So! -- this is an oldie, but...
.... uh... well... it's an oldie... where I come from....
(Originally posted on Themestream long, long ago in the early days of internet blogging. Recalled for purposes of contributing to a Facebook post about a similar satire in these modern days. I actually did have the dream as a dream, but with somewhat less detail. No doubt inspired by Gregory Boyd's Cynic Sage or Son of God, which I had been dictating to tape at the time.)
I had a dream one night, that put me in one of those stressful situations which although highly improbable is still possible enough to be frightening.
In this case, I found myself on a floodlit indoor lecturing stage at a small wooden desk with a microphone. This was to my left; on the other side of the stage, at a desk similar to mine, sat another man who looked very annoyed to be wasting his time there. Between us, set forward closer to the stage edge, stood a podium, also with microphone, and a transparency projector. We faced what seemed to be a large university lecture-hall; the sort that keeps going up and up rather than back and back, so all audience members can be as close as possible to the speaker. It was entirely full of dim shapes, impossible to distinguish in the glare of the stagelights above us, but which I knew to be adult students and scholars of most critical mien. Their murmurs and chatters between themselves as they awaited the start of the program, showed they were at least in a good, if occasionally rambunctious, mood.
It came upon me with a flash, that I was there to engage the learned author across from me in a debate, on some subject I knew not what, and for which I was consequently unprepared.
"Well," I thought to myself as I looked around nervously, "at least I'm not naked..."
I knew myself to be dreaming, so my panic wasn't as great as it might otherwise have been. I knew I could pull myself out of the fire if (or when) things became too nasty. That being the case, I resolved myself to play through the dream on its own terms as much as possible.
With that resolution came another: I might not know what topic I would be called to discuss, and I might not know much about the topic when it was revealed, but I was reasonably confident I would at least be able to analyze the self-consistency of whatever elements of the case were presented by my opponent.
Fortunately, the debate moderator (who, by the way, looked exactly like my high-school senior English teacher) called upon my opponent for opening comments, thus giving me some breathing space to evaluate my position and my chances.
I quickly learned I had been summoned to debate a currently popular and outspoken historian who specialized in New Testament criticism. This being a dream, at first I thought I was hearing his name as Tom Bunrack or Tom Backrun, but eventually I decided it must be Tom Branuck. This knowledge made me more nervous -- Branuck was notoriously contentious -- but also helped me out a little, as I at least had a smattering (though only a smattering) knowledge of his controversial book, which we would be debating that night: The Fable of Honesty.
In this book, Branuck had argued for a villainous and indeed treacherous dishonesty on the part of the author of one of the NT Gospels, the Gospel According to Mark, to the effect that the document was almost utterly unreliable historically; which unreliability had thoroughly permeated every subsequent narrative account, and (claimed Branuck) still echoed to this day in Western cultures. Branuck had grounded this deconstructive reinterpretation of what the Gospel 'really' meant and what the author 'really' was doing, by analyzing the document (and the NT generally) through a battery of sociological principles. Displaying a transparency for us, Branuck summarized what religious documents 'really' are:
"1.) Myths, rituals, and symbols are ways of thinking about, or making sense of, social practices and orientations to the world.
2.) What has come to be called religion is actually a social mode of thinking about social identity and activity.
3.) Religion is the way in which a people make their world work, position themselves in their world, acknowledge their agreements, reflect upon their relationships, inculcate their manners and codes, rectify displacements, and meditate upon their social system in light of accident and the impingements of history."
Branuck explained this to the audience in his opening comments. Then he vented some exasperation: he had been led to believe, he said, that he would be debating a serious historian on this issue -- instead he finds that his opponent is not a historian by profession; has no credentials to speak of; and whose chief qualification seems to be that he happens to think the NT accounts to be pretty reliable historically (which opinion Branuck wouldn't give a straw for) and that things such as the Resurrection are possible and have happened (which opinions Branuck considered to be "outside the guild of serious New Testament scholarship"). Branuck finished his vitriolic opening comments by stating, that despite being misled as to the potential quality of the debate, he would stay so the assembled scholars wouldn't have completely wasted their time with whatever extremely lightweight and very embarrassing tactics a "fundamentalist" such as I might be ignorant enough to put before them.
I agreed (silently) that real historians, not I, should be debating him; and I must admit I bridled at being called a "fundamentalist". (I very seriously doubt any real fundamentalist would describe me as such.)
Then a delicious plan occurred to me.
As Branuck resumed his seat, I sauntered out to the podium, and consciously slipped into my best Southern Baptist drawl. Why disappoint him...?
"Mr. Branuck," I began, "I see you have kindly provided us with nice, concise statements here, on this transparency," which I re-presented for the audience on the screen. "Very nice, very nice," I murmured theatrically, and also a bit vaguely and pompously.
"And," I continued, "these things are true only because you say they are true, correct?"
"No," he chuckled in unkind amusement. "Those statements are grounded upon a rational set of necessary presumptions. This isn't merely the way I wish religions -- including your religion -- were; it simply is the way religion is, as we social anthropologists have discovered. I can understand if that upsets you, of course..." -- this garnered answering chuckles from the crowd.
I stroked my beard for a moment, gazing intently at the statements hanging above us on the screen.
"Do you mind," I asked, waving my hand generally toward the screen, "if I make some guesses as to the necessary presumptions you are applying to generate these statements?"
