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Friday, February 03, 2006 

Challenge updated

In this post I asked whether I could ignore the bible itself as a reference source to that age-old question "was Jesus a real person, or a myth?" In addition to my cynical side saying "huge bias there!", the Jewish Freak points out the extrodinary evidence required for supernatural claims, to which point Steven Harris & I seem OK to put to the side. I don't know how to judge the wide enough circulation point, lemme think on that.

To see how Steven separates the theological vs historical parts made me reconsider. Can a theist pull out passages to support an argument without also asserting the supernatural claims contained within must be true? It appears so. This means I can't blithely dismiss historic evidence just because the source of it is the bible (though I know I will still worry about bias). OK, I'll try not to. Thanks for the clarification, Steven.

While chasing down guidelines for examining historic data (following marcguyver's lead, though he uses uncredited sources), I found an essay by skeptic Jeffery Jay Lowder, cofounder of the Internet Infidels, concluding that independent confirmation really doesn't need to be provided. (It was written before Doherty's work.)

Steven, if you would be so kind, would you provide a link to somewhere containing what you think are the best guesses for dates of when the Gospels (NT?) were written?

I made some yummy peanut butter cookies with my daughter yesterday, and I wish I could hand them around. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write so extensively & passionately.


Next post: examining the extra-bibical sources provided by marc & steven and responding to stuff ya'll had to say previously, I did read it all...

And I must rant that trying to read long comments in blogger in a skinny little column was driving me crazy, I switched it to the annoying pop-up window type to be able to expand it. Am I just lucky to get people who really have something to say, or what?

Oh come on....pass the cookies around! You HAVE GOT to figure out how to get that done! :O)

I had to add these additional comments, hope it's okay:

It would appear that of all the literary compositions by the Greeks, the Homeric poems are the best suited for comparison with the Bible. The 'Illiad' ranks next to the New Testament in possessing the greatest amount of manuscript testimony.

Consider the following,
1-Men memorized Homer as later they were to memorize scripture.

2-Both manuscripts were in high esteem and quoted in defense of arguments pertaining to heaven, earth, and Hades.

3-Both served as 'primers' from which different generations of school boys were taught to read.

4-From both there was created a mass of 'scholia' and commentaries.

5-Each contained glossaries.

6-Both fell into the hands of allegorists.

7-Both the Bible and the Illiad were imitated and supplemented, one with what was called the "Homeric Hymns" and the "Batrachomyomachia", and the other with apocryphal books.

8-Both were illustrated
and
9-Homeric scenes appeared on Pompeyian murals, and Christian 'basilicas' were decorated with mosaics and 'frescoes' of Biblical episodes.

So, one could say, they had a lot in common in ancient history as well as during the time period in very close proximity to the 'time-frame' in which they were originally written.

Okay, final points on this:

The Illiad was written approximately 900 B.C.
The earliest extant MSS of this is dated around 400 B.C. with approximately 643 MSS in existence.
This places a 'time-span' of 500 years.

The Bible (New Testament books) was written approximately 40-100 A.D.
The earliest extant MSS of these works is dated around 125-130 A.D. with over 24,000! MSS in existence.
This places a 'time-span' of 25-30 years.

Quite impressive when we consider the works of someone like Aristotle having a 'time-span' of 1,400 years! Yet no scholar denys the veracity of his works.

As far as dates go:

The oldest extant MSS of the New Testament that I know of is what is referred to as "John Ryland's MS" dated at 125-130 A.D.

I believe it is still located in The John Rylands Library of Manchester in England. I also believe it was originally found in Egypt.

Next in line I believe is the "Bodmer Papyrus II" which is dated at 150-200 A.D. I think it is located in the Bodmenr Library Of World Literature. I think that this particular MS only contains most of John.

After rereading comments made by Steve Harris and myself, I must apologize for anything insulting I may have said to him. Even though he is a believer and I am not, and putting aside supernatural claims found in the bible, I must concede that he is a very intelligent person and has a lot of historical knowledge. I hope he returns to have this ongoing discussion with Freethoughtmom. This discussion is an interesting one from a historical perspective and one that I will be keeping track of.

Freethoughtmom: Here is an interesting website about the writing of the New Testament which includes dates and theories about authorship, etc.
http://www.mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html

Here is another website where Scott Osen discusses the question "To what extent are the events described in the New Testament corroborated by contemporary non-Christian texts?" without arguing for or against the accuracy of the New Testament accounts.
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/scott_oser/hojfaq.html

Marcguyver said: "Oh come on....pass the cookies around! You HAVE GOT to figure out how to get that done!"

