RESPONDblog: Evidence for Bible Miracle Claims – a Dangerous Edict

5 Claudius Nazareth Inscription - Paris copy

Some skeptical folks will want evidence for the claims of Christianity. Fair enough!  After all, one of the core claims of Christianity is – that God entered human history as Jesus of Nazareth at a specific point in history. If this is true – then surely he has left behind evidence of his time on earth?

I would argue that the New Testament documents form the basis of that historical evidence. Yet there is other supporting evidence to be found too. Little supporting pieces of history, like shards of buried treasure that point towards the truthfulness and the reliability of the New Testament record. And we find this evidence in the most surprising of places.

 

Back in 1878, amongst the ancient remains of the town Nazareth, archaeologists found a fascinating inscription engraved on marble. The inscription – which is housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris today – has been named the Nazareth Inscription. The text says this:

“Proclamation of Ceasar. It is my desire that graves and tombs remain sealed for the benefit of those who have made them and for their children, family members and their religion. If, however, anyone accuses that another has either destroyed them, removed the buried, or with ill intent has taken them to other places in order to wrong them, or has removed the sealing on other stones, I order that person be brought to trial. Just as a man should respect the gods, so also with regard to men, for all should respect the buried. It is therefore forbidden for anyone to disturb them. Should this edict be violated, the offender is to be sentenced to capital punishment on the charge of violating a sepulcher.”

 

The marble inscription has been dated to around 41AD, less than 10 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and this edict is believed to have been made by Claudius Ceasar. The language fits with other surviving edicts from him.

 

So – the leader of the entire Roman Empire is making an edict here. Breaking the terms of this edict will lead to the death penalty – this is a big and serious deal. So which criminal act is being doubled down on, here? What is so threatening to the Roman Empire that such a clear warning would be given?

 

Removing dead bodies from Jewish Sepulcher graves

 

Seems a bit over the top, don’t you think? Surely robbing of valuable items from graves – which I am sure, was common – is a more serious crime compared to stealing a dead body? What use is a decomposing corpse, after all?

 

It is a baffling edict – unless you choose to view it in the context of the New Testament’s report that …

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” Matthew 28:6

 

One of the oldest explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is – the disciples stole his body. According to Matthew’s gospel, this was the message that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem urged the Roman Tomb Guards to give. They even go on to say that, if this story gets passed up the Roman chain of command…we will make sure you don’t get into any trouble for it guys. You can read about this in Matthew 28:11-15.

Well it seems from the wording of the Nazareth Inscription edict that the Jewish Chief Priests story reached those in charge – and the response was a modification of the law in Palestine. STOP STEALING DEAD BODIES out of Jewish sealing tombs…or else!

 

I have no doubt that the 1st century Romans dismissed the preaching of the early Church as lies. They didn’t believe Jesus had been raised. They believed – as the Sanhedrin and the Guards had claimed – that Jesus’ Disciples stole the body following Jesus’ death. This theft had clearly led to social unrest, as described in part in Acts chapters 5 to 8. And so – the Roman Government’s  solution – was to make the stealing of dead bodies illegal.

 

It seems to me that the Nazareth Inscription corroborates parts of Matthew’s Gospel post resurrection account – namely the claim the Jesus had risen, and the counter claim that his disciples stole the body. It also seems very significant to me that the Nazareth Inscription itself was presumably installed…but certainly found in Jesus’ very home town.

 

What am I saying here?

I am NOT saying that the Nazareth Inscription provides archaeological proof of Jesus’ Resurrection. What I am suggesting however – is that the story of Jesus’ Resurrection was widely known in the years following the 33AD event; even to the Roman Emperor. What does this mean? It means that Jesus’ first Disciples were the ones who circulated the resurrection reports. Jesus Resurrection was not an invention hundreds of years later, as has been claimed by some skeptical scholars who have tried to discredit Christianity.

 

It seems to me – the Nazareth Inscription is evidence that presents a question to us. Did the disciples steal Jesus body, or was Jesus really raised from the dead as they claimed?

 

 

Two final thoughts about the Stolen Body Explanation:

First – it assumes Jesus tomb was empty. And people knew then where  Jesus’ dead body was placed after his crucifixion.

Second – the record shows that Jesus’ friends were broken by his crucifixion. But something happened very quickly to turn this dispirited band into dynamic world changers. These men stood for truth and morality. And each one of Jesus original circle went to a premature death, standing for Jesus, his resurrection and the forgiveness of our sins.

