Unravelling truth attacks

This is the second post in Peter Bolt’s series on the New Atheists. (Read the first.)

The New Atheists cannot be accused of being relativists. But their attacks on Christian truth claims still need some careful relativising.

The New Atheists are not talking to Christians, but about Christians—to recruit fellow secularists in the campaign to silence the Christian voice in the public domain. So Sam Harris, in his Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, New York, 2006), writes,

The primary purpose of the book is to arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian Right. (p. viii)

Christians are thus placed in the position of listening in on plans for their own destruction.

Despite this declaration of (indirect) war, the New Atheists are actually allies of conservative Christianity against those who love the name ‘moderates’, or ‘liberals’—even if it’s for different reasons. Harris clearly recognizes a different voice among the conservatives where the truth claims being made are either true or false. That is, they are claims about reality (or not reality). There is no dissembling relativism here that denies the ‘law of non-contradiction’. He puts it colourfully:

We agree, for instance, that if one is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6), or he does not. (p. 3)

—adding a long string of further either-ors. Looking ahead to the Christian-proposed judgement day, he muses, “… let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose” (p. 5).

At last we are having the kind of discussion we ought to have—even if we are not invited into it! There is no relativistic view of truth here: either Christianity is ‘true’ or ‘not true’. This is exactly what the Christian message has proclaimed since the beginning. Take the great Apostle Paul, for example: he was absolutely clear that if Jesus did not rise from the dead (and there are only two options on that one), then there was absolutely no point in being a Christian (1 Cor 15:12-19).

But despite this very helpful call for our secular friends to depart from their ridiculous relativistic views of so-called ‘truth’, the New Atheist onslaught also needs some relativising.

It is the nature of the beast for those who have declared fight-to-the death-warfare to seek to win at all costs. Part of the difficulty the Christian may have in listening to the barrage of assaults that are being flung about is sorting out which gun the various arguments are being fired from. As I said in my first post, even when we dispense with relativistic nonsense, there are still various kinds of truth.

Take the comment by Richard Dawkins that “Christian theology is a non-subject. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content” (Marianna Krejci-Papa, ‘Taking On Dawkins’ God: An interview with Alister McGrath’, Science & Theology News, 25 April, 2005). Now, Dawkins likes to speak with the authority of modern science behind him. He stands for scientific method, firmly grounded in empiricism—and amen to all that! But at this point, his comment is far from a scientific criticism. Here he is not refuting any truth claim about the real, empirical world (such as, did Jesus rise from the dead?), for then the Christian would be saying “Yes”, and Dawkins would be saying “No”, and the negotiation would then come down to whose answer best fits the evidence of the external world.

Here Dawkins appeals to the criterion of coherence—that is, how does it all hang together? How does one part relate to another? What does Christian theology actually say, and does it cohere internally? After 2000 years of constant discussion, conversation and interaction, that presumably is the ‘Christian theology’ Dawkins so summarily writes off. It is not really surprising that there are many articulate explanations not only of the coherence of Christian theology as a whole, but also of practically any and every part of that whole—should Dawkins have the interest to pursue them.

Even Gary Wolf, the writer of the article that apparently coined the term ‘New Atheist’ in November 2006 (‘The Church of the Non-Believers’, Issue 14.11), saw straight through this one:

On the contrary, I find the best of these books [of Christian theology] to be brilliant, detailed, self-assured. I learn about kenosis, the deliberate decision of God not to disturb the natural order. I learn about panentheism, which says God is both the world and more than the world, and about emergentist theology, which holds that a God might have evolved. There are deep passages surveying theories of knowledge, glossing Kant, Schelling, and Spinoza.

With Christian theology, it is not coherence that is the problem, and it is not coherence that an empirical scientist who wants to discuss evidence should be concerning himself with. As Wolf went on to say, “It is all admirable and stimulating, and lacks only the real help anybody in my position would need: reasons to believe that specific religious ideas are true”.

And so we come back to the main game, having sorted out a sidetrack: in the barrage of arguments thrown willy-nilly by the frothing opponent of (conservative) Christianity, it is worth recognizing that there are various kinds of truth, and it is worth responding to the truth attacks differently, depending upon which kind has been marshalled at any one time. If coherence is questioned, then the answer is simple: tell the opponent how it all fits together so brilliantly: “Well, Jesus rose from the dead to show …, to bring …, to be …, to restore …”. That should then open up the discussion to further questions. What a brilliantly coherent portrait of the world, God, humanity, human history, the universe and everything! “Now, let’s get back to the empirical world: how do you know that it is real?”

43 thoughts on “Unravelling truth attacks

  1. Oh dear, the ‘conservative Christianity believes in absolute truth not like those wrong-headed moderates’ stereotype is unfortunate, and incredibly easy to debunk with a single word: creation.

    “Conservative” US Christians believe strongly in creationism, usually of the young earth variety. Sydney “conservative” Christians generally don’t, and get chided by the US conservatives for not believing their bibles (yes, really).

    This may seem like a side issue here, but it’s not to the new atheists. I suspect Harris would have in mind US conservatives, and Sydney would be guilt of ‘dissembling relativism’ when it comes to creationism (I’ve yet to see anyone really *get* evolution in Sydney circles either; it’s usually just hand waving). Dawkins said on Q&A iirc that he prefers the creationists in the sense that he thinks they’re at least consistent. Muddying the water between Sydney conservatism and US evangelical conservatism is unfortunate—they have some significant differences.

    As for Dawkins dismissing theology, we dismiss Islamic theology, Mormon theology, Hindu theology, indigenous theology etc etc for much the same reason, so it’s not that unusual an attack (but I agree bringing it back to Jesus is that main game).

    So while we like to tell ourselves that we are in fact the ultimate truth bearers, unlike those nasty atheists or dirty liberals, let’s please keep some humility, perspective and moderation in the discussion. After all, even “conservative” Christians can’t agree on some pretty fundamental issues, like whether evolution is true.

  2. Note that Harris does not want to silence free speech (“the Christian voice in the public domain”). Harris is fine for Christians to contribute to the public policy, he just does not want religion to influence public policy. Just like Christians don’t like to live under Sharia law, non-religious people don’t want to live under Christian laws. On the page you quoted the text Harris goes on to talk about creationism. Have you read Harris’ book?

    You claim that this is a “declaration of (indirect) war” by the New Atheists. Actually the New Atheists see this more as defense of reason. Religious people declared direct war against atheists (against people not only ideas) long time ago; Surah 9:5, Deuteronomy 13:6-9, 2 Chronicles 15:13, 2John 10–11, Romans 16:17.

    Christian theology includes and excludes purgatory, trinity, papal infallibility, perpetual virginity, Joseph Smith’s ideas, Calvinism, snake handling, eternal torture in hell etc. Christians argue both faith alone and faith & works salvation. Christians see creation and evolution in the Bible. After 2000 years of debate Christian theology has not become clearer, but more fragmented. Because there seem to be no clear objective test of all these mutually exclusive views of Christian theologies New Atheists see Christian theology incoherent.

    Your Dawkins quote is in Wikipedia and from the book against Dawkins. Have you actually read any Dawkins’ books where he explains his views? Dawkins’ The God Delusion talks about it on page 56

  3. Luke,
    in terms of the ‘moderate/conservative’ ideas put through in this article, I think the main point was that the secular world prefers ‘moderates’ to those more conservative simply because the ‘conservatives’ believe in absolute truths. The conservative in this context is so because the truth they believe is ‘right’, and there are other wrongs, rather then the relativist approach of there are many truths. It’s not the object of their faith but the conviction. (perhaps I misread your response, also can you explain your comment on evolution in Sydney, it has completely gone over my head!?)

    Peter,
    While you said there were many types of Christian doctrine, indeed you listed many ‘fragments’ that have occurred throughout the last 2000 years, I think it is helpful to look at what it means to be Christian. In essence it is a Jesus Disciple. Looking at what the bible says on what it means and how it looks to be a Jesus Disciple will shed light on what true “Christian Theology” is. However I see the point that   the outside Christianity point-of-view will simply see a muddle of thoughts.

