On Monday this week I happened to read a catholic publication, it is a daily devotional. I would like to share my thoughts on the write-up / reflections in the devotional for monday. You can find images of the article below
Basically the “Meditation Of The Day” was based on the gospel reading for monday, which was Matthew 12:38-42
When a person steadfastly refuses to believe something, even in the face of overwhelming data, it’s probably not because of weak faith; it’s more likely because of a hardened heart.
I generally agree with this statement, if it was me writing it I would probably replaced “because of weak faith” with something along the lines of “because of no evidence”, this may seem minor to many off you but I am off the stance that what you believe in and place your trust in should be based on evidence / facts rather than faith ( especially the religious kind of faith ). That’s by the way, the main reason that phrase stood out to me was that I had a red alert when I read “even in the face of overwhelming data” and the fact that the whole write-up was based on “Jesus” and “signs”, that the author was going to say something about Jesus
Other than this objection, that section of the write-up is spot on, try to provide evidence of an old earth to a young earther, or a spherical earth to a flat earther, try to provide evidence for evolution to someone who says that there is no evidence for evolution, try to provide evidence to someone who says that not a single one of Einstein relativity propositions has been proven or someone who says that there is no contradiction in the bible. If you have encountered any of this situation, you would find that this statement is spot on and the objections or rebuttals being offered is not from lack of evidence but from a brain that has evicted reason ( at least during the conversation ) or one that graduated with an A+ in indoctrination.
What about us? What kinds of signs has Jesus left us to strengthen and reaffirm our faith?
Another red alert here, but a good question nevertheless. Reading the rest of the write-up I felt that the author misused the word “sign” especially if you read how the word “sign” is used in the bible passage that this meditation is based on. From the rest of the write-up it is clear that what the author is referring to is “What evidence do we have of Jesus that reaffirms our faith?”. And that is a good question
Well, first, there is historical evidence outside of the New Testament that Jesus existed
Here we go again. Yeshua was a fairly common name in Israel, the name can also be found in the old testament. So I have no problem in you saying that someone in first century Israel went by the name Jesus. What I am asking for is not evidence for Jesus but rather evidence for the biblical Jesus
We have accounts from the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius
A quick aside, in this post I wouldn’t have an indepth discussion on the authenticity of many of the ancient writings on Jesus, though many of them are regarded by scholars to be chrisitian interpolation
First, what does Tacitus say
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.
Tacitus in Annals Book 15, Chapter 44
Tacitus passage serves more as evidence for the presence of Christians in Rome than of the gospels alleged miracle worker. At the very most, what Tacitus says concerning “Christus” is that “Pontius Pilatus” had him put to death. This could be used to argue that “Christus” was crucified and that its.
Ok, what about Suetonius
During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made: a limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale. Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city.
Suetonius in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars , Nero 16
Ok, I doubt that this is what the author of the write-up was referring to, all that this passage serves as is evidence of Christians in Rome and that the undergo some form of punishment
What I believe the author is referring to is this,
Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit
As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome
It is important to point out that the word used is “Chresto” not “Christo“. Chrestus was a common slave name which means “good”, “righteous”, or “useful”. Christos denotes “anointed” or “messiah”
Many argue that Suetonius made a mistake and was referring to “Christo” this is just wishful thinking as the earliest extant manuscripts contain “Chresto” and not “Christo“. And also the event in which Claudius expelled Jews from Rome is recorded elsewhere in other histories – without the “impulsore Chresto” claim – and dates to around 49, 52 or 53 AD/CE, an incident that apparently was unrelated to a historical Jesus of Nazareth and cannot serve as evidence for his historicity.
As R.T. France says that the notion of a misspelling by Suetonius “can never be more than a guess, and the fact that Suetonius can elsewhere speak of ‘Christians’ as members of a new cult (without any reference to Jews) surely makes it rather unlikely that he could make such a mistake.”
It can also be said that Suetonius “Chresto” existed in Rome at the time. If this is the case, then it can’t be about Jesus, as the biblical Jesus was crucified a couple of years prior to this event
Even if Suetonius was talking about “Christ”, this reference doesn’t serve as evidence for a supposed miracle worker
Ok, back to the write-up
We also have the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote that Jesus was a “doer of great works” who “was crucified.”
