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Who Was Jesus? -Skeptics Debate Without Agreement

Adam: Christian agree on just one thing: Jesus is Lord.
Who was Jesus?

Edward: Great, they agree on a religious belief whose truth lay in an invisible realm. Concerning everything else they are just like everyone else. That proves that religion makes no provable major difference. Hereʼs more evidence, a list of all the most recent sex crimes committed by clergy.

How Different Are Most “Converted” People?

Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men… By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.
—William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

Christianity Can Magnify Harmless Actions Into Deadly Offenses

One of Christianityʼs chief offenses is not that it has enlisted the services of bad men, but that it has misdirected the energies of good ones. The kindly, the sensitive, the thoughtful, those who are striving to do their best under its influence, are troubled, and consequently often develop a more or less morbid frame of mind. The biographies of the best men in Christian history offer many melancholy examples of the extent to which they have falsely accused themselves of sins during their “unconverted” state, and the manner in which harmless actions are magnified into deadly offenses.
—Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking

Professor Drummond used to address his class, “I knew a student, an avowed atheist. He roomed with a man who contracted typhus. What do you think the atheist did? He neglected his classes to nurse his chum, who after a severe struggle, recovered. What of the nurse? He contracted the disease and died. The atheist died and went to heaven and received the ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant.’” Drummond thought it worthwhile to point out that an atheist did what hundreds, probably thousands of people are doing every week in some form or another. Of course, in the majority of cases it is not advertised. Men and women help each other, nurse each other, take risks for each other, and sometimes pay the cost of the risks they run. It is only advertised when it happens to be done in the name of Christ, while the larger number of cases are known only to an immediate circle of friends. Clearly, if Christians had lied less about their opponents, if they had slandered them less, if they had been brought up with a healthier appreciation of the qualities and capabilities of normal human nature, Professor Drummond would not have needed to inform his class that an atheist might be a decent human being. The author from whom I have taken the Drummond anecdote tells the story as illustrating the latterʼs liberality of mind. It is quite clear that had his hearers really understood the nature of morality, had they been taught that morality springs from, and has sole regard to the social relationships, there would have been no point in the story and no need for its telling. The atheist does not need an anecdote to inform him that a Christian may act in a human manner. He knows that human nature, like murder, will out, and the moral promptings which are expressions of so many thousands of generations of associated life cannot be prevented expressing themselves by the most anti-social religious teachings.
—Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking

Itʼs frustrating that the skeptics, and Iʼve read 50 of the their books, canʼt seem to agree on who Jesus was.
He didnʼt exist! (Price)

Edward: Adam, Iʼm the one who is frustrated. Iʼm beginning to think that you have a selective reading problem. For all of the books youʼve supposedly read, your mind seems to draw a blank when it comes to specific arguments and you revert to sappy song lyrics instead. Price doesnʼt say what you claim. He says that he sympathizes with the “Jesus is a total myth” scholars but he is not one himself. He says that we know very little about the historical Jesus to know much for sure about him or how accurately the stories represent him. Thereʼs only a couple thousand words of Jesus in the Gospels, enough to fill a 16 page booklet, and not even a bodily description of him. Paul certainly revealed little, never having met Jesus, and only citing one or two lines apparently from him, but mostly citing O.T. verses in ways that make rabbis, who know better, belch.

He was merely an observant Jew! (Vermes)

Edward: Vermes compared the growing stories about Jesus to stories of other first century wonder-working Jews like Honi the Circle Drawer (who prayed and controlled the weather) and some other guy who also worked miracles and called God “abba."

He was a wonder/working magician! (Smith)

Edward: Certainly the idea of being able to cure blindness with magical spit was common back then, and Jesus is depicted as using that same magic spit method to heal a blind guy.

As for what attracted people to Jesus, probably a bunch of reasons, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that so many Jews were poor and paying taxes, and with dissatisfaction with the Romans who ruled their country and with heightened religious expectations, apocalypticism like that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and increasing messianic expectations, see below.

Early-Church-Resources: A couple of years ago I saw a book in Barnes and Noble about the historical Jesus. The thesis of the author was the Jesus was a military leader who was executed for leading a rebellion against the Romans. The “Kingdom of God” he spoke of, in the view of the author, was nothing more or less than an independent Jewish state right here on earth. If this be true, then remarks like, “If you donʼt have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” obviously would make a hell of a lot more sense. But for the life of me, I canʼt now remember the name of the book. It might have been, “The Kingdom of God,” or at least might have had those words in the title. Can anyone help me?