  4. Hi Callan,
    Peter was saying that new atheists and conservative Christians are actually allies in their belief of absolute truth, not like those lowly scum who go by names of ‘moderate’ or ‘liberal’, who apparently don’t.

    Peter cites Sam Harris, who mentions his target: the Evangelical Right in the US (the George Bush/Sarah Palin lovin’ types). The irony is that by the conservative standards of the Evangelical Right in the US, Sydney *is* lowly moderate scum. Thus by trying to shoot down one strawman, Peter actually shoots himself in the foot by not understanding the context of the debate.

    Evolution is a useful case in point, as in truly conservative US circles disbelief in evolution is an article of faith. So much so that in Alabama you can get attacked in political ads for *believing* in evolution, even if you claim to be a Christian eg:

    (and that’s from just a few weeks ago). Here we just equivocate and dissemble (‘maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, who knows? Can we ever really know? Does it matter?’ etc).

    It’s odd how often we favourably cite US Evangelicals because the appear to agree with us on the surface, without understanding just how significant the cultural/political context is over there (which is almost entirely absent here), and frankly just how damaging their whole enterprise is. Eg, Fred Nile is a bit player here, but he would be a champion of tens of millions over there (based on his views).

    Back to evolution: In Sydney, in my experience, people are prepared to say they do believe in evolution, but then either (a) qualify it (eg not for new species, or humans) or (b) are ignorant of the implications for things like an original Adam, original sin and so on, preferring just to wave their hands and say “God did it” which is, frankly, pretty poor.

  5. I’m not much of a blog type guy, but here goes.

    There may be some confusion arising about what coherence is and isn’t, and how that fits with differences within beleif systems which go under the same name. So, for what it’s worth, here’s 2 thoughts:

    1) Differences: every major system of beliefs has many variations with different, and often mutually exclusive beliefs, being presented under it’s name. Peter Truegum has noted a number that go under different forms of Christianity. Similar can be said of atheism – compare Marxist atheism with existentialist atheism with scientifico materialist type atheism (of which the new atheism seems to be a type). Or, at the more micro level, the differences in the evolutionary models of SJ Gould and Dawkins. These differences don’t seem to me to mean a) that every form of the Atheistic or Christian system is therefore invalidated simply because there are conflicting beleifs that go under those names; nor b) that we can’t test the different and conflicting beleifs put forward to see which best fits the system and/or world.

    2) Coherence: it seems to me that every system has some sort of central principle or principles around which it coheres. In the case of Dawkins’ system, from the God Delusion and a few other bits, a central one seems to be natural selection (hence his attempt explain cosmological realities and social science realities using versions of natural selection). Now in Christianity, as Peter Bolt pointed out, this centrality has got to be the person of Jesus Christ, and especially his death and resurrection (and I’m afraid, while I agree there are some less central beleifs in Christianity which are harder to nail down, I am with Peter B that Paul leaves very little room for fudging on those central events). Related to point 1) above, getting the center right and clear does help in working out what other beleifs fit and don’t fit in the system properly.

    So the coherence question is: what system’s central tenets make best sense of the world around us? And as Peter Bolt points out, there are some pretty darn good coherence pictures of the world around us when Jesus is put at the center of things. And, along with that, another question is: do the central tenets themselves match up with what we can work out from the world? Are they true? Paul had good reasons to think so in the case of Jesus, and it seems to me that we do too.

  6. Callan,

    The problem seems to be that “Jesus Disciple” means different things to Christians these days. Jesus said that we need to keep the OT moral laws, but his modern followers don’t kill cheating wives and husbands (Deut 22:22). Modern Protestant followers of Jesus happily re-marry people (Mark 10:11) against what Jesus said. Like you said from outside Christianity looks “a muddle of thoughts”. You need to be a believer to see the coherence of it.

    Luke,

    Dawkins does not believe in “absolute truth” like you imply. I’m not sure where you think I created a strawman. I’ve read both Harris’ books and lived in the States, so I’m fairly familiar what he means. I have also attended Sydney Anglican Church and I’m well aware of evolution/creation views of the Anglicans ministers here. So please enlighten me.

    Chris,

    1) Differences: There are no “multiple forms of atheism”; Atheism just addresses one question. Just like capitalist Christianity and Marxist Christianity are not forms of Christianity. How would you tests the truth of theological concepts of kenosis, panentheism and emergentist theology mentioned in the article?

    2) Coherence: If you starting point is belief in Jesus resurrection, prophet Mohammed, teachings of Joseph Smith Jr. or beliefs systems of scientology, believers are convinced that they have pretty darn good coherence belief system. Once you try objectively look from outside to these systems they all seem to stand on same ground. Try to investigate yours own belief system in a same way you investigate the claims of Islam and Mormonism. Once you understand why you reject Islam and Mormonism you’ll understand why new atheists reject Christianity.

  7. Peter T, I was referring to Peter Bolt (the author of the article); sorry for the confusion.

  8. Peter, just to untangle the truth-thing a little further, you stumbled over the opening line of my first post, but did you get to the end of the article? There I tried to point out that there are various kinds of truth. In post #2, the issue is that the various kinds of ‘truth’ can be all tangled up together, but it is important to separate them out so that rational discussion can take place. This is what the atheists want, right?

    So, to ask for ‘coherence’, is to ask for the connections between the dots to be explained to you. It may well be that at this point you have to let an ‘insider’ explain the system, as the ‘outsider’ may not be able to readily see the inner connections. It requires patient listening.

    On the other hand to ask ‘How would you test the truth of theological concepts’, sounds like you are speaking of truth as it corresponds to reality (or not), in which case you are asking for evidence from the real world in some form. This would, of course, require the right kind of evidence and the right kind of testing (you can’t put the Mayflower in a test tube to prove it once sailed, for example).

    The correspondence view of truth and the coherence view of truth ask for two different things. Both important. But very different.

  9. Still not much of a blog type guy, maybe you can see why if that was a bit unclear smile
    But one last go…

    Thanks Peter T (sorry ifI spelt your name wrong before).

    You may well be right that atheism is technically not a ‘system’ as I said – I prrobably used the wrong term at the technical level. The point I was trying to make was that different systems which, nvertheless, are often grouped under the same term (eg Christianity, Atheism) and even share important aspects (eg existentialist atheism and the New Atheists both make prominent use of the ‘protest’ moral argument re God and suffering to help explain their denial of God’s existence), and yet have conflicting ideas. I was tryng to show that this does not mean that every system which is grouped under that term is necessarily therefore wrong.
    Reformed Christianity and Mormonism I think would have hardly more in common than existentialist atheism and the new atheism do. Hence rejecting Christianity by comparison
    of beleifs from Mormonism and Reformed Christinity seems to me to be unwarranted.

    I think it should be recognised, though, that what is being put forward by modern atheists is indeed a system of which atheism itself is a very central part (hence the focus on God in the titles of many of their books). It sometimes feels like it has a mainly deconstructive force to it, but there is actually a system being proposed in place of what they are trying to deconstruct. That is why conferences and associations can be had by atheists, and certain central principles (eg natural selection, as mentioned before re Dawkins) are used to explain quite different phenomena.

    Which leads to the point on coherence. Again you make a good point that got me thinking. I suppose I’d want to claim that I have done, and continue to try to do something like that, with both Christianity and other beliefs. That’s been part of my reason for looking into Dawkins’ proposals. For anyone to think that anyone can fully get outside their own system seems to me to somewhat lack self-awareness, but to try to look at it in the same way you test other systems, as you suggest, is a great way in – hence I think Peter B’s mention of various truth tests. It’s just important to test ALL the systems by these tests – ie not simply deconstruct, but also check that what we put in the place of what we deconstruct is a better explanation of life, the universe and everything. It’s on the basis of that sort of comparison, at least to a fair extent, that I remain a Christian, even having tried hard to understand why new atheists reject Christianity.

