Is there a God?
Reliable information for those asking life's big questions
Comments on pages in the Belief section. You can find older comments here.
There is actually no evidence outside of the Bible to support the existence of God, Jesus, Human Souls, Satan, demons, angels, & many more religious topics. This lack of evidence is the reason that it’s called “Faith.” Many human beings find themselves unable to believe due to this absence verifiable evidence.
Hi Rocky, thanks for reading. I wonder if you’re interested in discussing this further? For example, what evidence would you give to support the idea that Jesus never existed?
Full disclosure. I am angry at religion and frustrated by the mystery of existence.
The idea of “knowing god” discussed by some believers makes me most angry. I believe that it is impossible to know or have a relationship with god if that’s what started the universe, and that people who talk this way are arrogant.
If you believe the bible then it is simple, god only accepts charity to widows and orphans.
If you believe like Islam (total surrender) you are right as religious fervour surrenders your control over your frontal lobe, therefore your reason, logic and rational decision making.
If you believe Jesus died to save us, then we are saved. No man made religions are needed.
Hi thanks for reading and commenting, and thanks for the “full disclosure”.
Can you tell me why you are angry at religion and frustrated by the mystery of existence? Is it because you want to know about truth and God, but believe we cannot know what is true?
Very good topic. The answer to the question ‘how can we recognize God and the rightful religion’ is: by instinct and logic, BOTH. It would be unjust if God made finding the rightful religion hard and then punished people for not finding it. On the other hand, if there is a God who created us but doesn’t care about what religion we follow, then He would’ve created us pointlessly. God is highly exalted from being unjust or doing something pointlessly.
Long path made short: Islam fits the bill, being both totally sensible about every issue plus meeting human instinct on what is right and wrong. On a side note, Islam is the succession to Christianity as was Christianity a succession to Judaism, so Islam is currently rightful religion that is decreed by God.
Please read the Quran and assess this by yourself, don’t take anyone’s evaluation about it (including me). If you are interested, I have gathered almost all the logical arguments presented in the Quran into a book:
Or contact me for a free copy no problem.
I am an active participant in Muslim Christian debate sites. I had recently posted a comment on that all reputable scholars know that Jesus died on the cross and I always cite other evidence as well. I need some help responding to the response from one Muslim. The response:
“THERE ARE NO REPUTABLE SCHOLARS IN EXISTENCE THAT DENY CHRIST WAS CRUCIFIED! ZERO!
Even ATHEIST scholars say Jesus died on the cross!”
This argument is completely BOGUS!
You people just stumbled across such a bogus claim over the internet and you are confidently repeating it without personally undertaking to check it up against facts!
The fact is there are many many “reputable scholars” that deny not only the alleged crucifixion but even the existence of New Testament Jesus himself due to lack of HISTORICAL evidences not only for the crucifixion but for the existence of Jesus of the New Testament !
Let me cite very few of such reputable scholars that denied not only the alleged crucifixion but everything that the New Testament says about Jesus as evidently literary fiction:
** Bruno Bauer (German: [ˈbaʊɐ]; 6 September 1809 – 13 April 1882) was a German historian. Beginning in 1841, in his book “Criticism of the Gospel History of the Synoptics”, Bauer argued that Jesus of the Gospels was primarily a literary fiction.
** In his two-volume, 867-page book “Anacalypsis” (1836), English historian Godfrey Higgins said that the Jesus of the New Testament is not historical at all.
** In 1909, German philosophy professor Christian Heinrich Arthur Drews wrote The Christ Myth to argue that Christianity had been a Jewish Gnostic cult that spread by appropriating aspects of Greek philosophy and life-death-rebirth deities. In his later books (The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus (1912) and The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in Past and Present (1926)) Drews reviewed the biblical scholarship of his time as well as the work of other myth theorists, attempting to show that everything about the historical Jesus had a mythical character.
** In 1927, British philosopher and historian Bertrand Russell stated in his lecture “Why I Am Not a Christian” that “historically it is quite doubtful that Jesus existed, and if he did we do not know anything about him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one”.
** English professor history German George Albert Wells insisted that Biblical Jesus did not exist. He argued that stories such as the biblical virgin birth, THE CRICIFIXION around A.D. 30 under Pilate, and the resurrection, should be regarded as fiction.
** In 2012, the Irish Dominican priest and theologian, Professor Thomas L. Brodie, holding a PhD from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and a co-founder and former director of the Dominican Biblical Institute in Limerick, published “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery” in which he showed that everything about the New Testament Jesus is fictional.
** The Canadian Earl Doherty has a bachelor’s degree in Ancient History.
Earl Doherty argued in his book “Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus” (2009) that Jesus of the New Testament originated as a myth derived from Middle Platonism with some influence from Jewish mysticism, and that belief in a historical Jesus emerged only among Christian communities in the 2nd century.
** Richard Cevantis Carrier was an American born on December 1, 1969 (age 47). He has B.A. (History), M.A. (Ancient history), M.Phil. (Ancient history), Ph.D. (Ancient history). Historian Richard Cevantis Carrier concludes:
“There is no independent evidence of Jesus’s existence outside the New Testament. All external evidence for his existence, even if it were fully authentic (though much of it isn’t), cannot be shown to be independent of the Gospels, or Christian informants relying on the Gospels. None of it can be shown to independently corroborate the Gospels as to the historicity of Jesus. Not one single item of evidence. Regardless of why no independent evidence survives (it does not matter the reason), no such evidence survives.”
Dr. Carrier pointed out the following:
– “The Gospels come decades later and are the first we hear of an earthly story for Jesus.”
– “The Gospels are wildly fictitious in their content and structure.”
– “Every story has discernible allegorical or propagandistic intent.”
– “The first (Mark) looks like an extended meta-parable (outsiders are told a story, while insiders are told what it really means).”
Carrier contends that apart from the hero archetype pattern, nothing else in the Gospels is reliable evidence for or against the historicity of Jesus.
** Professor Robert M. Price is a Professor of New Testament. Price questioned not only the alleged CRUCIFIXION and RESURRECTION of the New Testament Jesus but the historicity of Jesus in a series of books, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (2003), Jesus Is Dead (2007), and The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems (2012), as well as in contributions to The Historical Jesus: Five Views (2009).
Above are just very few of the reputable scholars that denied not only the alleged crucifixion as historical but Jesus of the New Testament himself.
So much for the ignorant repeated claim that “zero” scholars deny the alleged crucifixion!”
Can you help me with a response?
Sorry my previous comment was so long. My main question is that what constitutes a “reputable scholar?” I have a solid understanding and defense for the crucifixion but I have no idea who these other so called scholars are or if they are legitimate or not. Just needing some wisdom here..Brother to brother.
Only a brief reply now, because I am away from home, and have limited time online, but should be able to give a fuller reply tomorrow.
My first question would be whether it’s worth arguing with this person? I think sometimes it is better to walk away. But if you are now involved, then maybe you have to reply.
Some of those names mentioned, just a few, are or were reputable scholars, and some did/do deny that Jesus ever existed. Some are not reputable scholars at all. I could help you define which is which, but not right now.
The more cautious statement to make would be “the vast majority of scholars, and the consensus of scholars, is that Jesus did exist and his crucifixion is the most certain fact of his life. The only scholars I know who would deny his crucifixion would also deny his existence”, which of course a Muslim doesn’t agree with. I think that is a point worth making.
More soon. Best wishes.
I’d like to know where majority of the apologists come from. Are they from among the converts or are they from among the native Christians (those born as Christians)?
“I’d like to know where majority of the apologists come from. Are they from among the converts or are they from among the native Christians (those born as Christians)?”
Hi, thanks for your question, but I don’t know any way to know that. For a start, it may be easy in your country to distinguish between those born into Christian families and those born into Muslim families, but in many countries people can be brought up with no belief, or with a nominal belief.
Most christian apologists I know about who were brought up in christian countries, and most explicitly converted to personal belief in Jesus at some time (e.g. CS Lewis, William Lane Craig, Alister McGrath) but I know of at least one apologist who was born Muslim and converted to Christianity (Nabeel Qureshi).
Hello again, Roger,
Here’s a slightly more detailed answer.
1. As far as I can see, no-one on that list believes that Jesus lived but doubts he was crucified – they all believe he never lived. Now the Koran says that Jesus was a prophet and so obviously he lived. So any Muslim should not accept what any of those people say. Any Muslim should accept that Jesus was a historical figure, and the challenge for any Muslim is to find any experts who believed he lived but was not crucified. I don’t know of any. Most scholars I have read accept that Jesus death by crucifixion is the most well established fact of his entire life. I could give references on those who specifically accept the crucifixion, and it includes all the big names – Sanders, Wright, Ehrman, Casey, Bauckham, Evans, Grant, Fox, Hengel, Fredriksen, Meier, etc.
2. That is a very limited selection of scholars, and neither very expert nor representative.
Bauer and Higgins wrote about 2 centuries ago, and since so much more is known these days about ancient history, their views can be considered hopelessly outdated.
Russell was an eminent philosopher but had no expertise in history. Drews was also a philosopher, not a historian and wrote more than a century ago. Wells likewise has no credentials in history, and anyway he has since changed his view. Doherty is not recognised as a NT scholar – to be generally recognised would require a PhD qualification in a relevant area, to be working in the field at a recognised university or other institution, and to have published in peer reviewed journals. I don’t think Doherty has done any of those things.
So that leaves Price, Carrier and Brodie. Price is a recognised scholar but his views are highly criticised by his fellow historians. He no longer works at a respected university. Carrier has a PhD in history and has published a couple of times only, has never been able to gain an academic position and is not respected by any of his “peers”. I know little about Brodie, but his views are not accepted by the Catholic church even though it continues to employ him.
So we have three credentialled historians but none of them much respected by their peers (I could point you to examples of this). Against this we have literally thousands of historians who say otherwise (i.e. that Jesus was a historical figure who was crucified) – Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics.
I have summarised the arguments at Was Jesus a real person? and provided about 20 quotes from historians at Quotes on Jesus as a historical person.
So I think you can make 2 points.
(1) The vast majority of historians and New Testament scholars conclude that Jesus existed and was crucified. Against this only 3 scholars, who are not highly respected, think otherwise.
(2) Muslims believe that Jesus existed, just as the scholars do, so the references offered should be rejected by any Muslim. So who is left to deny the crucifixion?
Rocky should go and look up the Shroud of Turin for a start on extra biblical evidence of the existence of Christ.
The shroud was debunked.
The only evidence that Jesus existed is that Pilot crucified him and Josephus recorded it.
Hi limivi, thanks for visiting again.
I am not someone committed to the shroud being genuine, in fact I am slightly doubtful about that, but I don’t think it has been debunked at all – see my discussion at The Turin shroud: fake or genuine?. What evidence makes you think it has been totally debunked?
Josephus recorded a little more than that, and so do the gospels. Historians accept the gospels contain at least some historical facts. Do you think they contain none?
Just because YOU don’t believe the shroud has not been debunked does not mean that it hasn’t.
Once again, I am not going to provide sources or evidence for this as a 2 second search will provide for you whatever you choose to believe.
Yes Josephus recorded more but here only the crucifixion is relevant.
In order for a fact to be historical it has to be recognized by 2 historians with opposing beliefs, says Carl Sagan. The two historical facts in the gospels are that Jesus was baptized by John and was crucified.
“Just because YOU don’t believe the shroud has not been debunked does not mean that it hasn’t.
Once again, I am not going to provide sources or evidence for this as a 2 second search will provide for you whatever you choose to believe.”
I guess you didn’t read the link I sent? I have actually searched for, and read, dozens of papers (quite likely much more than 50) on this topic, so it is likely I “know” more than you apparently do. And I have found that there are more papers, and better written papers, on the side of the shroud being ancient, than against it. I am still doubtful that it could be genuine, but I can see the strength in both sides of the question. Perhaps you should read my reference – The Turin shroud: fake or genuine? – and see for yourself. And see that I have been quite fair and even-handed in my assessment.
“In order for a fact to be historical it has to be recognized by 2 historians with opposing beliefs, says Carl Sagan. The two historical facts in the gospels are that Jesus was baptized by John and was crucified.”
I have (good?) news for you. There are many, many facts that are agreed upon by most historians, whatever their religious belief or lack of belief. This quote comes from one of the most respected New Testament scholars of the past 30 years, EP Sanders, who is an agnostic (from The Historical Figure of Jesus, p10-11):
“I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)
Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
he was baptised by John the Baptist;
he called disciples;
he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
he had a final meal with the disciples;
he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.”
I have read a lot of New Testament history, and I could nominate many historians of all religious viewpoints who would agree with all that, and more. I can even show you evidence that many non-believing and believing scholars accept that Jesus was known as a miracle worker (some believe he actually did miracles, some believe he performed natural “folk” cures, some make no comment) and that his disciples had some visionary experience of Jesus after his death that led to them believing he was alive (yes, many atheist scholars believe that!).
So a lot more is known than you might have thought.
It’s okay, you don’t have to show me anything. I’ve got access to the Internet and I know how to use it.
That’s how I found out the shroud was debunked and there are only 2 historical facts to prove Jesus existed.
Sathya Sai Baba was known as a miracle worker.
I too believe Jesus disciples had visions after his death.
OK, thanks. I guess if you have made up your mind and don’t want to see any more information, even if it challenges what you think, I have little more to say, except – thanks for reading and commenting.
I have seen the information. Ridiculous ideas don’t challenge what I think. Profound ideas do.
I’m quite new to your sites and not too sure that I’m commenting on the correct topic – can’t find any positive confirmation in this respect. Howbeit, just some words on the topic JESUS IN HISTORY:
First, I’ve enjoyed reading this article as well as accompanied comments. Thanks. I will not belabour some points that already have been discussed, and will concentrate on only one quote I’d appreciate clarity/your understanding, on.
Under the heading, THE IMPORTANCE OF HIS DEATH, you wrote:
“‘Jesus predicted his death and resurrection’ (Maurice Casey), and he believed his death would be redemptive. Michael Grant: ‘Jesus lived his last days, and died, in the belief that his death was destined to save the human race.’ Maurice Casey: ‘He believed that his death would fulfil the will of God for the redemption of his people Israel.'”
My question/s are:
1. In WHAT SENSE did Jesus believe that his death would be REDEMPTIVE?
2. In WHAT SENSE did Jesus believed that his DEATH was DESTINED TO SAVE the human race?
3. Just HOW did Jesus believe that his death would FULFIL the WILL OF GOD for the REDEMPTION of Israel?
[Please excuse my using capitals for emphasis, but I have no idea how to italicize on a 7″ Tablet with a tiny querty touch-screen on top of it 🙁 ]
Maybe it is unfair of me to expect you to opine on my questions due to it having been Grant and Casey who made the statements, but I thought that, considering you using their quotes, you are in agreement with their assertions?
One more thing: I am overwhelmed with all the information available on your sites, and am very much impressed with the “middle of the road” (I hope this makes sense) stance you adopt in your articles. I’m so tired of protaganists / antagonists / apologists / whatever, who can wax quite vocal, and while doing so, somehow spoils an investigative experience…
Hi Arno, thanks for reading my website, and thanks so much for your encouraging comments. I try to make it “middle of the road” by being as fair-minded as I can about the facts, and then offering my reasons for drawing a particular conclusions. It is encouraging that you see it that way.
This is a good place to comment. Like many websites, I have comments at the bottom of every blog post, but not on static pages.
Your questions are good ones. I think we need to distinguish between the conclusions of secular historians, which are based only on historical information, and the conclusions a christian may come to based on history and a belief in the Bible.
I referenced these two historians because they were not christians, and therefore their conclusions are not based on faith. As a christian, I think we can say more than they do.
They base their conclusions on the teachings of Jesus as recorded plus their understanding as historians of the culture and religion of first century Judaism. Casey several times mentions Jesus’ belief that “God called upon him to die an atoning death for the redemption of his people.” He suggests Jesus came to this belief because he had been unsuccessful in reforming Jewish religion. He begins his chapter on the death of Jesus with this:
“He believed that his death would fulfil the will of God for the redemption of his people Israel. This was an event of such importance that he found it foretold in the scriptures.”
Casey mentions Psalms 41 and 113-118, which were sung at Passover (though I can’t see an obvious connection). and I guess Isaiah 53 would be another. Casey accepts as historical Jesus’ predictions of his death (e.g. Mark 8:33), and his statements at the Last Supper which compared his death to the Old Testament Passover sacrifices.
Casey explains how this works briefly. Referencing one of the books of the Maccabees, he says “the deaths of the righteous will have a beneficial effect” and “the death of the martyrs is instrumental in removing the wrath of God” One of these books even uses the same term “ransom” that Jesus used in Mark 10:45. So Casey sees Jesus’ teaching as reflecting this Jewish understanding.
All this is based on his belief that Jesus was a Jewish prophet who tried to reform Judaism and was killed for creating too much conflict. Casey doesn’t accept the christian view that Jesus’ scope was bigger than just reforming Judaism, so I think we can say more than what Casey concludes, but I think his historical analysis provides a good basis for christian belief.
As a christian, I think we should also accept the understanding of the NT authors, who enlarge on these explanations and say that Jesus was undoing the works of the devil and making evil powers captive to him. So I think Casey’s and Grant’s understanding is incomplete, but I think we can draw the conclusion that even unbelievers should accept that Jesus saw his death as redemptive, even if they think he was quite mistaken.
I don’t think this answers your questions totally, but I hope it gives a you a few helpful ideas.
This page claims to relate the opinion of ‘historians’, yet none of the people referenced are or were actually historians!
I think a reasonable definition of an ‘historian’ is someone who
a) Has earned a PhD or equivalent from an institution of history;
b) Has been employed as a professor teaching or researching at an institution of history;
c) Has published several scholarly articles in peer reviewed historical journals.
From what I can find, *none* of the people referenced here pass *even one* of these criteria. Instead, we can easily see that they are for the most part theologians, or scholars of religious studies. There is nothing wrong with being such a scholar of course, but why call them historians, when they are not?
In fact, I can find no actual historian (possibly excepting Carrier, who passes 2 of my 3 criteria) who have published any scholarly opinion on Jesus in the last half century.
Hi, thanks for your interesting comment. Do you mind if I ask you some questions please?
Do you not think that EP Sanders, Maurice Casey, Michael Grant, Geza Vermes, Robin Lane Fox, AN Sherwin-White, Edwin Judge, John Dickson are historians? Would you exclude people like Richard Bauckham, Paula Fredriksen, NT Wright, Craig Evans, James Charlesworth, Anthony Le Donne, James Crossley, Chris Keith, etc?
Do you think that scholars who study classics or New Testament history or archaeology and are doing historical research are not “historians”? Or do you think that only those whose academic appointment and qualifications have the word “history” in them qualify?
I would be interested also in your comments on this blog post by Bart Ehrman discussing this very question.
Hi unkleE. While I have not right now examined every one of those you mention, no I do not believe these are historians. Most appear to be theologians. Michael Grant was, I believe, a self-taught author of popular history.
I am a strong believer in the idea of collective academic progress, where scholars in each field read each others’ works, discuss them, discover mistakes, improves their methods, and so on. This process requires that such scholars continuously interact: that they work in the same institutions, that they publish in the same journals, visit the same conferences, and so on. There are always overlaps between different academic fields, and so we can find scholars who are, for instance, both chemists and historians, taking part in the scholarly debate in both these fields.
People who study archaeology are not generally historians, indeed that is a separate subject altogether: history is the study of written records, while archaeology is the study of non-written traces.
Let me again be very clear that I am in no way dismissive of the subject of theology, especially the non-denominational variation sometimes called ‘religious studies’ to separate it from theology as the field of religious interpretation within a sect.
Now, I am aware, there is a separate field of ‘religious history’ taught and practised as a sub-discipline of theology. However, this field appears to be to a large degree disjoint from the general subject of history, with methods and standards that would frankly not qualify in general history, at least for the last century or so. As for Ehrman, he may think that he is an historian because he is interested in history, but I find no indication that he has ever studied at all at any institution of history, or worked at such an institution, or ever published anything in any peer-reviewed historical journal. I am, myself, quite interested in history, but that does not make me an historian!
Much as I would first and foremost ask a theologian if I wanted to understand the relationship of various Hindu gods and their worshippers, I would primarily be interested in hearing from historians when it comes to the historical facts about early Christianity. Theologians may and no doubt often do have valuable contributions also in that area, but the near complete absence of historians is deeply troubling to me.
Hi, some of them definitely are historians, by any reasonable definition. These notes are mainly from Wikipedia:
Robin James Lane Fox is an English classicist, ancient historian …. known for his works on Alexander the Great. …. Reader in Ancient History, University of Oxford. Fellow and Tutor in Ancient History at New College from 1977 to 2014, he serves as …. Extraordinary Lecturer in Ancient History for both New and Exeter Colleges. He has written about the Bible, including the gospels, in Unauthorised Version (1991).
AN Sherwin-White’s thesis was submitted in 1937, and the examiners ….. commended its “maturity of judgement such as one hardly dares to expect from a young scholar”. Sherwin-White declined to accept the actual doctorate, preferring to remain known as “Mr”, but he revised the thesis for publication as The Roman Citizenship (1939). It came to be regarded as “a classic of modern historical writing on Rome”. In 1966 he became Reader in Ancient History at Oxford. He addressed historical Jesus in Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (1963).
Edwin Judge has been Emeritus Professor of History, Macquarie University since 1993 and has written extensively on christianity in the first century, and more briefly on Jesus and history.
John Dickson has a PhD in history from Macquarie University, is an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie Uni, and teaches a course on the Historical Jesus at the University of Sydney. He has written several books about Jesus and history, and though not very well-known, is better qualified that Richard Carrier using the criteria you offered for he has held and still holds an academic position in history.
Michael Grant’s obituary in The Times says he was “one of the few classical historians to win respect from [both] academics and a lay readership …. Grant’s approach to classical history was beginning to divide critics. …. in the words of one reviewer) “even the most learned and gifted of historians should observe a speed-limit”. His book on Jesus was published in 1977.
But I think too that you have presented a binary choice – as if a scholar is either a historian or a theologian. But there are other disciplines, and one of them is New Testament history and literature. I think it would be unfair to class all such as theologians, some are clearly historians, for example:
EP Sanders is known for his New Testament scholarship. His field of special interest is Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. He is one of the leading scholars in contemporary historical Jesus research.
Maurice Casey was a British scholar of New Testament and early Christianity. he had degrees in Theology, Classical and General Literature and his doctoral work related to the reconstruction of the historical figure of Jesus.
Geza Vermes read Oriental history and languages and his doctorate in theology first dissertation was on the Dead Sea Scrolls and its historical framework. He was one of the leading scholars in the field of the study of the historical Jesus.
Many others, such as NT Wright, Richard Bauckham, Paula Fredriksen, also do historical study even though they may not have work in a history department.
So I think there are indeed historians writing about Jesus and history, plus many others who would be called New Testament historians or scholars who are doing history more than they are doing theology.
Hi again. Firstly, I think the context of my original comment appears to have lost; this is the page that I was commenting on: http://www.is-there-a-god.info/belief/wasjesusreal/
Now, I thank you for providing a list of actual historians who have written about Jesus. Fox, Sherwin-White, Judge and Dickson are indeed accredited historians. Sherwin-White is from such a long gone era that I think there is not much use turning to him, no matter his merits at the time.
As for Dickson, while not wanting to disqualify his *formal* merits in any way, I have now read some of his writing on the subject and it is so shockingly dishonest that I lose all interest in reading any more of his texts. He is a Christian evangelist, and I have no issue with that, but someone who feels it necessary to write things that he must know are false in order to advance those beliefs is not useful in an open-ended search for knowledge.
As for Judge, it is his opinion that we can use the historical evidence regarding Jesus to establish that he is likely to have risen from the dead. While I do not want to show any disrespect for professor Judge, I must nevertheless conclude that his judgment of historical evidence is so far separate from mine that I’m unlikely to find any of his reasoning compelling.
That nevertheless leaves Fox, and I have now ordered his book on the subject. I thank you again for bringing these scholars to my attention, as I have for years searched for historians writing on the subject of Jesus, and have only so far found a handful.
G’day Johan, yes I probably should have asked you what page you were commenting on, but I guessed it was one of three, which included that one.
It seems to me you have added to your criteria a little. You reject Sherwin-White because he is old (his last publication appears to have been in 1984, 33 years ago. You reject Judge and Dickson because they are christians. You reject Casey, Vermes, Sanders, etc, because they are New testament historians working in New Testament departments at universities rather than history departments. And you ignore Grant, I guess because he ended his career as an author rather than an academic (though he worked at universities for about 20 years).
So, forgive me for being a little playful, but we have to amend your original statement, which was: “I can find no actual historian (possibly excepting Carrier, who passes 2 of my 3 criteria) who have published any scholarly opinion on Jesus in the last half century.”.
It now must read something like:
I can find no actual classical historian (that is, not a New Testament historian) who is not a christian, who is not Robin Lane Fox (possibly excepting Carrier, who passes 2 of my 3 criteria and fortunately is not a christian, but is an atheist, so that is OK) who has published any scholarly opinion on Jesus in the last 32 years.
I am joking of course, but I think it is clear that this isn’t saying much. After all, no historians of science, or modern historians or social historians have probably published on Jesus either.
So jokes aside, what do you think we should conclude from all this?
I have not changed my criteria at all. As I wrote above, I thank you for providing three more names of historians who satisfy my criteria. Dr Sherwin-White does not, as far as I can tell, because he does not appear to have published any scholarly opinion on Jesus in the last half century, which was part of the criteria.
As for Judge and Dickson, I do not in any way reject them because they are Christians. I do not outright reject Judge at all, but he goes lower on my reading list because of his support for fringe and unusual theories. I am mostly interested in what the mainstream has to say.
For Dickson, I think it is in place to explain why I find him shockingly dishonest. I found this article that he wrote on the subject: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/12/24/4154120.htm
In this article he makes the following claims:
a) That we have no contemporary eyewitness accounts of emperor Tiberius;
b) That at least one of the Gospels were written within 10-20 years of Jesus’ death;
c) That we know who the authors of all the Gospels are.
It is very easy to verify that we have a number of contemporary eyewitness testimonies on Tiberius, including by his adoptive father, emperor Augustus. Likewise, it is easy to find out that the majority of scholars agree that no Gospel was written before 70 AD and that Jesus died no later than AD 33. There can also be no debate that most scholars do not believe that we know who the authors of any of the Gospels were, much less all of them.
While Dickson is of course free to argue against the mainstream and claim that perhaps all contemporary sources on Tiberius are forgeries, that the Gospels were written in AD 43-53 and that the traditional Gospel names really convey their authorship. But, if he wants to be a respected scholar, he then needs to be clear about when he is citing his own unorthodox opinions, and when he is referring the mainstream scholarly opinion. Since he does not do this, I see no point in reading any of his work, as I will have no idea what is just his personal opinions and what are the combined opinions of scholars on the subject.
As for Grant, you seem to be thinking that I should include him, because he was in some circles popular. From what I understand, those circles were mainly numismatic collectors. My reason is not that amateurs cannot write excellent books and articles. Many of them do. But you must also be aware that there is an endless stream of amateurs publishing on Jesus – many of them highly popular – with every possible theory about how Jesus ‘really’ was a misunderstood LGBT champion, or lived 100 years earlier than commonly thought, or was a Roman invention to control the masses, or not based on any historical person at all.
I can’t possibly read all books on Jesus. If I were to just choose those that I like for some reason, I risk getting trapped in an echo chamber. I want to see the full honest range of opinions and hear all sound arguments. As I wrote earlier, I have a strong respect for the academic process, I really do believe that those who are trained by earlier generations of historians will, collectively and over time, have the best chances of using the best methods and arriving at the most accurate conclusions. And given that there are so very few accredited historians who have written about Jesus, I can actually read them all. Perhaps not an entire book – but at least I did read an article by Dickson and I examined some of his claims.
Now, you write: “After all, no historians of science, or modern historians or social historians have probably published on Jesus either.”
This is not true. Richard Carrier is an historian of science, and has published a peer-reviewed book on Jesus. Per Mikael Nilsson is a modern historian, and has published an article on Jesus, in Swedish, in the respectable popular history magazine Vetenskap & Historia. However, my criteria are not narrow at all, I am interested in any accredited historian who published on Jesus in the last half century.
What I think we should conclude from this is that the subject is an extremely touchy one. There can be no doubt that Jesus is considered one of the most important persons in history – quite plausibly the most important. It is therefore very odd that so few historians have published on him.
Hi, we have agreed that there are at least some non-New Testament historians who have written about Jesus. But I think a few of your statements are still not correct.