Edward: Yes, and when Jesus said to “Give to Ceaser what is Ceaserʼs” it might even have been a sarcastic hint at giving Ceaser a kick in the ass and throwing him and his Roman legions and Roman money out of Palestine. Likewise with the “turn the other cheek” remark. If you turn the other cheek then the Roman who just hit the right side of your face with his right hand then has to hit you flat handed with his right hand, i.e., not with the back of his hand as was normal practice, and hitting someone in the face flat-handed makes you their “equal!” Also with the parable about carrying somebodyʼs pack two miles, the “extra mile,” a roman soldier could command any civilian to carry their pack a mile, but not an inch more, or the Roman would be punished.

Thatʼs one view about the early Jesus movement, i.e., that it had ties with “Free Jerusalem” movements in its day. People join movements for different reasons and emphasize different parts of the movements they join. Probably true in the first century as well.

In the first century C.E. [Common Era] there were no fewer than ten pretended “messiahs.” These Jewish claimants gathered large numbers of followers with promises of physical redemption and deliverance.

The name “Jesus” was also common. Josephus mentions no less than 10 or more people named “Jesus” in his first century book on the Jews.

If youʼre seeking a professional reply, and the title of a particular book, thereʼs a yahoo group that consists of Biblical scholars (and as such it does not indulge in the kinds of rants you find at other non-scholarly sites on the web), and you can search its archives for “kingdom of God” discussions there.

Also try cutting and pasting this search sequence into the google search engine box:

“kingdom of god” “messianic movements” “first century”

Adam: Ed, The point Iʼm making, that is making you uncomfortable and has you doing a paste and copy jig, is that there is far more agreement about who Jesus is (the Son of God) among Christians than there is among skeptics.

Edward: Agreement among believers is true of all those who believe in any particular religious beliefs that lay in an invisible realm. Agreement, even worldwide, does not prove invisible propositions. There is far more agreement about who Krishna is among Hindus than there is among skeptics.

As for categorizing everyone who does not adhere to the Nicene Creed a “skeptic,” thatʼs ludicrous. There were Christians who defined “Son of God” in different ways, and the term itself has a variety of interpretations in both testaments, and there are still are Bible believers who do not define “Son of God” in the ways Nicea and Chalcedon insist one must. And there are Christians who do not take the Bible so literally today as to believe every historical and spiritual word it uses must be taken literally. There is a spectrum of opinion among Christians even in large established denominations.

I spent 3 days at the Jesus Seminar in 2000.

Edward: Then what? You rose from the dead after those three days?

Some of those scholars (most) deny that he was an apocalyptic prophet, some told me prophecy was his main emphasis.

Edward: A recent Bible Review piece discussed the differing views, and noted that major Biblical scholars are swinging back more toward the apocalyptic prophet interpretation, including Crossan, and a bit further from the Greek Cynic and sage side of his original argument. Crossan had discovered similarities b/w Greek cynics and sages and what Jesus taught, and noted that a large Hellenized city lay near Nazareth, Sepporis, where someone from Nazareth might have come into contact with such cynics or learn of their wisdom. However even the Gospels donʼt mention Jesus ever visiting a large city (like Sepporis), never visiting a large city at all, not prior to entering Jerusalem. The Gospels only mention Jesus preaching in small towns, never in large cities like Sepporis or Capernum which lay within his rage, but apparently beneath his notice. Apparently it was easier for Jesus to impress the yokels and to kick start his cult in small towns, or out in the desert preaching, like John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scroll authors.

Vermes and Smithʼs view are incompatible, etc. etc. Price and Dohertyʼs “myth” perspective on Jesus is radically different than Crossanʼs, etc.

Edward: You neglect to notice that they agree that the Gospels were written later by people who did not personally witness Jesusʼ ministry, three of them not mentioning or even hinting at their authorʼs names at all. And the Gospels contain statements and miracle stories that could just as easily have been composed by the later church and put into the mouth of Jesus, added to the story of Jesus. There were prophets in the early churches speaking for the spirit of Christ and God, as Paul mentioned, speaking in the name of the Lord, including Paul. The Vermes and Smiths and Prices also agree that the differences between the Gospels (and between Paul and the Gospels) speak volumes in terms of how the Jesus stories evolved. The earliest Gospel, Mark, only mentions Jesus being chosen at his baptism, and says that people can inherit eternal life in a fairly straightforward way, no necessity of being “born again,” or having to believe what it says in John 3:16 or be “damned already.” And Paul was way out of the mainstream compared with Mark, didnʼt know the historical Jesus at all, but was raised in a city named after a dying and rising god of mystery religion fame, whose dying and rising was celebrated in festivals in that city.