It seems to me that it would take a lot more than a mistakenly missing body to turn frightened nobody’s into radical world changers.

Also – the idea that they knowingly stole the body in order to manufacture the birth of the Christian Church – does not fit with the record of these first Disciples. These people stood for truth and went to their deaths proclaiming it. What reason would they have for making this sacrifice, if they knew all along that the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax?

Surely meeting the risen Jesus Christ – and being commissioned by him to spread his life changing truth – is a historically reasonable explanation for their positively changed lives?

RESPONDblog: Evidence for Bible Miracle Claims – an Unexpected Darkness

Capture

In my experience, one of the first questions that Biblical skeptics ask about the miracle claims in the Bible is this – “Is there any evidence for this event outside the Bible?” I think this is a very reasonable question.

My previous blog focused on extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus Resurrection and his claims to be God.  http://tinyurl.com/k7ltbp9

 

For this one, I’d like to focus on a very specific event that the Bible records as happening on the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.

 

The Synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew 27:45; 51-52, Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44-45) all record an unexpected period of darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion. Matthew goes further to give it duration – 3 hours – and also claims it was accompanied by something like an earthquake.

Are there any extra-Biblical references to this?

If it really happened then surely it would have been a source of shock and surprise to the wider population of Jerusalem that day? The gospel account does not give any clue as to how large an area was affected by the claimed darkness. Was it restricted to the areas surrounding Jerusalem in some way? Was it felt by people living elsewhere on the planet? The text does not tell us. Again – we can assume it…but we don’t know from the Gospel itself.

 

Well – a very ancient extra-Bibical account of the 3 hour long darkness and rock splitting earthquake – does in fact exist. To find it we need to read reports from one pagan Roman historian who was a contemporary of Jesus living in Palestine, one pagan Roman historian from the 1st century and another who lived two hundred years later in Jerusalem.

 

Thallus, est. AD50:

Roman historian Thallus, believed to be a Samaritan, recorded strange events during Tiberius Ceasar’s reign around Jerusalem. Thallus is mentioned by various historical sources including his colleague Josephus. Thallus describes an “eclipse of the sun”; he gives a naturalistic explanation of an event which is dated to the time period of the crucifixion.

Phlegon, est. AD137:

Phlegon was believed to have been born around the time of Jesus crucifixion, and wrote an account later in the 1st century. He too mentions the darkness and even records the time and duration of the event; and it lines up with Matthew’s report – between the 6th hour and the 9th hour. He also mentions the earthquake affecting Bythinia and part of Nicea (hundreds of miles north of Jerusalem). I will quote a surviving fragment of his “The Olympiads” below.

Neither Thallus or Phlegon appear to have made any attempt to link the events specifically to Jesus crucifixion. Why would they? Yet a later 3rd century historian – Julius Africanus – did just that.

Julius Africanus, est. AD230:

He researched the earlier Thallus and Phlegon reports…and he added some commentary of his own. I will quote Julius Africanus at the bottom of this blog…but let me pull out some threads of what he is saying – and what he is not saying – in his account.

 

1 – He points specifically to “This darkness” . It was a well-known historical event that is being discussed. The three hour darkness –  and its associated earthquake – clearly affected a large region because many people got caught up in the discussion about it afterwards. Just how large the region was, though, is hard to tell.

2 – He quotes Thallus’ historical mention of the darkness. But he challenges Thallus’ reasoning for its occurrence. How can this have been an eclipse of the sun when the dates and times were all wrong? There was a full moon at that point in the Jewish calendar, and an eclipse of the sun would have been impossible.

3 – It seems that there were many different conflicting explanations suggested for this darkness at the time.  This is to be expected; people are curious – and inquisitive. We aren’t talking a cloudy day or a sudden rain downpour. This was a significant event that was debated amongst learned people at the time. There must have been many theories for what had happened that day! Julius is not convinced by Thallus’ naturalistic explanation. This is not just any astronomical event that is being discussed here – this is a very specific one which occurred during the reign of Tiberius Ceasar – around the time when Jesus Christ was crucified.

4 – He also points out Phlegon’s precise timing of the darkness and rock splitting event. This lines the account up with the claims in Matthew’s Gospel. He goes further and mentions the “resurrection of the dead” – a claim that Matthew’s Gospel specifically makes as having occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death. (Matthew 27:52-53). Julius is writing a hundred years after these events. But his report seems to refer to events that were known from the time.

