CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

One of the most well-known events in Scriptures is Jesus' exchange with Pontius Pilate at his trial as described in John 18. In verse 38 of that chapter, Pilate asks the question that may be the most ironic in the history of the world, "What is truth?"

A less known but equally intriguing saying of Jesus from an apologetics viewpoint can be found in Jesus' response to an earlier question in the same trial. It is a question that is not often quoted, but on those rare occasions when it is quoted, Jesus' response is often overlooked as not particularly important or relevant to today's world. However, it is my experience (as well as the experience of many people who have truly spent time studying the Scriptures) that little, if any, of what Jesus said in the Bible lacks significance across time.

To best understand the response, it's important to see the response in context. The situation is this: Jesus has been arrested following His betrayal by Judas Iscariot. He has appeared before the Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest, and is being brought by the Jews to stand trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate, for his part, appears to be rather shrewd, and discerns that the Jews are bringing Jesus to him with some unspoken, ulterior motive. Pilate asks, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" (John 18:29) Pilate wants to know what charges justify Jesus' appearance before Pilate, but it is reasonable to conclude that he really wants to know why the Jews are bringing Jesus before him instead of handling the situation on their own. The Jews answer in rather vague language, "If this man were not an evildoer we would not have delivered him to you." (John 18:30) Not much in the way of specifics are stated in their response - just an assurance that Jesus is evil and his appearance before Pilate was appropriate. Pilate tries to dismiss their efforts to involve him and responds, "Take him yourself and judge him according to your law." (John 18:31a)  The Jews, however, argued that Jesus deserved death for what he had done and he could not be killed without the Pilate's consent. More specifically, they want Jesus crucified under Roman law as an example to the people of the cost of standing up to the Pharisees.

Although the text does not specifically say everything that Pilate and the Jews said in their exchange, it is apparent that either Pilate already knew that Jesus was called the King of the Jews or the Jews accused Jesus of being the King, because Pilate went in and asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" If Jesus were leading a rebellion, that might constitute grounds for crucifying him under Roman law. Thus, it appears clear that Pilate is asking Jesus the question because he is trying to get him to say something to justify crucifixion.

What Jesus says next is actually quite significant even though it can be (and has been) treated superficially. According to John 18:33-34:

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews? 34 Jesus answered, “ Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?"
Most commentaries interpret this verse as Jesus calling out Pilate for being a puppet of the Jews. In other words, they suggest that a good restatement of what Jesus is saying here would be: "You wouldn't be asking me that question if the Jews had not put you up to it." This is a perfectly legitimate interpretation of Jesus' words, and if that is how people understand/interpret it, I won't tell them that they're definitively wrong. But, at the same time, I don't think that that interpretation is the only way to understand Jesus' words, and it may be a rather shallow understanding of what Jesus meant. Just as many Bible verses have more than one layer of meaning, so too can Jesus' words in verse 34 be read as having a deeper application.

Instead of simply accusing Pilate of being a mouthpiece for self-righteous Jews who were seeking to gain political cover for his execution and have Jesus crucified as an example, perhaps Jesus was also asking a question of Pilate about the importance of the question to him personally. When Jesus asks Pilate if he is asking this of his own accord, perhaps a better interpretation of his words might be, "Are you asking because you want to know for yourself, or are you asking because you are seeking justification to hurt me?" In other words, Jesus was asking Pilate to confront his own heart. "Are you wanting to know if I am the King of the Jews because you want to know the truth about me, or are you asking on behalf of those who hate me?"

In this age of Internet evangelism, there are lots of people who spend time on discussion boards and who write or comment on blogs who are asking the question that has been asked since Jesus first asked the question of his disciples: Who is this Jesus? ("Who do you say that I am?) Is Jesus really God incarnate (God with us) or is he just a religious myth or fraud? As I have pointed out repeatedly, the problem is that many times those asking the questions in the toxic environment of the Internet are not serious when asking questions. They don't really care if he is the divine redeemer sent by God to redeem mankind from sin. Their motivation for asking questions about the Bible isn't to discern the truth, but to seek to dismiss him and to find fault with his body (which is his church, i.e., Christians).

Pilate, for his part, wasn't asking Jesus if he was the King of the Jews in order to find the truth of the claim. He was asking Jesus if he was the King of the Jews to establish a basis to do what the Jews were asking him to do - crucify him. Jesus, who had the ability to see into men's hearts (Luke 9:47), knew why Pilate was asking the question, and he was definitely not interested in the truth. In fact, when Jesus later tells Pilate that he has come to testify to the truth, Pilate responds with the aforementioned infamous question: "What is truth?" How can he be interested in truth when he doesn't know what truth is?

