It seems like it has happened a hundred times, and maybe it has.
I get into a conversation with a non-believer about Jesus, and the conversation takes a familiar path.
The way it goes ….
Nonbeliever (NB): “There’s no historical evidence for Jesus.”
Me: “The historians say otherwise.” (And I quote some of them – see Was Jesus a real person?.)
NB: “Oh you can always find a christian historian who will tell you what you want to hear. I suppose you’ve been reading Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell?”
Me: “No, the historians I quoted were all reputable historians and most of them are not believers.”
NB: “But they work in universities where they have to follow the christian line or they lose their jobs.
Me: “That sounds like an enormous conspiracy theory and a libel against the integrity of universities and scholars – have you any evidence for this?”
NB: “It’s obvious. They’re all biased. You should read ….” and they name someone like Earl Doherty, Freke and Gandy, Dan Barker or David Fitzgerald.
Me: “But none of them is a reputable scholar.”
NB: “Ah but they’re the only ones who are free to tell it like it is.”
Me: “How is it that when I quote the world’s most eminent scholars, many of them unbelievers, you say I’m biased, but then you quote people who are not scholars and are all strongly anti-christian, but that’s OK? Why should I believe them over against the real experts?”
The discussion often stops about there. Or it goes in the same circles until one or the other of us gives up.
Many unbelievers are very reasonable, and accept the same historical evidence that I do – we just come to different conclusions. But it seems that there are more and more sceptics who say they base their views on evidence, but then only accept the evidence that supports the conclusion they have come to. They criticise christians (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not) for believing on faith without evidence, but don’t see they are doing exactly the same.
Historian Maurice Casey, who is not a believer, sums up his conclusions about this sort of thinking from one unqualified author:
He is just as full of inaccurate prejudice as the most conservative Christians whom he despises.
So which writers should we trust?
I have read a lot on this topic (see Historical Jesus references) and have found reading a number of the most reputable historians, both believers and non-believers, gives a balanced view of the historical evidence (see Which historians should we trust?).