"I doubt you'll get them correct, but by all means try," he grinned confidently.
With a thin black marker and a fresh transparency, I tabulated two general presumptions, and presented them for everyone to see:
1.) Claims to 'truth' are always fundamentally bound up with power plays.
2.) A critic must first and foremost read a text against itself in order to expose its originatory social location, its fundamental ideological commitments, and its rhetoric by which the author of the text is attempting to impose his or her authority over the reader.
"Would you say these are reasonably fair representations of the presumptions underlying your blasphemous proposals?" I grated loudly. I made sure to emphasize 'blasphemous', hoping to distract his attention.
"Quite so, quite so," he clapped his hands slowly. "I see you've expended at least a little clear thinking after all; and on such a blasphemous topic as well!"
"Hmph!" I snorted dismissively. "I read something similar in a book somewhere. It seemed to fit." I didn't tell him it was in a book leveling a trenchant criticism at Branuck's work. As it happens, the author more-or-less skipped what I was about to try; but then again he had access to far more material. I had to work with the little available to me; but I imagined the author would agree with my tactic here, in principle, if not strictly with its presentation.
"Isn't it true!" I whirled on Branuck, in what I hoped was my best southern-fried lawyer voice. "Isn't it true that you designed those presumptions specifically to attack one particular book, and that they are essentially useless except as a devilishly question-begging attack--!" But Branuck was shaking his head and continuing to chuckle.
"Those principles are entirely rational, scientific and topic-neutral," he corrected me, ticking off the points on his fingers.
"You're... telling me you didn't just invent these? That they'll work on any book?" I asked, injecting a tad of wavering uncertainty into my bluster.
"Any book, no matter how special you think it is, can be accurately and incisively examined as to its meaning using these principles."
I flared my nostrils, and stomped off to my desk with high dudgeon. From a bag (which appeared at my command under the desk -- this was a dream, after all), I produced a thick, dauntingly leather-bound folio. I returned to the podium carrying the book reverently; from the audience I heard mutters to the effect of "Uh-oh... here we go... time for some testifying..."
"Are you telling me, sir," I breathed with menace into the microphone, glaring in Branuck's direction while holding up the Book, "that you can stand here in the sight of God Almighty and shred the plausibility of the author of this book, using these... these..." I grasped for a term, as I waved at the presumptions "...abstract GNATS!?"
"Nothing could be easier," Branuck replied with a sigh; he seemed to be getting bored. I turned to the gathered crowd.
"I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" I thundered, and slammed the book on the podium's top, just under the microphone -- and a very solid, satisfying, preachifying 'thoom' it made. I saw, in my peripheral vision, Branuck jump. But he settled back again, rolling his eyes as I continued to boom into the mic in my best 'expostulating' voice.
"I think even you, sir, would acknowledge that this book in front of me has the potential of affecting the belief of every man, woman ,and child on this planet, concerning their relation to the person of Jesus Christ! Furthermore, I think even you, sir, would -- must! -- necessarily affirm that the book I hold in my hands has come to us, in its present state, through the tireless efforts of many scholars and wise men whose concern for accurate, useful, reliable history is virtually unmatched in any other similar endeavor; who have stood against the howls of derision sometimes thrown at them; who pursued with single-minded forthrightness, in the face of every conceivable adversity their opponents could logically bring to bear against them, the task of educating the world as to the character and the fitness of Jesus as Lord of our lives! I have utter, ironclad, rock-solid FAITH that this book, sir, is entirely capable of shrugging off those principles of yours! If, sir, if you really think those principles are the most effective means of discovering the 'real' meaning of an author, when he claims to be describing historical events accurately and honestly, even events the acceptance of which would have deep impact on the religious life of the reader -- IF you think you have chosen the proper means of doing this, then I dare you, sir... yes!" I emphasized, turning to the increasingly annoyed Branuck, "I DARE you to come up here in front of us and apply those principles of yours to... this... book." And I gentled my tone, laying my hand upon its cover. "I swear to you, sir, in front of all these people, that if you can honestly, fairly, and neutrally apply your principles to explain to us what the author of any chapter of this book really means -- that is, as opposed to what he claims to us to mean -- then I will gladly stand before all of you and disavow this book's authority, cogency, and reliability in its claim to give us the most useful picture of what and who Jesus really was. I hereby forfeit any further time on my part; come here and show us just how effective your principles truly are."
Ending with a tremulous derision, I slowly paced back to my seat, leaving the book grandly undefended on the podium -- with plenty of sighs at my back. Branuck rose, rolling his eyes again for the benefit of the audience. "Amen!" someone said, to general laughter, as the eminent historian took the podium.
"Now that we're past that..." he began, once more to general laughter. I assumed the most haughty air of injured dignity.
The gist of Branuck's remarks over the next minute amounted to this: that this was precisely the sort of pabulum which he generally refused such engagements in order to avoid. Nevertheless, if I was fool enough to give him free rein to expound on the book, he would take the opportunity to demonstrate to the audience what real historical analysis can do to uncover the truth of an author's contentions, which the author cannot help but leave behind, no matter how well-accepted his book has been by anyone in the world, or how cogent the book may seem at a quick, uncritical glance. He was confident he could open the book virtually at random and demonstrate the validity of his procedure using any given bit of material; but since I hadn't specified exactly where in the book he should begin, I would have no objections to a spot at about the 3/4 mark...? (Renewed chuckles from the audience; I flicked my fingers unconcernedly in his direction.) Very well; with a deep breath of confidence, Branuck opened the book to the general location, and...