After years of engaging in discussions of the truth of Christ on-line (I have been engaging in Internet apologetics on-and-off for 17 years), it has become apparent to me that many (not all) unbelievers arguing against Christianity are very similar to Pilate. They ask questions - lots and lots of questions - but they ask not to learn the truth, but to attack Him or those who believe in Him. I expect that if they had ears to hear and asked honestly and openly, Jesus might give them the answers they seek and they might be open to actually hearing the truth. But alas, that is not what they do since that is nowhere near their heart.

The truth is Jesus is the truth. The truth is Jesus is the King. Search your heart and ask yourself, am I really asking these questions to seek the truth or to crucify Christ?

No Alternate Versions

 photo sacred-tree_zps54533af1.jpg
The tree of life from the creation story in Gilgamesh.

There are no alternate version's of the Jesus story. There are minor differences in different telling's but there are no other versions. For at least 200 years after the original events the very same major outline is kept as it was written in stone. Myth always proliferates but when everyone knows a story is true they don't dare change it. The fact that there's only one basic Jesus story tells us that it's probably a true story.


1) Mythology tends to proliforate:multiple story versions are common

2) When historical facts are known to a wide audience, people tend not to deny the basic facts of an event.

...a) eye witnesses keep it stairght

...b) People who try to invent new aspects of the event are confronted with the fact that most everyone knows better.

...c) people know the story for a fact and just dont' bother to change it.

3) Story proliforations would probably influence further tellings, thus creating many more documents with different versions of the same story.

4) If a myth proliforates we would tend to find more versions of the same story, when there is only one version we can accept a degree of certainty that the story did not proliforate.
5) We do not find a proliforation of versions of the Jesus story in any sources we know of.
6) The most logical way to account for this single Jesus story is through p2, that everyone knew it was the case, there were too many eye witnesses to spread new versions.
...a) It is illogical to assume that everyone just liked it so they didn't add to it.

...b) There was no canonization process in place in the early period, and the single unified verison existed from the earliest trace of the story.

7)Therefore, we can assume that it is probably the case that the masses were familiar with the story of Jesus because the story reflects events known by all to be factual.

The main thing that myths do is change. Given enough time, a myth will transmography until the names of the heroes are different, how they died is forgotten and retold so many times, there came to be multiple versions of their death. Myths change over time, but history does not. People remember a basic event they know its real, they don't forget it. Herclues has two deaths, in one he's poisaned, in another shot with an arrow. There are about 14 versions of the Tamuz myth. But there is only one way for the guys at the Alamo to die, there is only one death for Arthur, and there is only one way that Jesus Christ is ver portrayed as dying, that's by the cross. Why? Because that's how he really died. No one could deny it, so no one ever propossed another method.

I have made the argument, on message boards, that there are no alternate versions of the basic Gospel story. The point being, there are many versions of most myths. The fact that with tons of "other Gospels" not a one of them before the fourth century gives an alternate account of Jesus life, death, burial and resurrection is a good indication that everyone knew the basic facts, they were public knowledge because they were history; these things happened before the community of Jerusalem, the whole community was a witness and no one could deny it.Now skeptics have responded that certain alternate Gospels deny the resurrection. They name the Apochraphon of James. This is not true. As will be seen from what I quote below James does mention the resurrection. Some of the latter Gnostics denied the theology of the Virginal conception, but they still allude to the story. They denied that Jesus' death was real, but they do not deny that it happened, only that he was not a flesh and blood being and so could not die. What they accept is that the illusion of a flesh and blood man lived on the earth and was taken for a real person why all who saw him.

That is a fundamental mistake of Dohrtey (the champion of the "Christ-myth" theory), he thinks all the action originally was set in a heavily realm, that is not the case. The Gnostics generally accepted that the illusion of a man was seen on earth and seemed to be living among men. So they just spiritualized the history of Jesus.Below I will quote from several "other Gospels" to show that they affirm the deity of Christ, the resurrection, that they include references to many of the stories and periscopes in the canonical Gospels, and that they assume the general outline of the story that we call "fact."

Of course this in and of itself is not "proof" of the Jesus story, but taken together with the other evidence, it makes a compelling case.

Myths have Multiple Versions

Myths Encyclopedia: Myths and Legends of the world.

"Hinduism and Mythology," accessed 10/23/15
"Most myths occur in several different versions, and many characters have multiple roles, identities, and histories. This seeming confusion reflects the richness of a mythology that has expanded and taken on new meanings over the centuries."

Read more: Or:

Examples and documentation of Multiple versions of myth Mithra

Mithra comes from Persia and is part of Zoroastrian myth, but this cult was transplanted to Rome near the end of the pre-Chrsitian era. Actually the figure of Mithra is very ancient. He began in the Hindu pantheon and is mentioned in the Vedas. He latter spread to Persia where he took the guise of a sheep protecting deity. But his guise as a shepard was rather minor. He is associated with the Sun as well. Yet most of our evidence about his cult (which apparently didn't exist in the Hindu or Persian forms) comes from Post-Pauline times. Mitrha changed over time from Hindu patheon to persian sun god, to mystery cult savior.