I'm following the progress, so why don't I put the cookies in the freezer for now?

stardust, the Scott Oser deconstruction of Suetonius is more succinct than mine. Nice! Did you see how much stuff is on the mystae page? That will take me a while to look at... :)

This statement that Scott Oser provides in reference to Jesus and Suetonius is interesting: "Even if Suetonius is referring to Christians in Rome, this only confirms the existence of Christians, not the existence of Jesus. There is no doubt that there were Christians in Rome during the first century CE--this of course does NOT imply that Jesus actually lived during the first half of this century."

Yes, this is A LOT of reading! There is so much information and evidence out there from various viewpoints.

And this statement from the mystae site is interesting as well when searching for eyewitness accounts of Jesus in the NT.

"Only the Gospel of John, which was written approximately 70 years after Jesus death, claims to incorporate an actual eyewitness account."

FreeThought, I wonder if they'll have the same smell and taste after they've been 'hyper-drived'? :)

Stardust, all of the four Gospels offer 'eyewitness' accounts. So does Luke's work of "Acts" and so do Paul's personal letters to the churches.

Marcguyver wrote "all of the four Gospels offer 'eyewitness' accounts. So does Luke's work of "Acts" and so do Paul's personal letters to the churches."

...can you back up your statement with a source/sources?

By Frank R. Zindler - American Atheist website:

"The notion that the four "gospels that made the cut" to be included in the official New Testament were written by men named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John does not go back to early Christian times. The titles "According to Matthew," etc., were not added until late in the second century. Thus, although Papias ca. 140 CE ('Common Era') knows all the gospels but has only heard of Matthew and Mark, Justin Martyr (ca. 150 CE) knows of none of the four supposed authors. It is only in 180 CE, with Irenæus of Lyons, that we learn who wrote the four "canonical" gospels and discover that there are exactly four of them because there are four quarters of the earth and four universal winds. Thus, unless one supposes the argument of Irenæus to be other than ridiculous, we come to the conclusion that the gospels are of unknown origin and authorship, and there is no good reason to suppose they are eye-witness accounts of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. At a minimum, this forces us to examine the gospels to see if their contents are even compatible with the notion that they were written by eye-witnesses. We cannot even assume that each of the gospels had but one author or redactor.

"It is clear that the gospels of Matthew and Luke could not possibly have been written by an eye-witness of the tales they tell. Both writers plagiarize d (largely word-for-word) up to 90% of the gospel of Mark, to which they add sayings of Jesus e and would-be historical details. Ignoring the fact that Matthew and Luke contradict each other in such critical details as the genealogy of Jesus - and thus cannot both be correct - we must ask why real eye-witnesses would have to plagiarize the entire ham-hocks-and-potatoes of the story, contenting themselves with adding merely a little gravy, salt, and pepper. A real eye-witness would have begun with a verse reading, "Now, boys and girls, I'm gonna tell you the story of Jesus the Messiah the way it really happened..." The story would be a unique creation. It is significant that it is only these two gospels that purport to tell anything of Jesus' birth, childhood, or ancestry. Both can be dismissed as unreliable without further cause. We can know nothing of Jesus' childhood or origin!

The Homer argument actually breaks down with Christianity.

Despite Homer not being written down for over 500 years, it was relatively well preserved, and definitive versions can be produced.

The New Testament on the other hand, well after 25-30 years, we have the Epistles of Paul, about half of which most scholars think were forged, then some years after we get the Gospels - would that be the account according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Thomas, Nicodemus, Bartholomew, Marcion, James, Mary, the Hebrews, the Nazarenes, the Ebionites, Cerinthus, Basilides, Appelles, Bardesanes, Mani, Philip, Secret Mark, Secret James, Judas, Matthias, Perfection, Andrew, Eve, the Twelve, the Seventy, or Truth?

So basically, after only 25-30 years, the Christian story splits into loads of different highly divergent, often contradictory, narratives, while even after 500 years the Illiad narrative is fairly well preserved and non-divergent. Doesn't that suggest that the Christian one is a fiction that even people living at the time couldn't agree on?

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  • I'm the freethoughtmom from New England. Welcome!
  • The word rational means having the ability to reason. Reasoning takes time. Giving yourself the space to think is practically a luxury in our society.

    My father is a logical engineer, my mother a caring nurturer. My handwriting with my dominate hand resembles that of my father, the other, my mother. I feel lucky to have both sides to draw from.
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