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Christianity & Jesus

Comment: Finding the historical Jesus in the Gospels

February 19th, 2010 | Category: CAE Course Material, Comments
With only sketchy support from non-Christian references for Jesus, Christian scholars still rely on the gospels, especially the so-called synoptic gospels, for constructing the historical Jesus. How should we read these gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – critically? And should we include John as well?
Here are a few ideas…

Comment: Jesus, Christians, and Pliny

Around 110 CE Emperor Trajan appointed Pliny the Younger, Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, as Governor of Bithynia-Pontus, on the southern coast of the Black Sea in modern-day Turkey. He was to investigate financial and administrative problems and deal with political unrest. Pliny was a successful middle-ranking bureaucrat from the Equestrian order, the lower of the two aristocratic classes, below that of Patricians. Remarkably, Pliny collected many of his letters and responses, made over his lifetime to friends, superiors, and juniors whom he encouraged. His letters were organised as a series of books in which number ten contained official correspondence with Trajan, where Pliny sought administrative advice during his time in Bithynia-Pontus…

Comment: History, Historians, and Truth

Some time back AtheistNexus (http://www.atheistnexus.org/), a very active social network for atheists, hosted a forum question on the existence of a historical Jesus. The posting offered possibilities from ‘actually existed’ including all miracle claims to ‘purely fictional’. As you can imagine, pure fiction was a popular choice amongst the atheists. Moreover one contributor said, quite definitively, that she “[did] a lot of research many years ago and found nothing to support the existence of such a person.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that…

Comment: Russell Blackford – Call to Arms for Atheists

Russell Blackford argues that the so-called New Atheists – Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens – are a welcomed reactivation of religious criticism and skepticism after a period of misguided accommodation. He supports their efforts, as should all atheists.

We see unjustified religious privileges everyday. In reality when religious organisations attempt to influence social behaviour with faith-based arguments, they are open to forthright analysis and criticism. I agree with Blackford that atheists have every right, in fact an obligation, to question churches’ ontological and epistemological bases of their claims, such as a benevolent god or moral Jesus, for their moral pronouncements. Once arguing in the public space, churches should not be allowed to claim any special immunity from robust inquiries and criticism…

Comment: Was Jesus killed by the Jewish people?

According to Christian scripture – Christian Bible: a clear Yes
From typical historical reconstructions: local Jewish leadership only
All four gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John (in order of authorship) as well Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians clearly show that the early Christians held the Jews responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, even wanting his death ahead of a convicted murderer. Christian biblical quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation.
Paul’s letter – 1 Thessalonians 2 (50CE)
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
Gospel – Mark 15:6-15 (65-70CE)
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. 7 The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8 The crowd went up and began asking him to doas he had been accustomed to do for them. 9 Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” 15 Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
Gospel – Luke 23:13-25 (85-90CE)
13 Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 “No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. 16 “Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 17 [Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]
18 But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” 19 (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.)20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, 21 but they kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” 22 And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 23 But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail.24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted.25 And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.
Gospel – Matthew 27:15-26 (85-90CE)
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.
19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. 21 But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!”23 And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; seeto that yourselves.” 25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
Gospel – John 18:39-19:16
39 “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.”5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” 6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”
8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
Most Christians today downplay these clear biblical accusations with remarks about social context and need for early Christians to separate from the rejecting Jewish majority. So why is today’s twenty-first century morality superior to that of the spirit-filled writers of Christian sacred texts, when most Christians believe that morality depends on God – no God and there is no morality? But the scriptures are inspired by God. Are Christians free to adjust their God-inspired Christian scriptures whenever their scripture-based morality becomes unacceptable? By what standards – updated revelations to 2.0?
Many scholars have proposed historical restructions of Jesus’ life – all are speculations as there is effectively non-Christian independence evidence available. Here is one plausible approach.
Jesus, like many others, was a self-declared Jewish apocalyptic prophet who preached the overthrow of the corrupt Jewish and Roman ruling elite with the coming kingdom of God. The ’son of man’ would imminently herald in a new kingdom to replace the leaders of the day. This should have happened just some 2000 years ago according to his own predictions. Publically Jesus was vague on this son of man though he may have named himself privately to his inner circle of followers. This may have been the secret knowledge betrayed by Judas. While preaching in rural areas, Jesus was unnoticed by the Jerusalem elite. However his apocalyptic preachings during Passover – sensitive times for the Romans as a celebration of Jewish freeing from foreign captivity, in Jerusalem ultimately lead to a swift hearing and his disposal by execution as a trouble-maker. This was the fate suffered by many and was seen as of little consequence. History proved them wrong.
On this account the Jewish have no more responsibility than any other peoples for the unfortunate deaths of millions in the past. The charge was simply, though dangerously, propaganda by Christian writers through the ages.

According to the Christian Bible: a clear Yes

From typical historical reconstructions: local Jewish leadership only

Christian Biblical texts

All four gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John (in order of authorship) as well Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians clearly show that the early Christians held the Jews responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, even wanting his death ahead of a convicted murderer. Christian biblical quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation. I have highlighted the relevant passages…

Comment: Atheist Bluffer’s Guide to the Bible – NT part 1

Defenders of Christianity often escape criticism by referring to atheist ignorance of true Christian beliefs. Even though their beliefs vary more than Christians like to acknowledge, we can have some “showy” knowledge of the New Testament to throw into the conversation. Christians are surprisingly ignorant of their own sacred texts.

The New Testament, essentially a new covenant with God, is a disparate collection of 27 books written in Greek somewhere between 70CE and 150CE. Most believe Jesus was executed about 30CE…