(Marvin W. Meyer, ed. The Ancient Mysteries :a Sourcebook. San Francisco: Harper, 1987,, p. 201).


The Greek god Dionysos is said to be the god of wine, actually he began as a fertility god in Phrygian and in Macedonia, Thrace, and other outlying regions. The origin of the cult is probably in Asia. (Charles Seltman, The Twelve Olympians, New York: Thomas Y. Corwell Company, 1960.)
In some stories Dionysos is torn apart by the Titans. IN other stories it is Hera's orders that he be torn apart. (Edith Hamilton, Mythology, Mentor edition, original copywriter 1940, pp. 61-62).
Tamuz Easter: Myth, Hallucination or History by Edwin M. Yamauchi Leadership u. Updated 22 March 1997 (prof. of History at Miami University, Oxford Ohio)

"In the case of the Mesopotamian Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi), his alleged resurrection by the goddess Inanna-Ishtar had been assumed even though the end of both the Sumerian and the Akkadian texts of the myth of "The Descent of Inanna (Ishtar)" had not been preserved. Professor S. N. Kramer in 1960 published a new poem, "The Death of Dumuzi," that proves conclusively that instead of rescuing Dumuzi from the Underworld, Inanna sent him there as her substitute (cf. my article, "Tammuz and the Bible," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXIV [1965], 283-90). A line in a fragmentary and obscure text is the only positive evidence that after being sent to the Underworld Dumuzi may have had his sister take his place for half the year "(cf. S. N. Kramer, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 183 [1966], 31). "Tammuz was identified by later writers with the Phoenician Adonis, the beautiful youth beloved of Aphrodite. According to Jerome, Hadrian desecrated the cave in Bethlehem associated with Jesus' birth by consecrating it with a shrine of Tammuz-Adonis. Although his cult spread from Byblos to the GrecoRoman world, the worship of Adonis was never important and was restricted to women. P. Lambrechts has shown that there is no trace of a resurrection in the early texts or pictorial representations of Adonis; the four texts that speak of his resurrection are quite late, dating from the second to the fourth centuries A.D". ("La 'resurrection' d'Adonis," in Melanges Isidore Levy, 1955, pp. 207-40).
The "Great" Cybele
"Cybele, also known as the Great Mother, was worshiped through much of the Hellenistic world. She undoubtedly began as a goddess of nature. Her early worship included orgiastic ceremonies in which her frenzied male worshipers were led to castrate themselves, following which they became "Galli" or eunuch-priests of the goddess. Cybele eventually came to be viewed as the Mother of all gods and the mistress of all life." (Ronald Nash,"Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?" The Christian Research Journal, Winter 1994, p.8)

In some versions of the myth, Attis's return to life took the form of his being changed into an evergreen tree.(Ibid)

The cult changes over time and the story changes:Lambrechts has also shown that Attis, the consort of Cybele, does not appear as a "resurrected" god until after A.D. 1 50. ( "Les Fetes 'phrygiennes' de Cybele et d' Attis," Bulletin de l'lnstitut Historique Belge de Rome, XXVII 11952], 141-70).


The Cult (Osiris) moved to Rome where it was at first rejected, but finally was allowed into the city between 37 and 41. Only after the next two centuries did it become a rival of Christianity. Its eventual popularity came from its elaborate ritual and hope of immortality, although this was a latter development which post dates Christian origins and does not include Osiris. During the Osiris phase the immortality aspects were very minimal. 3) Early phase of cult no savior, in period of clash with Christianity, no Osiris! Thus, during the early part of the cult they had no great savior figure and no salvation aspects to speak of, and in the phase where they competed with Christianity (two or more centuries after the Gospels) they had no dying or rising savior figure. (Ronald Nash, "Was The New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?" the Christian Research Journal, Winter 19994, p 8)

Global phenomena

It seems to be a universal law of mthology that myths transmutate over time. Here is a report about mythology of the Northwestern United States and it's native people. It states that they have multiple versions of the same myths.


by Ruth Ludwin, University of Washington Dept. of Earth and Space Sciences 12/29/99 DRAFT

"Incomplete as the preserved oral history of Cascadia is, many stories are repeated in multiple versions, with some "mixing and matching" of story elements, and some of the stories are geographically wide-spread."

Here are (not all) basic points of agreement between all Jesus sources from before the fourth century.

All The most basic details about these mythological figures changes and froms mutltiple myths. Who they were, what they stood for, their function, how they lived, how they died, even their country of origin all change. A god like Mirthra begins as an unimportant figure in Indian pantheon and winds up the sun God, the God of shepards in Persian and then something else in Rome. All of these mythical figures change over time, but not Jesus. There is basically one Jesus story and it's always the same.

