Refuting Jake, part 2

Yesterday, I examined some of an atheist named Jake’s comments on my other site. Today, I will continue examining and refuting his claims:

In addition, the statement that the apostles went to their “own horrific deaths proclaiming that Jesus rose again” is an outright deception of the historical record. There are only three references to deaths of the apostles in the Bible. One refers to Judas, who killed himself, and the other to James, who was killed by Herod (it doesn’t say anything about why James was killed, or what he exclaimed at his death). Although Christ implies the death of Simon Peter in the book of John, this event is not recorded. Any other martyrdom story about other apostles is derived from either Gnostic or Apocryphal gospels, which are rejected by Christianity, or from communal traditions typically not accepted as fact.

My statement is not deception.  It comes from church traditions, not from gnostic sources.  Church traditions are not derived from gnostic sources.  Jake is assuming that all second-century material is gnostic in its nature, and that just isn’t true.  But I’m glad that he isn’t arguing with me that the apostles died martyr’s deaths–it allows me to echo this statement:

It is not so important how the apostles died. What is important is the fact that they were all willing to die for their faith. If Jesus had not been resurrected, the disciples would have known. No one will die for something he knows is a lie. The fact that all of the apostles were willing to die horrible deaths, refusing to renounce their faith in Christ – is tremendous evidence that they had truly witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (source)

Jake then continues:

Regarding evidence for Christ: again, you’re being deceptive. We have absolutely zero contemporary secular sources for the existence of Christ himself, let alone for any of the apostles or miracles. In addition, when you state “from around the same time”, what you really mean is only as early as about 60 years after the death of Christ. These hardly count as contemporary. Josephus, for example, is writing around the year 93. Tacitus’ references to Christ are from the second century and are possibly based in part on Josephus (both of them, for example, make the exact same mistake on Pilate’s government title).

Zero secular references?  Josephus mentions Jesus twice, Tacitus mentions Jesus, and all of the following writers mention Jesus at some point: Lucian of Samosata, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Phelgon, Mara Bar-Serapion, Trajan, Macrobius, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Arelius, Juvenal, Seneca, and Hierocles (McDowell, Evidence for Christianity, 171-174, 189-90).  The ancient world relied on oral tradition before a written document was created, and 60 years is a really short span of time for this material to appear in “print” compared with most people of this time period.  So these references are contemporary in that context.

Speaking of Josephus, he only mentions Christ twice. The most famous reference, the so-called “Testimonium Flavianum”, is regarded as a probable forgery. See, for example, Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”. . . . Even if the Testimonium Flavianum is not a forgery, it is not a first-hand account of Christ and makes no claim to be one. His knowledge of Christ would just be second-hand information, as he himself could not attest to it, nor does he claim to know anyone with first-hand knowledge of Christ or any of the apostles.

I’m not arguing with the forgery.  However, a careful reading of the Testimonium reveals that it has elements consistent with Josephus’ other writings.  Here’s the “TF.”  The parts in blue are most probably the original reading, and the parts in red are the probable additions by Christian copyists:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.  (source)

The blue parts make sense without the red, and form a paragraph consistent with Josephus’ writing style.  However, even if one concludes that this passage is a complete fabrication, one still has to deal with the shorter passage that mentions Jesus; a passage that a majority of historians conclude is authentic.  From the folks at Early Christian Writings:

But assuming that at least the shorter reference is authentic, what can we conclude from this? It shows that Josephus accepted the historicity of Jesus. Simply by the standard practice of conducting history, a comment from Josephus about a fact of the first century constitutes prima facie evidence for that fact. It ought to be accepted as history unless there is good reason for disputing the fact. Moreover, it is reasonable to think that Josephus heard about the deposition of Ananus as soon as it happened. Ed Tyler points out in correspondence, “The passage is not really about James, but about Ananus. It’s the tale of how Ananus lost his job as High Priest. So why would Christians in Rome be the source for the tale of how a High Priest lost his job? Josephus was close at hand when it happened, and was a man of some standing in the Jewish community. I can’t imagine that he missed it when it was news, and didn’t find out about it until he talked to some Christians about 30 years later.” Thus, Josephus’ information about the identity of James brings us back to the period prior to the First Jewish Revolt. If Josephus referred to James as the brother of Jesus in the Antiquities, in all likelihood the historical James identified himself as the brother of Jesus, and this identification would secure the place of Jesus as a figure in history.  (source)

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up my discussion of Jake’s comments.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 13, 2008, in Apologetics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Jake did not say “zero secular references.” He said “zero contemporaneous secular references.” Refuting the comments that you wish Jake had made is not the same thing as refuting the comments he actually made.

  2. After showing that there are numerous secular references, I then go on to say:

    The ancient world relied on oral tradition before a written document was created, and 60 years is a really short span of time for this material to appear in “print” compared with most people of this time period. So these references are contemporary in that context.

    Therefore, I did answer the charge that Jake made.

  3. I am not sure that redefining “contemporary” constitutes a refutation.

  4. I would not rely on Josephus too deeply. Its a compilation of various texts of differeing Greek styles unknown to Tacitus and the Talmud. 2nd or 3rd century Pseudographia in whole or part.

    JOSEPHUS, JESUS, AND THE JEWISH WAR

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