5 – Julius is not specifically arguing that a supernatural event occurred that day. I will sometimes hear skeptics talk down to those who lived in 1st century Palestine. “Oh, they would have believed anything back then!” But these people were not stupid – and not as naive as many folks assume. Julius’  focus here is on recording what happened that day and when. He is also very focused on arguing what did not happen – this event could NOT have simply been a natural eclipse.

6 – Julius is not writing a Christian apologetic on the crucifixion, here. This is written as a historical commentary underpinning the tradition that had been communicated by the canonical Gospels for over 100 years prior to Julius investigations.

 

 

In summary, we have independent, extra-Biblical witnesses of an unexpected and specific 3 hour period of darkness on the day Jesus was crucified.  And we have historical evidence of a debate for the cause of this unexpected astronomical event.  We also have the Phlegon account of the earthquake felt as far north from Jerusalem as Nicea. I am unsure whether Thallus or Phlegon mentioned the resurrections as well; but Julius certainly does (although Julius was not an eyewitness of those events himself).

So the answer to my question is – YES. I think we DO have corroborative evidence outside the Bible for another of its miracle claims.

 

 

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth–manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. (The Extant Fragments of the five Books of Chronography of Julius Africanus XVIII.1)

 

In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was a great eclipse of the sun, greater than had ever been known before, for at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occured in Bythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicea. (The Extant Fragments of The Olympiads of phlegon)

 

 

 

RESPONDblog: Jesus Christ, His Life and His Miracles Aren’t Legends Because…

arthur

You will sometimes hear Biblical skeptics referring to passages in the Bible as simply recounting myth or legend.

What do they mean when they use the word Legend? I think they mean a past event that cannot be explained purely thru natural processes; an event that has been added to over time. Jesus miracles are sometimes framed this way – particularly his biggest miracle – the Resurrection. Some people even point to Jesus of Nazareth Himself and cry – Myth.

Is it reasonable to refer to Jesus in this way? I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why I think that.

 

 

Let’s look at a very popular British Legend – King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the 5th century AD who allegedly led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders. At the risk of going all “history book” on you…here’s an Arthur timeline…

8th century (300 years after he supposedly lived) – King Arthur of the Britons mentioned very briefly in a History of the Britons

12th century (700 years after he supposedly lived) – Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a pseudo history of Britain mentioning King Arthur and his magical advisor Merlin as living in 5th century

13th century – the Romance tradition of poetry and literature expands on the Arthur stories adding Lancelot and Guinevere

15th century (1000 years after Arthur was meant to have lived) – Thomas Malory brings all the stories together into a single work of literature. And all subsequent retellings of the Legend have been based to some degree on Malory’s work.

20th century – By now there have been many popular re-tellings thru literature and now movies. For example, Disney retold the legend in their classic The Sword and the Stone (1963), Monty Python’s Holy Grail (it counts in 1975), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (touched on the Arthurian Legends in 1989), etc, etc

 

Did King Arthur really live? Is he a character of history? Its hard for historians to tell. Most believe he probably did exist, but many say he is probably a composite of various individuals alive at that time in the 5th century in Britain.

The first brief mention comes 300 years after he lived. What about the additional stories of Merlin the Magician and the Knights of the Round Table? Over 1000 years passed from Arthur’s first mention in literature – till the time when these characters emerged and the accounts were properly written down. Is it not highly likely that these stories changed and evolved over the centuries? Merlin could be made alot more magical 1000 years after he lived.

This is how legends develop. It takes MANY GENERATIONS for legends to replace historical fact.

 

What about the stories of Jesus life found in the New Testament? How do they compare to the Arthur Legends?

Mark wrote his account of Jesus’ empty tomb, Mark chapter 16, only 30 years after the crucifixion. He also records that the enemies of Christianity tried to discredit the miracle but could not.

Further – the Apostle Paul’s creed mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 has been dated to between one and three years after the crucifixion – and this creed clearly teaches Christ’s resurrection.

 

The King Arthur Legends and the Gospel reports of Jesus Christ are in two entirely different classes of literature. Why? First because of the massive difference in time periods involved. Jesus greatest miracle – the resurrection – is reported a mere 3 years after the event itself in a creed used in the liturgy traditions of the fledgling Christian Church. In comparison – It took 700 years for the King Arthur stories to start to appear.

