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First Proof of Jesus Found?
October 21, 2002 12:07 PM   Subscribe

First Proof of Jesus Found? o ye of little fraith: repent. The last shall be first--unless this turns out to be bogus.
posted by Postroad (95 comments total)

 
I am of little faith, but never doubted that some real guy named Jesus existed at one point and that he was somewhat special to be remembered.

I don't believe he actually conducted a string of miracles or was descended from anywhere special, those seem like stories that passed through generations and embellished as time wore on, but I never thought he was a complete fabrication. Embellished, yes, entirely fictional, no.
posted by mathowie at 12:14 PM on October 21, 2002


I am not sure that I ever truly doubted the existence of a Biblical Jesus. It's the whole virgin-birth-son-of-God thing that brings me trouble. (I'd take my doubts back further but then I would be off-topic.)

Er, on preview, what mathowie said.
posted by Dick Paris at 12:20 PM on October 21, 2002


mathowie:: great comment...what I would have said, except expressed much more intelligently.
posted by furious-d at 12:22 PM on October 21, 2002


Ditto to what mathowie said.
posted by dazed_one at 12:26 PM on October 21, 2002


The 20 Aramaic letters etched on a side of the newly revealed ossuary read "Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui di Yoshua," or "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

Jesus, Joseph and James were common names in biblical times, but according to experts, the statistical probability of their appearing in that combination is extremely slim.


And if you believe that, perhaps you'd like to buy this watch I found with the inscription "Bobby, son of Joseph and brother of John" -- the statistical probablility of that refering to anyone else but Robert Kennedy is extremely slim!
posted by straight at 12:29 PM on October 21, 2002


This isn't the "first proof of Jesus"; there are numerous mentions of Jesus by contemporary historians, including Pliny the Younger, and by Rabbinical sources. There's a pretty good summary of the mentions of Jesus in various histories here. The evidence at hand (a casket inscribed with "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus") seems relatively weak in the face of this historical evidence.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:30 PM on October 21, 2002


matt your may be of litte faith, but postroad's post clearly reffers to those of little fraith. please, stick to the topic.
posted by Hackworth at 12:35 PM on October 21, 2002


Maybe this stone tablet was planted by the same people who planted the fake dinosaur bones.
posted by bondcliff at 12:36 PM on October 21, 2002


I disagree with Mathowie on this one. Y'all need to get up off his son o' god.

It didn't take more than a single generation to flesh out most of the embellishments on this story. That's pretty well documented.
posted by putzface_dickman at 12:36 PM on October 21, 2002


"We know this because an extraordinary inscription incised on one side of the ossuary reads in clear Aramaic letters: 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus'," he wrote."

James was the annoying tagalong brother that always pulled on Jesus' robe insisting on being allowed to go with him to all the miracles, and their Mom always sided with James, causing Jesus to hold a bit of a grudge. It's all written in the apocryphal book "Tales of a Fourth Grade Savior" by St. J. Blume.

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing." "But," says Man, "James' ossuary is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED." "Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. - DNA
posted by ZachsMind at 12:37 PM on October 21, 2002


"All religions are true, but none are literal." -Joseph Campbell
posted by JohnR at 12:39 PM on October 21, 2002


As proof that JC existed, this ossuary doesn't hold water.
posted by mischief at 12:42 PM on October 21, 2002


Actually, this discovery may irritate some people, and not the people you'd expect. The question "did Jesus have brothers?" is a hot issue in Protestant vs. Catholic debate. This apologist, for example, in effect conjures up Mary #1 (Jesus' mother) and Mary #2 (the mother of James, the gentleman named on the ossuary). Similarly, the Catholic Exchange argues that any "brothers or sisters" would have to be regarded as "cousins." By contrast, this site offers a fairly standard Protestant response, while this one is more cautious.

Regarding Jesus' existence: what mathowie said.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:43 PM on October 21, 2002


And then there was Jesus' brother Bob...

Musta been a bugger being one of God's relatives.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:44 PM on October 21, 2002


"Mom always liked you better."
posted by Skot at 12:48 PM on October 21, 2002


But with the water to wine deal it wuld be so easy to get your banquets catered...
posted by illusionaire at 12:48 PM on October 21, 2002


The evidence at hand ... seems relatively weak in the face of this historical evidence.

The article takes pains to point out this is apparently the first archaeological evidence to suggest Jesus existed.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:51 PM on October 21, 2002


It didn't take more than a single generation to flesh out most of the embellishments on this story.

I believe, actually, that it was around 60 years before the first Gospel was written (forgive me, I don't have my sources handy.) That's more than enough time for embellishments to flourish.

But I'm with . . . lots of people. I believe that Jesus existed, spent some time studying Buddhism, came back and wowed the ancient world with a new heresy, and was put down David Koresh style. I think that Jesus was a great man, an important figure, a proto-Socialist, all that. But the Son of God? Hmmm . . . .
posted by mikrophon at 12:54 PM on October 21, 2002


Interestingly the fact that Jesus had brothers isn't even generally accepted yet, though there's a passage in the Bible where Mary says something to the effect of "here is your mother, here are your brothers" or something, but she might mean that metaphorically.
posted by falameufilho at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2002


forgive my (transliterated) Aramaic, as I neither speak nor read it, but if the name Yoshua had been inscribed anywhere else, without context, would it have been translated as Jesus? If not, why assume that "Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui di Yoshua" is "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus?" Couldn't it be "…brother of Josua?"

Or (again, I neither speak nor read Aramaic.), could it be that Joseph was the brother of Joshua/Jesus and not James? or is "Ya'akov bar Yosef" considered the name with "akhui di Yoshua" then referring to ol' Ya'alov bar Yosef?"


"Since it seems very likely that the inscription is authentic, then I find it intolerable that the ossuary should remain in a secret private collection in Israel," he told Discovery News.

by Jove, it's INTOLERABLE. Why would the church automatically have a claim on it?
posted by tolkhan at 12:58 PM on October 21, 2002


Hell, and here I thought it was common knowledge that Jesus had a wife...

(Oh! Joke time! Here goes:

So Jesus is crucified and dies. His body is placed in the tomb, and the entrace sealed. A few days later, lo and behold!, he has risen from the dead!