  10. It might be also helpful to distinguish the core message about Jesus (perhaps ‘the gospel’), from attempts to understand that message at increasing levels of complexity (perhaps ‘Christian theology’, or, as in the thread so far, ‘the system’). The analogy here would be with various proposed hypotheses in scientific method. There might be a variety of proposed hypotheses to explain some aspect of the real world. Each of these need to be examined in the light of correspondence, coherence, etc etc. If someone tried to attack the whole enterprise of science by saying, ‘oh, but there are so many hypotheses and they all conflict’, it is obviously problematic. There have been a variety of quite elaborate proposals to understand aspects of the ‘gospel’ (such as the one’s Gary Wolf was fascinated by). They all need to be subject to the various angles of truth-testing, and—one of the most important it seems to me, which probably falls under ‘coherence’—do they clarify, or obscure, the ‘gospel’?

  11. Peter Bolt,

    You asked me if got to the end of the article. You wrote 16 paragraphs. I commented paragraphs 2 and 3 regarding Harris which you did not respond. I commented paragraph 5 regarding “declaration of war” which you did not respond. I commented paragraph 11 and 15 regarding coherence. I commented paragraph 11 and 12 regarding Dawkins which you did not respond. I commented paragraph 14 regarding kenosis to Chris. So yes, I did read your article.

    Christianity does not appear to be coherent because “insiders” give different view of it. Even Anglican “insiders” don’t connect the dots in a same way and can’t agree on who the whole picture looks like. It does not help to listen to one or couple “insiders” because “insiders” claim other “insiders” are “outsiders”. I’ve been an “insider” and an “outsider”. The picture clarity is different.

    Regarding truth; I would like to know how you would investigate if kenosis, panentheism and emergentist theology are true of just made up ideas. How would you investigate these truth claims?

    Comparing historicity of resurrection (or theology) to Mayflower is a category mistake; there was no supernatural event required with Mayflower. Mayflower can be investigated via historical method, theological claims cannot. What method would you use to investigate supernatural events or theological claims.

    I also wonder what is the core message of Jesus. Is the salvation faith alone or faith and works (keeping the law [partly?]). How would an outsider investigate and test this? Can you give an example of Gary Wolf’s test of supernatural claims?

    You try to compare this to scientific method. The problem is that the scientific method produces repeatable objective results. I don’t know how you would test these theological issues.

    If you haven’t read Harris or Dawkins, may I ask if you have read any of the new atheists books?

  12. Chris,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree that atheists have plenty of conflicting ideas even regarding supernatural world (Many Buddist are atheists). Even some non-religious atheists believe in after life…

    I don’t think atheists reject Christianity by comparing the beliefs from Mormonism and Reformed Christianity. I think many of them only rejected one type of Christianity and concluded that all other denominations and religions are much of the same. Often the rejection seem to hinge on lack of evidence of supernatural world and the view that natural explanation is more likely one.

    New Atheists don’t tend to use moral argument and suffering to deny God’s existence. They use those arguments to deny the existence of omnipotent and good natured God. I think even Dawkins mentioned that mischievous Greek Gods could explain the suffering and earthquakes.

    If you read new atheist books you’ll notice that the focus of their books is not really God. It is often science (Dawkins, Stenger), human behaviour (Harris, Dennett) and well… Hitchens.

    I agree that it is difficult to inspect one’s own view from “outside”. I don’t think Peter Bolt offered any truth test how to know if kenosis or panentheism are true. While trying to understand atheists, also try to understand why you believe in Christian truth claims. May I suggest that you try to explain yourself why you reject pre-Christians saviour god-man Attis? We have historical record of him, his death and resurrection after three days is celebrated at spring equinox, he had similar ideas regarding salvation what Christians teach and his followers get eternal life. This might give you a model who to investigate Christianity. Also ask yourself what made you believe in your type of Christianity.

  13. The problem with science is that it came about from man’s wonder of how the world that ‘God had created’ worked. In fact the bible is pro-science, we are to subdue the world and have dominion (or were meant to). It was never to answer the questions of how and why.
    Indeed discovering mechanisms such as gravity, evolution or even the big bang theory does not answer any sort of purpose question, or really a ‘how’ or ‘why’. Using science to prove/disprove God cannot be done. The resurrection of Christ to Lord is a different matter, but one can’t expect to be able to do that this side of the cross. Historical sources is what we are left with, including witness accounts of him risen. If we can’t trust humanities recounts, can we trust ourselves, are we all even perceiving things as they really are. We then move to philosophy, and no nearer to any answers. Now it comes down to trust. Do I trust the account I have received that God created me and all I observe, he created us good, but gave us the choice to follow him for us to show real love and obedience. Then worked through history to raise Jesus as Lord and to take our punishment so we can enjoy his new creation with him? Yes I do. Science can’t tell me if I’m correct. (for the record I do love science and am not trying to show faults in it, just what it’s purpose is)

  14. Thank Peter T.

    I am afraid that, as I said, I am not much good for this blogging thing, so I am going to bow out of the discussion and leave it to better bloggers with more time (and faster minds and fingers!). However, as you asked me a question about something that seems to me to be quite important (why I believe in Jesus but not Attis) I’ll offer a beginning of an answer:

    1. Jesus as central person – the details of my belief in Jesus, and non-belief in Attis, are part of a wider system (‘the gospel’) which actually does make sense on other levels of truth which Peter B mentioned in his first post – these are legitimate truth tests widely recognised as such for a non-reductionist picture of truth. So in that sense, the coherence, livability, etc of ‘gospel based’ life stacks up (and I guess that fits a bit with the ‘trust’ thing Callan spoke of too). I say this to acknowledge that there is more to my (and any) belief system than JUST specific bits of data.

    2. But on to specifics, re the important issue of the suggested parallels to Attis. I am not an expert in this area, but I think, like a number of these ancient parallels suggested especially by the Comparative Religions movemement in New Testament studies in the late 19th and early 20th C, there are a number of problems with the parallels that have been noticed. Fom a brief look into Attis, and some other investigation of suggested parallels which I have done in the last few years, a couple of things strike me as important to notice:
       
      a) I think most of the references we have to the cult in the form offered as a parallel are quite late – most in the 3rd and 4th Cs AD, when Christianity is widespread and even becoming a state religion. For instance, I think the only reference we have to the cult rite which mentions being ‘reborn for eternity’ for the rite participant is from late 4th C. While the Attis/Cybele cult is indeed pre-Christian, these cults were pretty fluid (there are a number of versions of the cult which survive even in our partial records, seemingly with Attis gaining more prominence later – Cybele was the primary deity), and the direction of any possible influence is hard to nail down.

        b) the specifics of what is claimed as a parallel are important. For instance, resurrection – this is actually quite a specific term, and was very widely repudiated in the ancient world – by the Greek culture almost rejected altogether, and by the Jewish culture rejected in any form prior to the idea of a final resurrection. The little bit of looking I have done seems to indicate that resurrection-proper is not associated with Attis. The death and rebirth of nature gods like Attis, on the other hand, was a cyclical thing (yearly hence fertility connection), and consciously and clearly metaphorical from what I have seen.

    So there seem to me to be some reasons for caution in drawing such parallels – it can feel a bit like drawing a parallel between the Beatles and the Berlin Philharmonic – yeah they are both playing music, and doing that on instruments, but there is quite a lot of difference (and even conscious reaction) in what they are doing too. Not to say it’s a simple thing to work out, but not simple to reject Jesus because we reject Attis either. If you want to pursue further and haven’t already had a look at it, an important treatment on the resurrection part of it is NT Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God – it is a bit of a tome, but the dying-rising gods type stuff is dealt with within one fairly concise chapter on Greco-Roman understandings – 50 pages or so I think.

    Hope that is of some help and explanation. I appreciate your challenge and encouragement to keep honestly investigating, and I hope you can accept my challenge to do the same in the same spirit.

  15. Callan,

    I’m not sure about Bible being pro-science. The church fathers did not want you to seek knowledge and search out the hidden powers of nature. Science does answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions (How do solar systems form, why is sky blue). Scientific method can disprove/prove Gods who are claimed to act in natural world. Science has actually tested many of these claims.

    You are right that we can not always trust ourselves (check any optical illusion). That is why we have a scientific method to solve issues objectively. Just as strongly as you trust Jesus, Muslims trust Allah and Mormons trust Joseph Smith and Jesus. Why do you think their trust is wrong?