Silence. Branuck blinked once or twice. Then he paged randomly through the text in a few directions. Then he furiously flipped to the title page within the leather binding. The audience grew disconcerted. With a strangled grunt, he slammed the book shut, stomped to his desk, threw his papers into his briefcase, and stormed out of the building.
The audience now roiled with confusion. The debate moderator (I have a feeling my lately departed senior English teacher would greatly appreciate this dream!) cautiously inched to the podium to offer her apologies to the audience for Branuck's abrupt departure. But her curiosity overwhelmed her; she edged the book open...
and puzzlement bloomed on her face! She also turned to the title page within the leather binding.
Then she started laughing so hard, she had to grab the podium to keep herself up.
Rising to my feet, I trod up behind her, shaking my finger and admonishing her with mock gravity:
"I don't very much appreciate people laughing at my leatherbound copy of Tom Branuck's The Fable of Honesty!"
I am not sure how the audience responded, however, for at that moment I awoke.
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So! -- this is an oldie, but...
I heard a debate between Alvin Plantinga and Daniel
Dennett on the way home from work the other day. According to the debate
organizers at issue was the question, “Are Science and Religion Compatible?” But
as the debate actually unfolded it seemed to center specifically on Plantinga's
"Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism."
I am not going to deal with any of the Pagan historians who document Jesus existence, such as Tacitus. Tacitus is defensible but it's not really the best evidence. Going by the best I've done Kirby's attempt at making the case on Josephus, Here I will deal with his straw man on the Talmud. Then on NT and Church "fathers." Remember Kirby is doing a straw man argument, making the alleged "best case" for Jesus historicity so he can tear it down and say "I made the case and it doesn't stand up to my fierce onslaught." That's what I expect from a coward who is so threatened by better scholars that he chases them off his message board with the flimsy excuse that they have too many posts on the bard. So here we have the section where he makes his straw man version of the Talmudic Evidence for Jesus' Historicity.
This is the Jewish tradition regarding the trial of Jesus, found in the Babylonian Talmud, b. Sanh. 43a. While this text was finalized sometime in the fifth or sixth century, by its nature it incorporates many traditions that are very old, as it collects and quotes traditional commentary of the rabbis.
It was taught:
On the Eve of Passover they hung Yeshu the Notzarine. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying]: “Yeshu the Notzarine will go out to be stoned for sorcery and misleading and enticing Israel [to idolatry]. Any who knows [anything] in his defence must come and declare concerning him.”
But no-one came to his defence so they hung him on the Eve of Passover....According to David Instone-Brewer, who has undertaken to analyze the talmudic traditions generally for their date of origin with an eye to seeing which may predate A.D. 70, the introductory formula is: normally used for traditions originating with Tannaim – ie rabbis of Mishnaic times before 200 CE – though the presence of such a formula is not an infallible marker of an early origin. However in this case, it is likely that these formulae are accurate because this helps to explain why the rabbis regarded this Jesus tradition as if it had comparable authority to Mishnah. Further, he notes, an independent attestation in Justin Martyr brings the most likely date before 150:
Outside the Talmud, two charges are recorded by Justin Martyr who said that as a result of Jesus’ miracles, the Jews “dared to call him a magician and an enticer of the people.” (Dial. 69)[Btw hanging was a euphemism for crucifixion]
Kirby then draws again upon Instone-Brewer  in discussing the date of this writing. He argues that the date of the trial and excision being so close to Passover and the charges (sorcery not in the NT) would not be brought by a Rabbi or Pharisees since: (1) Rabbis and Pharisees would seek to discourage activity so near the Passover, (2) they would want the charges to reflective of Torah and rabbinic halakha (teaching on the law). The account is not coming from new testament and not made up by Rabbis since they would make up time and charges they wanted. This implies a real event recorded in the memory of the common people and echoed in Rabbinic literature. Kirby makes the point that the event would have been remembered f0r the unusual date, the charges reflect would not have been interpolated by Christians. So this is good historical evidence for Jesus' existence.
That's ok for a beginning but that's the end of his argument. That is pathetic. There is a far more devastating case to be made. I will not go into great detail but just list a few points he could have raised that would strengthen the case tremendously. The first point involves his own source for documentation. one thing that makes the case for Jesus from the Talmud so hard o prove is the deniability od the rabbis. They will argue that is is not Jesus of whom the text speaks. They were afraid of being persecuted by Christians, not without good reason, so they censored the literature themselves to take Jesus out of it. We know they did because we copies of the pre-censored texts. In some cases they used epithets to talk about him, such as "such a one."
|*Ben Pantira |
When we e see these names we know it's probably Jesus of whom they speak. It does give then plausible deniability but there are a couple of reasons why we can know it's him. One of themajor reasons is we have some of those documents and two of the scholar who are major in making this argument include Dr Peter Williams and Dr David Instone-Brewer "look at the Munich Talmud, which contains traditional Jewish teaching, and discover how even the deleted text provides evidence for Jesus' crucifixion!"  Kirby researched this guy why didn't he know that?
On the video seen below (fn 4) Instone-Brewer shows that from one of these pre-censored documents they can show that the text is derived from the original charge sheets read against Jesus. They can show this because the term hanged in the pre-censored document was changed to "stoned" in the censored version. Hanged means crucified. So they changed it because (he thinks) as not to reflect the Roman method of execution. I think it was to distance it from the Jesus story. If they are right that is direct proof Jesus existed in history. I am counting that as two points. (1) the basic fact o censoring. hat are they censoring? If it's not to Jesus out? Then (2) that specific example of the charge sheets, (3) Celsus.
The geneology of Jesus was known to the Jews, is mentioned in the Talmud and shows up in the use of the name "panteria." This is duscussed above where it is said that the use of that name is the jewish preference for a geneological connection. Another quotion above:
R. Shimeaon ben 'Azzai said: I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, "Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress." McDowell and Wilson state, on the authority of Joseph Klausner, that the phrase such-an-one "is used for Jesus in the Ammoraic period (i.e., fifth century period)." (McDowell & Wilson, p. 69) [see fn4]
So geneological connections tie the figure of Pantera to Jesus of Nazerath. Of course mythological figures would not have geneological connections. Jesus Mother, brother, and family are mentioned throughout many sources.
Celsus demonstrates a connection to the material of the Talmud, indicating that that material about Jesus was around in a leaast the second century. Since Jewish sources would not have been reidaly avaible to Celsus it seems reasonable to assume that this information had been floating around for some time, and easier to obtain. Therefore, we can at least went back to the early second, late frist century.
Origin quoting Celsus:
Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god." 
Celsus was obviously reading the Talmudic sources, he has the same materi9al they do and he as much as says so:
Let us imagine what a Jew- let alone a philosopher- might say to Jesus: 'Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumourss about the true and insavoury circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in the royal David's city of bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town, and of a woman who earned her living by spinning? Is it not the case that when her deceit was uncovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a roman soldier called Panthera she was driven away by her husband- the carpenter- and convicted of adultery?" ....
I could continue along these lines, suggesting a good deal about the affairs of Jesus' life that does not appear in your own records. Indeed, what I know to be the case and what the disciples tell are two very different stories... [for example] the nonsensical idea that Jesus foresaw everything that was to happen to him (an obvious attempt to conceal the humiliating facts). 
These three reasons in addition to Kirby's point. (1) the charge sheets, although that is an expansion of the point Kirby made. (2) the fact of the censored documents, (3) the evidence of Celsus. That is really the nail in the coffin of mytherism.
The religious a priori
For more on Jesus in Talmud see my age on Religious A Priori
 Peter Kirby," Best Case for Jesus:(d) Babylonian Talmud (and Justin Martyr)"Peter Kirby (blog)
Jan. 22, 2015, Online resource, URL:http://peterkirby.com/the-best-case-for-jesus.html accessed 1/18/16
 David Instone-Brewer, "Jesus of Nazareth's Trail in Sanhedrin 43a," PDF, pre publication copy
[4 ] Expert Evidence on the Crucifiction of Jesus.Be Thinking blog
Dr David Instone-Brewer Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament, Tyndale House, Cambridge
the Be Thinking Blog reflects a much bigger body of literature demonstrating Jesus in the Talmud, something else Kirby didn't want to talk about.
For more information see:“Jesus of Nazareth’s Trial in Sanhedrin 43a” (Jerusalem Perspective, 2011) by Dr David Instone-Brewer
- a detailed discussion of the dating of the different layers in this tradition. (Pre-publication version)
Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Pess, 2007) by Peter Schäfer
- an up-to-date discussion of the historicity of all the censored passages
Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (London: Williams & Norgate, 1903; New York, KTAV, 1975) by R. Travers Herford
- a list and analysis of all the censored passages
'Jesus of Nazareth: a magician and false prophet who deceived God's people?' by Graham Stanton; in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: essays on the historical Jesus and New Testament Christology, ed. by Joel B. Green and Max Turner (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 1994): pp.164-180. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle, Eng: Paternoster Pr, 1994). A detailed discussion of the charges against Jesus in other literature.
 Origin quoting Celsus, On the True Doctrine, translated by R. Joseph Hoffman, Oxford University Press, 1987, 59
Let us imagine what a Jew- let alone a philosopher- might say to Jesus: 'Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumourss about the true and in savoury circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in the royal David's city of bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town, and of a woman who earned her living by spinning? Is it not the case that when her deceit was uncovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a roman soldier called Panthera she was driven away by her husband- the carpenter- and convicted of adultery?" (57). "I could continue along these lines, suggesting a good deal about the affairs of Jesus' life that does not appear in your own records. Indeed, what I know to be the case and what the disciples tell are two very different stories... [for example] the nonsensical idea that Jesus foresaw everything that was to happen to him (an obvious attempt to conceal the humiliating facts)." (62). "The men who fabricated this genealogy [of Jesus] were insistent on on the point that Jesus was descended from the first man and from the king of the Jews [David]. The poor carpenter's wife seems not to have known she had such a distinguished bunch of ancestors." (64). "What an absurdity! Clearly the Christians have used the myths of Danae and the Melanippe, or of the Auge and the Antiope in fabricating the story of Jesus' virgin birth." (57). "After all, the old myths of the Greeks that attribute a divine birth to Perseus, Amphion, Aeacus and Minos are equally good evidence of their wondrous works on behalf of mankind- and are certainly no less lacking in plausibility than the stories of your followers." (59).
 McDwell and Wilson, op. cit. 57, 62
The mention of this particular pair of charges, in this order, is hardly likely to be a coincidence.
To resolve the internal difficulties of the text and its parallels elsewhere in the Talmud, Instone-Brewer proposes that the original form of this tradition was simple: “On the Eve of Passover they hung Yeshu the Notzarine for sorcery and enticing Israel.” The proposed expansions before and after the charges explain the unusual date of the execution, in that an especially lenient period allowed people to come to his defense and that his execution occurred at the last possible time, while still occurring publicly while crowds were there for the holiday.
Since the New Testament account gives no account at all of a charge of sorcery at the trial of Jesus, instead emphasizing charges of blasphemy and treason, it is difficult to see this account as deriving from the Gospel story. Moreover, Instone-Brewer argues:
The origin of this tradition is also unlikely to be rabbinic or Pharisaic. Although it has been preserved in rabbinic literature, there are two reasons why it was unlikely to be authored within this movement. First, a rabbinic author or their Pharisee predecessors would want the order of the charges to mirror Torah and rabbinic halakha. Second, rabbinic traditions and the major Pharisaic schools tried to dissuade people from working on Passover Eve, so they would not have invented a tradition which said that they decided to try Jesus on this date.Because the Jewish leaders of the first century were in a position to know the circumstances of such an execution, which would have been remembered for taking place on an unusual date, it is plausible to see this rabbinic tradition, late as its written record may be, as stemming from the historical Jewish memory of the execution of Jesus on Passover Eve with charges of sorcery and leading Israel astray.
You could even say that it’s more probable than not, in which case what we have right here is an argument for the historicity of Jesus. I value it more highly than both Josephus and Tacitus, as it certainly did not come from a Christian interpolator (unlike Josephus) and actually has a decent argument to the effect that it did not derive from the Christian tradition about Jesus (unlike Tacitus).
Summing Up the Argument from Non-Christian Sources
The absence of an ancient tradition questioning the existence of Jesus isn’t exactly telling, positive evidence for us today. While Josephus could be devastating evidence for the historicity of Jesus, it seems more fair either to regard the text as moderate evidence against on account of silence regarding Jesus or simply as too difficult a textual question to hang your hat on. Tacitus likewise is only faint as direct evidence but does raise a good question: with references like these, does doubt have anything to recommend it? Finally, even though its late date of compilation makes it impossible to rule out the possibility of a Christian source to the tradition with certainty, the Jewish tradition (recorded in the Talmud and with an echo in Justin Martyr) provides actual evidence for a historical Jesus. This tradition says that Yeshu the Notzarine was hung on the Eve of Passover, accused of sorcery and enticing Israel to idolatry.
(Sidenote: Some might not find the Talmudic tradition to be enough evidence to fill in a picture that meets their minimum definition of the historicity of Jesus. For example, without more information, he might have lived “one hundred years before Christ,” as proposed by G.R.S. Mead and Alvar Ellegard.)
(2) The Best Case: The Gospels and Related Traditions
Continuing my attempt at a best case for the historicity of Jesus, I’d proceed directly to the Gospel texts and related traditions. They are the most extensive source of details regarding the life of Jesus, so our estimation of them is an essential part of the process of evaluating the evidence.
(2) (a) The Gospel of Mark
The genre and purpose of Mark is a vexing question in New Testament studies. There’s still a plausible argument to be made that the author is a fairly unsophisticated writer, who has padded out his narrative of the ministry of Jesus with little stories here and there that he has heard (alongside some of his own inventions), and the best case for a historical Jesus might capitalize on such an argument. The incorporation of Aramaic material, by an author that seems more likely to know only Greek and Latin; the inclusion of obscure Palestinian geography, by an author that gets the basics wrong; the references to the family of Jesus, by an author that has no use for them; all of this suggests an author that has taken up bits and pieces of prior tradition while creating his story.
Richard Carrier makes a valiant effort to show that Mark 15:21 is “just as likely on minimal mythicism and on minimal historicity,” offering that the passage here may be intended as a symbolic reference to Alexander the Great and Musonius Rufus, a Stoic philosopher (On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 446-451).
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. (Mark 15:21)Only the Gospel of Mark contains this reference to Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” Right away we can then form two objections to Carrier’s tentative hypothesis. First, the other example of a symbolic message in the Gospel of Mark (“the number of loaves and baskets in Mk 8.19-21”) had no trouble getting copied in Matthew and Luke, proving that the evangelists were capable of copying these symbolic messages. The omission from the other synoptic Gospels suggests that, even at the early date of the writing of Matthew and Luke, this reference in Mark was not understood as symbolic. Second, it’s just a bit of a stretch to suggest that two names centuries apart, who could not actually be sons of Simon of Cyrene, are just as likely an interpretive option as, say, two names of people that were known to the audience and that were sons of Simon of Cyrene, just as Mark 15:21 actually says.
Carrier asks that we should always look for “strong external corroborating evidence (such as we have for the existence, at least, of Peter and Pilate), in the absence of which, for any detail in Mark, we should assume a symbolical meaning is always more likely” because of all the known examples in which Mark tells stories with “some esoteric allegorical or symbolical purpose” (On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 451).