He rolls back the coverstone and walks out of the tomb, almost immediately bumping into the caretaker, who looks back and says to him, "Hey! You left the door open -- what's with you, were you born in a barn?")
posted by five fresh fish at 1:01 PM on October 21, 2002


Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
posted by aaronshaf at 1:03 PM on October 21, 2002


As proof that JC existed, this ossuary doesn't hold water.
posted by mischief at 12:42 PM PST on October 21


Pah! They said the same thing about the Holy Seive of Mary Magdalene and the Sacred Funnel of Carl the Lesser.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:04 PM on October 21, 2002


"This ossuary could be compared to the Turin Shroud: a big key artifact for believers. I would be thrilled if it were true, but I believe it is a forgery. Several things cast suspicion: the line of custody is insecure, and the inscription is too perfect. They would have never written 'brother of Jesus' in the first century"

Works for me.

mr_roboto: There are not "numerous references"; there is a probable mention in Josephus, and that's it. For the other sources listed, either the relevant works have not survived or they are much vaguer about who's being worshiped. (If it's any consolation, there's equally little contemporary evidence for Muhammad.)
posted by languagehat at 1:05 PM on October 21, 2002


in our ninth grade history class our teacher gave us the impression that the historical jesus was just your run-of-the mill agitator/masturbator/loon/thorn in the Romans' side who was executed and later eaten by wild dogs. the legend arose sometime later, if i remember correctly. who knows?
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:05 PM on October 21, 2002


There goes Postroad with yet one more Middle East posting! That guy never quits.
posted by Postroad at 1:05 PM on October 21, 2002


this ossuary doesn't hold water.

You're correct. The ossuary holds bones.

(swish)

This is fascinating, though authenticity is going to be the biggest hurdle to overcome. On one hand, it matches up with the fact that we know that James, the brother of Jesus died in Jerusalem. Plus, the Christians never claimed to have relics of James' bones or ossuary before. (by contrast, Constantinople claimed to have had the baskets from the loaves and fishes, the actual crown of thorns, the head of John the Baptist, among other numerous relics whose provenance we are unsure of if not completely dubious.. but noone claimed to have had James' remains)

There's not enough here for us to have any idea as to the ossuary's authenticity. Under normal circumstances, I'd say, "of course it's authentic." After all, James ossuary had to exist somewhere... however, the ossuary is of unknown provenance. It seems to have appeared almost out of thin air, so the issue is going to be an open question for a while.

I wish it had been an archaeological finding that had been more well kept track of, but at the same time there's no general reason to dismiss it out of hand. Assuming it's not a modern forgery, it probably refers to exactly who we think it does.
posted by deanc at 1:05 PM on October 21, 2002


I'm just waiting for some housewife to show up on Antiques Roadshow with some key religious artifact and be all, "oh, it was sitting in my mother's attic, wrapped in tissue paper..."
posted by mkultra at 1:19 PM on October 21, 2002


this ossuary doesn't hold water.

You're correct. The ossuary holds bones.


actually, if you read the article, it holds nothing.


"God's invisible qualities… have been clearly seen"

okey doke.
posted by tolkhan at 1:23 PM on October 21, 2002


The question "did Jesus have brothers?" is a hot issue in Protestant vs. Catholic debate.

<Bethany> Jesus didn't have any brothers or sisters. Mary was a virgin.
<Rufus> Mary gave birth to CHRIST without having known a man's touch, that's true. But she did have a husband. And do you really think he'd have stayed married to her all those years if he wasn't getting laid? The nature of God and the Virgin Mary, those are leaps of faith. But to believe a married couple never got down? Well, that's just plain gullibility.
posted by Danelope at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2002


Yes, I knew it was empty, but I needed to use a little poetic license for the purpose of being snarky.
posted by deanc at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2002


forgive my (transliterated) Aramaic, as I neither speak nor read it, but if the name Yoshua had been inscribed anywhere else, without context, would it have been translated as Jesus? If not, why assume that "Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui di Yoshua" is "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus?" Couldn't it be "…brother of Josua?"

Yes. Jesus is the Latinized form, by way of the Greek Yesous, a translation of the Aramic Yeshua, which becomes Joshua in its anglicized form. Same relationship among Jacob (Latin Jacobus), Ya'akov (Hebrew), Iakboy (Greek) and James (English -- also Jack).
posted by beagle at 1:29 PM on October 21, 2002


let us not forget Marty brother of jesus.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:45 PM on October 21, 2002


yes, deanc, i knew you knew.


Yes. Jesus is the Latinized form, by way of the Greek Yesous, a translation of the Aramic Yeshua, which becomes Joshua in its anglicized form. Same relationship among Jacob (Latin Jacobus), Ya'akov (Hebrew), Iakboy (Greek) and James (English -- also Jack).

yes, i'm aware of that. My question, though, is "Is Yeshua always translated as Jesus?" If not, how do they know when it's Jesus or Joshua? Does its association with Joseph and James in this occurrence make it so?


If Yeshua always translates as Jesus, then how does anyone know which Jesus is being referred to? If someone had written "Yeshua was here" on a wall somewhere, would people be claiming that it was that Jesus, the particular one that Christians revere?
posted by tolkhan at 1:46 PM on October 21, 2002


If someone had written "Yeshua was here" on a wall somewhere, would people be claiming that it was that Jesus, the particular one that Christians revere?

Yep.
posted by signal at 1:50 PM on October 21, 2002


I wish you guys would quit using the word "ossuary" because I keep thinking you're saying "oissubke"!

In any case, I'm guessing this is either a hoax or a coincidence. Do people really need some solid proof that around two thousand years ago there was a fellow named Jesus who did some things and became the foundation for "Christianity"? Do we need Mohammed's comb or Buddha's toothbrush to "know" that they exist?

Whether you accept the deity of Christ is one thing, but to deny his very existence is, given the effect that this "imaginary" person had on the world, probably foolish.
posted by oissubke at 2:01 PM on October 21, 2002


So he was a mathematician as well.................interesting.
posted by johnnyboy at 2:02 PM on October 21, 2002


I'm reminded of the Shroud of Turin here which I equally dismiss as just being an object for Christians to unnecessarily attach value and importance to.
posted by foxyfoxinsox at 2:06 PM on October 21, 2002


I think one important point here, which neither confirms nor denies the veracity of the theory, but does help lend creadence, is the statement in the article that statistically, that specific ordering of the names would be pretty uncommon. I believe this. Population of ancient central Palestine: not that much. Population with Aramaic names that would be buried in this style: probably much smaller. Population with the name James: Even smaller. Statistical chance that a James, during this period had a father and Brother with the correct names, in addition to his brother being a well known enough figure that his name would be inscribed. Probably pretty damn small. If its a fake, its a fake. But if an authentic piece, I guess statistically, it probably does refer to who we think.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:09 PM on October 21, 2002


It hurts, you know. Sometimes I feel like religious MeFi threads are just contests of "How cleverly can you offend the Christians." Posted on Brownpau.com

My knee-jerk reaction is to say heheheheh-at least they think there is something clever being said here. But on a more serious note, no offense, but in my opinion, Christians just tend to go overboard with finding proof to further validate their religion. My question is why? I'm with mathowie on this one. My guess is that a man named Jesus did exist. Superpowers sent from God? I'd be more inclined to believe that if he was JUST ONCE ever depicted as having a cape and a big J across his chest .
posted by foxyfoxinsox at 2:27 PM on October 21, 2002


yes, i'm aware of that. My question, though, is "Is Yeshua always translated as Jesus?"