You will admit that the differences are gigantic. Wonʼt you? Wouldnʼt you say that a Baptist perspective on Jesus is closer to a Catholicʼs view than Crossan and Priceʼs view??

Edward: The differences between a biblical inerrantist and anyone with a questioning brain are even more gigantic.

Maybe this Christmas we should all just say:

Edward: Wright is Wright in name only. I read a piece of his on the web in which we swept every single questions regarding the Nativity stories under the rug and concluded that since such nativity tales were all so visibly and obviously questionable, and since the use of Isaiahʼs prophecy about a “child being born” is taken so out of context, therefore a genuine virgin birth must have happened. In other words, his argument hinges on so many absurdities and questions that even he recognizes, that he believes there must be truth to the part of the story about the virgin birth—that part has to remain inviolate and true. He neglects to recall that the Roman Emperor of that day, Augustus, and others also were spoken of as being born of vigins. It wasnʼt an uncommon idea at all. For Jesus to be as crucial a leader as his followers imagined him to be, they would practically have to invent such a story about him as well, as a sign of his chosenness, though Mark the earliest Gospel makes no mention at all of a virgin birth (and neither does Paul). Wright proves that having a Ph.D. proves nothing, except the increased depth of ingenuity it allows him to employ trying to keep his credulity/incredulity afloat.

Adam: Skeptics donʼt agree about who Jesus is. Most Christians do.

Edward: You imagine that you are saying something when you are saying nothing at all.

Logic lesson #1: “Most” does not determine truth. Neither are most Christians, Bible scholars, so their opinions are not even informed scholarly opinions.

And the word “Christian” only implies a unanimity of sorts (which as I have pointed out, does not exist in reality if you study Christianities around the world and throughout history). The word at most can mean that the person calling themself a “Christian” does not entertain enough questions at the moment to make them cease wishing to label themselves with that term, though other Christians might not agree that they indeed were one.

The word “skeptic” is not analogous to the word Christian, itʼs a term outlining that one asks questions, understands the limitations of knowledge we are all prone to, and doubts in many different cases whether others might have found answers to the worldʼs most perplexing invisible mysteries. Christians for instance are “skeptics” when it comes to everyone elseʼs beliefs. And Romans even declared Christians to be “atheists” in respect to Romeʼs supernatural guardians.

Youʼre right it is fascinating. And I agree with you about the Dr. and ingenuity statement, of course, that cuts both ways.
Wright is a bonafide scholar as is Crossan.

Edward: Wright is a bonafide blowhard who doesnʼt even deserve to sniff the shoes of his fellow moderate Evangelical who is an older wiser scholar, J.D.G. Dunn, who at least understands the questions raised by the limits of what history can reveal and what the Gospels can reveal about the historical Jesus.

Seems to come back to a will to believe and a will to disbelieve.

Edward: The “will” explanation doesnʼt hold water. I can try and will myself to believe that the stars are just holes poked in a blue bowel overhead through which light pours, but Iʼve read enough to believe otherwise. I canʼt just believe things at “will” like the Red Queen in Alice who suggests believing in three impossible things each day. We each believe what we believe, based on all weʼve learned and experienced in each of our lives. There are cases of snapping when some people go way off believing in weird things way out of left field, that includes people who join cults today and yes in Jesusʼ day of ancient apocalyptic messianic frenzied Jerusalem. I think I snapped back in high school due to the influence of friends who plied me with fundamentalist reading matter.

Where thereʼs a will, thereʼs a way (to prove it).

Edward: If God wanted to prove something to mankind he could have revealed Himself unmistakably via the same exact spiritual soul journey or taken us all back to ancient Jerusalem to meet Jesus and see it all for ourselves, or revealed himself to every person in the most direct fashion that even scientists could measure, including predicting future miraculous events in ones life to you that only He could know were going to happen, and written his name in the stars for all to see as well. Thereʼs lots God could do if proof was the point. Instead, ships containing missionary go down with the same frequency into the sea as ships not containing them, on average, to quote Galton. And even Christians like J. P. Holding at Tektonics mentioned in his latest “Christian Myth” article that you shouldnʼt rely on O.T. prophecies of Jesus to prove anything to modern day folks, because the way the O.T. was used by the N.T. writers back then was something called “midrash” which stretched the meanings to suit the writers of the N.T. and their ideas about Jesus rather than to suit the meanings in context of the original O.T. verses. So no proof, except proof that Christians were desperate enough to stretch the O.T. out of its original context, and then desperate enough to add three different endings to Mark, and later write additional Gospels and Acts beyond those in the Bible.
Those Christians.

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