We should distinguish between allegorical fiction and false tales, in that the author of Mark may have been a fabulist who wanted his stories to be believed and thus authenticate the good news of Jesus as the Messiah. Thus the evidence regarding stories constructed out of the Septuagint is evidence of falsehood of some kind but not necessarily evidence of allegory. As popular literature with the purpose of promoting belief in Jesus Christ, with a near-contemporary setting, the Gospel of Mark could even be argued to make more sense as unabashed invention, meant for belief, rather than as a sophisticated symbolic tale.
(Sidenote: Why don’t we have more people simply positing that an author was, to put it plainly, a liar? There is a real danger of overuse of the “allegory card,” which can be played to avoid making pointed “accusations.” This is history. All claims are equally worthy of proposal, in the pursuit of an accurate account of events.)
But there is a trace of evidence that could help us to place Alexander and Rufus in history, or at least the latter person. In the letter of recommendation for Phoebe, also known as Romans 16, we find the words of Paul: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.” Here we learn that there was a Christian named Rufus known to Paul. We also hear about his mother but not his father, which might suggest that she was a widow. While it is impossible to prove, it is plausible that this Rufus and his brother Alexander were sons of Simon of Cyrene. This in turn means that the author of the Gospel of Mark, by drawing attention to Alexander and Rufus, who were known to Mark’s audience, could easily be exposed as a liar if they had never heard of their father carrying the cross for Jesus. This suggests the existence of a very early tradition which, like an early tradition that Jesus had a brother named James, would lead most people to suspect that there was a historical Jesus.
- See more at: http://peterkirby.com/the-best-case-for-jesus.html#sthash.NdPMbJZ9.dpuf
Peter Kirby is a gifted armature in Biblical research. He knows an incredible amount for a message board poster. He also runs an impressive message board and he prevents it from being contaminated by Christians and people who disagree with him by removing their posts under the guise of cleaning up the board. This is how he got me off the board when my presence there threatened him since he was unable to combat my superior knowledge. I've been running message boards for 15 years and I've never found too many posts to be a problem,. I also find it odd that he just happened to take off all the posts that he could not answer,
Little did he know that in so doing he has called down upon himself the wrath of Atheistwatch! When the readers of this blig learn this, both of them will be very angry, Kirby had made the statement that the case for Jesus' historicity is very weak and that his bog piece, The Best Case for Jesus:
Historical Jesus, proves this. That is pretty arrogant because it assumes that he can make the best case. So let's look at what he missed. "Fair’s fair. Let’s try to make the best possible case for the historical existence of Jesus. One never learns about an issue completely unless they are willing to look at it from more than one angle..."
He Starts with extra biblical sources, the most important first: Josephus.He alludes to F. Bermejo-Rubio exemplary argument for the historicity of Jesus as his starting point. His first argument, drawing upon this source, argues based upon Josephus' use of the term Christ: "It is scarcely imaginable, first of all, that Josephus would introduce the very word for the concept of “Christ” here, so assiduously avoided elsewhere in his many volumes of Jewish history, without something by way of an explanation, particularly one with the goal of creating distance and disavowal." He goes on:
Nor, secondly, should we imagine that this passage of credal simplicity (so Hopper) emanates from the pen of Josephus, who would surely have managed to make some kind of explicit comment regarding the preaching and execution of Jesus or the movement called the Christians. We can see this in comparison with Josephus’ treatment of similar figures such as John the Baptist, Judas the Galilean, Theudas, or Honi the Circle-Drawer, who all elicit enunciated statements of approval or disapproval from Josephus.So essentially, treat this as one argument, is saying "if ere Jo I would have written it differently." Really it's a bit more of a serious argument than that, saying uncharacteristic of Jo's writings. Since it comes in a passage argued by some to be forged then it is only logical to compare it to his usual style Is it really so out of character for him? First of all, most scholars admit the passage has been tweaked. That means some things are added, but the whole passage is not made up by a forger, there's core of Josephus' actual writing. perhaps the word Christ is one of them. That doesn't mean the basic existence of Jesus is in question because there is a core passage that most scholars accept. James Tabor understands that core to be this:
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 wonders, A TEACHER OF SUCH MEN AS RECEIVE THE TRUTH WITH PLEASURE. He drew many after him BOTH OF THE JEWS AND THE GENTILES. HE WAS THE CHRIST. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among 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 THEN THOUSAND OTHER WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT HIM, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities 18:63-64).
Of course the blue represents the forgery. If we take that out:
Now there was about this time Jesus a wise man. . He drew many after him When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him,, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities 18:63-64).Kirby says he should have mentioned "the preaching and execution of Jesus or the movement called the Christians." he does two out of three. He may not have used the word Christ. Perhaps it's a bit uncharacteristic of Jo not include some of his teachings, although he may not have known them. But we can't base the whole issue on that one detail,
Now Kirby is supposed to be giving us the best case for Jesus, but it's a "left hand shake," he's using a poor defense to give himself a good straw man to attack. His defense uses the emendation argument that I justvgave to save the TF from the criticisms he just made, then he concludes in favor of interpolation rather than "amendation," (his word--what I call "Tweaking." ?The balance of actual evidence, in my estimation, points to the interpolation, rather than amendation," So he basically argues that the best defense would be explaining why Jo doesn't tlk about Jesus, This is so obviously a straw man, he's made the case as week as possible calling it "argument from silence." Glossing over the fact that the whole Jesus myther thing is an argument from silence.
Now he says something extremely telling as far as building the straw man. "Such an argument for the silence of Josephus regarding Jesus and the Christians was a commonplace of scholarship in the early twentieth century and speaks well of the critical acumen of these scholars, who did not confuse a need to find evidence for their conclusions with a need to find evidence where it cannot be found." he admires the scholars who rejected the TF because they are being honest, how honest is he? If he really read them he would see how their rejection of the TF was totally ideological. Alioce Whealy an important scholar from Berkeley tells us:
Twentieth century controversy over the Testimonium Flavianum can be distinguished from controversy over the text in the early modern period insofar as it seems generally more academic and less sectarian. While the challenge to the authenticity of the Testimonium in the early modern period was orchestrated almost entirely by Protestant scholars and while in the same period Jews outside the church uniformly denounced the text's authenticity, the twentieth century controversies over the text have been marked by the presence of Jewish scholars for the first time as prominent participants on both sides of the question. In general, the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together, with a greater tendency among scholars of all religious backgrounds to see the text as largely authentic. On the one hand this can be interpreted as the result of an increasing trend towards secularism, which is usually seen as product of modernity. On the other hand it can be interpreted as a sort of post-modern disillusionment with the verities of modern skepticism, and an attempt to recapture the sensibility of the ancient world, when it apparently was still possible for a first-century Jew to have written a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum.
Pete probably knows about the quote Then we come to his anemic conclusion:
If Josephus wrote that James, the brother of Jesus called the Christ, was executed, he did so because James identified himself as the brother of Jesus called the Christ. And if that is a fact, then we should leave it to others more obtuse than us to scribble about how his brother yet did not exist.In conclusion, Josephus is conclusive evidence for the historicity of Jesus if the references are authentic, and Josephus is valuable evidence of the non-historicity of Jesus if the references are inauthentic (by way of an argument from silence that is not without force). The literature justly focuses on this question, but it cannot be the only question we ask. There is other evidence available to us, and any balanced conclusion must rest on the balance of evidence.His summary is like saying: "I guess maybe if the argument is proven then it's true but probably not." Notice how he asserts the value of argument from silence which is almost never forceful. The cased I make for Josephus is a lot stronger than this. For one thing he doesn't discuss much of the textual attestation to the passage.
It is crucial to note that we have other readings that have the same core information about Jesus but lack the same emminadations, because this proves that Eusbius didn't make up the core information about Jesus. It also proves that previous readings existed which lacked the emmindations but which did not lack the mention of Jesus. That builds the probability that Jospehus really did mention Jesus. That probality is very high.Professor Shlomo Pines found a different version of Josephus testimony in an Arabic version of the tenth century. It has obviously not been interpolated in the same way as the Christian version circulating in the West:"
"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders."
Alice Whealy, Berkely Cal.The TF controversy from antiquity to present
In the second major twentieth century controversy over the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum, the erudite Near Eastern studies scholar, Shlomo Pines, tried to argue that the paraphrase of the Testimonium that appears in a Christian Arabic chronicle dating from the tenth century might be more authentic than the textus receptus Testimonium. 21 Reaction to Pines' thesis was mixed, but the most important piece of evidence that Pines' scholarship on Christian Semitic sources brought to light was not the Arabic paraphrase of the Testimonium that he proposed was more authentic than the textus receptus, but the literal Syriac translation of the Testimonium that is quoted in a twelfth century chronicle compiled by the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch (1166-1199). 22 It is this version of the Testimonium, not the Arabic paraphrase of it, that has the greatest likelihood of being, at least in some ways, more authentic than the textus receptus Testimonium because, as noted earlier, this version of the text agrees with Jerome's Latin version of the text in the same crucial regard. The medieval Syriac Testimonium that Pines uncovered is very strong evidence for what many scholars had argued since birth of the controversy over the text in the Renaissance, namely that Jerome did not alter the Testimonium Flavianum to read "he was believed to be the Christ" but rather that he in fact knew the original version of the Testimonium, which he probably found in Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica , which read "he was believed to be the Christ" rather than "he was the Christ. 
No textual evidence supports the charge that Origin or Eusbius made up the passage.All copies we have contain the quote.If it had been forged we should have some copies that don't contian it.
New Advent Encyplopidia:
"all codices or manuscripts of Josephus's work contain the text in question; to maintain the spuriousness of the text, we must suppose that all the copies of Josephus were in the hands of Christians, and were changed in the same way.
Passage known prior to Eusebius
Nor is it ture that our first indication of the existence of the Passage begins with Eusebuis:
Again, the same conclusion follows from the fact that Origen knew a Josephan text about Jesus, but was not acquainted with our present reading; for, according to the great Alexandrian doctor, Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Messias ("In Matth.", xiii, 55; "Contra Cels.", I, 47).Silence of Early writters is explained
Second, it is true that neither Tertullian nor St. Justin makes use of Josephus's passage concerning Jesus; but this silence is probably due to the contempt with which the contemporary Jews regarded Josephus, and to the relatively little authority he had among the Roman readers. Writers of the age of Tertullian and Justin could appeal to living witnesses of the Apostolic tradition. (Ibid)
Theb rother passage is rarely questioned. That in itself proves the historicity of Jesus.. The reasons for accepting th TF are overwhelming. If we need three such solid proofs we have the Talmud and Paul. We have more. but all of that latter.
 Peter Kirby, "The Best Case for Jesus: Historical Jesus," Peter Kiby (blog) (Jan 22 2015)
All references to Kirby will be from this source unless otherwise noted.
