d have to be a LOT busier not to be able to respond to every question we get.

This area of Christian apologetics is huge, as you’ll have seen by the sheer number of books specifically pushing it. It’s also a real sore point for believers when anyone questions even the divinity of Jesus, let alone his existence. That’s understandable since the whole of Christian doctrine hangs on the story of one man, and in the absence of physical evidence for that man the only traces of him are ancient documents.

There are a couple of starting points for you right here. My two long discussions in the comments of posts #271 and #574 with Rob (alias RP) cover a lot of ground and may suggest avenues of research. Post #271 itself contains links to earlier pieces of mine on specific documents and arguments.

As for things not on this site, the best-known critic of the New Testament and related documents is probably Bart Ehrman, so try one of his books. (He’s struck a nerve, because there are sites dedicated to answering everything he’s said.) A separate, highly-recommended book which challenges everything about Jesus is The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty. Online, Jeffrey Jay Lowder has published a set of comprehensive responses to a wide selection from the apologetic arsenal, including William Lane Craig’s “empty tomb” argument and the entirety of Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict.

YouTube is of course a treasure trove of individuals arguing both ways (Ehrman and Craig have many recorded debates on the subject, separately and together), but there you can also find one piece of work which prompted plenty of discussion when it came out: the independently produced documentary The God Who Wasn’t There. (It’s by the same group who debated Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron on Nightline).

I hope the above gets you started, but don’t take anything you find as gospel, so to speak. Any significant point that’s been made in opposition to the divinity or resurrection of Jesus has been answered (how well it’s been answered is always debatable) by apologists as a matter of principle. This means that if you read a major point, you can find major discussions to go with it.

Go get stuck in, and let us know how you do.

Jesus Unscriptured: Josephus

“This is a real Jew of the establishment we’re talking about. He stayed a Jew all his life which means it’s very doubtful he actually thought Jesus was the Messiah, which is what “Christ” meant in a Jewish context.”

Question from C.L.H.:
Christians sometimes point to “independent sources” or historians of Greek or Roman history in validating the existence of Jesus and historical truth of the Bible.

For example: Flavius Josephus wherein he writes about Jesus the Christ.

“Chapter 3 – Sedition Of The Jews Against Pontius Pilate. Concerning Christ, And What Befell Paulina And The Jews At Rome

3. Now there was about this time Jesus , a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
(from Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

I know there are several other historian accounts that are often referenced, but I can’t recall them right at the moment.

What are we to make of this “history”?

The other day I covered independent references to Jesus, and the evidence for him in general. I’ll focus on Josephus’ Testimonium Flavianum this time.

In my other piece I said that the document was a battlefield. It’s been disputed since the 17th century, because although it’s the most direct (and flattering) extra-Biblical mention of Jesus we have which was apparently written in the first century, there are many reasons why it might not be entirely genuine.

Its positive affirmations are a major sticking point. It says, without qualification, “He was [the] Christ.” Elsewhere it says he rose from the dead after three days. Josephus isn’t obviously saying that this is what Christians think, he’s apparently flat out saying it happened.

This is a real Jew of the establishment we’re talking about. He stayed a Jew all his life which means it’s very doubtful he actually thought Jesus was the Messiah, which is what “Christ” meant in a Jewish context. He also did a lot of what amounted to PR work for the Romans who weren’t keen on prophesied kings. Had he actually written and released this passage at the time, as is, he’d have been thrown to the lions figuratively or literally.

The passage comes to us via a set of Greek manuscripts, the earliest of which dates back to the 11th century. That means about a thousand years went by in which changes might have been made. In the third century, after reading the Testimonium, the Christian historian Origen wrote that Josephus “did not accept Jesus as Christ”. The version he read at the time, therefore, was likely to have given a different impression than the one we have.

From this fact alone, apart from the likelihood that the Testimonium was changed at some point to be more Christian-friendly, we can deduce one more thing: that Josephus probably did write something or other about Jesus. That isn’t saying much, because in his original piece he might simply have recounted the story preached by Christians without saying that any of it was fact.

I won’t go through the other arguments against it, but suffice it to say that there’s plenty to argue about.

In general, documents such as the Testimonium Flavianum reveal credibility issues as soon as you scratch the surface. That doesn’t mean they’re all false, it just means that the standard of evidence they provide isn’t earthshaking right now.