1) Jesus lived on earth as a man from the beginning of the first century to AD 33.

2) That his mother was supposed to be a Virgin named "Mary"

3) Same principle players, Peter, Andrew, Philip, John, Mary Magdeline.

4) That Jesus was knows as a miracles worker.

5) he claimed to be the son of God and Messiah.

6) he was crucified under Pilate.

7) Around the time of the Passover.

8) at noon.

9) rose from the dead leaving an empty tomb.

10) several woman with MM discovered the empty tomb.

11) That this was in Jerusalem.

There were hundreds of sources, different books and Gospels and Acts, that never made it into the New Testament. The Jesus story is re-told countrless times from early days (around AD50 first written) to the fourth century, before there was ever a major alternatiion in any of these basic details. Even after that time, no one ever disagreed with these points listed avove.

The most flagrant exception might seem to be the Gnostics who claimed that Jesus was not flesh and blood but illusory so he didn't really die on the cross. Yet, the didn't deny that there was an event where he seemed to die on the cross. Even when their ideology contradicted the history they still could not deny the seeming facts. they just re-interpreted the facts. 

I have always contended that the primary reason to believe in Christianity is because its true. I have said in prior blogposts that if Christianity were false, we should abandon it. Why? Because Christians, who are followers of the one who identified himself as "the way, and the truth and the life" (John 14:6), should be dedicated to the truth above everything else.

Frank Turek, proud purveyor of Cross-Examined, has posted a video entitled "One Question You Should Always Ask an Unbeliever." It is pretty insightful, and the question that should always be asked really does get to the heart of the earnestness of the unbelievers in their views.


If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian? It's a pretty straightforward question. The straightforward answer should be either yes or no. In a sane world, I would expect almost anyone answering the question in an equally straightforward manner would answer yes, but Turek points out that some of the people to whom he asks this question actually answer no. In other words, they are not interested in the truth at all and are honest enough to admit it. (That's pretty ironic if you think about it.)  I expect that if you run into a person like that, Turek's analysis is correct - they are really after what they think makes them happy and not about truth. The approach to take with such a person isn't to contend for the facts of the Christian faith but rather to challenge whether they are truly happy or whether personal happiness should be the end for which we should live our lives.

Having said that, while I love Frank's question when meeting people face-to-face or in a personal way, I don't see the question as being particularly helpful in most Internet discussions about Christianity because I don't think most unbelievers will answer the question no. Instead, I believe that they will respond in one of three ways: answer yes, answer no with a lengthy explanation or dodge the question altogether.

The Dodgers

Some will say something to the effect of, "Christianity isn't true, so it's a nonsense question." This is the exact type of answer I expect from people who cannot think sequentially. The question asks them to put aside their preconceptions and consider what their response would be if it were the case that Christianity is true. What if God really does exist, and God really sent his Son to die for our sins (as millions of Christians already recognize as true)? Would you really be willing to follow the truth?

It is a fair question for both sides. Paul already answered it from the Christian side. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Paul basically answers the question, "If Christianity is not true, should you stop being a Christian?" He answered:

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
In a nutshell, if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, i.e., if Christianity is not true, then we are wrong and we shouldn't follow it. Not only that, Christians should be pitied for following a falsehood. It is a straightforward response that Christians are happy to give because they truly believe (with evidence even if some don't know it) that they have truth on their side. So, if an unbeliever won't even respond to the question with a definitive yes or no, it demonstrates that they are not truly willing to consider truth or they are so uncertain of the truth that they must deflect. If they have any willingness to actually dialog rather than just engaging in a soliloquy against Christianity, you should challenge them on this. Don't let them be a dodger.

Those who deny with an explanation

Another expected tact would be for the unbeliever to say something like, "I wouldn't believe it because...." The explanations will vary. Perhaps it will be, "...because Christianity has resulted in so much evil in the world." Or maybe, "...because Christians are all hypocrites." Given time, I can think of dozens of other explanations/excuses to avoid the effect of answering no.

Again, I think that the unbeliever who says no is, at least, being honest in acknowledging that the truth doesn't matter to her. The explanations accompanying these types of responses are not honest because they are irrelevant to the question. Even if Christianity has resulted in more evil in the world or Christians are hypocrites, if Christianity is true then these are no more than excuses. It is ultimately the case that the person is communicating that they simply are not interested in the truth when it comes to God.

It may be possible to work with the person who says no with some explanation or excuse. Most of the problems that people can point to are answerable in a Christian understanding of the world. Sin, man's fallen nature, separation from God and human imperfection all play into the reasons that Christians have been less than Christlike in our attitudes and actions. If Christianity is true, these things do not deflect from Christianity, but rather are completely consistent with a Christian world view.