  16. Chris,

    Thanks for the discussion. I choose Attis because his followers made similar claim what Christians claimed. To objectively investigate Christian claims you can try with Attis claims.

    From your answer I can see you have read Christian apologist books about Attis. May I recommend Attis books from scholars who don’t have an axe to grind?

    We have pre-Christian archeological evidence of Attis and by the first century his religion got to the upper echelon of the Roman society. This can be seen from an ancient Roman wood and ivory throne unearthed in Herculaneum buried by Mount Vesuvius eruption 79AD. Once religions get an official state religion status it is not a “fluid cult” any more, they had a solid hierarchy in place. Also newer religions tend to borrow from older ones, not the other way around like Christian apologists and you seem to imply.

    You said that the Greek culture almost rejected resurrection altogether, and by the Jewish culture rejected in any form prior to the idea of a final resurrection. This is not right. So many Greek heroes like Hercules and Asclepius were resurrected by God. Hazon Gabriel also shows that pre-Christian Jews believed that their hero/messiah? was resurrected three days after his death.

    N T Wright indeed writes in his book (pages 32-84) about Greco-Roman and Jewish resurrection issues. His book was written before Hazon Gabriel found which refutes his claim on page 35. On the same page N T Wright quotes Porter about bodily resurrection. However I can not see him addressing the two know god-men who were bodily resurrected. If we count [semi]bodily resurrections with the ability to go through walls and disappear like Jesus I think there are quite a few more examples from Greco-Roman times.

    Anyways N T Wright is a good read. Conservative Christians and atheists don’t seem to like him, but his footnotes include Crossan, Price and Ludemann, so props to him! However may I suggest that you read about these subjects from more neutral sources or at least a non-Anglican source to give a little bit more perspective?

    But the comparison between religions is a side issue. The real issue was why do you reject Attis claims and accept similar Jesus claims.

    All the Best.

  17. It is worth noting that the claim that the Vision of Gabriel text makes a claim about resurrection is very far from certain and somewhat tendentious (as are many of these supposed parallels upon closer inspection). The critical line in the text is extremely difficult to read (you can see a transcription here, page 158 line 80, and a reproduction here) and the notion of resurrection in Knohl’s translation is based almost entirely on his reconstruction. It is worth noting that Knohl had previously published claims which his translation of VoG affirms.

    Here’s what Victor Sasson has to say about Knohl’s reconstruction: “Knohl’s attempt to find textual basis for a Jewish resurrected messiah in the Vision of Gabriel should be abandoned, simply because the text of the tablet is too fragmentary for such a far reaching conclusion and for lack of any mention or hint of a messiah. I agree with Collins that Knohl’s reading of the tablet ‘is highly conjectural and goes far beyond the evidence’.”

  18. Martin,

    Victor Sasson agrees that the line 19 says ‘three days’ (~ brief span of time) and thinks it is an apocalyptic, catastrophic or national event about to take place. What are the odds that a late 1st cent BC stone tablet which took a while to manufacture and erect talks about apocalypse in ‘three days’ (Sasson thinks this implies to a future event from writer’s point of view). More likely is that what ever happened to Ephram (line 16-19 & 77-80) happened in the past (Line 76 says “You[?] will save them,..”). And what ever happened to this man was obviously a supernatural event and it happened after three days. And ancient historians gives us clues who this messianic(?) leader was. (For more info Google: Israel_Knohl_on_Hazon_Gabriel.pdf and dssinstone_english.doc for the arguments and english translations). At least read the Knohl’s paper, the primary source, before you dismiss him.

    BTW, just look at your second link, page 4, line 80, third word. ~Everyone (also you first link) agrees about the first letter and other letters offers plenty of ideas what the word is.

  19. Hello Peter,

    It seems somewhat tendentious for you to privilege Knohl’s interpretation of the text over others’ by labelling it the “primary source.” In this case it is the interpretation that is contested and hence the primary source is the original text, not any scholar’s conjectural reading. Sasson, as indicated in the quote in my previous post, is vehemently opposed to aspects of Knohl’s reading. Furthermore, the subsequent identification of the supposed messianic figure of the text with Simon is another leap of which even scholars amenable to Knohl’s reconstruction are somewhat sceptical (Simon is not named on the text itself).

    OTOH it is worth considering the significance of the text assuming (1) its date is confirmed and (2) it does speak of a third-day resurrection. This is hardly problematic for the gospels’ claims about Jesus, since they claim antecedent expectation of precisely these things (see, for example, Luke 24:45ff). If some first-century Jews found such ideas in their Scriptures it would not be surprising to find the influence in other groups as well. If the Vision of Gabriel does speak of a third-day resurrection (and again I stress that this remains a matter of contention), it is difficult to see how this undermines the gospels in any way.

  20. Martin,

    The stone tablet is the primary source of the text. You challenged Knohl’s analysis/translation so Knohl’s paper is the primary source of your argument. Have read it? I’m generally sceptical of motives of people how haven’t read the author or material they criticise.

    Sasson argues “The concept of a resurrected messiah is a thoroughly foreign/Hellenized/Greek concept, patently spurious and has no place in the culture of the Hebrew Bible and normative Judaism” You argued that Luke 24:45ff refutes his arguments, but somehow you think Sasson’s conclusion is right. I think this view not entirely coherent, more like apologetics, sorry.

    I did not make an argument that VoG undermines the gospels but I like the way you hedge your bets saying that VoG probably does not have resurrection and even if it has it, that is not a problem for Christians. My point is how would you investigate the truth claims of this resurrection case if it authentic?

    Your statement:” This is hardly problematic for the gospels’ claims about Jesus, since they claim antecedent expectation of precisely these things (Luke 24:45ff)” seem to go against N T Wright’s writing (quoting Porter about physical/bodily resurrection p.35). Here you seem to contradict N T Wright’s writings and support my claim, while you were trying to defend N T Wright’s position. I get the feeling you argue both sides of the issue.

  21. Peter Turegum wrote:“My point is how would you investigate the truth claims of this resurrection case if it authentic?”

    If it were to be investigated, the kinds of questions I would be asking are:

    1. Did the dying/ressurrecting person make prediction claims prior to actually undergoing death/ressurection?
    2. Were there any witnesses to these events? If so, how many (just one? a dosen? hundreds?)
    3. Did the witnesses believe it to be true immediately, or did they have to be convinced?
    4. Having been convinced, were the witnesses willing to suffer violent death rather than recant what they saw?
    5. Did the witnesses make a detailed record of exactly what happened?
    6. Have there been any important differences in the manuscript records of these events since their initial writing?
    7. Were there other people around who could have demonstrated the falsehood of the events, had strong motivation to do so, but were unable to do so?
    8. Has the event made any noticeable difference to the lives of those who hold it to be true (if not, then who cares if it happened or not)

    These are a few of the starting questions… I could go on…

    What are the answers to these questions when applied to the story of Attis?

  22. David,

    Interesting suggestions! I think Attis would give Jesus a run for his money. So let’s have a quick look:

    1) We don’t have any pre-event records of predictions of Jesus or Attis. If a charismatic leader makes a prediction is it likely that someone claims it came true? Or is unpredicted resurrection more reliable? I’m not sure. I call this a tie.
    2) We have handful of known eyewitnesses for Jesus and perhaps couple second hand for Attis. Jesus has a better case.
    3) This I’m not sure which one is more credible. Is the saviour more powerful if followers believe immediately or the case better if they are skeptical and eventually believe? I call it a tie.
    4) Attis followers suffered always and were more hated. Just becoming a true follower of Attis had a chance of death by bleeding or infection. Attis wins this one.
    5) Jesus has too many contradicting cases. Attis has relatively few, but also contradicting stories. Jesus wins this one but only by a little bit.
    6) The New Testament manuscripts have more variants than any other known book on the planet. Mark has multiple endings, and the Church inserted trinity passage and forged evidence when exposed. Attis manuscripts have little if any variants. Attis wins this one easily.
    7) This is proving the negative. Jews refuted resurrection (see NT and Justin Martyr). Nobody has demonstrated Attis’ resurrection as falsehood. I call it a tie.
    8) “Any noticeable difference to the lives”? You generally had to have much more faith to follow Attis (become a priest). Attis wins this one hands down.

