I’ve been at it again, calling “bullshit!” on Christians in Twitter. My main sparring partner has been this guy Corrie Bergeron aka “Skydaddy” from Ohio. A couple of days ago he made the big claim: “We have at least two eyewitness accounts, plus first-person accounts of other witnesses w/in living memory.”
So I’ve spent the last two days asking him, over and over and over, at least ten times, to provide the names of the alleged “eyewitnesses” and what they wrote. His response is to play a familiar Christian game I like to call “change the subject”. He repeatedly asks questions like “Did Homer exist? Aristotle? Aristophanes? Plato? If yes, on what basis do you say so?” I keep explaining that we aren’t debating other characters from history – I do that on The Biography Show by the way – we’re talking about Jesus and who these alleged eyewitnesses are that he claims to have. Corrie then says “well you didn’t answer my questions so I’m not answering yours”. Of course, I have answered many of his questions, but he always has another question. It’s like talking to a 4 year-old brat who just tries to talk louder and longer than you do until you get tired of the annoyance. And it’s a standard Christian evasion tactic. The other one, which I’ve also got on Twitter recently, is “well I *would* tell you my evidence, but you wouldn’t believe it anyway, because you’re a cynic”.
Finally, Skydaddy manages to say: “I have names, and I have told them to others here.” In other words, “to others… who don’t have the ammunition to call me on my bullshit”.
Here’s the facts – there are NO eyewitness accounts of Jesus. None. Zero. Nothing.
Another Twitterer. Andrew Nicholson aka andrewdotnich, thought he had me with the obvious answer: “the Gospels are eyewitness acccounts – also, one of the requirements for apostleship was that they had to have seen Jesus… ”
So then I asked him to back that up with facts. Surprise – he couldn’t. Why not? Because he’s completely wrong. It’s amusing to me how many Christians seem to think that the New Testament gospels were written by disciples or apostles of Jesus. How can they profess to be Christians while knowing NOTHING about their own religion?? It astounds me.
Here’s the quick summary of the gospels, taken from the notes for the book I’m writing “Debunking Christianity”:
Claim One: The Gospels Were Written By Jesus’ Disciples / Apostles.
There are four “canonical gospels” in the New Testament: They are known colloquially as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The first three of these, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are known as the “synoptic gospels” and share a lot of material. The most commonly held belief in academia today is the “two-source hypothesis” which suggests that Mark was witten first, in the 60s or early 70s, with Luke and Matthew being written 10 – 20 years later. Luke and Matthew seems amalgamations of Mark and another document lost to history which scholars refer to as “The Q Source”. Most scholars believe John was written from 90 – 100 CE.
So immediately we can see that the texts which claims to be a detailed account of his life were written 40 – 60 years after the date of his supposed death.
Who were the authors?
Let’s start with MARK, as it seems to have been written first.
The gospel itself is anonymous. It doesn’t say who it is written by. As early as the 2nd century, however, it was attributed to Mark, a disciple of Peter. Most scholars do not accept the Papias citation as a reliable representation of the Gospel’s history, pointing out that there is no distinctive Petrine tradition in Mark. Even if the attribution is correct, Mark was a disciple of PETER, not JESUS. So the earliest source was not an eye-witness to the events and is merely passing along heresay. As I like to put it:
“Some guy who MIGHT have been Mark was told a story by another guy who claimed to have seen Jesus.” It’s hardly a historical document. Imagine being in court and the judge says “Sir, did you see the crime happen?” and you reply “No, your honour, but I spoke to another guy who told me it did. Of course, he isn’t around anymore to tell you his own story, so you’ll have to believe me.” Yeah, right.
Most scholars do not consider the apostle Matthew to be the author of this Gospel for a number of reasons, including the text being in Greek, not Aramaic and the Gospel’s heavy reliance on Mark. Scholars believe it is a product of the second or third Christian generation. The traditional name of Matthew is retained in modern discussion only for convenience.
Nowhere in Luke or Acts does it explicitly say that the author is Luke, the companion of Paul, nor does he say he was an eyewitness. In fact, he states the opposite:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
Scholars don’t seem to me quite sure who Luke was, but one thing we can be quite sure of is that he wasn’t an eyewitness of the events described. Some scholars believe Luke was written as late as 150 CE, because of the following parable:
But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful. (Luke 12:45-46)
Mark and Matthew both contains passages that appear to predict that Jesus would return within the lifetime of his disciples. Luke not only omits these stories, but inserts the one above, where Jesus appears to chastise servants for losing faith in the timing of their master’s return. This makes some scholars believe that Luke was written well after people had given up on his imminent return.
John’s Gospel is widely thought to be the least historical and trustworthy of all the gospels, mainly because John shows a great difference in the sequence and type of his narrative from the Synoptic (Matt, Mark, Luke) Gospels. However, on first sight it looks as though John can claim the highest authority, as it claims to have been written by John, brother of James, an eyewitness, and unlike Matthew (the only other gospel with an ‘author’ who might be an eyewitness) does not depend upon another gospel for its source.