 

The Gospels can’t be classed as Legend secondly because of the clear and obvious intent of the Author. Luke, who also wrote a Gospel, says and interesting thing from the outset of his account. He says that many people have undertaken to draw up an account of Jesus life. He himself was a Doctor, so he was a learned individual. Its no surprise then to read that he carefully investigated everything and pulled together an orderly account himself. You can read his intent in Luke chapter 1. His Gospel can be dated by historians to around 60AD – less than 30 years after the events of Jesus life, death and resurrection.

The first time the Arthurian Legends emerge, they do so when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes a pseudo history of Britain. In other words – read this with a pinch of salt. The intent of the Gospel writers – and the Arthur Legend scribes – were very different.

 

Where does this discussion lead us? I believe it takes us to this. The Christian Gospels cannot be credibly and reasonably described as works of myth or legend.  Why? Because there was no time for any Legends to develop around the life of Jesus. The eye witnesses were still alive when the Gospel reports were being circulated – and would have discredited the miraculous reports completely. BUT – the reports of Jesus life, his death and his resurrection were not discredited or faded. They have endured for 2000 years.

Some will have difficulty with the Supernatural claims in the Gospels. Yet just because the New Testament Gospels report have a supernatural nature – and his miracles are recorded in a very matter of fact way – this does not automatically put the Gospels in the category of Legend. If we demand they must be legends, we are presuming it…we are enforcing the category of Legend onto the events…even though the conditions around the reports of Jesus life do not bear the hallmarks of Legend. This is unfair and unwarranted. No – the Gospels  bear the hallmarks of history.

 

 

 

FOOTNOTE: That’s not to say that Jesus Legends were never written. They were; the Gnostic Gospels are full of fantastical stories. Imagine a cross emerging from the empty tomb and preaching to the world! Completely different in tone to the matter of fact New Testament Gospels. These Gnostic writings are dated by historians to hundreds of years after the original Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) written by people with no physical connection to the events themselves. And so they reasonably fall into the Arthurian Legend category.

RESPONDblog: the Warning of Atheism

risk management

There  is a popular caricature of Christianity around today. It states that people with faith in Jesus Christ are lazy and – frankly – pretty stupid. Faith heads aren’t willing to do any work – they are happy just to point to a magic man in the sky and confidently smile – God did it. Faith is simply belief in the absence of any real evidence – its lazy.

 

Interestingly, the people pushing this picture are not Christians themselves. So they don’t necessarily have direct experience of what the Christian’s faith is all about. Rather – they have decided that Christianity is outdated, irrational and therefore dangerous.

Where has the Christian caricature come from?

 

It could be that they have seen a tendency in other religious traditions towards a sort of fatalism. Muslims have a term that tends towards this default thinking; “Insha’Allah” they say, or “What Allah wills.” Maybe the atheists are mistakenly projecting this Islamic tendency onto Christians?

 

Or it might just be that there is a grain of truth in what the vocal atheists and skeptics observe in the Christian church today? They might not realize it – but they are presenting a helpful warning that real Christians everywhere would do well to listen to.

 

What warning are they giving?

 

Well – if I claim to be a Christian but I do not actively trust Jesus Christ with everything in my life – then how can I be described as a person of faith at all? Its so easy to become a church goer that never actually lives life like God is real; never to embrace risk, never to throw myself into his hands saying – God if you aren’t there…I don’t know how this is going to work out!  How am I ever going to grow into a person of real faith in a real Saviour…if I never do the real work of trusting him?

And further – if I don’t spend time exploring the true, rational and historical underpinnings to Christianity – feeding the ample available evidence into my Christian life – then I am vulnerable for the whole thing to collapse when arguments and intellectual challenges come my way.

 

You see being a Christian actually cannot work as the atheists say it does. It cannot operate in a vacuum (an absence of evidence). Because real Christianity is about knowing Jesus. It’s about knowing his good work and his activity in my life – and for that to happen I’ve got to trust him enough with my life to allow him access to it. To lead my life, my words, my choices…everything.

 

In other words –  we need funds in our faith account so we are ready for the time when we are going to withdraw from it.

 

Bill Foster says it this way.