Those who say yes.

Ah, here are the most promising least they might be promising. If the person is truly willing to follow God if Christianity is true, that is the rare unbeliever. If they admit it, you have common ground on which to speak with them. After all, both parties are now agreeing that the basis for the discussion should be the truth or falsity of both the Gospel and their own understanding of the world, and that should create fertile ground for discussion...provided, of course, that the person is not lying.

Lying is the biggest problem that I experience in these discussions, and it is a problem that exists primarily on the Internet among people who engage in religious forums.(You see a lot of it in forums on politics, too, but that is not my focus here.) Outside of the Internet, in a one-on-one conversation with another person, it is easy to read by their attitude and demeanor whether their "yes" is really a yes or whether they are just mouthing something that they don't really believe. And in most cases, when you interact personally with another person (rather than using the handles and pseudonyms of the Internet), they are more likely to be truthful about how they really feel.

On the Internet -- and especially on religious discussion boards or in comments to blogs like this -- too often people are not there to engage in a real conversation. They are there to attack your point of view. They are there to win a debate. They will lie to you about what they think to keep you in the game. That person's "yes" to the question is no more than a way of saying, "I really don't care what you have to say, I am here to pound you with my opinion which I will dress up as fact and pretending to be interested in the truth will keep you involved longer." They may even believe the lie themselves -- but their willingness to follow the truth only extends to the truth that they have falsely convinced themselves is the truth. The sad thing is these are the people who need the truth the most yet they are the hardest to reach of any of the groups.

I really do like Frank's question. In a different forum than the Internet, I will use it. But I don't expect it to be of much use over the Internet. There are just plain too many trolls strolling along the digital highway for conversations of this sort to be productive.

I'm taking a break from my own blog this week for various reasons, so my post here is a repost of a 2010 post from my own blog. And yet, it could have been written yesterday as accurate as it is when it comes to the plague of erroneous information we suffer from today.

I'll explain one reason why at the end.


A reader asked me to have a look at something I’d rather have not seen: The Wikipedia page on the historicity of the book of Acts.

Yes, of course: It’s a perfect example of why I call Wikipedia, “the abomination that causes misinformation.” Not just because it has outright errors, but because ideology can readily slant any of its pages when someone comes along with a bug in their nostrils.

In this case, it is fairly clear that someone has come along who has been reading all the standard liberal commentators (eg, Haenchen) and thinks they’re gospel. Nearly all of the objections raised are old hat; I’ll put links to answers below, just for the sake of completeness. For that sake as well, I’ll answer here the only one I did find that was new to me (and it is a good one, since it only makes it more clear why I disdain Wikipedia as a source).

Acts 6:9 mentions the Province of Cilicia during a scene allegedly taking place in mid-30s AD. The Roman province by that name had been on hiatus from 27 BC and was re-established by Emperor Vespasian only in 72 AD.

Actually, the word “province” isn’t in the text. If anyone errs here, it is translations like the NIV for inserting the word “province”. Here “Cilicia” would more likely have a more informal designation used by those who lived in the region; they hardly would simply give up the name just because the provincial designation had been put on hiatus (something the average peasant probably might not have known or even cared had happened until 72 AD!). Indeed, the very fact that the province was reinstituted with the same name shows that it stuck in people’s minds all that time.

At any rate, back to Wikipedia. In a few cases it is clear that some folks have tried to add in answers to some of these objections. For example, regarding Acts 4:4, it gives an objection about Jerusalem’s population, which is then answered. In other cases what we have may as well not even be there. As of this writing, a section titled “Acts 24: Paul’s Trial” has nothing under it but:

Paul's trial in Acts 24 has been described as 'incoherently presented'.

And that’s it. Why anyone would think this would warrant a section of its own is hard to say. It also doesn’t belong under the section name, “Passages of alleged historical inaccuracy,” as coherence of presentation isn’t even a “historical accuracy” issue.

In any event, all we have is a sound bite culled from a single scholarly work dated to 1963 (without, as Wikipedia notes, even a page number offered!). I looked up that work, which is available online, and the questions presented by the scholar to allegedly demonstrate incoherence amount to questions of inscrutable personal motivation (eg, “Why did Paul not wait for a decision instead of appealing to Caesar?”) that do not logically demand a verdict of historical inaccuracy. (The answer to that question, by the way, is that Paul likely anticipated an unfavorable verdict – or else that he sought some sort of honorable vindication from the Emperor’s court.)

It doesn’t get much better after that. Someone else later got the bug of the darkness at the crucifixion in their nostrils, and, though the article is about the reliability of Acts, inserted a complaint about the allegedly unreliability of Luke, in reporting that darkness. Gibbon’s stale objections are specifically resurrected for this purpose.