Jesus and Joshua and Yeshua are linguistically the same thing. You can translate Yeshua whichever way you like, it is still the same name. And no, there is of course no way to know which Jesus/Yeshua/Joshua is being referred to.
posted by beagle at 2:28 PM on October 21, 2002


There seems to me to be something idolatrous about the search for "proof" of Jesus. Ye of little faith! Islam certainly considers the Christian obsession with relics to be idol-worship. [Buddhism would consider the whole affair beside the point]. Attempts ground the sacred in "proofs" of the historical Jesus? This skirts a little close to "proofs" of God for my taste. Proofs of the sacred would be, by most definitions, IMPOSSIBLE: if we define the sacred to be truly transcendant of the profane world, then it would be beyond knowledge and comprehension. Certainly this is what most saints and mystics say.

Maybe somebody can find historical "evidence" of one of Jesus miracles? Like the "loaves and fishes" one? - "500 genetically identical fishbone spines found...DNA tests reveal...." I Like I like the Buddhist take on MIRACLES, anyway: There's a Buddhist master, with disciples, one on side of the river with his followers. On the other side of the river is camped out a miracle worker with his own band of folllowers. One miracle worker follower says of HIS master, "my master does little tap dances on the water...He shits and out comes delicious fried chicken"...and so on. The Buddhist rolls his eyes and say "When my master walks, he walks. When he shits, he shits".........
posted by troutfishing at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2002


Whether it's genuine or not seems to me to be irrelevant, it'll be used by Christians to say "I told you so!" and it'll be dismissed as fake by people with an axe to grind against Christians. as my friend Matt has said: "The basic truth is that spirituality is not a logic-based phenomenon. It is an emotional one." It seems to me that fighting over whether or not this thing is a fake distracts one from the central point of finding one's connection with God. If you don't have that connection, you've probably got better things to do with your time anyway.

"Since it seems very likely that the inscription is authentic, then I find it intolerable that the ossuary should remain in a secret private collection in Israel," he told Discovery News.

Oh boy, the fight begins - which church gets it? Does the Vatican automatically get dibs? I don't believe that'll sit too well with a lot of Protestants. Ossuary, ossuary, who's got the ossuary?
posted by RylandDotNet at 2:31 PM on October 21, 2002


I don't have a link for it, but I read a while ago that the CC allowed for an examination of the Shroud of Torin, and the carbon dated put it somewhere around the 12th Century (which is around the dates where carbon dating found the burn holes to be according to foxyfoxinsox's link). Anways, I think anyone who needs a shroud or tablet linking brotherhood to make one believe in God is missing the point completely...X-ianity is a religion of faith for a reason.
posted by jmd82 at 2:32 PM on October 21, 2002


Knew him? [Brutha] owes me 12 bucks! (slightly edited/censored)
posted by jschuur at 3:23 PM on October 21, 2002


does anyone know what the ancient burial requirements/rituals were? in modern Judaism, an ossuary wouldn't be allowed....and this is before christian burial rituals were developed, i think...
posted by amberglow at 3:43 PM on October 21, 2002


[offtopic]
Read the headline as "Fire Proof Jesus Found?"
Need to go home I think.
[/offtopic]
posted by Tenuki at 3:57 PM on October 21, 2002


I think my take on this is that as a Christian, it's a matter of faith, one of the mysteries of God. Then again, if the theory that the ossuary is genuine is seen to be untrue (ie the ossuary is not that of James brother of Jesus), that take looks rather foolish :-)
posted by tomcosgrave at 4:15 PM on October 21, 2002


There seems to me to be something idolatrous about the search for "proof" of Jesus. Ye of little faith! Islam certainly considers the Christian obsession with relics to be idol-worship.

I wasn't really aware of the Muslim view of Christian relics. Interesting.

The use of relics in Christianity (the discovery of the True Cross, bones of the apostles, etc.) struck me as a reaction against the "ahistorical" religions of the day, like Mithraism and the religions like Gnosticism that espoused beliefs that anything in the physical created world was evil.

Pointing, to, say, the True Cross or Pontius Pilate's office in Jerusalem was a means that the Christians could say, "look, this is where are savior was at precisely this era of the world." (and, for those who lived in the Roman and Byzantine empires, this was a means of showing the historical/political continuity of the events of the Bible and the present day) Likewise, while a Gnostic (and I mean that in the 2nd century sense of Gnosticism) might consider the created and anything physical to be corrupt and evil, the Christians would venerate their "incorruptible" bodies of the saints as examples of the purity of God's creation-- that clearly, if an evil god created the world, how could that evil god have created the "pure" saints and the reaffirm that the world was created by a "good" God.

In the modern age, this might look like a vain attempt at searching for "proof" because we're so far removed historically, politically, and geographically from the events of the Bible.

In any case, seeing as how this ossuary is in a private collection, I don't think it will end up as a venerated relic anytime soon... it looks like it's destined to be an archaeological curiosity for the near future.
posted by deanc at 4:28 PM on October 21, 2002


more jesus mysteries. it seems you can have jesus without having to have had jesus...:

'So what does it mean to anyone today if some guy didn't really live two thousand years ago? It has to do with faith. I've never been comfortable with this concept. I know there are various meanings of this word, but it's the one that goes, "Heaven is like this, God is like that, and what I say is Truth for everyone - take it on faith my son."!! No thank you. I have been gifted in my lifetime with a momentary awareness of my Creator. I gnow S/He is real. I don't have to take that on faith, but I gnow it through direct experience. And there might well have been a group of people several thousand years ago who had similar direct experiences of this archetypal energy, and spoke about it as real. Their successors lost the skill of the inner mysteries and clung on to the factual historical Jesus. And that experience is available to us - especially when the place that the contact is being made is geomantically enhanced. Spiritual experiences are available to us today - especially in sacred space.'

geomancy - 'Divination by means of lines and figures or by geographic features'
posted by asok at 5:26 PM on October 21, 2002


does anyone know what the ancient burial requirements/rituals were? in modern Judaism, an ossuary wouldn't be allowed

From what I've read, at the time of Christ when a Jewish person died their body was placed in a burial cave. The official family mourning lasted for seven days. Then a less involving 30-day period of mourning called shloshim began. The whole mourning process was not over, however, until the flesh had decomposed off the bones, which usually takes about a year. In the Jerusalam Talmud, the next step is explained:

"When the flesh had disappeared, the bones were gathered together and placed in chests (ossuaries). On that day the son mourned, but the following day he was glad, because his forebears rested from judgment (Moed Qatan 1:5)."