When we face one of life’s truly difficult situations – maybe the death of a loved one, or a big life choice –  it is a bit like going on a shopping spree with your Credit Card. We go on the shopping spree to make ourselves feel better  by buying some stuff that I have always wanted! (Retail therapy never works long term, btw) Now – what if my Bank Account was empty to begin with? What if I never had any funds in my account to begin with? Well – eventually the nice stuff I bought will be repossessed because I didn’t have the money to pay for it. The emotional lift I felt when buying the items – will crumble into despair once they are taken away from me again.

 

This is a picture of how Faith in Jesus Christ works. How does the picture work?

In life – if I am not growing in my personal practical experience of Jesus Christ as my Lord, as the one I look to first when the going gets tough – then it is like I am not feeding funds into my faith account. In the same way – if I don’t spend a bit of time studying and learning about the historical and rational underpinnings to Christianity so I can make a case for Jesus Christ to my not-yet-Christian friends and family…then again I am not feeding funds into my faith account.

 

When the hard times in life come – it is then time to make a withdrawal from our faith account…will there be anything there to withdraw?

  • When a friend gets really sick…and it comes out of the blue and we are surrounded by people who are in a state of emotional meltdown.
  • When we are speaking to an opponent of Christianity and they throw some arguments that are really devastating to us that challenge us to the core.

 

In these situations – we need to have a healthy faith account to fall back on. If the account is empty (as our atheist friends want it to be…blind faith, and all that) then we will be tempted to despair! But if our account is healthy – as it should be – then we won’t just come thru the testing times but our faith account will grow further as a result. And other people around us will be encouraged too in their faith.

 

The atheist is right – blind faith, or a Christian with an empty faith account – IS dangerous!

 

But there is no need for an empty faith account – he gives himself to anyone who calls on him. And if we have been thru a difficult period in our lives…and our faith reserves are pretty depleted right now…then help is on the way from Jesus….

 

“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me.
I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.”  Matthew 12:18-21, NLT

 

For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6, NLT

The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18, NIV

 

RESPONDblog: Why the Bible Cannot Be Classed as Myth

 cornetto

Oliver:             You do know that “The Three Musketeers was a fiction, right? Written by Alexander Dumas?

Gary King:      A lot of people are saying that about the Bible these days.

Steve Prince:  What, that it was written by Alexander Dumas?

Gary King:      Don’t be daft, Steve! It was written by Jesus!

                — The World End, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost

 

 

I do have a soft spot for The Cornetto Trilogy of movies. And in the particular scene I’m quoting above, there’s a stray comment that resonates with me strongly. As I talk to different people – I do get the sense that many folks today are coming to the opinion that the Bible is simply a bundle of myths – and it has no place being taken seriously by any thinking person.

You don’t need to watch a movie to sense it either. Look at the Gallup Poll that was done recently. The view that the Bible is an ancient book of Fables has grown 9% in 30 years.

fable

And yet – when one actually takes a cursory glance at the evidence – the evidence for the Bible as Myth or Fable just isn’t there.

 

What do we mean by Mythology? Ancient mythologies have many forms.  For example:

  • From Rome, the Greek hero Hercules.
  • The Norse fertility goddess Freyja, the daughter of the sea god Njord.

Popular modern mythologies we could point to would be Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings saga, or George Lucas’ ongoing Star Wars saga.

 

Mythology is there for a purpose; it has its own internal truth and logic, it tells an important fictional tale containing themes that people will naturally relate to.

 

Yet the evidence suggests that the Bible is a very different library of literature.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible has a solid, historical framework. People pop up who are mentioned outside of the Bible in surviving world history. Take the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (634 – 562 BCE); history documents the alliance he secured with the Medes, his defeat of the Egyptians and much more besides. Including his part in the Babylonian exile of the Jews that the Bible explores in the Books of Daniel and Jeremiah.  Yet we’ve hardly touched the tip of the iceberg. The Bible’s history coincides with Cyrus, Herod, Felix and Pilate. Its narrative calls out the Hittite, Egyptian and Persian nations and many more. And the action occurs in geographical areas such as Canaan, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible has many confirmations amongst the sciences. Take Archaeology, for example. The Old Testament book of Exodus tells the tale of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and eventually entering and occupying the land of Canaan. In the Ancient near Eastern culture, these nations would create things called “Stelas” – effectively memorial stone inscriptions.  Similar to our monuments celebrating the end of the First World War (for example). Well – in 1896, the Merneptah Stela was discovered in Thebes. Dating from 1200 BCE it recounts Pharaoh Merneptah’s victories. But it also happens to recount the existence of a people group called Israel who had occupied Canaan by that point in history. The Merneptah Stela is one of the most ancient records of the nation of Israel.