 Louis H. Feldman in "The Testimonium Flavianum: The State of the Question" in Christological Perspectives, Robert F. Berkey and Sarah A. Edwards (New York: Pilgrim, 1982) there are liberal scholars who leave the entire passage intact! (e.g. A.M. Dubarle, the French scholar). Feldman's count: 4 scholars regard as completely genuine, 6 mostly genuine; 20 accept it with some interpolations, 9 with several interpolations; 13 regard it as being totally an interpolation.
also see my page on Doxa.So, according Feldman, the vast majority of scholars (75 %) favor partial authenticity of the Testimonium. Some scholars who accepts that Josephus wrote something about Jesus: Lane Fox, Michael Grant, Crossan, Borg, Meier, Tabor, Thiessen, Frederiksen, Flusser, Charlesworth, Paul Winter, Feldman, Mason
 James Tabor, "Josephus on Jesus," Jewish Roman World of Jesus, Josephus’ Testimony to Jesus, (Testimonium Flavianum)"Josephus, Antiquities 18. 63-64, Website URL:
https://clas-pages.uncc.edu/james-tabor/ancient-judaism/josephus-jesus/ (access 1/5/2016).
Alice Whealey is an independent historian specializing in the intellectual history of Europe, she received an M.A. in history in 1988, A M.A. in Demography in 1992, and Ph.D. in history in 1998 from U.C. Berkeley
"Philosopher Jay" whoever he is asserts after a ranting mock;
She mentions the challenge to the authenticity of the Testimonium in the early modern period was orchestrated almost entirely by Protestant scholars" and "Jews outside the church" who "uniformly denounced the text's authenticity." Apparently she believes the Protestant Pope was orchestrating some kind of challenge to the Catholic Pope and he tricked the "Jews outside the church" into going along. In fact, it was just about every scholar outside the Catholic Church who found the text wanting. I read the subtext here as saying that there was some kind of conspiracy of Protestants and Jews against the Catholic Church. One could just as easily say that in early modern times the Catholic Church held to its dogmatic position that the Good Catholic Eusebius was not an historical forger, while everybody else who was somewhat disinterested and impartial saw the clear evidence that TF was a forgery.This dumbass thinks postmodernism is not an attack on modernism. Enough said. The usual cast of characters is involved in that, I am part of that train wreck. Kirby doesn't comment that I can see but it's his board.
In the Twentieth Century, the change was that even Catholics admitted the document contained some important changes that Josephus could not have written. Instead of saying that the Catholic scholars, 300 years late, finally joined other scholars in questioning the document, (just as they were 300 years late in admitting that the Earth went around the Sun) she changes things around and blames secularism for the defection of catholic scholars to the "Academic world."
She then imagines that post-modernism is a rejection of modernism (instead of its triumph) and imagines that some kind of new consensus somehow supports her belief that "a first century Jew" wrote "a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum." These a few of her logical gymnastics.
 Whealey, op cit
 New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, "Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ," on line resource URL: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08375a.htm accessed 1/4/2916.
As has often been suggested by atheists and theists
alike, the argument from evil is probably the single greatest intellectual threat
to the truth of Christian theism. In its most basic form the argument from evil
derives from the following propositions:
3. Evil exists.
A reductio ad absurdum is said to result when one simply adds a fourth proposition, "God exists." That is, the set becomes logically inconsistent. Epicurus famously said it like this: "Is God willing but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?" This in a nutshell is the logical argument from evil.
The logical problem of evil has fallen on hard times. Ever since Alvin Plantinga published his "Free Will Defense," the burden of proof has shifted to the atheologian, to show the logical inconsistency of the set of premises constituting the problem of evil. Perhaps surprisingly to some, this has been done to almost no one's satisfaction. Plantinga points out that to derive a formal contradiction (as the logical argument must) would require additional premises, such as "God is not all powerful," or "Evil does not exist." It may seem counterintuitive that evil could coexist with an all-good, all-powerful God – all the more so during times of intense suffering – but it's not illogical, strictly speaking.
So long as it is possible for there to be an overriding justification for God to permit evil that creates a greater good, suggests Plantinga, it is possible for God and evil to coexist. Moral free will is one such possible justification. My fellow blogger here, Joe Hinman, has made a good case for the moral necessity of free will (see his "Soteriological Drama" post) as a valid justification for evil in the world (even if it necessarily entails risk of evil and suffering).
Now let's turn the tables for a moment and consider an argument from evil against naturalism:
1. Nature is all that exists.
2. Nature is amoral (neither good nor evil).
3. Evil exists.
Here we have another reductio. For nature to be all that exists, and nature to be non-evil, evil cannot exist. Alternatively, it may be that naturalism is not all that exists, or that nature is not amoral. Either way, given the reality of evil naturalism as commonly understood is false.
Or at least that's how it appears at a glance. Of course, naturalists can get around this by explaining how evil doesn’t really exist, how nature is not amoral, or how evil is a mere by-product or epiphenomenon of naturalistic evolution. But then that would clearly take the sting out of the atheistic argument from evil. For if moral evil can emerge as a by-product of a thoroughly amoral natural system, there's no reason to think it can't emerge as a by-product of a thoroughly good world, inhabited by free moral agents under the supervision of a thoroughly good God. So at worst evil is no more a threat to theism than it is to naturalism.