Placing the bones in the ossuary closed the mourning period. This ritual was referred to as the "ossilegium" (second burial).
posted by JParker at 5:49 PM on October 21, 2002


One view from the Christian perspective: I think that a discovery like this, if it tests out well as authentic, is important for Christians and non-Christians alike. No one will ever "prove" that Jesus was the son of God. It will always require that "leap of faith" to commit your life to Christ. But as the archeological evidence continues to bear out the testimony of the gospels, it becomes harder and harder to dismiss the writings as fairy tales. And if you take those writings seriously, how do you answer the challenge they issue?

If the writers were accurate as to the names and dates and places, how likely is it they would be wrong about the most important part of their story? If these were just myths, why were these people willing to die for their faith? Archeological evidence like this puts the author of one of the new testament books on the scene, writing within his lifetime about events to which he was an eyewitness. This is important to counter sensationalist "research" by groups like The Jesus Seminar, who try to separate the historical Jesus from the Jesus of faith, dismissing the latter as an accumulation of myths.

Good solid archeological evidence that adds scientific support to the credibility of the Bible may not ever be enough to convince someone to follow Jesus, but it can narrow the chasm for that leap of faith. Most biblical researchers who are Christian say their research has made their faith stronger.

Faith is not belief without reason or evidence, it is trust without limitations.
posted by JParker at 6:08 PM on October 21, 2002


There seems to me to be something idolatrous about the search for "proof" of Jesus. Ye of little faith! Islam certainly considers the Christian obsession with relics to be idol-worship.

A bit harshly put perhaps, but they may have a point. I'm undecided on the whole religion enchilada, except for the idea that there is a God of some sort*and we can all learn something of value from religious tradition. Whatever happened to "proof denies faith and without faith I'm nothing."

But then again, this nice man I met sold me the bill for The Last Supper :)

*No I'm not interested in debating the question, nobody's minds get changed and it only results in hurt feelings.
posted by jonmc at 6:19 PM on October 21, 2002


Mind, there's no such thing as Christianity. What's practiced is actually Paulism. Christ wasn't intent on creating a new religion: he just wanted to get Judaism back on the straight and narrow.

You read your New Testament, and you'll find that most of it, and most of the structure of the so-called "Christian" faith actually stems from Paul's letters to various little churches. He comes across as sort of a ring-leader to me: a savvy little ex-tax-collector who recognized a good deal when he saw it, and took advantage of it to best advance his own status and power.

Paul wrote some truly miserable things about women and marriage.

IMO, YMMV.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:08 PM on October 21, 2002


'Whether you accept the deity of Christ is one thing, but to deny his very existence is, given the effect that this "imaginary" person had on the world, probably foolish.'

Oissubke, I'm afraid your premise is flawed. A lack of positive evidence can always justify disbelief, and that is the real problem here. The first mentions of this magician, Jesus, come many years after his purported death, all by anonymous authors (Matthew, Mark, etc.. were just the names later attributed to the authors, so that the texts would have disciple credibility), the texts contradict eachother and plagiarize from eachother, and even the ones used by Christians today were selected from a slurry of other anonymous, contradictory stories about this holy man.

This amazing lack of evidence leaves room for doubt and many competing, yet, equally valid theories, one of which is to say that maybe a influential teacher existed at the right place and right time who was later deified by overzealous followers (a la Buddah), another is that a tall-tale telling huckster manipulated people into his personal fantasy cult (a la Muhammed, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, etc.), and yet another theory could be that a hope-inspiring tale of a wise teacher who could be the Jewish Messiah spread around Palestine (like any urban legend you might find on snopes ) at a desperate time of foreign occupation (a la the Ghost Dance ). Just as millions in the Middle East today can believe that 400 Jews stayed home from work on 9-11 simply because they heard it, people are willing and able to confabulate and exaggerate small rumors that, overtime, begin to take on a life of their own. To me, this last theory is the most plausible explanation, and there is a fair amount of supporting arguments for it.

So, yes, an "imaginary" person can have a great influence on the world, when extremely devoted, and zealous believers in that person* start a small energetic movement that appeals to the disenfranchised masses. Throw in a healthy dose of historical contingency (Constantine's conversion for instance) and you have a meme that is so powerful its hard to envision its humble origins as a confused series of rumors in a 1st century Palestinian game of telephone.

*Another good example of an "imaginary" person who inspired the very real actions of popes and explorers alike is the mythical Prestor John. "Imaginary" people are simply ideas, and like all ideas, can shape history in a real and powerful way.
posted by dgaicun at 7:33 PM on October 21, 2002 [1 favorite]


This isn't the "first proof of Jesus"; there are numerous mentions of Jesus by contemporary historians, including Pliny the Younger, and by Rabbinical sources. There's a pretty good summary of the mentions of Jesus in various histories here. The evidence at hand (a casket inscribed with "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus") seems relatively weak in the face of this historical evidence.

I'm afraid none of those historical sources are 'contemporary', Mr. roboto, but were all written after Christ's supposed death. None of those references are first hand accounts of Christ, they are only references to the post-mortem cult known as 'Christians' who are then said to be named after their leader 'Christ'. This does nothing but confirm what we already know, that there was a cult who believed a particular dead guy was their messiah, and adds no further witness to the existence of this man. As for the Josephus quote, even a majority of Christian scholars admit that this odd quote attributed to him is a later interpolation.
posted by dgaicun at 7:36 PM on October 21, 2002


I'd like to be the first to welcome our new Christian over...

...wait a minute...
posted by adampsyche at 7:38 PM on October 21, 2002


You read your New Testament, and you'll find that most of it, and most of the structure of the so-called "Christian" faith actually stems from Paul's letters to various little churches.

The really fun part is that a bunch of the letters in the New Testament that are attributed to Paul almost certainly weren't written by him. Particularly the ones that say the some of the things that feminists like the least. (The pastorals: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, are pretty bad, as I recall.)
posted by kennyk at 7:45 PM on October 21, 2002


JParker: Klaus Kinski claimed he was Jesus, that didn't make him the son of god.
posted by abez at 8:40 PM on October 21, 2002


"I think that what might be called the sanctified chauvinism of the Bible is one of the curses of the planet today."
-Joseph Campbell
posted by JohnR at 8:56 PM on October 21, 2002


If the writers were accurate as to the names and dates and places, how likely is it they would be wrong about the most important part of their story?

Holocaust deniers don't argue that there wasn't a person named Hitler or a place named Auschwitz, yet they make extraordinary claims which contradict reams of physical evidence. We would be committing a grevious offense to reason if we were to assume that their extraordinary claims did not require extraordinary evidence just because they have some of the mundane details right.

