Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Refuting "The Jesus Puzzle"--Part One

Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle is an attempt to disprove the existence of an historical Jesus. This, of course, presents a serious problem for Christians. If there is no actual human Jesus, the entire thing falls apart. Christianity, at its core, relies upon the facts of Jesus of Nazareth's existence and the belief that he lived, was crucified and was physically resurrected. If there is no
Jesus, there is no Christianity.

Doherty divides his puzzle into twelve pieces and then delves further into his argument after presenting his puzzle pieces. I will respond to his article in several parts in order to break up the posts and deal with things in more detail.

The first pillar of Doherty's argument is built on removing the gospels and the book of Acts as reference material. He does this, not by specifically disproving them, but through a round-about attempt to eliminate them on the basis that the non-gospel writers of the New Testament(Paul, Peter, James) are silent on the specific details of Jesus earthly life.

He writes:

In the first half century of Christian correspondence, including letters attributed to Paul and other epistles under names like Peter, James and
John, the Gospel story cannot be found.
[emphasis mine] When these writers speak of their divine Christ, echoes of Jesus of Nazareth are virtually inaudible, including details of a life and ministry, the circumstances of his death, the attribution of any teachings to him.

and later
The one clear placement of Christ in recent times, the accusation in
1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 that Jews in Judea had killed the Lord Jesus, has been
rejected as an interpolation by most of today’s liberal scholars,1 while the one Gospel
episode Paul seems to allude to, Jesus’ words over the bread and wine at what he
calls "the Lord’s Supper" in 1 Corinthians 11:23f, can be interpreted as a
mythical scene Paul has himself developed through perceived revelation.
Otherwise, no non-Gospel writer of the first century makes any statement which
would link the divine spiritual Son and Christ they all worship and look to for
salvation, with a man who had recently walked the sands of Palestine, taught and prophecied and performed miracles, a man executed by Pontius Pilate on Good Friday outside Jerusalem, to rise from a nearby tomb on Easter Sunday morning. This "conspiracy of silence" is as pervasive as it is astonishing.

The silence is hardly deafening. References to Jesus abound that refer to his humanity, and occasionally appeal to eyewitness testimony.

2Peter 1:16-18

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying,"This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well-pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were on the sacred mountain. [emphasis mine]

1 Peter 2:23-24

When they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made
no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. [emphasis mine]

1 Peter 5:1(a)

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings....

Peter mentions his eyewitness testimony about Jesus and we are to believe that this doesn't refer to an historical Jesus? Doherty quotes no refutation of the epistles of Peter on this account.

Paul refers to Pontius Pilate and The Lord's Supper, but then Doherty conveniently
declares that these are later interpolations and intrusions into the text, that were not there originally. Why? Well, because according to Doherty, the gospels are false, so if the epistles reference them, then they must have been tampered with--a nice bit of circular reasoning attested to by liberal scholars. (his own description of said scholars)

The "silence" that seems to fuel Doherty's argument on this point is very easily explained if one considers the purpose of the epistles in the New Testament. They functioned, not as a first communication to people who had never heard about Jesus, but as letters to already established communities of believers. The audience for the epistles had already heard and received the gospel story of Jesus, so why would Paul, or any other writer, devote time to retell the story? Many of the recipients had been visited by Paul previously, receiving his missionary preaching about Jesus.

We see in 1 Corinthians that Paul had previously visited them and preached while he was there. Referring to his previous visit, he writes:

1 Corinthians 2:1-2
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

And in Galatians 1 :8, concerning a previous visit to Galatia, he writes:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

And in verse 11 of the same chapter:
I want you to know brothers that the gospel I preached is not something I made up.

It goes on and on throughout Paul's writings that he has either personally visited the locations before these letters were written, or the churches which he has not visited are already flourishing Christian communities. When he had visited them, it had been for the express purpose of evangelizing them for the first time. It would have been during those times that he would have related the historical details about Jesus, not years later as he is writing to correct errors that have popped up, or provide clarification about specific issues.

Doherty asserts that the non-Christian record of the time makes no mention of Jesus. That assertion is debatable and not accepted by the majority of biblical scholars. He goes on to list non-Christian sources, but then refutes them once again by declaring that they were all corrupted by Christians and cannot be trusted, Jospehus being the most important example.

Josephus’ famous passage in Antiquities 18 is acknowledged to be, as it stands, a Christian interpolation, and arguments that an original reference
to Jesus either stood there or can be distilled from the present one,
founder on the universal silence about such a reference on the part of
Christian commentators until the 4th century.2 As for the reference
in Antiquities 20 to James as "brother of Jesus, the one called (the)
Christ", this passage also bears the marks of Christian interference.3

Christopher Price offers another perspective on Josephus, claiming that the majority of scholars agree that there exists at least partial authenticity in the Josephus references. Price writes:

Notably, the consensus for partial authenticity is held by scholars from
diverse perspectives. Liberal commentators such as Robert Funk, J. Dominic Crossan, and A.N. Wilson, accept a substantial part of the TF as originally Josephan. So do Jewish scholars, such as Geza Vermes, Louis H. Feldman, and Paul Winter
and secular scholars such as E.P. Sanders and Paula Fredrikson. Even Jeff Lowder, co-founder of the Secular Web, recognizes the merits of the partial authenticity.
Scholars go back and forth on the small tidbits of non-biblical mentions of Jesus. It is hard to sort out an honest appraisal because many of the scholars come with agendas guiding their conclusions.

I'm tired! I'll write more later.

No comments: