There’s seems to be a wave of folks of redefining Jesus: Some wandering hippie, a good guy, hobo, this-or-that-retinterpreted-through-modern-cause or just someone that someone else made up. No, I’m not getting into a religious discussion here, but a historical one. This is also a case study in rooting out bias and agenda. In today’s 24/7 Internet, there’s a demand for a constant flow of articles. We should keep our baloney detector on, no matter what the topic we are reading (whether we like the author’s overall position or not).
Take the article by Chris Sosa, journalist, entitled “Historical Jesus, Not so Fast.” It starts out as if he is going to do what journalists do: A careful examination of an important subject. Very quickly, however, it becomes apparent we have nothing of the sort. Rather it is a repeating of common skeptical claims, not really new to anyone versed in such studies. An agenda emerges quickly.
Especially to anyone who spends 5 minutes looking up the author’s claims.
Claim 1: The Quirinius census (Luke 2:2) was too late to coincide with Herod the Great’s reign (Mathew 2:1) (thus Jesus birth story all out of whack). A couple things Sosa leaves out: Some serious; scholars believe Quirinius was twice governor as implied in Lapis Tiburtinus; inscription. Others have suggested the translation should be, “this census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made.” Not all issues have clear cut answers, but nor is there lack of answers, as implied by the article.
Claim 2: Sosa claims the Gospel of Mark “does not say that Jesus resurrected” stating this was “added at a later date.” Actually, as the translation he references clearly marks, the disputed portion starts at Mark 16:9. The resurrection is mentioned before this in Mark 16:6. The author hasn’t followed his own advice of, “Grab a bible and read along.”
Claim 3: Then there this old stand-by, “…not a single [gospel] agrees with the others on who actually saw [the resurrection].” A cursory review of the gospels reveals that none claim who first saw the empty tomb. That’s an important point (or omission on Sosa’s part). All of the gospels choose different details to focus on of the same events, which is clearly not the same as disagreeing.
Claim 4: Okay, he doesn’t claim anything, only defaults to quoting Bart Ehrman, (infamous) New Testament scholar. Ehrman is a fave among Jesus-debunkers and their go-to guy. Problem is that those who actually test his claims find that he isn’t all that scholarly. In fact, his arguments fail quite spectacularly. That all is beyond the scope of this essay, but finding someone who affirms your view and not testing their claims is not the same as actually proving it. (And Ehrman, scholar he may be, likes to sell his books under tabloidish titled books like Forged).
Claim 5: Sosa then discounts extrabiblical mentions of Jesus, which, obviously, “disintegrate under close examination” when consulting only scholars that agree with predetermined view. Interestingly, though, he doesn’t list all the known references, only ones some people debate.
I’m sure Sosa can “go on for hundreds of pages about the contradictions and historical problems of the Jesus narrative” just as Ehrman has by ignoring thousands of pages — and years — of contrary scholarship. Among other things, they neglect the eyewitness issues and rapid spread of Christianity in face of persecution. Or, very importantly, few Jews ever denied Christ’s existence. By history’s standards, there is far more documentation for Christ than most others we accept as real in the ancient world.
Note here that I didn’t resort to “faith” or talking points or emotion, only history and looking at the documents. Sure, I haven’t gone into a lengthy scholarly dissertation here either, but that wasn’t the point. The point is that we shouldn’t get mad reading an article, or automatically agree with it, without basic verification. Tone can indicate an agenda. A brief article claiming to unseat two millennia of scholarship needs some scrutiny, to say the least.
Regardless of what you think of the New Testament, it is arguably one of the most important documents to come down from antiquity. We have more ancient copies of it than any other document from the ancient world. Even the most revisionist of skeptics and Jesus-debunkers see no reason to claim Jesus was a “myth.”
Earth is flat. Jesus wasn’t real. Aliens traveling light-years in little saucers to abduct humans and make circles in corn fields.
Sometimes we just need to think. Just a little.