 

Unlike Mythology, so much of the Bible is actually presented as documented history. Luke, for example, claims of his gospel that he had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” and so wrote an “orderly account…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (See Luke 1:1-4) The book of 2 Chronicles  makes a side reference to the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon apparently  to engage in trade negotiations. And – indeed – historians know from studying artifacts and inscriptions in ancient remains, that Israel was indeed trading with a number of countries – including Sheba – 900 BCE. The events of Solomon’s life and reign as king of Israel are set to the backdrop of history.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible contains many fulfilled prophecies. Predictions about how things will play out in the real world. It has been estimated that up to a third of the entire Bible deals with prophecy in some way, shape or form. The Old Testament, for example, contains more than 300 prophecies that are all fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ who lived hundreds of years after the original texts were written (we know that because of the internal evidence of the text itself, and the external evidence of history, ancient copies and archaeology).  This makes perfect sense – if God exists, as the Bible assumes from the beginning, then he is going to know how things will play out.

 

Of course not every book in the Bible is historical narrative. The Psalms contain songs; Proverbs recounts Solomon’s wise sayings. To understand the Bible, we must first understand the style of the text we have before us. But whatever the genre, it contains an honest expression of someone’s real and down to earth experience. One cannot dismiss it as a made up tale; human history does not permit it.

 

I’m as fond of stories as the next guy – probably more.  So was J.R.R Tolkein, who said this:

“Fantasy remains a human right; we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” – J.R.R Tolkein

 

I agree – our love of creating and exploring fictional world’s points to the similarity between us and our creator – who has expressed Himself to us thru the ancient, true stories of men and women in the Bible.

RESPONDblogs: Biblical Jesus = Retelling of Pagan Myth?

Imagine someone looks at you earnestly and says the following.

I don’t believe Jesus existed, I don’t believe he was real. Why? Because there is this guy in blue tights and wearing a red cape with an S on his chest.  (On his planet the S means HOPE)  And this red and blue guy was sent to earth – his father’s only son – to save humanity. He had amazing powers – he brought people back from the dead…and he himself returned from the dead. You see? Many parallels there between Jesus and Superman. Because these parallels exist – Jesus can’t be a real person – the reports about Jesus’ life cannot be true.

 

How would you respond?

 

 

Well – there seems to be some faulty logic going on here.

  1. For a start – Superman is a fictional comic book character while Jesus is a person from ancient history whose life is documented more carefully than anyone else. Superman is sadly a work of fiction – Jesus is documented history.
  2. Next – Jesus lived two thousand years ago, whereas Superman first appeared in issue #1 of Action Comics in 1938. Superman came after Jesus. So if there is any influence going on here…surely it’s Jesus influencing the Superman character?

 

So why do I say all this? Because there’s a similar line of argument going on in the Bill Maher clip above. The Biblical Jesus isn’t a myth copied from Paganism – rather he is the fulfillment of humanity’s myths and our stories. Our fictional stories point to the real him.

 

Steve DiSebastian makes this point better than I could in his blog. You can check it out here:

http://godfromthemachineblog.wordpress.com/tag/paganism-and-christianity/

 

 

What I think Bill Maher is attempting to do in the video clip above is to discredit Jesus Christ by comparing him to many mythological characters from the ancient world.

If those were myths – so too is Jesus.

 

But the problem is that I think the logic is faulty.

 

 

 

Jesus and Mithras:

Bill mentions Mithras who was a mythical figure worshipped by Roman soldiers – and the archaeological evidence we have comes from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In other words – Mithraism flourished over a hundred years following the birth of Christianity. If there is any influencing going on…then surely it was the historical Jesus influencing the story of the mythical Mithras. Do you see the Superman parallel now? Jesus influenced Superman…..and Jesus influenced Mithras. Not the other way round.

 

In the video clip – Bill Maher claims a number of parallels between Jesus and Mithras. Now – I for one am no expert on the ancient Mediterranean mystery religions. And call my cynical…but I don’t think Bill is either.  BUT – I can do some research by reading what the experts say.

 

Experts like Edwin M. Yamauchi, PH.D.