    So I would say Attis wins 4 – 2 this one. Would you agree?

  23. Peter,

    My points regarding the Vision of Gabriel were in response to your unqualified claim that “Hazon Gabriel also shows that pre-Christian Jews believed that their hero/messiah? was resurrected three days after his death.” I sought to show that your claim is not unequivocal — the text itself is not clear and scholarly opinion regarding its interpretation is divided. Your appeal to it for evidence regarding the beliefs of “pre-Christian Jews” is thus misleading unless appropriately qualified.

    I demonstrated this by pointing to a well regarded scholar whose interpretation of the text is diametrically opposed to Knohl’s and to the primary source itself, the text in question, where the crucial phrase is not preserved. I endorse neither Knohl’s nor Sasson’s interpretation without considerably more investigation, but rather present them to demonstrate that this text does not support the claims you make for it.

    Finally, I made no mention of nor reference to N. T. Wright and am not sufficiently familiar with his work to either endorse or reject it. I’m not sure why you have incorrectly inferred that I was trying to defend it. My entire point is that you have placed more value in the Vision of Gabriel than it can realistically bear. In reality you should have written something like “Hazon Gabriel might show that some pre-Christian Jews believed that their hero/messiah? was or would be resurrected three days after his death.”

    But then I suppose there would really have been no point in referring to it because it doesn’t really lend support to your case.

  24. I stepped out for a bit, but it looks like everyone has been having fun in the meantime – discussing some worthwhile historical matters.

    On the Jesus/Attis thing, one of the first things is to establish how close the parallels actually are. So, when Peter T. says

    ‘We have historical record of him, his death and resurrection after three days is celebrated at spring equinox, he had similar ideas regarding salvation what Christians teach and his followers get eternal life.’

    We really should see the evidence for each item and what the sources actually say. In particular:
    1) Where is the evidence to claim that Attis was a historical person? The myths are confused: was he a shepherd boy? Was he the son of Croesus?
    2) Where is the actual report of Attis’ ‘resurrection’? This does not seem to be in the sources (neither Pausanias nor Ovid; nor the adaption in Herodotus). It is certainly there in Frazer, but isn’t he extrapolating backwards from his reading of the later ritual? And is this really ‘resurrection’?
    3) Where are these similar ideas about salvation/eternal life? Again, these are not in the sources, but also appear to be backwards extrapolations from the later ritual.

    Also, as for the pre-Christian archaeological evidence of Attis, if this is to be introduced into the discussion, it would be nice to know what this is, and, more to the point, its relevance for saying anything about his supposed resurrection. Certainly in the pre-Christian materials for Greece, Attis was a subsidiary figure in the Cybele cult, whose death was mourned, but he was not worshipped as a god —and where is his resurrection? Although it can be presumed that Attis went with the Cybele cult to Rome (205–204 BC), the evidence for this only becomes plentiful from about AD150. Attis on the Herculaneum throne buried in AD79 illustrates the spread of Attis from the East to Rome during the reign of Claudius (AD 41–54), when the spring festival begins to be mentioned in public documents (although it is not well attested until AD 354, and even then we know little of Attis’ role in it. It was, after all, a mystery cult). It might also be worth noting that because a mythical figure is depicted in a piece of art (here on the throne) may be simply because of the myth, not because a cult was in operation, still less because there was a state sanctioned religion organized and established with a solid hierarchy – we would need more evidence that a throne carving to firmly ground this claim.

    Now, the beauty of engaging in such questions – and any such comparison with the resurrection of Jesus (a concrete historical claim that a man who was dead, left his tomb)—is that we are engaging in historical method, the appropriate means of testing historical truth-claims.

    So, there is no category mistake here (Peter T.’ ‘Comparing historicity of resurrection [or theology] to Mayflower is a category mistake; there was no supernatural event required with Mayflower. Mayflower can be investigated via historical method, theological claims cannot.’). The theological claims of the New Testament are premised upon the historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

  25. Peter Turegum wrote:

    “We don’t have any pre-event records of predictions of Jesus or Attis. “

    What we DO have is a record of the events by his followers that he claimed he would rise again, that his followers didn’t understand what he meant, or tried to correct him on the point.

    Peter Turegum wrote:
    “is unpredicted resurrection more reliable?”

    Predicted ressurrection adds weight to the likelihood that the
    claims of the predictor are valid.

    If I claim that I am now going to do something that would [under
    normal circumstances] be impossible, and then I actually do it,
    then this is valid cause to pay careful attention to what I have
    to say

    Peter Turegum wrote:
    “Is the saviour more powerful if followers believe immediately
    or the case better if they are skeptical and eventually believe?”

    If followers don’t initially believe [and have to be convinced],
    then it demonstrates that
    a) they are aware that people ordinarily don’t rise from the dead [they are not simply gullible or ignorant of the ordinarily permanent nature of being dead].
    b) they had to be convinced by what they saw rather than being people who are simply following a party line, or making claims

    Peter Turegum wrote:
    “Attis followers suffered always and were more hated. Just becoming a true follower of Attis had a chance of death by bleeding or infection.”

    Jesus followers – especially the core witnesses – staked their lives on the historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  Did Attis followers do this, or were they simply doing a [admittedly risky] surgical procedure that was unrelated to the claim of Attis’ ressurection. 
    Claiming that Jesus rose from the dead was risky because very powerful people at the time were ordering them to keep quiet about the issue, on pain of torture, imprisonment, and in the case of all but 1 of the apostles, violent death.  Yet not one of them recanted.

    The very same powerful people had the ability [if Jesus was really dead] to
    demonstrate conclusively that he was indeed dead by producing the body.  That they
    could not do so [and were therefore forced to rely on threats of violence] is
    evidence that increases the credibility of the claim that Jesus has indeed risen.

    Furthermore, if it were the apostles that had stolen the body, then they would all be dying
    and being imprisoned and otherwise abused for something that they knew to be a lie.
    Yet not one of them recanted in the face of death.

    Peter Turegum wrote:
    “Jesus has too many contradicting cases”

    Contradicting?  There are some minor discrepancies between the accounts, but this actually adds to the
    credibility of the accounts – ask any policeman investigating a crime – if all of the witness accounts are
    absolutely identical, one begins to suspect collusion.

    Peter Turegum wrote:
    “The New Testament manuscripts have more variants than any other known book on the planet.”

    This is either extreme hyperbole or patent fiction.  The variations in the manuscripts are minor and make no important differences to the message contained.  Again, it actually adds to the credibility, because it shows a lack of systematic alteration and the what differences do appear can be reconcilled through careful textual analysis.

    Anyway, gotta go… will look at the rest of the comments later…

    cheers

    David.

  26. Martin,

    Sasson’s view is not diametrically opposed to Knohl’s. Both agree that messenger of God was involved in a supernatural event that happened three days after the previous event. This hinges on the word of your second link, page 4, line 80, third word. You claimed that it is not preserved but you can see it is partially preserved. Knohl suggests a type of resurrection, Sasson a catastrophic event. You pointed out that you don’t believe Sasson’s reasoning because Luke 24:45ff and many Christian scholars agree with you. (Although it is true that if Sasson’s view is wrong it does not mean that Knohl is right as both could be wrong. So my rejection of Sasson’s view does not bring me closer to the truth.)

    I thought that you were defending N. T. Wright’s position because I used VoG to refute it. My mistake, sorry that I incorrectly inferred that you were defend it.

    Your point that I have placed more value in the Vision of Gabriel than it can realistically bear sounds a strange when I get the feeling you have not read Knohl’s scholarly paper. Just because some scholars disagree with my position I don’t think it is fair for you to ask me to write “Hazon Gabriel might show…” if I have research my position. Do you tell you friends that Jesus might have been resurrected because Muslim scholars disagree with you or do you always say that trinity might be true because JW scholars disagree with you?