If these were just myths, why were these people willing to die for their faith?

Make a list of all of the causes that people have ever died for. By this standard, you've just established the truth of essentially every religion ever, and a host of beliefs I'm sure you wouldn't be caught dead advocating.

Archeological evidence like this puts the author of one of the new testament books on the scene, writing within his lifetime about events to which he was an eyewitness.

Archeological evidence like this lends credence to the belief that there was a pretty important guy in classical Judea named Jesus, son of Joseph. It lends good solid scientific support to a notion that nearly everyone believed anyway.

The desire to believe that this find substantiates any of the more extraordinary claims of the New Testament falls under the category of wishful thinking. The search for physical evidence of metaphysical phenomena is a waste of time. You either believe or you don't; science is no help in trying to prove an unfalsifiable theory about phenomena which cannot be replicated--walking on water, say.
posted by sexualchocolate at 11:10 PM on October 21, 2002


I want a ship made out of all the parts of the "True Cross". That would be really cool.

Actually, I'd really like to know the exact provenience of this ossuary.
posted by geekhorde at 12:18 AM on October 22, 2002


troutfishing: Islam certainly considers the Christian obsession with relics to be idol-worship. [Buddhism would consider the whole affair beside the point].

Well, there's the Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy (heh heh), Sri Lanka, which supposedly houses Buddha's tooth. And at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul I saw what were supposedly some hairs of Mohammed. And Mohammed's footprints have been venerated. And I could go on and on.

I think that if one believes in something mystical and profound, the desire to latch onto some tangible token of that belief seems pretty normal. (Such as autograph collecting, but I digress.)
posted by Vidiot at 12:23 AM on October 22, 2002


You know, I've never really bought the notion that faith is somehow separate from reason. This seems to be a pernicious notion which as far as I can tell, comes about from a strange reading of Paul and Augustine. Christianity's relationship to rational proofs of God has wobbled through the ages - it was pro-reason against the Roman gods, anti-reason and pro-blind-faith against Stoicism, and then kind of changes its mind depending upon whether its opponents are more rationally founded or not.

Our current era of 'God is not rationally verifiable' seems to have come about from Kierkegaard as far as I can tell, who, admitting that there was no rational proof of God in the face of science and philosophy, declared that it didn't matter anyhow, so nyah.

Personally, I remain unconvinced that God is not subject to the same laws of evidence we subject every other empirical postulate to.

On a fun side note, next time someone mentions the 'Ye of little faith thing', one might wish to mention the fact that for all Jesus chastises Thomas for doubting in the first place, he still supposedly comes through and does a bunch of miracles to prove that he really is Christ. Thomas doesn't have to accept anything on blind faith, and neither does anyone else in the New Testament for that matter. Even Paul, who never even meets Jesus, gets a pack of kickass super-powers with which to fight evil, burn idols and practice the biblical version of air traffic control.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:38 AM on October 22, 2002


This page claims that there was no historical Jesus. The author (a certain Earl Doherty) presents his arguments here. It is decently researched but not 100% convincing to me. While I am an atheist, I do not believe that Christianity could have existed at all if there were no actual Jesus or no real disciples of Jesus.
posted by talos at 2:03 AM on October 22, 2002


A stone box doens't prove the jesus existed, this is just another Turin Shroud.
posted by JonnyX at 3:19 AM on October 22, 2002


It is decently researched but not 100% convincing to me. While I am an atheist, I do not believe that Christianity could have existed at all if there were no actual Jesus or no real disciples of Jesus.

Talos,

The paucity of historical sources doesn't lend itself to anything close to %100 certainty regarding this issue. That said, I'm not really sure why you think it is necessary that the new testament we have today should be accepted as historically accurate if we are to explain the religion. It appears as though the synoptics are all based on one lost source (probably a loose collection of religious quotes -see 'the Gospel of Thomas' ) that only appears anywhere from one to three generations after the events the gospels claim happen. This isn't Holocaust denial, there are very good resons to be skeptical of a real man. One is that the earliest Pauline references seem to refer only to a spiritual man, not a physical one.

You are also mistaken to assume that because Christianity is such a juggernaut today, it must have had an explosive beginning. There are no records of any actual disciples, much less of them having any role in establishing the church (Paul no doubt existed and had a big role, but he was never a disciple. He recieved his calling from a spiritual Jesus on the road to Damascus) For many years the religion was small and obscure (it didn't grow anywhere near as fast as Islam or Mormonism), and exploded only after some amazingly lucky historical breaks.
posted by dgaicun at 6:57 AM on October 22, 2002


JParker: To answer your question. There is as much (perhaps even more evidence) to show that Cleopatra's brother rose from the dead in an effort to take the throne. If we are to take the posthumous Chistian caims seriosly, then why not the other claims to divinity?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:03 AM on October 22, 2002


I am of little faith, but never doubted that some real guy named Jesus existed at one point and that he was somewhat special to be remembered.

Personally, I like the idea that "Jesus" was an aggregation of a number of local legends, just like Robin Hood. This ossuary may have been a fake by and for early christians ... you would need more corroborative evidence to place it as genuine than a seeming statistical unlikelihood ... the extremely public record of that group of names tends to increase the likelihood of their occurrence, IMO ...
posted by walrus at 7:42 AM on October 22, 2002


dgaicun: That said, I'm not really sure why you think it is necessary that the new testament we have today should be accepted as historically accurate if we are to explain the religion.
I am not suggesting that the new testament is anything close to historically accurate. I claim no expertise in the matter. But as far as the spread of Christianity is concerned it must have been, if not explosive, significant given the fact that a Roman Emperor decided (politically) to support the new religion (which therefore must have been very widespread) three centuries after the death (or "death") of Jesus. Plus the first anti-Christian pogrom happened in 64 AD, which means that there were significant numbers of Christians in Rome by then.
Apart from that, the gospels seem to refer to geographically and temporally correct places and events.
There's a discussion in the site I linked to between Doherty and Hoag. I, as a non expert, find Hoag's arguments more convincing.
posted by talos at 8:05 AM on October 22, 2002


Leaving the issue of faith aside for the moment, one reason to take the claims seriously IS the tremendous amount of historical documentation we have. There are 5,664 Greek manuscripts, 8-10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts, and 8,000 Slavic, and Ethiopic manuscripts representing copies of portions of the New Testament, some dating back as far A.D. 100. This is unprecendented.