Starting in the 19th century, critical scholarship has further questioned the apostle John’s authorship, arguing that the work was written decades after the events it describes. The critical scholarship argues that there are differences in the composition of the Greek within the Gospel, such as breaks and inconsistencies in sequence, repetitions in the discourse, as well as passages that clearly do not belong to their context, and these suggest redaction. Most scholars agree on a range of c. 90-100 for when the gospel was written, though dates as early as the 60s or as late as the 140s have been advanced by a small number of scholars.
The Jesus Seminar, a collection of 150 biblical scholars and historians who analyzed the scriptures for almost 20 years, concluded that the Gospel of John was the least likely accurate of all the gospels, with almost all of the saying in it attributed to Jesus to be inauthentic. Most of the famous sayings, such as “the Golden Rule”, are plagiarized from earlier sources or later constructs. Certainly some of the sayings attributed to Jesus bear a striking resemblance to earlier philosophers such as Plato or Confucious. The Seminar, which assumed for the purposes of the analysis that Jesus did exist as some sort of wise man who preached a “social gospel”, concluded that of the various statements in the “five gospels” (they included Thomas) attributed to Jesus, only about 18% of them were likely uttered by Jesus himself. The Seminar also concluded that the “acts” of Jesus portrayed in the gospels are equally unreliable.
So, in summary, we can see that the gospels of the New Testament were, according to most scholars, not written by anybody who knew or even saw Jesus firsthand. Even if Jesus is assumed to have existed, the gospels are, according to the experts, highly unreliable source of factual information.
Claim Two: Non-Christian’s Wrote About Jesus
Of the non-Christian writings from that era which have been preserved, very few mention Jesus or Christianity.
Four major non-Christian historians contain passages relevant to Jesus: these are Pliny the Younger, Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus. However, these are generally references to early Christians rather than a historical Jesus. Pliny condemned Christians as easily led fools. There is an obscure reference to a Jewish leader called “Chrestus” in Suetonius. Tacitus, in his Annals written c. 115, mentions popular opinion about Christus, without historical details. Of the four, Josephus’ writings, which document John the Baptist, James the Just, and possibly also Jesus, are of the most interest to scholars dealing with the historicity of Jesus.
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish Roman citizen who lived c. 37 CE – 100 CE. In 93 CE he published his history “Antiquities of the Jews”. It’s important to recognize here that Josephus was born four years after Jesus supposedly died. So he was certainly not a firsthand witness.
In Antiquities we find this passage:
About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease [to follow him], for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.
Most scholars appear to think that this passage (often referred to as the ‘Testimonium Flavianium’) is inconsistent with the rest of Josphus’ writing, leading them to think that part of all of it may be a later addition. It has also been argued that his book on the Jewish War makes no mention of Jesus. In addition, Christian writers from as late as the third century CE, including Origen (ca. 185â€“ca. 254), who were well aware of Josephus’ writings, make no mention of his passage on Jesus and in fact state that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the messiah. So it seems very unlikely that the above passage existed in the original copies of his Antiquities. It was probably added later as an attempt to strengthen the case for the historicity of Jesus.
Later Josephus also refers to the trial and execution of James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” This is considered by the majority of scholars to be authentic although the words “who was called Christ” are considered by many to be a later addition by Christian scribes. James and Jesus (Yeshua) were, of course, very common names in ancient Jerusalem.
In â€˜The Jewish Warâ€™ (100AD) Josephus says: â€˜In the days of our pious fathers this curtain was intact but in our own generation it was a sorry sight, for it had been suddenly rent from top to bottom at the time when by bribery they had secured the execution of the benefactor of men â€“ the one who by is actions proved that he was no mere man.â€™
This line is considered by most scholars to be a later Christian insertion, like the Testimonium Flavianium. The early Christian writer Origen claims that Josephus did NOT recognize Jesus as the Messiah, so itâ€™s doubtful he would have written something like this. Also, early Christian writers donâ€™t mention the paragraph (like the TF), which also detracts from itâ€™s credibility.
As we can see, the non-Christian writings about Jesus are brief and highly unreliable and, most importantly, not written by anybody who could be considered an eyewitness to the events described in the gospels. So what evidence do we have that Jesus even existed? None. All we have are some highly unreliable stories which were written many decades later by people who heard myths passed down amongst uneducated people living in the desert. And while I am happy to concede there are some wonderful ideas contained in these myths, such as being kind to each other and trying to understand your enemies, they should be treated like any other primitive mythology, not as “gospel” truth, but as a collection of stories told by ancient tribes.
Anyone who tells you that there is historical evidence for Jesus is either ignorant of the facts or just plain lying their ass off, hoping you won’t catch them out. Of course, I suspect most well-meaning Christians are in the former category. They just regurgitate what they hear from their church leaders and never do the research for themselves to find out the truth because, let’s face it, they aren’t interested in the truth. They are interested in fairy tales.