  27. Peter,

    The hostile witnesses of Attis can be harmonized easier than non-hostile witnesses of Gospels. Gospel has similar levels of contradictions (Jesus family tree/grand father’s name, after his birth – trip to Jerusalem or Egypt, last words, 1st resurrection appearance in or outside the kingdom of Judea etc.)

    You question the similar ideas of salvation/eternal life. Are you really trying to claim that these religious Attis followers who voluntarily castrate themselves and become the most hated group of people don’t expect a reward in the afterlife? Are you serious?

    You are right that Attis was not worship as God. He was a man and a partner of Cybele, the powerful God.

    You said:
    “Although it can be presumed that Attis went with the Cybele cult to Rome (205–204 BC), the evidence for this only becomes plentiful from about AD150.”

    Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd Ed, 2005, p. 2110 says:
    “The goddess was given a temple on the Palatine, dedicated in 191 BCE, and an annual festival called the Megalesia was instituted. The cult of Attis was apparently introduced into Rome at the same time, as is suggested by the discovery of a great many images of Attis, dating from the second and first centuries BCE, in the precincts of the Palatine temple.”

    I think you missed the date by 300 years. (It must be a coincident that the Vatican is at the Palatine). I often get the feeling that Christian apologists try to date competing religions late and Christianity early. What is the earliest archeological evidence of Jesus?

    Re Mayflower: If you still think that supernatural claims are in a same category than historical events then I’ll claim that I supernaturally created Christianity yesterday (See all the evidence around us!). I hope this clears the issue.

  28. Peter T,

    Re your comment: “If you still think that supernatural claims are in a same category than historical events…”, I think you may have missed the thrust of the final sentence of Peter Bolt’s comment (“The theological claims of the New Testament are premised upon the historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead.”). That is, Jesus’ resurrection and the claims surrounding it still rest on the historical validity of his actual resurrection. The question is, did Jesus actually (i.e. historical event) rise from the dead, and for that matter, did Jesus actually die (i.e. historical event)? Christianity stands or falls on the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. You need to address the historical claims in order to argue against the supernatural claims.

  29. Peter Turegum wrote:
    “Any noticeable difference to the lives”? You generally had to have much more faith to follow Attis (become a priest). Attis wins this one hands down.”

    What I meant was, any noticable difference to the lives *today*.  If a resurrection is for real, and has some lasting significance, one would expect that it would have an *enduring* significance that continues to the present – hence my comment that ‘if it makes no difference, then who cares’.  That it has essentially died out is a mark against the credibility of Attis as being someone credible.

    I am aware that other religions [other than Attis] have also endured [which is a mark in their favour] but these other religions fail other tests, such as supernatural events being attested by only one person [one person could be deluded], or do not have any connection to historical events that can be tested with historical techniques [none that I am aware of – save *possibly* Judaism] have *any* notion of ressurection of the body.

    cheers

    David.

  30. Peter T.
    Interesting thing about historical research is that there is so much history, nobody can be an expert on everything. We all acquire knowledge by listening to others who know more than we do about the evidence. Don’t you love it how human report is essential to the dissemination of empirical knowledge?

    Dictionary articles are a good quick way into a topic. My quick reference is the Oxford Classical Dictionary (third edition, 1996, rev. 2003), which gave me the information you castigate [‘Although it can be presumed that Attis went with the Cybele cult to Rome (205–204 BC), the evidence for this only becomes plentiful from about AD150.’]. Your quick reference is not one I usually paddle around in, so I thank you for drawing my attention to it, namely Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd Ed, 2005), which has a slightly updated bibliography and tells us:
“The cult of Attis was apparently introduced into Rome at the same time [191 BC], as is suggested by the discovery of a great many images of Attis, dating from the second and first centuries BCE …”

    Two kinds of comments can be made on these quotations from our two ‘quick reference’ tools.

    1) On the surface these seem to differ about the evidence, but they may not upon more careful examination. The OCD suggests that the bulk of the evidence occurs from AD150, whereas the EoR states that there is a bulk, and that it ‘dates from’ the 2/1st BCE, ie. the series of finds goes back that far. What it doesn’t say is how many of the finds, in fact, are that old.
    What is now needed to clarify these two reports is further research, where we go back behind the ‘quick reference tools’ to the actual archeological reports which more carefully describe the finds.

    2) Then there is the matter of interpreting the evidence. Please note that even the EoR is very tentative about whether the finds of Attis figures actually means there was an Attis cult associated with Cybele at that time (‘apparently introduced’, ‘as is suggested’). I notice that even Merrony, reporting the Herculaneum throne (Mark Merrony, An Ivory Throne for Herculaneum, Minerva, March-April 2008) notes that the presence of Attis is unusual, and the cult arrived later: ‘Unusually, the throne is carved with scenes depicting the mystery cult of Attis, which spread to Rome from Turkey via Greece during the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54).’

    The details of the cult of Attis is shadowy anyway, even from the later period when it was flourishing (thus is the problem of the mystery cults), let alone at the early stages.

    But, thankfully, even though both of these issues are very interesting, the substantial points are still quite clear: any ‘resurrection’ of Attis was not a resurrection in the true sense of the word; and any ‘resurrection’ of Attis is not actually spoken of in the myths at all, but is a back projection from the later shadowy ritual. This means that there is very little true parallel with Jesus’ resurrection to be explained. And since it is an historical truism that a parallel is not an influence, any presumed influence needs to be properly argued, which is where the proper dating of the cult becomes important. It is interesting that, in the later period when the cult of Attis was known to be operating, some Christians in the fourth century, for example, saw it as derivative of Christianity (see Firmicus Maternus 3; 27,1).

    But, once again, isn’t it good to be having these kinds of discussions? Historical truth-claims are being made, and historical method is being applied to sorting them out. At the most fundamental level Christianity is based upon claims about historical events, and so this is exactly the kind of discussion if we are ever going to sort out the truth (or otherwise) of those claims. Did the Mayflower sail? Did Jesus, or did he not, rise from the dead? Unless the matter is going to be decided by some a priori definition/declaration that this is impossible (which is neither empirical, nor scientific, in the end), then these claims are in the same category, sorted out by the same kind of argument.

  31. Peter T.,

    A few quick points:

    First, Sasson’s view regarding the viability of the resurrection reading of the text is diametrically opposed to Knohl’s, hence the vehemence with which he refutes the case.

    Second, I don’t equate the discussion here with an informal conversation with my friends. In any academic context wherein I was discussing the validity of a particular historical claim, I aim to present the evidence in support of the claim as well as the problems associated with alternatives. If, in a discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity I would highlight areas of uncertainty in both my own position as well as those of others. Consequently I maintain that it is inappropriate to claim the text as unqualified support for your position.

    Finally, the more I read Knohl’s analysis, the more questions it raises about the certainty of his conclusions. I’m not sure that לשלשת ימין is best rendered “by three days” instead of “for three days” (I think his case would be stronger if it read אחר שלשת ימין as in, for example, 4Q265). Is חאיה, if it is a correct reconstruction of the text (and only the first character is clear) a valid spelling for the imperative in Hebrew at that time? Knohl infers that it is based on the use of א as a vowel in other words in the DSS, but there are no examples of this word (that I can find) with this orthography while there are many examples of it without the א. Furthermore, his identification of the י in the word assumes that the ink dripped in order to account for the anomalous appearance on the stone (cf. footnote 12). It’s not as if חאיה is the only possible term which makes sense of the text (for example, חוסה written as חאיס could make sense as well and the final letter in the word looks to me closer to ס than ה).

  32. David,

    We don’t have any pre-event records of predictions of Jesus. All the claims what he said come from his followers after Jesus death. Post Hoc claims can be made and believed. Book of Mormon has those too.

    You said:
    “Predicted ressurrection adds weight to the likelihood that the claims of the predictor are valid.”
    wink … and the likelihood of valid resurrection claim is 100% for all predicted resurrections.

    You said:
    “If I claim that I am now going to do something that would be impossible, and then I actually do it, then this is valid cause to pay careful attention to what I have to say”
    Sure, because we would have first hand evidence of the claim before the event and the actual event. Story of Jesus does not provide this as it is a second hand post event story.