” Dr Sherwin-White …. does not appear to have published any scholarly opinion on Jesus in the last half century”
His book which includes a short chapter on the reliability of the gospels. It was first published in 1963 and since reprinted, so it was published 54 years ago and republished twice since then, the latest in 2004. So depending on the meaning you give “published”, he either meets your requirement or falls 4 years outside it.
You say Dickson is “shockingly dishonest”, but I think this accusation is itself false. Let’s look at your claims ….
“That we have no contemporary eyewitness accounts of emperor Tiberius”
He doesn’t say this. He says (my emphasis: “What we know of Emperor Tiberius, for instance, comes mainly from the Roman chronicler Tacitus, who writes some 80 years after the emperor’s death.”
“That at least one of the Gospels were written within 10-20 years of Jesus’ death”
Again this isn’t correct. he says (again my emphasis): “20-60 years in the case of the New Testament – referring of course to the earliest letters of Paul, written less than 20 years after Jesus’ death.
“That we know who the authors of all the Gospels are”
Again, this isn’t what he says. He discusses the claim that the Gospels are all “anonymous” and says: “wherever we have a surviving front or back page of a Gospel manuscript, we find a superscript indicating the biographer’s name, and there is absolute uniformity of that name: euaggelion kata Markon, euaggelion kata Lukan and so on.” So he doesn’t say we know who the authors are, he says they were not anonymous, which is a different statement.
Finally, you call Grant an amateur. But he read Classics at Cambridge, ending up with a Litt D, and his thesis was a “historical study”. He held the chair of Humanity (Latin) at Edinburgh for 11 years and was considered an ancient historian in his obituary. Whatever he may have been, he wasn’t an amateur.
So I believe you have read into your assessment of these historians sceptical views that are not justified. There are indeed historians writing about Jesus.
So let’s leave those historians, and go onto New Testament scholars – and I will again mention EP Sanders, Geza Vermes and Maurice Casey as examples Why do you think these eminent scholars were not “historians”?
Re Sherwin-White: 54 > 50. Re-printing old research does not make it magically update itself.
Regarding Dickson, he writes, starting by citing Lataster:
»”There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses.” Leaving aside the question of whether there are eyewitness accounts in the New Testament – many think there are – such a statement overlooks the fact that virtually everything we know from ancient history comes to us from sources that are neither “contemporary” with events, nor written by eyewitnesses. What we know of Emperor Tiberius, for instance, comes mainly from the Roman chronicler Tacitus, who writes some 80 years after the emperor’s death.«
But again – we have several contemporary eyewitness sources for Tiberius, some writing at length about him – definitely not ‘virtually nothing’. Dickson makes it sound as if we have comparable sources for Jesus as we do for Tiberius. But we simply don’t. What we ‘know’ about Tiberius only through Tacitus, we are rightly less certain about. Sometimes Tacitus got things wrong, and sometimes his sources were wrong. In most cases, Tacitus does not tell us what is sources were, so we cannot judge them directly. If Dickson was honest, he would not compare the situation with Tiberius, but with a person about whom we truly do not have any contemporary sources. The problem is that if he used such a person, it would expose how careful historians are about claiming reliable knowledge about such subjects. So instead, he chooses to mislead his readers.
“..referring of course to the earliest letters of Paul, written less than 20 years after Jesus’ death”
No, he is referring explicitly to the Gospels:
“..the view that Jesus started out as a purely celestial figure revealed in dreams and visions to prophetic figures like the apostle Paul and only later written into history-sounding texts like the Gospels. There is a potential model for this theory, of course. Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, were somewhat historicised over the course of about 300 years. But somehow this is meant to have happened to Jesus in the space of 10-20 years..”
In addition, this is further misleading because there are well documented cases of fictitious people being historicised in even ten to twenty years. But I’ll give Dickson a pass on that since he may genuinely not know that – not all historians are required to be knowledgeable about every aspect of history. Although it is sad to see him expressing such an opinion without researching it first.
“..he doesn’t say we know who the authors are, he says they were not anonymous..”
Indeed he is not flat out lying, but he is deceiving his readers. By that reasoning, the Watergate leaker ‘Deep Throat’ was never anonymous. Because he had a name.. ‘Deep Throat”! This is not what any normal reader would interpret Dickson to mean.
“Finally, you call Grant an amateur. But he read Classics at Cambridge..”
Grant was an amateur historian. He was a bona fide classicist. These are different subjects.
The scholars you mention may all have contributed important research that is relevant to historical Jesus studies (I know at least some of them have). In these cases, respectable historians shall and do reference them in their research.
Hi Johan, I’m not sure if further discussion will be helpful because you seem determined to distort what Dickson said.
1. His comment about “virtually everything we know” was specifically said about “ancient history”, and his comment about Tiberius was “mainly”, but you are determined to apply the “virtually everything we know” comment to Tiberius. That is misrepresenting him.
2. Dickson said quite specifically ““20-60 years in the case of the New Testament”, but you quote a completely different paragraph where he is discussing the mythicist claims, and where the mention of the word “gospels” is three lines away from the mention of “10-20 years”. This is very selective quoting and quite unfair. Especially since Dickson later makes clear: “Paul’s evidence for the historical figure of Jesus is widely regarded as particularly early and significant.”
3. Again, your comment about “Deep Throat” is also irrelevant. The named Gospel authors were not nom de plumes, but real people. Perhaps they were erroneously ascribed to those names, perhaps not, but that is a different thing. They were not anonymous, they had real names attached. Dickson was quite correct.
4. I think your comments about Grant are a little pedantic. Back then when he did his doctorate, classics was a good qualification for many things including history. Even now, I understand from reading, what matters is more the subject of the PhD work than whether the degree is called Classics or History. And anyway, many universities combine the two – a quick internet search showed that Brown University and Yale (USA), Newcastle (UK) and Sydney (Australia) have faculties and/or offer combined programs in classics and ancient history together, and at Cambridge, Christopher Kelly is Professor of Classics and Ancient History.