There’s a lot that would need to be done to bring this Wikipedia entry up to any sort of reputable standard. As it stands, it is a hodgepodge of random objections, mostly poorly formulated, few given any sort of adequate treatment, some added on to with answers, some of those good and some not so good…and so on. In other words, it is just what we would expect from a page that is authored by everybody and assigned responsibility by nobody. And this is just one page out of millions Wikipedia has running.

How long would it take to fix this mess, on just this one page? I could pop in there with plenty of material, taking a few hours to do so – only to find it erased next week. Or to find some fundy atheist has added some new and outdated objections which I would then have to fix. And so on. I could start a whole new ministry dedicated to fixing Wikipedia.

It is sorely tempting for me to try an experiment with Wikipedia as an object lesson, much like the one performed by Shane Fitzgerald (see link below). I have access to all sorts of obscure databases listing all sorts of obscure books, most of which are not readily available anywhere. It would hardly be difficult at all to find some obscure title on some important topic, post some reputed “fact” about it on Wikipedia, and cite that obscure book as a source. Who would be the wiser? Skeptics everywhere got away with listing the fabricated Pope Leo X quote, and some even added a reference to Encyclopedia Britannica to substantiate it. How hard would it be to fool Wiki’s mostly average-Joe volunteer editors the same way?

Not hard at all. I could easily out-Fitzgerald Fitzgerald on that score. And that’s something to think about.

The Ticker will now take some time off for the holidays…here are those links in close. A Merry Christmas to all, and to all…a Wikipedia-less night. (story on Shane Fitzgerald)

 Now as to my one special reason why this remains relevant...

 Paul's trial in Acts 24 has been described as 'incoherently presented'.

This phrase may or may not be gone from Wikipedia, but 7 years later, it's still floating around on other websites as a claim. Do a search and see what I mean. It's an illustration of the fact that no matter how long it is, crap like this stays online and has to be re-addressed again and again as it deceives people anew.

Due to being busy on other projects, and also fighting off a nasty round of spring allergies, I didn't do an Easter series on the Cadre this year; and besides Joe was taking point on that this time. So I'll just put up a post for handy links to the first two parts of an ongoing series I've previously been working on, and call it a season. {g}

Let me clarify and stress that the point of this series, is NOT to argue (directly anyway) for the historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in any religiously Christian sense -- although, since I have somehow been mistaken by some fans of Richard Carrier in thinking I don't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, I'll also clarify here that I do, with full trinitarian Christian theological meaning. (They were referencing a discussion I was having with Keith Parsons where I was taking the side of bodily resurrection vs a mass hallucination theory, not referencing this series; but eh, fans of Richard Carrier, in my experience over the years they tend to get confused easily.)

On the contrary, this series is just an intellectual exercise, for self-critical purposes (interesting to me anyway), in seeing how far I'd get in accepting various historical claims around religiously Christian claims about Jesus of Nazareth (including but not restricted to resurrection claims), if I was not only a dedicated atheist (so bracketing out my religious beliefs per se and subbing in disbelief for the existence of any type of ultimate God), but also starting from the most feasibly extreme sceptical positions I can find (albeit "feasible" by my estimation, keeping in mind that people have varying estimates of feasibility) and working forward from there only where I see logical advantages to increasing belief vs scepticism. Considering that I start with an unknown author totally inventing his whole text in an unknown year for unknown reasons, and considering options from there, I don't think I'm starting mild! But then of course I'm factoring in, sometimes at shorthand, various details about the situation I've learned about over the decades.

One point I'm provisionally importing as a prior conclusion, is that no amount of historical argument can logically stand as deductive ground for deciding that my atheism is false. At most it might give me grounds for re-evaluating why I think atheism is true and theism false, but that's rather a different intellectual operation going back to metaphysics. Nor do I mean to introduce this provision as some kind of belief foreign to my real beliefs; since I am on record (here now as elsewhere) as believing and arguing the same thing as a theist (and as a trinitarian theist): historical conclusions are not metaphysical conclusions and should not be elided between. This is why I have never once tried to use historical arguments to convince atheists (or alt-theists) to be theists (or my kind of theist). This is also related to why in my historical arguments I either specifically argue along lines I would accept even if I held a different philosophy (though admittedly any philosophy that allows for real history and other topics related to historical arguments), or else if I'm factoring in various levels of my actual religious beliefs I clearly qualify what I'm doing with acknowledgements that those who don't agree with my beliefs might or will certainly consider the matter differently.

Consequently, I do not expect to reach a conclusion that Jesus Christ was raised by God (including by His own power, in trinitarian theology) from the dead; I'm provisionally expecting that this is even impossible to reach as a purely historical conclusion. I am not, on the other hand, provisionally expecting that it is impossible that Jesus was raised bodily from death by some other means: atheism just excludes theism being the cause. Technically, atheism doesn't even exclude supernatural causes, just not supernatural theistic causes. I might think that zero point energy is supernatural energy, substantially independent of natural reality and upon which natural reality depends for existence. But I wouldn't think the zero point energy was God. If I was a naturalistic atheist, then I'd be excluding supernatural causes, too, even if ultimately still atheistic. But for purposes of this extended exercise I'm acting as agnostic on the naturalism/supernaturalism question, with a majority expectation however for natural causation based on past experience to the best of my knowledge. Consequently I don't expect to conclude in favor of a supernatural cause for the shape of the data, even though I'm not philosophically ruling that out as a prior metaphysical conclusion.

In one sense I haven't gotten very far yet: I haven't even strictly concluded I would believe Jesus was executed on a cross yet, although I've gotten close. (I've even most recently argued that, ironically, sceptical arguments about Paul positively not referring to burial in a tomb, necessarily rely on at least implicitly accepting a crucifixion as historical background, even though the tomb burial is equally attested in the same material attesting the crucifixion. Passing by the topic that way, I'd be pretty close now to accepting that Jesus was crucified as a historical fact.) But in another sense I've already decided in favor of a number of topics, and passing close to accepting a number of others (some of which will likely soon feature in future stages of the series -- I've been working on it for fifteen years or more now, so I move pretty slowly.)

Here then is a quick linkset to my sections and chapters of this series so far, with some brief descriptions.


Key evidence? -- introduces the topic with the story of the guards' report toward the end of GosMatt, and considers an exhaustive number of options for its existence including total fabrication by the GosMatt author.

A pauce list of possibilities -- from the one small conclusion of historical accuracy (a certain prevalent number of Jews were saying to GosMatt's intended audience, "the disciples stole the body,") further implications and sceptical options are considered.

A shape of results, and other shapes -- collating implications of the analysis so far, including the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth and the missing body of Jesus.

They ain't got no body -- some implications of the guards.

No body knows the trouble they seen -- more implications of the guards.

The backhanded strength of a weak story -- if a weak story is still being used against GosMatt's audience, what does that imply?

Hints of a particular person and place -- putting various things together so far, someone rather like Joseph of Arimathea (by function and capabilities anyway) and something very much like a tomb emerge.

So why a theft? -- this particular detail of the opposition provides further implications (of various strengths).

Some body, give us a summary! -- at least 40 historical conclusions from the Key, even starting from extreme scepticism. (The number was accidental.)

An appendix considering an alternate theory of fabrication rounds -- what if both sides had been inventing details against each other, never corrected on either side by any actual facts, and without contact with each other?

Why didn't the Sanhedrin produce a fake body of Jesus? -- an interesting side effect to the preceding argument, in solving a subtle strategic problem for historical body disappearance theories.

A sepulchral no -- introducing the topic, acknowledging its validity as a question (not metaphysically impossible or nonsense), and a quick number zero answer I won't be using. Also discussion of Crossan's novel theory (of the tomb, and Jesus rising from the tomb, being invented long before GosMark, as a poetic figure, later mistaken for history.)

If it waddles like a tomb and quacks like a tomb... -- importing relevant conclusions from the previous section: i.e. something tomb-like from which Jesus' body disappears, substantially predates GosMark.

A flock of tombs -- the tomb is accepted immediately without trace of authoritative competition, which has implications for historicity and against literary invention not often noticed.

Love a tomb -- inventing the women as the first allies to find the tomb empty, doesn't help the tomb as a literary invention.

Oblivion-gushing does not help -- problems with inventing the rejection of the women, and with inventing the women being wrong about a mundane explanation, for an invented tomb theory.

Special authoritative snowflakes shattering on a tomb -- the (near-)total disassociation of the subsequent Christian authorities from the tomb, is pretty much fatal for an invented tomb.

Disappearing acts of the tomb -- the example of the canonical Acts of the Apostles, over-against arguments from silence about lack of explicitly mentioning a tomb in various sources. Plus implications of Paul in Acts, if the author is otherwise concluded to be generally trustworthy in reporting mundane historical data.

Like one untimely born -- the irony of trying to count Paul's terminology in 1 Cor 15 explicitly against a tomb burial: such an argument against expecting a tomb burial, relies totally (if implicitly) on a historical claim which shows up joined repeatedly and explicitly to a historical tomb burial.

Were the Canonical NT Authors Bowing to Popular Pagan Converts? Part 1 and Part 2 -- a sidebar, between sections in effect, which explains why, even as an atheist, I'd be vastly sceptical of theories of pagan syncretism to explain content of historical claims about Jesus.

I expect to add to this linkset whenever I get around to adding more series entries (or perhaps relevant side posts).