With a doctorate in Mediterranean studies, Edwin taught at Miami University of Ohio for more than 35 years. He’s worked on the archaeology, written and presented peer reviewed books and papers on Mithraic studies since the 1970s. And what does he say?

He dismisses every single one of Bill’s claims on Mithras and the wider Mediterranean mystery religions.

  • Mithras known as the way, the truth and the life?
  • Mithras resurrected on the 3rd day?

 

“[Those writing on the Mystery Religions drawing parallels with Christianity] don’t have the languages, they don’t study the original sources, they don’t pay attention to the dates, and they frequently quote ideas that were popular in the 19th century…but have already been refuted.”

– Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Case for the Real Jesus, ISBN-10: 0-310-24061-1

 

There’s no historical or literary evidence for any of it. Sorry Bill – I’m more inclined to go with Edwin’s opinion rather than yours.

 

Mithraism was based on a myth. But Bill is just heaping error and falsehood on top of it. He’s not alone in this. Dan Brown did a much more entertaining job in the Da Vinci Code. But entertaining or not, it is not history that they are repeating. It’s fiction.

 

 

Jesus and Horus:

Bill also makes many claims about the mythical Egyptian god Horus, son of the god Osiris. Again – this is a mythical story that Bill is comparing to the Bible’s historical account.

Who are Horus and Osiris? They are mythical characters mentioned in the Egyptian Books of the Dead; a variety of papyri and hieroglyph inscriptions left at burial sites of wealthy Egyptians thousands of years ago. Egyptologists have found many different versions of these books spanning a 5000 year period of Egypt’s history. These were not intended to be historical texts – rather they were stories inscribed and left with the dead in the hope that they would help the person enter the afterlife.

Osiris story tends to involve his death and dismemberment followed by his reanimation by members of his family as – in effect – a zombie! His reanimation  occurs so he can father a son – Horus.

Now – these hieroglyphs do  pre-date Christianity. Further – the Jews lived in Egypt for a long time before Moses came along and helped free them from Egyptian oppression. So maybe they picked this Horus stuff up while they were in Egypt and it informed the writing of the Bible?

 

I think the point Bill is making is – Horus was made up…and the Jesus of the New Testament is made up too. But there’s a problem. Actually Bill is repeating some of the conjecture made by Gerald Massey, who lived between 1828 and 1907. Egyptology was in its infancy back then – and Massey was no expert on the area. He was an English poet. But – he wrote some books, (e.g. Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World) that tried to draw parallels between the Gospels and the Horus myths.

Egyptologists today apparently view Massey’s work as wild speculation because it’s based on picking and choosing many different texts, many of which contradict each other. Massey apparently never provided any references supporting his theory that Christianity finds parallels in Egyptian writings. So he was speculating without evidence – yet many people (like Bill Maher) quote his speculation as if it is fact.

 

To claim Egyptology spawned Christianity is pure conjecture with no evidence.

Yet the life of Christ is passed on to us as well attested, historical accounts containing independent eye witness testimony. We’re back to the Superman vs Jesus comparison – myth vs history. I’ll go with history every time!

 

Others have written a more detailed response to the claims of Gerald Massey…and Bill Maher. They have looked at the Egyptian texts – and responded. At best – I think we can say that Massey and Maher are reading Christian Theology back into the Egyptian stories in order to identify parallels that aren’t actually there. You can find more information here:

http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2012/is-jesus-simply-a-retelling-of-the-horus-myth/

http://www.strangenotions.com/horus-manure/

 

 

 

In Conclusion:

What I am saying is – scholars think that it was the stories of the historical Jesus who influenced 2nd century Mithraism (not the other way around). And the Jesus – Horus connection is built on some wild speculation from the early 1900s by an earnest yet unqualified English poet.

 

As I watch that video clip again…it strikes me that Bill challenges his poor victims with real conviction, doesn’t he? However – conviction is not an accurate measure of truth. We can be convinced we are right…when we aren’t. Hey – I’m Scottish. I’m often convinced Scotland is going to win our next international football match. I know what it feels like to be genuinely wrong!

 

When it comes to Ancient mystery religions of the type Bill is referring to – I think he needs a better researcher. Because he is repeating a line of argument that was abandoned by respected ancient historians over a century ago.

 

But hey – his audience aren’t to know that. Right?

 

Mithraism and Egyptian mystery religions died out thousands of years ago. Jesus worship is alive and growing today – and there’s a good reason for that.