Next to the New Testament, the greatest amount of manuscript support is for Homer's Iliad. There are fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts of it today. Plus, the earliest copies date to the second century A.D.. When you consider that it was composed about 800 B.C., there's a gap of almost 1,000 years. Yet there is no scholarly reluctance to treat the Iliad as authentic.
posted by JParker at 9:41 AM on October 22, 2002


Yet there is no scholarly reluctance to treat the Iliad as authentic.

Perhaps just some of the story it describes ...
posted by walrus at 9:51 AM on October 22, 2002


Yet there is no scholarly reluctance to treat the Iliad as authentic.
posted by JParker at 9:41 AM PST on October 22


Perhaps, but is there a lot of belief that the content of the Iliad is accurate?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:51 AM on October 22, 2002


*jinx*
posted by walrus at 9:56 AM on October 22, 2002


Damn. I owe Walrus a beer.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:59 AM on October 22, 2002


Seriously JParker, what is your point? There are millions of copies of 'the Hobbit' that have been printed, does that somehow make the story more true? Do you think it makes the existence of Bilbo Baggins more probable if not undeniable?
posted by dgaicun at 10:18 AM on October 22, 2002


There are millions of copies of 'the Hobbit' that have been printed, does that somehow make the story more true?

Now hold on there Dgaicun: no one (sane) ever tried to claim that The Hobbit was true. Think more along the lines of Herodotus (the wildly apocryphal histories were accepted as fact for a long time), and you can see where Jparker is coming from (tho' I don't agree with him).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:32 AM on October 22, 2002


Talos,

It is true that there was a Christian presence in Rome, large enough to be scapegoated by Nero, about 30-40 years after the understood time of Christ's death. Still this was a relatively small, obscure, and fairly typical cult (think of how large Islam became even during Muhammeds life.)

It grew gradually over three centuries and that is really a long time (America's entire history spans only two, Mormonism is at 10 million after one). There never was a revolution in Palestine, indicating a huge and history-changing man or event.

My biggest complaint with you was this:

I do not believe that Christianity could have existed at all if there were no actual Jesus or no real disciples of Jesus.

It's not so much you hold to a theory you find more plausible, but that you discount another fairly supported one entirely. Why couldn't Christianity exist without a real man? Is it implausible that a typical type of belief in a spiritual messiah evolved, overtime, into a belief in an atypical physical one? Or that a belief sprung up around a man of legend?

The only source for belief in a human Christ or his disciples is the gospels. Considering their obscurity, absurdity and unreliability, I have little reason to accept that they can be used as basis for history.
posted by dgaicun at 11:14 AM on October 22, 2002


I think the best argument for jesus being based on a real person rather than a local legend is how he does a number of things that don't seem Ideal, in the sense of wishing a saviour into being - like yelling at a fig tree, or stealing a donkey, e.g.
posted by mdn at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2002


"Considering their obscurity, absurdity and unreliability, I have little reason to accept that they can be used as basis for history.

I can respect anyone's decision not to accept Jesus as a savior, but the unwillingness to accept the Bible as history flies in the face of all modern scholarship. It is pretty universally accepted as the best source of historical fact about that era that we have. Archaelogical excavations have uncovered the pavement where Pilate's Judgement Seat was located, the Tower of Antonia (the Roman fortress where Paul spoke to the angry mob), the Palace of Caiphas (Jesus' trial), the brook of Kidron, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives. the Temple Mount.... the list goes on and on.

The facts - as history - come under repeated attack. Scholars for years dismissed the book of John because he mentions the pool of Bethesda, which had "seven porticos" or entrances, as the location where Jesus healed the invalid, and there's no pool there. If he could be wrong about that, the logic goes, he's probably wrong about lots of other things as well. Then a team decided to dig where John said it was, and 40 feet underground, they found it. With seven porticos.

This determined attack on the factual basis of the Bible fascinates me. I can't help but wonder if there is an element of fear in it. Perhaps the reasoning goes: If only we can prove that the facts are inaccurate, then we safely ignore the challenges Jesus puts before us. I don't agree with that reasoning -- I do separate the factual history of the Bible from the faith practice it espouses -- but I do find it fascinating.
posted by JParker at 1:00 PM on October 22, 2002


If these were just myths, why were these people willing to die for their faith?

Gentlemen, I give you exhibit A: the Heaven's Gate cult.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:41 PM on October 22, 2002


This determined attack on the factual basis of the Bible fascinates me. I can't help but wonder if there is an element of fear in it. Perhaps the reasoning goes: If only we can prove that the facts are inaccurate, then we safely ignore the challenges Jesus puts before us.

Heh. You really believe that, deep down, everyone knows that your religion is right don't you JP? You are so right JP, I have to tell myself daily that Jesus must be a myth, because if he isn't that would mean I am accountable for my sinful atheist lifestyle of debauchery. I must believe my own lies. Get real.

If you were reading you'd notice I suggested above that the evidence was ambiguous enough to leave room for a quasi-historical Jesus, though I personally think the strongest possibility is an evolving Christ myth. I never 'rejected' a historical Christ or made any statement of dogma for that matter. Secondly you must think those conspiratorial ('If only we can prove...'), no doubt, sinful atheist scholars have singled out the bible for special rejection, only to be repeatedly embarrassed by intrepid Christian archaeology. You're wrong on both accounts: 1)the bible is approached with as much historical precaution as any other ancient mythological text that mixes fact and fiction. Consider the Iliad or the Epic of Gilgamesh. There is no 'double-standard' for the bible. Also, scholars never 'rejected' anything, they just required more evidence then the Bible's written word (I know that might seem strange to you) before making a firm historical conclusion. And their skepticism is warranted seeing as how... 2)While many mundane details (i.e the most believable ones) of the bible are affirmed with archaeology, many,many more times the digs prove more embarrassing to Jews and Christians than to any skeptic (skeptics don't usually 'get embarrassed' because they usually don't hold dogmatic opinions, they simply reserve judgment, which is prudent, not shameful.) The bible makes many fantastic claims that no one should discredit themselves by believing. For instance where is evidence for this mass Jewish exodus? Such evidence, if the event happened, wouldn't have to be sought after too rigorously, yet it is nowhere found.