[Note: I originally posted this on the Cadre in 2008; it seems relevant to repost now, as an explanation for why I'm not especially worried about 2 in 5 people in Great Britain thinking Jesus is non-historical. Original title: The Cultural Triumph of Scepticism (or, why the Jesus Myth theory will probably gain steam in Europe)]

Keeping in mind this is from the London Daily Mail (via Fox News), and I haven't got a clue how the survey was conducted, but still -- if an estimated 25% of British citizens age 20 and younger don't believe Winston Churchill existed, then Christianity is most certainly doomed in Europe. But not for any reasonable reason.

The same report also indicates significant numbers of the same respondents thought Ghandi, Cleopatra, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Charles Dickens (among others), had been invented for books and movies. (Though one might give a pass on Dickens if respondents believed this was an author pseudonym and so were responding in that light.)

Jesus Myth proponents, on the other hand, might be tempted to take solace in the fact that significant numbers of people in the same survey thought Sherlock Holmes, Eleanor Rigby, the Three Musketeers, Robinson Crusoe and Biggles the Pilot (beats me, don't ask {American shrug}) were real people. But the list shows a peculiar ambiguity: it includes many people who either certainly or probably did exist but whose exploits were incorrectly attributed to someone else (such as Dick Turpin) or inflated by storytellers later; or includes characters that (for all anyone knows, especially given some knowledge about their creators) might easily be supposed to have been based on real persons (the Mona Lisa, Eleanor Rigby.) In other words, respondents wouldn't necessarily be technically wrong on some of those answers, and could be forgiven for erring on the side of charity on some of the others. Similarly, some of the historical characters (the Duke of Wellington, Cleopatra) may have become so romanced that people could naturally suppose them to be fictional now.

But this is a rather different category from the scepticism, mixed with galactic levels of ignorance, that is prepared to consider Churchill and Montgomery (of all people) fictional characters. Does anyone think that that kind of sceptical incredulity won't be a prime source for rejecting Jesus' existence? More importantly, who exactly was it who trained those young people to so totally disregard the existence of people for whom we have literally mountains of evidence dating to within living eyewitness of their lives!?

Clearly, similar levels of evidence for Jesus' existence WOULD NOT NECESSARILY MAKE MUCH DIFFERENCE to a significant number of young British: if they can accept Monty and Churchill to be fictional, they'd be just as ready to accept a similarly attested Jesus (wasn't he a Buddhist like that other foreign fictional religious leader Ghandi??) to be fictional, too. Or, if the similar mountain of evidence wasn't as publicly and easily available, they would be just as ready to believe Jesus fictional despite teachers who did have access to that mountain of evidence telling them otherwise.

This, of course, says nothing against any mythicist arguments. It only reveals that mythicism, as a large-scale movement, is likely to be a result of hilarious levels of unreason and ignorance, in total disregard for any actual evidence, regardless of how extensive the evidence is, and regardless of expert beliefs about the implications of even mountains of evidence. Consequently if, in the future someday, Europe leads the world first in large numbers of people accepting some kind of Jesus Mythicism, I'm going to keep in mind that it absolutely would not matter how much historical evidence there was or how good the arguments are about what evidence there is: for whatever cultural reasons, Europe is primed to be incorrigibly stupid about historical topics. If they won't listen to (literally listen to and watch audio/video records of) Monty and Churchill, neither will they listen about a man rising from the dead.

(Hat-tip:, which I love to frequent for various reasons, and where one of the admins, LongBlade, in reporting this survey via Fox News, made use of a highly amusing 'emoticon' showing a sheep sipping Kool-Aid. Which I thought our sceptical readers might find amusing for reasons of their own.)


 photo eastern-gate-a_zpse3caa84d.jpg
Eastern gate to Jerusalem, also called "Messiah gate"
or "Golden gate." Messiah it is said will enter through this gate.

I am angared by new rise in Jesus mytherism, It;s verydistrubimng becauseof the study thatshows us the following:
40% in Briton don;t believe Jesus existed

We need to start addressing this big time,it;so uncalled. There are gobs of evidence for Jesus historicity but the mythers are so totally Argonaut and literally tell me I am an idiot for belief in Jesus as a man in history, Here is my post Peter Kirby's straw man argument om Talmudic evidence,

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.[1] 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.

Kirby writes:

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 [2] 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 Stada
*Ben Pantira [3]

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!" [4]  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.

II. Celsus

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." [5]

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).  [6]

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


[1] Peter Kirby," Best Case for Jesus:(d) Babylonian Talmud (and Justin Martyr)"Peter Kirby (blog)
Jan. 22, 2015, Online resource, URL: accessed 1/18/16

[2] David Instone-Brewer, "Jesus of Nazareth's Trail in Sanhedrin 43a," PDF, pre publication copy

[3] Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson's He Walked Among Us Here's Life Publishers (1988)

[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.

[5] 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).

[6] 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.
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