5. You refer to “respectable historians” as if Sanders, Vermes, Casey and the rest are not respectable, which is a slur. Why is it that we can have “respectable” academics who work as historians of science, medical historians, etc, but New testament historians are somehow not “respectable”?
Finally, can I ask why you made your comment in the first place? What was the point? We have seen that to defend that comment you have had to misrepresent or denigrate the work of several historians, but for what purpose? Do you think that, somehow, if you could argue that it is mainly New Testament historians who specialise in studying the New Testament, and not other historians, that this demonstrates something? I don’t understand.
»1. His comment about “virtually everything we know” was specifically said about “ancient history”, and his comment about Tiberius was “mainly”, but you are determined to apply the “virtually everything we know” comment to Tiberius. That is misrepresenting him.«
Dickson chose that example to illustrate that principle, in the same paragraph. Your comment is incorrect because blue bananas rocket dispel Morroco drahul. Yeah, it’s possible that Dickson is not dishonest and that he just randomly forgets what he is writing about and starts inserting irrelevant comments with no connection to his argumentation. Either way, he is clearly not worth reading.
»2. Dickson said quite specifically ““20-60 years in the case of the New Testament”, but you quote a completely different paragraph«
No, you just chose a completely different paragraph to find the 20-60 year span. In the paragraph you chose, Dickson is no longer arguing that the time span was too short for historicization, he’s making a completely different point, that I have not brought up. Here is what he wrote again:
»First, Lataster has offered an academic contrivance, as he seeks to give respectability to what is known as “mythicism” – the view that Jesus started out as a purely celestial figure revealed in dreams and visions to prophetic figures like the apostle Paul and only later written into history-sounding texts like the Gospels. There is a potential model for this theory, of course. Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, were somewhat historicised over the course of about 300 years. But somehow this is meant to have happened to Jesus in the space of 10-20 years: from celestial deity to crucified Palestinian peasant in half a generation!«
So apparently I need to break it down for you:
»”mythicism” – the view that Jesus started out as a purely celestial figure..«
Here, Dickson is actually fairly representing what is probably the most defensible mythicist case, and the one that Lataster is arguing. So far, so good.
»..a purely celestial figure revealed in dreams and visions to prophetic figures like the apostle Paul..«
Here, Dickson reminds us that Paul is telling us about prophetic dreams and visions about Jesus. He has no objections to this.
»..and only later written into history-sounding texts like the Gospels.«
And here, Dickson is referring to specifically the Gospels as history-sounding. Obviously, Dickson believes the Gospels are not only history-sounding, but also in fact (at least partially) historical. Again he has no objections to this.
»There is a potential model for this theory, of course. Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, were somewhat historicised over the course of about 300 years.«
And here he brings up a good example of what historicization means, although I’d like to know his sources for the claim that we know it took 300 years – they were already historicized in the earliest accounts we have.
“. But somehow this is meant to have happened to Jesus in the space of 10-20 years: from celestial deity to crucified Palestinian peasant in half a generation!”
So, again: in this paragraph he acknowledges that Lataster thinks Paul is not history-like but concerns visions of a celestial figure. He acknowledges that Lataster thinks the history-sounding texts are the Gospels. And then Dickson claims that this happened in 10-20 years. Note here that it does not matter if Dickson thinks Paul’s letters are history-sounding (even though he never claims this). He is representing Lataster’s thesis, and acknowledging that according to Lataster’s thesis, the history-sounding texts start with the Gospels. And then he says this means Lataster has to think it happened in 10-20 years. This does not work unless Dickson wants to claim the Gospels were written within 10-20 years of Jesus’ death.
»3. Again, your comment about “Deep Throat” is also irrelevant. The named Gospel authors were not nom de plumes, but real people. Perhaps they were erroneously ascribed to those names, perhaps not, but that is a different thing. They were not anonymous, they had real names attached.«
The overwhelming scholarly consensus is that have no idea who the Gospel writers were. We don’t know whether traditional names are nom de plumes or something else. We don’t know if they were anonymous or whether the Gospels had real names – or pseudonyms – attached to them. Of course real people wrote those texts – but Deep Throat was also a real person. You’re looking for a difference that isn’t there.
»4. I think your comments about Grant are a little pedantic.«
I think you still don’t understand why I am looking for people who have been trained by, worked with and/or published with other people who have specialized in history. I’m not looking for book tips in general.
»5. You refer to “respectable historians” as if Sanders, Vermes, Casey and the rest are not respectable, which is a slur. Why is it that we can have “respectable” academics who work as historians of science, medical historians, etc, but New testament historians are somehow not “respectable”?«
These people are or were respectable theologians. Being respectable does not automagically confer the title historian. A (respectable or otherwise) New testament historian would have to be someone who actually studied history at a department of history, who worked at such a department, or published in peer-reviewed historical publications. A theologian does not become an historian because they use the word ‘history’. If someone does not like the word ‘theologian’ (I know Ehrman hates it, even though he got his PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary) I’m fine with calling them scholars of religious studies, if they prefer. But I will not call them historians unless they actually have the formal qualifications of an historian.
»Finally, can I ask why you made your comment in the first place?«
Because I wonder why you feel it necessary to misrepresent these authorities as historians? I do have a creeping suspicion that you do not call them theologians – which is what they mainly are – because you feel that this title does not sound impressive enough on the question of historicity.
Johan, I’m sorry, but this is just sophistry to me.
Dickson did say “mainly” about Tiberius, despite all you say.
He did say “20-60 years in the case of the New Testament” despite all you say.
And then you assert “Dickson reminds us that Paul is telling us about prophetic dreams and visions about Jesus. He has no objections to this.” when in fact he argues against it! He says:“Raphael’s claim that the letters of Paul “overwhelmingly support the ‘celestial Jesus’ theory” is an indefensible exaggeration. ….. Lataster surely knows what every historical Jesus course makes plain: Paul’s evidence for the historical figure of Jesus is widely regarded as particularly early and significant.”