JP the bible is (and should be) approached with skepticism by scholars and historians not because it has religious truths that they are afraid of, but because it wasn't written as a historical text. Without corroborating evidence its difficult to distinguish what parts should be considered myth and which parts are reliable as historical record. To those that have automatically assumed 'scriptures' are God's infallible word than that task doesn't seem too difficult, but to everyone else the whole matter becomes a whole lot more complex. At one point scholars were proven wrong about the Iliad. They didn't accept the Trojan War or the city of Troy, because the Iliad contained such an amalgam of myth and fact that it would have been naive to accept these things unqualified. One German archeologist changed All this. And when Heinrich Schliemann confirmed the Iliads unexpected historicity here is what he said:

'You scholars just rejected the stories of the Iliad because you were afraid of its message. But now that Troy is discovered you must admit that you were wrong and finally accept the glorious truths about the mighty invincible warrior Achilles also described therein, also you need to finally face the fact that you are accountable to the almighty Zeus!'
posted by dgaicun at 5:19 PM on October 22, 2002 [2 favorites]


Secret Life:
Christianity seems different than such cults, though, for a couple of reasons. Jesus generally allowed His actions to speak rather than His words (e.g. when John the Baptist was imprisoned and sent word pressing Jesus for a solid answer "are you the One?", Jesus sent back a reply that said "Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life..." And the first four books are of the New Testament are eyewitness testimony to what happened, which again isn't usually the case with cults based on myths.

While there is a lot of mythology wrapped up in most religions (and Christianity has its share!), the immediacy of the documentary evidence is important. I made the observation about the willingness to die for their faith in the context of legends and myths, and my point - more concisely - was that these people who were being persecuted and dying rather than deny their faith were contemporaries of Jesus. If those stories were myths they would have known, and most people won't knowingly die to support a lie.

dgaicun: I don't tie the factual nature of the Bible as a historical document to the faith it requires, in fact I explicitly avoided doing so, so your Zeus story and the parallels with my comments you are attempting to draw are irrelevant (albeit quite entertaining!).

As far as me being "right", I doubt it. That's sort of the whole problem. Jesus, though, I think is right.

I also was not talking about the skeptical approach of those who reserve judgement. I'm sure that represents the vast majority of researchers, both professional and otherwise. I was commenting on my fascination with those researchers who feel compelled to attack the Bible. I make a presumption, freely acknowledged as such, based on the willingness of these "scholars" to abandon reason in their pursuit to discredit the Bible as history, that they are somehow threatened by its message. Obviously you are not one of them. Obviously.

I will admit that even if certain events mentioned in the Bible were specifically disproved, I don't think it would shake my faith very much, if at all. But that's because it's based on the message, not the evidence. But still, it's worth noting that not one specific historical event or location mentioned in the Bible has been specifically disproved. Researchers like those in the Salon article you linked to are espousing their own theories, based on a "lack of corroborating evidence" of things that happened thousands of years ago. Scientific method is based on repeatable testing of hypotheses, something that doesn't work well in the exploration of ancient history. If I wanted to restrict myself to positive "proof", I wouldn't believe in the assassination of Lincoln either, and that happened less than 200 years ago. Everybody has an agenda, so it is up to us as individuals to figure out what makes the most sense for us personally.
posted by JParker at 6:17 PM on October 22, 2002


Be an agnostic like me - then at the Moment of Reckoning you can say "I never said you don't or do exist". It's positively Clintonian!
posted by owillis at 6:45 PM on October 22, 2002


First time I've heard Clinton held up as a role model. Not sure I can make that leap of faith.
posted by JParker at 7:18 PM on October 22, 2002


But still, it's worth noting that not one specific historical event or location mentioned in the Bible has been specifically disproved.

You didn't read dgaicun's link, did you? There's no report in all the Egyptian histories of an exodus -- and the Egyptians were fanatical about history. The Exodus did not take place. This is unequivocal.

You certainly don't know your bible history at all well ('the first four books are of the New Testament are eyewitness testimony'). Matthew was not a eyewitness to Jesus' works, and he did not hang out with the apostles during Jesus' time.

Returning to the "historical event not disproven" bit again, the NT contains several errors. Like Luke's report that Jesus was born during the Quirinius reign, while Matthew says during Herod's reign. At least one of those two reported historical events must be wrong!

As you become more informed, you develop a more realistic understanding of the bible, and hopefully a faith that is based less on blind acceptance of what you've been told, and more on the insights and ideas you extract from your own interpretation, discussion, and understanding.

Hope that doesn't sound too holier-than-thou. If it helps any, I'm an atheist! :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 7:48 PM on October 22, 2002


FFF -
Well, I'm no Bible scholar myself, that's for sure. But to a few of your points:

The Exodus did not take place. This is unequivocal.
I did read the article. You may notice I quoted from it. People went marching through the desert thousands of years ago, and there's no evidence of it left today, and that's unequivocal? I guess if you've already made up your mind, that suffices. As I said before, lack of confirmation is not proof to the contrary.

Matthew was not a eyewitness to Jesus' works, and he did not hang out with the apostles
If you've read the Bible, you may recall that Matthew, also known as Levi, was the tax collector who was personally called out by Jesus. Going back to the earliest documentation I know of, Irenaeus writing in about A.D. 180 said "Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there." Sorry, but you're just way wrong on that one.

Like Luke's report that Jesus was born during the Quirinius reign, while Matthew says during Herod's reign. At least one of those two reported historical events must be wrong!
Actually Luke says that the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was conducted when Quirinius was governing Syria and during the reign of Herod the Great. There's no inherent conflict there, since Quirinius would have been ruling Syria under Herod's authority. There is a potential conflict here, though, that was much publicized. Since Since Herod died in 4 B.C. and Quirinius didn't begin ruling Syria until A.D. 6, there is an apparent contradiction. This was resolved when Jerry Vardamann and his team of archaeologists found a coin with tne name "Quirinius" on it in micrographic letters, placing him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. until after Herod's death. So... there were two Quiriniuses. (Alternate theory, promoted by Sir William Ransay of Oxford and Cambridge, is that there was only one Quirinius, but he held office at two different times. Either way, the coin says he was in office at the time this supposed "contradiction" took place.)

As I become more informed, I develop a more realistic understanding of the Bible, and my own insight and understanding lead me to the inescapable conclusion that there is a God, and Jesus was His son. I hope you decide to dig a little deeper in your research.
posted by JParker at 9:15 PM on October 22, 2002


Micrographic letters! Hah! If you buy that malarkey. . .

also,

'Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue'

That Irenaeus sounds like a reliable guy, especially since Matthew was written in Greek!

To repeat the reasonable conclusions of mainstream biblical scholarship:

The gospels were all penned by anonymous authors, the texts contradict eachother and plagiarize from eachother, and even the ones used by Christians today were selected from a slurry of other anonymous, contradictory gospels that were named after other disciples and used by many early churches. (the gospel of bartholomew, the gospel of thomas...etc.)
posted by dgaicun at 9:57 PM on October 22, 2002


Buy it! Hah! I can go look at it in the Israel Museum...

Irenaeus sounds reasonable to me too, as confirmed by Papias, Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius...