    You said:
    “Jesus followers – staked their lives on the historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Claiming that Jesus rose from the dead was risky because very powerful people at the time were ordering them to keep quiet about the issue”
    Wait a minute. His disciples were exempt from the Emperor worship until 80s AD by being a Jewish sect. Powerful people never knew about Christians as you can from the letter of Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Trajan around 112 AD. And disciples left Judea where Jews had the power. Who told them to keep quiet? Are you just making this up? And where did Matthias, James son of Alpheus or Simon die anyways?

    You said:
    “The very same powerful people had the ability [if Jesus was really dead] to demonstrate conclusively that he was indeed dead by producing the body.”
    What would that have helped? After his resurrection Jesus (his body) had the ability to appeared to the disciples in the locked room and disappear into thin air. Physical bodies made out of natural chemical elements (like his buried body) would not be doing that.

    You said:
    “There are some minor discrepancies between the accounts, but this actually adds to the credibility of the accounts. ask any policeman investigating a crime – if all of the witness accounts are
    absolutely identical, one begins to suspect collusion.”
    Resurrected Jesus first appeared indoors in the Kingdom of Judea by one account, others claimed it happened outdoors in Galilee. So if we ask any policeman that if a same crime is claimed to happen outdoors in Sydney and according to others indoors in New Zealand that this adds to the credibility of the accounts. Surely you don’t believe what you write. Come now, let us reason together.

    You said:
    ““The New Testament manuscripts have more variants than any other known book on the planet” is either extreme hyperbole or patent fiction.”
    Ok, then name a another piece of literature that has more variants or please retract your statement.

    You said:
    “The variations in the manuscripts are minor and make no important differences to the message contained.”
    Snake handles beg to differ. I guess Eucharist, Trinity, Adoptionism, Baptism formula are not that important things. Wait a minute… Christians have killed other Christians for these differences. Does it make those important?

    You said:
    Again, [The variations in the manuscripts] actually adds to the credibility, because it shows a lack of systematic alteration and the what differences do appear can be reconcilled through careful textual analysis.

    Variants “add” credibility? Surely you don’t believe that. Maybe you should start making more variants if you think it makes the Bible more credible (but don’t try this on legal documents wink. And we have clear evidence of systematic alteration and back translations to Greek of the trinity passage. And if we don’t have really much text within 150 years of Jesus’ death how can you reconcile to the original?

  33. Rob,

    You said
    “You need to address the historical claims in order to argue against the supernatural claims.”
    This is where this logic falls apart. I made the historical claim that I supernaturally created Christianity yesterday (All the evidence supports it). I can state back to you that “you need to address the historical claims in order to argue against the supernatural claims”. Of course you can’t because historical records match perfectly with my claim. If you still think that supernatural claims are in a same category as historical events then please show me how (the method) to use historical events to show which one is right “Jesus rise from the dead” or “I created Christianity yesterday”.

    David,

    It is a logical fallacy to think that if a view of a group of people has died out, it is a mark against the credibility of that view. If all people who think that 4+4=8 are killed by people who think 4+4=9, it is not a mark against the credibility of 4+4=8. You will not find a truth by counting who believe in claims.

    It is “Stacking the Deck” fallacy to claim that “other religions fail other tests, such as supernatural events being attested by only one person.., or do not have any connection to historical events…”
    You take features typical to Christianity and claim that this how a true religion must look like. You need to first show that it is less likely that God appears only to one person or that there must be historical events in a religion/belief.

    You said:
    “[[no religion] that I am aware of – save *possibly* Judaism] have *any* notion of ressurection of the body.”
    There are quite a few if you research it (Zalmoxis for example).

    I’m sorry but all your arguments in your previous comment seem to be based on false premises.

    Peter,

    I think you made couple of good points. It appears from the EoR that Attis finds a plenty in Rome 2/1st century BC (but rare elsewhere) because Cybele was introduce in 204BC and her temple 191BC. I think it means that Attis followers were looked down upon so much that it is a surprise to find artefacts 1st cent AD outside Rome and modern day Turkey. Note that Attis artefacts are plentiful at time when we have no archeologically evidence of Jesus.

    Re Firmicus Maternus: Of course he said that other religions copy from Christianity. He argues like all modern day apologists. Had he written otherwise, we probably would not have his writings preserved.

    Christian apologists see that there is very little true parallel with Jesus’ resurrection and Attis. Interestingly many scholars and your example Firmicus Maternus see the parallels. Just like Christians claim that Jesus’ resurrection is somehow unique where it appears to be like numerous other resurrections (full bodily, walk-through-walls bodily, spiritually, soul with substance…)

    I do not have a priori definition/declaration that Jesus’ resurrection it true or false. What I claimed that you can not use historical method to investigate it. If you still think that supernatural claims are in a same category than historical events then take my challenge to you! Please show me how (the method) to use historical events to show which one is right “Jesus rise from the dead” or “I created Christianity yesterday”.

  34. Peter T, could you please flesh out your argument for ‘creating Christianity yesterday’? It seems to me this is a void argument because all the ‘evidence’ shows that no you did not do this, in fact it has been around for ~ 2000 years. That is using historical events to show that your ‘supernatural’ event is false. Or was that your point. (sorry, I think I’m being a little slow on the uptake)

    You also said ‘historical records match perfectly my claim’…how do you suppose they do, when historically Christianity is much older than you, and the history shows that.

  35. Martin,

    Reading your second point I must admit that you are right about it and I’m wrong. I should have better qualified my claim or at least stated that there is a scholarly debate about the text. Thanks for pointing that out. Sorry Chris, I should have worded it in a fairer manner.

    I see that you have investigated the VoG, so what do you actually think it says (resurrection, catastrophe, divine chat/event…)?

    You indicated that that you believed that “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead”. Sasson seems to think that there no such thing written.

    Sasson writes (paraphrased):
    “The concept of a dead and risen Jewish messiah – even if it was current among some Jewish quarters at the time – must be rejected. Such a concept of Jewish messiah would also have been considered heretical by the earlier Hebrew Prophets, and by contemporaneous Jewish Sages. There is nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures about a dead and risen mashiah, and there is not even a hint in the Vision of Gabriel about such an individual.”
    (Is Sasson leaving the door open with “even if it was current among some Jewish quarters at the time”?)

  36. Callan,

    “I created Christianity yesterday” means that two days ago there was no Christianity. All other religions existed but not Christianity. I created new false memories and beliefs of Christianity for everyone. I created the Church buildings, the books and all related modern Christian material; I created archaeological evidences and old manuscripts; I also changed the history so all Christian events now seems entangled with non-Christian events. I did all this flawlessly so that nobody knows the history was just created yesterday.

    This kind of idea is common in science fiction books where people or whole societies are created with false memories, feelings and beliefs. Everyone thinks that their civilisation is ancient, but in reality it was just created. This comes from the difficulty of objectively proving that our history is real.

  37. Peter T wrote:
    “It is a logical fallacy to think that if a view of a group of people has died out, it is a mark against the credibility of that view. If all people who think that 4+4=8 are killed by people who think 4+4=9, it is not a mark against the credibility of 4+4=8. You will not find a truth by counting who believe in claims.”

    If however the claim/view is that God has started a special relationship with that group of believers that this God intends to use this group of believers to do something permanent in the world and then that group ceases to exist, one wonders about the reality of that God.  That the Christians survived despite ferocious opposition is a mark in their favour because it supports the view that God is with them as a community.  If they died out, and became a historical curiosity rather than a vibrant community that is still going strong 2,000 years later is consistent with the view that they are not merely a human grouping but one supported by a real God.

    This is [obviously] not adequate alone to prove that the Christian God is real – but the evidence for Christianity is cumulative and this particular evidence does not apply to the Attis community.  And this is why I say that the fact that the Attis community died out suggests that their Attis God [I have to admit I am unfamiliar with the details of Attis] is at least not comparable to the Christian God in terms of credibility.

  38. Peter T wrote:

    “Ok, then name a another piece of literature that has more variants or please retract your statement.”

    My statement had been that it was a fiction that the Bible has more variants than any other piece of literature.