At this point, you may be thinking that I am too critical of Tacitus and Suetonius when stressing that they don’t proof that Jesus described by the bible existed. You would be right, I am a bit too critical, but it isn’t because of the accounts per say but rather because many of the readers of the devotional would be hearing of Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus for the first time and would have no idea that the historical Jesus proposed by scholars differs drastically from the biblical Jesus
The author’s mention of Josephus got my attention and his or her intentional omission of Josephus reference to “James the brother of Jesus” which is actually considered more authentic than the one used by the author ( though it isn’t without criticism ). Catholics believe that Jesus was an only child and that Mary remained a virgin forever, so it would have been interesting to see how he or she tackled “James the brother of Jesus”. The Testimonium Flavianum which was used by the author used is generally viewed by scholars to be a forgery, a christian interpolation ( though it is largely seen to be partially authentic but has gone through christian processing ). If the author considered the Testimonium Flavianum authentic, I would have loved to hear his or her response to “James the brother of Jesus”
Then there is also the New Testament itself. We could also say that the Bible is unreliable, but again, historical evidence seems to point away from that.
Now saying that the bible is reliable, I need to know what you mean. Do you mean that the bible is reliable in its entirety and in all aspects. If so, I beg to differ. If I’m to put the bible scientific claims to test, it falls short. Lets look at some examples
- A snake ( Genesis 3:4-5 ) or a donkey ( Numbers 22:28 ) doesn’t possess the required biological organs and neuronal process to have a concise conversation with a human being
- A rod can not spontaneously transform into serpents ( Exodus 7:10-12 ). A non living thing can not perform the life processes necessary for a living thing
- We know that throwing sticks into water does not make the head of an axe float in water ( 2 Kings 6:5-6 ). We also know that the density of an axe-head ( iron ) is much larger than water and based on Archimedes principle, axe-head can not float in water as the weight of the water displaced by the iron axe head is less than its weight, hence the axe-head can not produce enough buoyant force and combined with its greater density an axe-head can not float in water
- If the earth was to come to a stop in order to reverse its spin for the shadow cast by the light from the sun to go back 10 degrees ( 2 Kings 20:9-11 ), the effect on earth would be catastrophic. Most of earth would become inhospitable, everything on the earth that isn’t tied well to the ground e.g buildings, humans, animals, water etc will go flying eastwards at about 1675 km/hr. We know that no incidence like this ever occurred while humans have roamed the earth
- For someone to convert water into wine ( John 2:1-11 ), one would have to carry out nuclear transmutation and other changes to the hydrogen and oxygen atoms to produce carbon which is needed for the formation of ethanol, phenolics, tannins, carbohydrate etc which are all important constituents of wine. We know that 1 century Israel didn’t have the technology to do this, even if they could, a large amount of nuclear energy would be produced
Ok, lets say the aren’t talking about the bible in the “science sense”, lets see it in the “history sense”
- The conquest narrative in the book of Joshua has been disproven to be historical events. Most of the cities mentioned were either uninhabited at the time or if destroyed where destroyed at widely different times. The destruction of the Hazor which date to that time period has varying theories on the cause of the destruction: the Israelite did it, it was the result of civil strife, attacks by the sea people, and / or a result of the general collapse of civilization across the whole eastern Mediterranean in the late Bronze Age
- Historical, archaeological evidence and lack off shows that exodus if it occurred did not take place as described by the bible
- The bible states that “Darius the Mede” captured Babylon in the sixth century BC ( Daniel 5:31 ), whereas historians know it to be Cyrus of Persia
- They are also many contradictions in the bible
Now I am not trying to say that the bible does not contain historical truth. Actually some things in the bible are set in actual historical places and at actual historical times. But much of the bible garbles with what we know as “Historical fiction”.
We have evidence for Homer’s Troy, validating some names, places and events in the Iliad. The fact that the Iliad correctly records that there was a city called Troy that was attacked by the Greeks does not give credibility to the claim that the various gods fought alongside the Greeks and Trojans, that the was an “invulnerable” Achilles etc.
Writings about other historical figures from that time – people like Julius Caesar and Tacitus – exist, but the oldest reliable manuscripts come from nearly a thousand years after their deaths.
What’s more, only a few copies of these manuscripts have survived. By contrast, nearly five thousand copies of the Greek New Testament and ten thousand copies of its Latin translation exist – and they date back as far as AD 130. Clearly, we can rely on these accounts of Jesus far more than the accounts of Tacitus and Caesar!
I would devout an entire future post on this matter. But to keep things simple, we have more manuscripts concerning Jesus, that is true. But a very big BUT, we have more evidence for the existence of Julius Caesar than we have of Jesus. Having a greater number of manuscripts can make you have better textual integrity. But textual integrity tells us ZERO about the validity of the contents of the text.
Someone in a post-apocalyptic future where Scientology has become the dominant religion could potentially show that the text of their hand-copied manuscript editions of Dianetics had greater textual integrity than their manuscripts of Hawking’s A Complete History of Time. That would say nothing about which one reflected reality.
OR, in a post-apocalyptic future where more copies of DC comics or the Harry Potter series or the Perseus Jackson series survive, they would have a really good textual integrity. But will that serve as evidence that a alien pod ( that was mistaken for a meteorite ) carried Kal-El ( superman ) to earth or that evidence for New York remains, then superman existed. Or the historical events mentioned in the Perseus Jackson book series make us conclude that Perseus Jackson existed as a historical figure
An urban legend can be superbly attested (we can collect thousands of primary source documents containing the legend), yet 100% bogus
So having a large amount of manuscripts does nothing to show the reliability of the manuscripts content
Then, of course, there were the apostles themselves. If Jesus weren’t God and if he hadn’t risen from the dead, there would be no reason for his disciples to dedicate their lives to spreading the good news of the resurrection. At the very least, there would be no need for them to become martyrs for the cause
To be fair, this is the best argument for the biblical Jesus and the resurrection I have heard but even it falls down flat. I would write a future post on it. But to keep things simple
Now, I only consider this method of reasoning valid for the earliest “martyrs” those who would have had contact with Jesus not for the many more that came decades / centuries after. I’m following this line of thought largely because many people have died for their beliefs not just christians but that doesn’t serve as evidence that their belief is true, it means they were utterly convinced. The only “martyrs” with substance would be the earliest apostles.
In some persecutions (as that mentioned by Philo), it’s clear that Christians could recant and so escape. But that is not applicable to all cases. To take a famous example, it’s said that Nero blamed the great fire in Rome on Christians, and punished them viciously as scapegoats. Who would care if they renounced their faith? Who would ask them to? They weren’t persecuted to turn them away from their faith, but as punishment for something they’d allegedly done. In other scenarios, they might be convicted (in the eyes of the mob) of blasphemy or atheism that they wouldn’t get an opportunity to back out of.
Paul and Peter were put to death shortly after Nero’s great fire of Rome. We can’t say for certain if their deaths were because they didn’t recant but it is most likely it had to do with Nero using christians as scapegoat rather than Peter and Paul not denying the resurrection.
We don’t actually know precisely what beliefs any early Christian martyrs would have died for. Early Christianity was very diverse, with at least dozens of different sects and divisions, with all kinds of different christologies and beliefs.
I don’t know exactly how the author’s assertion of Jesus being god was related to the rest of his or her statement. Like I said early christianity just like modern christianity is pretty diverse.
Saying “there would be no reason for his disciples to dedicate their lives to spreading the good news of the resurrection” if the resurrection is not true is like saying, people dedicating a significant portion of their lives spreading things like the earth is flat, the holocaust never happened, the moon landing is a hoax and other urban legends and conspiracy theories implies that they are true. That doesn’t proof that what they are saying is true, it just means they are utterly convinced that their stance is true
That’s a lot of signs! So the question is not “Did Jesus exist?” Neither is the question “Did people really believe he is the Son of God?” The only question left for us is “Can I believe that Jesus is who the Scriptures say he is? Can I stake my life on him and his promised?”
Like I stated earlier, I am not asking if someone called Jesus existed in 1 century AD Israel, what I am asking for is evidence that the Jesus described in the bible existed and that wasn’t provided. To be quite fair, the authors did a good job in the sense that their targeted audience are not atheist or skeptics like me but are practicing catholics who don’t need any sort of non-biblical convincing so the authors can paint a nice picture in their minds that they are a lot of evidence for the biblical Jesus, even though that is false.
“Did people really believe he is the Son of God?” people do even to this day believe that Jesus is the son of god, some even say that Jesus is god. But like I said earlier, early christianity was diverse, some christians didn’t believe this stance others did
“Can I stake my life on him and his promised?”. No I can’t stake my life on him and his supposed promises, they are no sufficient reasons
C. S. Lewis once said that the evidence leaves us with only three possibilities: Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Let’s believe the third option, and give him our hearts today
I don’t see the evidence being referred to. And there are other options Jesus was a Legend, “mis-represented”, “fiction”. I am more to the mis-represented option