I would say “indefensible nonsense” is not the same as “he has no objections”!
You have constructed arguments that are contrary to the actual words used. I don’t know why a thoughtful person like you obviously are would do that, so I see no point in discussing further.
I’m sorry, I’m very happy to discuss, but not on those terms.
“Johan, I’m sorry, but this is just sophistry to me.”
That does seem to be what you are engaging in. I think you should stop that.
»Dickson did say “mainly” about Tiberius, despite all you say.«
Then what do you think his point is in bringing up Tiberius? If someone says Jesus was mainly a schizophrenic zombie from the planet Zork, and I have some objections to the claims in that statement, you’re going to say that this doesn’t matter because he also said “mainly”? This is sophistry in the extreme: arguing that because Dickson used the word “mainly”, we can ignore everything else he said.
»He did say “20-60 years in the case of the New Testament” despite all you say.«
Even more nonsensical. How is that even vaguely related to anything we’ve discussed? He also said his name is Dickson so apparently that proves you’re wrong then? You will just ignore that he wrote that any historicization must have happened in 10-20 years because he says something else happened in 20-60 years? What you write makes no sense.
»I would say “indefensible nonsense” is not the same as “he has no objections”!«
He has no objections to the things I wrote he had no objections to: Paul being concerned with visions and, only later, the Gospels being history-sounding. He has objections to other things. I don’t know, maybe I need to explain to you:
If someone says that elephants are large fish, and I say that elephants are not fish, this does not mean I have objected to the claim that elephants are large. Perhaps you are of the mistaken belief that two people must either agree on absolutely everything, or disagree on absolutely everything. It is not so.
I split Dickson’s statement into many parts since you were apparently unable to parse a statement on the form “X was Y, only later A was B. B happened at time T.”
This is logically equivalent to claiming that A happened at time T. You can’t get around that by quoting irrelevant numbers from completely different paragraphs arguing completely different points. I would add that there is also no contradiction whatsoever between claiming that the first Gospel was written in 40-53 AD and that the last gospel was written in 90-93 AD.
I don’t believe Jesus existed. It is up to believers to provide proof, not for non-believers to prove otherwise. The bible is not proof as it is a religious document and not an historical one.
Also Nazareth didn’t exist at the time of Jesus’ so-called birth, so he couldn’t have been born there. You need to check your facts.
Finally, just because a lot of people believe in something does not make it true. Historians’ belief in Jesus makes no difference.
Thanks for expressing your views. Feedback is always almost good, even when you disagree with me.
Your beliefs are up to you. I express mine, you are free to express yours. But I wonder whether you would be interested in discussing historical “facts”, and how we might know when a reported event is most likely historical?
I’m Christian, but I’m not the most traditional, because I love other religions too☺. I accepted Jesus a long time ago, technically since birth but really when I was 10-12 (I developed an initial interest in God at age 10, but didn’t understand Jesus’s role in Salvation until age 12). I think it’s a good thing to find wisdom in other religions. But I primarily believe in Christianity because of many theories about Jesus developed by myself and my dad. I can’t necessarily prove He exists to other people, but turning my back on Christinaity would be ignoring the puzzle pieces that fit together the most smoothly. That’s the best way I can explain it. Thanks for the article!?
Hi Jo, thanks for reading. I think more and more people are on a similar journey to you.
I follow Christ Myth theory because the earliest Christian writings – Paul’s seven authentic letters – make no unambiguous reference to a historical – or even the Gospel – Jesus.
Paul’s references to James, brother of the Lord do not necessarily point to a biological family connection. Nor does Paul ever enlighten his readers about all of the no doubt crucial, intimate data that would have logically come from knowing a biological brother of Jesus.
Paul’s “born of woman under the Law” is also open to non-historical interpretation, since Paul’s treatment of “woman” in surrounding material is highly allegorical, which casts reasonable doubt that he was referencing the Gospel Mary.
If I am to be dissuaded from Christ Myth, I would need to receive proof that Paul knew of a historical Jesus; or receive news of a new documented discovery of material as early, or earlier, than Paul, written by eyewitnesses (whether or not hostile to Jesus).
Hi Steve, thanks for reading and commenting, feedback is always welcome.
I don’t see it as my task to dissuade you from the Christ Myth hypothesis. I presume you have read the experts who almost unanimously reject the hypothesis, so I don’t suppose my voice would add much weight. But perhaps you’d be willing to share why you reject the conclusions of virtually every expert?
Hi, unkleE –
I reject “the consensus” because it turns a blind eye to Paul’s silence, his never mentioning Jesus’s healings and exorcisms, his parables, his great sermons and conflicts with the priesthood, his Torah teaching, etc., ignores the absolute absence of contemporary reports about Jesus, uncritically accepts the Gospel “bedrock” as historical, and all too often counts as genuine source material testimony that is secondary and far too late to testify to a historical Jesus. Sadly, it’s a case of a discipline advancing one funeral at a time.
Hi Steve, I find that comment a little surprising.
1. I don’t see any “blind eye”. For example, Bart Ehrman discusses this very question, but nevertheless concludes: “Paul provides solid (and for my mind, virtually incontrovertible) evidence that Jesus was not simply “made up” but was an actual historical figure”. I wonder what you actually expected from Paul – why do you expect him to say more than he actually does (which is more than you infer)?
2. Likewise I have seen many discussions of contemporary accounts and what we might expect – e.g. this post on History for Atheists. Have you not seen any of these?
3. Which historians do you know who uncritically accept the Gospel as historical? It seems to me that New Testament historians are extravagantly critical. Have you not read writings by EP Sanders, Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey to name just three?
4. Finally your statement ” it’s a case of a discipline advancing one funeral at a time” (a statement I have previously seen applied to science) seems to infer that older scholars are too trusting whereas new scholars are more honestly sceptical. I’d be interested to see your evidence for that please.
I’m hoping you would like to continue the discussion by sharing your evidence and conclusions on these four questions. Thanks.
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