    I admit, I spoke in haste, and perhaps without sufficient reliable data to back up my claim. I am sorry I called your claim that the Bible has more variants “patent fiction”.  For this I apologise. 

    What I will claim is that those “variants” are not significant – To summarise, my understanding is that there are approximately 10,000 parts of the Bible where there is some uncertainty as to the exact rendering of the original text but the vast bulk of those [all but about 400?] are issues of spelling of particular words, or the order of the words [which I understand in greek [having done a basic introductory course on NT greek] is not important to determining their meaning.  The meaning is determined by the inflections rather than word order, whereas in English the word order is much more important. 

    By comparison, Homer’s Iliad has 764 lines in doubt.

    However, the number of variants is also a function of the number of copies that we have – for the NT Bible this is in the order of greater than 25,000 ancient manuscripts, compared to [for example] Homer’s Iliad which has only 643 copies or 7 for Plato’s work, “Tetralogies”. 

    Added to this, as well as the sheer size of the text, the figure of 10,000 “variants” is actually not nearly as scary as one might seem if you quote the figure without explaining it. 

    Because the variants are not important for any point about the Christian message.

    There is a site which gives the statitics quite eloquently, and so I will quote it:

    Quote [from “http://www.bibletruth.org.au/bible/errors.php”%5D:
    “Now let us put this into proper perspective. You may read the claims that there are 150,000 variants in the New Testament. This means if the same word is misspelt in 3000 manuscripts then there are 3000 variants. Of the 150,000 variant readings, they occur in only 10,000 places. Of these 10,000 places, all but 400 are questions of spelling in according with accepted usage, grammatical construction, or order of words. This is what we said above that there are 40 lines (400 words) in doubt. Of the 400 words, only 50 are of great significance. In some places the copies have “Lord Jesus” while others have “Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not significant because the meaning is clearly obvious. Of the 50 of great significance, not one of these changes one article of faith that cannot be abundantly sustained by other undoubted passages.”

    It is nonetheless hyperbole to inferr that the actual statistical count has some implication about the reliability of the documents.  The NT documents are extremely well attested and we have a great deal of confidence of the actual text that was originally written as compared to any other piece of ancient literature.

  39. “Ok, then name a another piece of literature that has more variants or please retract your statement.”
    My statement had been that it was a fiction that the Bible has more variants than any other piece of literature.

    To confirm – I admit I was wrong to claim that the Bible has not got more variants than other pieces of literature and as far as I am aware Peter T’s claim that it does is correct.  For calling his claim fiction I apologise.

  40. Peter T,

    I am glad you have clarified that you don’t have an a priori exclusion of Jesus rising from the dead—the declaration that ‘resurrection is impossible, therefore it didn’t happen’. In ‘unraveling truth attacks’ (a blatant echo of my original post) it is important to get to this point. You have to know the kind of objections being raised before you can properly answer them. Too often philosophers over the years have defined what God is, or is not, like, then argued against their own definition to ‘prove’ he does not exist. (On the other hand, this same kind of philosophical abstraction has been part of some Christian argument ‘proving’ God’s existence – most famously, the ontological argument of Anselm.) If it is all about a priori definitions and a priori refutations of those definitions, then the empiricist can just pack up and go home.

    I may be wrong, but I hear certain other ‘a prioris’ in your discussion.

    What about the one that seems to assume that any ‘christian apologist’ can’t be right? An ‘apologist’ is simply a defendant. If someone believes something to be true, then when that something is attacked, misunderstood, or maligned, then it is their responsibility to help others see the truth that they hold to. Now they could be wrong about that truth, but then again, they could be right. The question of ‘truth’ is not decided by whether or not it is defended. It would be ludicrous to define it out of existence by saying, ‘if anyone defends Christianity, then what they say about Christianity can’t be true’.

    Is there another a priori behind your statement: ‘This comes from the difficulty of objectively proving that our history is real.’ What does ‘objectively proving’ actually look like when it comes to history?? Is this an a priori request for the kind of mathematical proof such as 1 +1 =2? The historian has no choice but to be empirical—and they are always playing with a short deck of cards, due to the problem that not all the evidence survives. So, as there are gaps in the fossil record, there are gaps in the historical record of other things as well. The historian has to mount careful evidence-based argument. Yes, it is difficult to get at history, but it is not impossible. Yes, it might be in the realm of probability (whether high, middling, low), rather than mathematical certainty, but that is the real world we are in.

    Another potential a priori, hopefully not present, sounds even stranger to me. What is behind your statement that, ‘We don’t have any pre-event records of predictions of Jesus. All the claims what he said come from his followers after Jesus death. Post Hoc claims can be made and believed.’ Sure, things can be made up, and if that is your point, it is taken —and then the discussion should move to how this will be determined, and whether this is, in fact, the case. (For, of course, just thinking of a possibility does not make it a reality—this is Anselm’s ontological argument all over!). But surely you can’t be assuming (a priori) that only direct words, recorded by the person themselves (autobiography) can be regarded as legitimate historical records, whereas words/events recorded by others about another (biography) must be excluded as illegitimate? That would certainly slim down the evidence historians have to work with!

    Which brings me to your challenge. Your claim shows the stark difference between the kind of claims being made by the Christian Gospel. They are nothing like the one you make. A man was condemned by the Roman administrator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, and executed by crucifixion. He was buried by a prominent member of the Jewish council. His followers (and others) were bitterly disappointed. A few days later certain women went to the tomb and found the body gone. Others checked this out. Then a series of appearances occurred across a forty day period, to individuals and groups. After fear for some, doubt and amazement for others, the eyewitnesses of these events began proclaiming that Jesus had risen. Each of these events (and others could be put on the table) are historical truth-claims that are in principle verifiable or falsifiable by a careful sifting of the evidence.

  41. Peter,

    You keep on making the claim that supernatural event, Jesus’ resurrection, is historical truth-claim that are in principle verifiable or falsifiable by a careful sifting of the evidence. Then please tell me already how you compare that historical truth-claim to historical truth-claim that “I supernaturally created Christianity yesterday”? Do you have a priori view that I’m wrong?

  42. I said:
    “The very same powerful people had the ability [if Jesus was really dead] to demonstrate conclusively that he was indeed dead by producing the body.”

    To which Peter T replid:
    “What would that have helped? After his resurrection Jesus (his body) had the ability to appeared to the disciples in the locked room and disappear into thin air. Physical bodies made out of natural chemical elements (like his buried body) would not be doing that.”

    Yes, physical bodies would still be sitting in the tomb where they were put after they died, unless something extraordinary had occurred or unless someone took the body.

    The powerful people I spoke of such as [The Sanhedrin and the Local to Jerusalem/Judea Roman authorities who had put the guard on Jesus tomb] and who were somewhat put out by all this talk of his having risen, could have cleared the matter up very quickly by showing everyone the body by going to the tomb and retrieving it – or if they had moved it themselves, they could have produced it.

    But the body could not be found.

    A group of people [the disciples] who had for the initial period after his death [three days by Jewish reckoning of the cultural period but probably closer to 2 days by the western 24 hour technique of calculating] been utterly dissapointed by his death, and were deeply afraid of being next on the list [and demonstrated this by going into hiding] then began boldly proclaiming in public areas that he was alive, that they had seen him.

    Flogging these people and threatening them with all manner of violence had no apparent effect on their insistence that they had seen him alive.

    All bar one of those core group of witnesses went on to suffer matyrdom rather than deny that they had seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion – and the one that didn’t get matyred spent his later years in Jail for the same reason.

    Either they were all insane [yet showed no other signs of being so deluded – several of them writing very eloquently on the topic over the decades that followed], or they were convinced that Jesus really was alive – which therefore means it cannot have been them that moved the body [if the body was indeed moved].

    Other alternative suggestions as to what became of the body, are even less credible – if it was robbers who took the body, why did they leave all the valuable spices behind?  If it was someone deciding that Jesus deserved a better burial – why did they undress him and take away the spices already placed on him – thereby dishonouring his body].

    And where on earth did the disciples get the idea that he was really alive, when previously they had been hiding out in fear of their own lives on the assumption that he was very dead and they were the obvious persons to be next on the kill list?

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