The gospels were penned by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (although not, it is generally agreed, in that order) and the "contradictions" are anectodal, not central to the message. Just as when two eyewitnesses see the same event and their descriptions differ in some details, the gospels differ in a manner consistent with the differing perspectives of their authors. (If there was no difference, that would be pretty blatent evidence of direct copying, don't you think?) The question of whether there was any copying done is still a much debated one, and I don't know the answer, but in reading them myself, I find sufficient differences in both material and perspective that it is not implausible that they were authored separately. Or perhaps Matthew and Luke and John had Mark to work from. Or perhaps there was a mysterious "Q" they all worked from. Does that matter?

Thomas, Bartholomew and the other non-canonical "gospels" were rejected by the early church for inclusion in the Bible for the simple reason that they originated much later, and did not reflect the teachings of Jesus as known to the church and reflected in the Gospels which were known to be authentic. Although there were a few books-- like Barnabus, Shepherd of Hermas, and the Apocalypse of Peter -- that were widely read and generally accepted as "Christian", they were never considered apostolic, and if you actually go look at some of the documentation from the Council of Nicea, you'll see that they were simply confirming as doctrine what the Christian community was already practicing.
posted by JParker at 10:45 PM on October 22, 2002


'Buy it! Hah! I can go look at it in the Israel Museum...'

JP, this should suffice as my last post. Please click on my previous link, 'Microletters', and read Mr. Carrier's very thorough analysis of the Quirinius issue. The bible has historical problems. Period.

If anything scroll down to the section titled 'Vardaman's Magic "Coin"', and understand why Vardaman's claims are about as ridiculous as one can make. The presence of 'microletters' on phylacteries (your link) and their presence on a minted currency are in two way, way, completely different ballparks of plausibility. Also you and other scholars are permitted to view the phylacteries, but tell me where can I witness Vardaman's amazing coin? If you can tell me, please pass the microscope.

Its hard to take your commitment to truth very seriously, JP, when you can easily ignore so many well-accepted findings of modern scholarship ('Q', plagiarism from Mark, etc.), and yet latch on to fringe ideas so readily (Vardaman's coin) when they confirm your religious convictions.

You are just being way too credulous and loose with the standards you use to evaluate biblical errancy.
posted by dgaicun at 12:54 AM on October 23, 2002


Irenaeus is a strange character overall, and it's hard to know what to take from him or not. Among other things, he believed that Jesus lived well into his fifties and was only crucified then (he evidently thought the Gospels merely skipped over the middle section of his life). An alternate reading of Irenaeus, one I fully admit is somewhat fringe-worthy and unconvincing, places it even farther back and is that Jesus lived until the reign of emperor Trajan.

As for the Council of Nicea, one has to be careful, because they were more interested in putting down the various Gnostic, Arian, Docetist and Pelagian heresies than anything else. A lot of books were cut out not so much because they were historically inaccurate, or conflicting or whatnot but because they were seen to go in favour of one of those three heresies. The Acts of Thomas for example, though considered for inclusion, were eventually rejected because parts of it were highly heretical (like the section where it's suggested that Thomas is Jesus' twin brother).

Here's a link to a collection of gnostic, apocryphal and doxographical works on Christianity. Read through the Christian apocrypha and polemical works if you get the chance, as they're fascinating.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:51 AM on October 23, 2002


You have thoroughly discredited yourself, JP. Good luck. I hope your faith serves you well.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:28 PM on October 23, 2002


As I become more informed, I develop a more realistic understanding of the Bible, and my own insight and understanding lead me to the inescapable conclusion that there is a God, and Jesus was His son.

Was this supposed to enhance your post JP? It doesn't.

I mention it, not to be snarky, because I said nearly exactly the same thing some years ago. Except for one additional word -- added twice -- "not".
posted by Dick Paris at 11:35 PM on October 23, 2002


No, it was in direct response to FFF's note to me, reworded more to my liking. The conclusion I reach is that there are competing theories based on competing agendas and presuppositions. You can conclude anything you want to conclude.

Boil it down, though, and we have ancient manuscripts that tell a story, told by people who said they were eyewitnesses to these developments, whose testimony regarding names, dates, and places is corroborated by historical factual research. On the other side, we have much more recent scholarly attempts aimed specifically at disproving what is set forth in the Bible. So far, to my knowledge, there has not been a single incontravertible counter-proof, and there have been many factual verifications.

I feel the evidence weighs in strongly on the authenticity of the gospels, but ultimately people are going to believe what they want to believe. I felt I had to pitch in from the Christian side, as there were just too many blatent misstatements in this thread, and as ridiculous as they are, they could influence people's thinking:
- Mind, there's no such thing as Christianity...
- There are no records of any actual disciples...
- The only source for belief in a human Christ or his disciples is the gospels...

As has been observed elsewhere, the Christian viewpoint is somewhat ... underrepresented ... on MeFi, and I couldn't just let those pass.

I also want to say thanks! to everyone who provided the interesting links.
posted by JParker at 12:50 PM on October 27, 2002


And the first four books are of the New Testament are eyewitness testimony to what happened, which again isn't usually the case with cults based on myths.

Cults based on myths are almost always supported by people who claim eyewitness testimony. I went to an Ashram upstate a couple years ago and met people who claimed that their guru had died for 24 hours as a child and then resurrected. There were family members who swore this was true. Other members of the followers claimed they had seen him perform other miracles, levitate, heal, etc... they didn't believe he was god but just that he had tapped into strong spiritual power. They had fully convinced themselves of his supernatural power. This is not unusual.

While there is a lot of mythology wrapped up in most religions (and Christianity has its share!), the immediacy of the documentary evidence is important.

All there is are stories about Jesus. The gospels themselves aren't written in the first person, by individuals who identify themselves [except i think a small passage in john which may or may not have been added later]; they were only later attributed to cohorts of JC and this is not widely believed by modern biblical scholars. The claim has as much weight as that the pentateuch was written by moses (which was roundly disproved as long ago as Spinoza).

I made the observation about the willingness to die for their faith in the context of legends and myths, and my point - more concisely - was that these people who were being persecuted and dying rather than deny their faith were contemporaries of Jesus. If those stories were myths they would have known, and most people won't knowingly die to support a lie.

The division between truth/lie is made much more distinctly in your mind than in some... people believe things they hear when they're told by people they like. The people persecuted and dying for christianity came long after jesus died. Paul was the one who spread the gospel and he never actually met jesus. Followers of Paul believed what he said, but had no more evidence than you do. Myths grow because people are willing to add just a little to stories and so they become more fantastic with each telling, when it's about someone you admire. People exaggerate, and there are always those who go for it. There's supposed eyewitness testimony for scientology, mormonism, and just about every sect or cult out there. I certainly have no problem with your believing whatever it is that makes you happy, but to claim that christianity has more reason-based evidence is just not true. All evidence is in your heart, which is fine.
posted by mdn at 6:26 PM on October 27, 2002


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