Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Not Witnesses, But Storytellers

I am enjoying and learning from Robert M. Price's book, Jesus is Dead. I realize it is a rather jarring title. But what he writes is scholarly and engaging.

As I was thinking about his book, I thought about my own faith journey and the things I used to think one needed to "believe" in order to be Christian. For instance, I remember thinking that the Bible as Word of God meant that everything was accurate in terms of history and so forth.

As things began to whittle away, one after another, I felt the need to cling to something historical and say at least this is real. For instance, if Adam and Eve were story creations, then at least Moses was real. When Moses faded into legend, well at least the Gospels are historical. As I began to see them as literary creations rather than history as we know it, I find I am adapting to this new reality.

I haven't "lost my faith" but it certainly has been deepened. I haven't lost my love for the Bible, for its myths, legends, and wisdom, but it too has deepened. Even now, as I see my view of Jesus changing I find that my reaction follows the familiar pattern: a little disconcerting at first, then acceptance, and finally appreciation.

I understand the reluctance to move into new territory. When our foundations (or what we thought were foundations) shift, we are tempted to prop them up. That is understandable. There are certainly many apologists who will help in that attempt. But in the end, the arguments of the apologists become less convincing and we start out anew.

Jesus and the historical resurrection has become for many a foundation that they cannot imagine crumbling. But it does, eventually. It is OK. We find a new way to understand this mystery.


In the first chapter, "Easter Fictions," Price shows how the gospel writers told their tales. He concludes this chapter in this way:

What does all this give us? My point is not to 'debunk' the resurrection narratives as false witnesses, uncovering fatal inconsistencies between them. Like the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus: "their testimony did not agree." No, I have tried to show how the inconsistencies form a discernible pattern: that of various creative authors reworking a common draft to gain different effects. Not bad witnesses, but good storytellers. Not on the witness stand, but around the campfire. And the parallels with other ancient stories indicate what genre the stories belong to: they are religious legends. Not a bad thing. Not unless you want them to be something else: historical reports. I don't want them to be one or the other. I just want to understand the texts, and I think I do.

Did Jesus rise from the dead? That wouldn't be a bad thing either. But given the nature of our sources, there is no particular reason to think so. (p. 10)

64 comments:

  1. So, John, what happens when all of your belief system becomes a myth? Do you then make up ideas to satisfy yourself? And what kind of effect does this have on the people you pastor?

    I'm asking this seriously, not sarcastically.

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  2. Hi Stushie,
    John pastors to many of us who ask exactly the same questions that he asks, and who find ourselves on the same path of discovery. I know it sounds like heresy. I can't say that I speak for the others in the congregation, but I'm pretty sure that most of us don't believe in the literal truth of the Bible, nor do we necessarily believe that, in terms of seeking wisdom and guidance, there's an important distinction between myth and non-myth throughout Bible in general.
    Borg and Crossan used the Good Samaritan parable as an example of this outlook, one that I think would be fairly popular in the congregation. They ask: does it matter if there actually was an individual who was the Good Samaritan? I don't, and I reckon most of the congregation doesn't believe that the wisdom or rightness of the message of the parable is changed by the Samaritan's actual existence, or lack thereof. For many of us, the same goes for Moses, or the bodily resurrection. It doesn't matter so much whether the events really happened, but it does matter to us what the events mean. And Bible stories mean a whole lot more if we don't take them too literally.

    I'm not really comfortable with the somewhat shallow notion of just "making up ideas," but it's probably fair to say that we do believe, some of us ardently, that God has graced us (and you) with an imaginative, creative consciousness that encourages us to new interpretations and insights that bring us closer presence of our living, loving God who is always with us (and you too, of course), even at this moment. I think religious scholars (like Elaine Pagels) refer to this as "epinoia", but I'm not a religious scholar.

    So overall, I'm really glad to have John, because it takes a fair amount of courage to head off in the direction he's going. It's not always easy. It's a direction that leads to expansive inclusiveness such that we come to the point that we feel compelled to actually and genuinely love homos, just as they are, and to love modern-day tax collectors, drug addicts, booger pickers, left-handed card dealers, spouse cheaters, theater bums, crime-victims, suicide survivors, agnostics, doubters, and the hopelessly lost and their kin.
    Shoot, we're even trying to be the place where atheists feel they can worship God in honest truth...if that's not too ambitious.

    We would like to have you worship with us, too.

    I apologize in advance to any members of 1stPres whom I may have offended or misrepresented, including John. However, the invitation stands.

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  3. I think you pretty much covered the bases, Rastus. Although, we do request that the booger pickers use Kleenex.

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  4. (((John))

    I started out as an agonostic who bearly could affirm a line of the Nicene Creed, but God in His grace brought me to faith in Jesus Christ.

    God is faithful in all our honest searching for truth. He's there no matter what.

    Rastus, your church sounds like a tremendous mission field. Here in the Episcopal church we actually do have one priest who I'm aware of who is a "high church atheist."

    I'm about hoping and praying for his conversion to the Lord.

    Love,
    Grace.

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  5. For instance, if Adam and Eve were story creations, then at least Moses was real. When Moses faded into legend, well at least the Gospels are historical. As I began to see them as literary creations rather than history as we know it, I find I am adapting to this new reality.

    And the new reality is clearly a deepening unbelief. The Jesus Seminar (of which Price is described as a radical member) is a small sliver of Bible scholars who presuppose naturalism in their research. Where there is inconclusive physical evidence they interject "just so" theories to fill in the blanks.

    To believe firmly in the non-Resurrection based on a vote tally of colored beads thrown into a box by philosophical naturalists is not rational even for a hardened skeptic.

    The truth is that the Jesus Seminar never actually proves what happened. By their own system they only show what they believed happened with an a priori nod to naturalism. No one accepts their work based on its merits, they accept their work because they are like-minded.

    Just a few thoughts that I think are relevant. Maybe there is more value in the Jesus Seminar work than I give them credit for. Anyway, Happy Easter.

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  6. A man gets hit by a car. The testimonies of 5 witnesses differ significantly from each other. Does that mean that the man didn't get hit by a car? And would we believe the testimony of a sixth person who not only wasn't standing at the corner, but was thousands of miles and nearly 2000 years away from the scene of the accident?

    It all seems a bit arrogant, at least, to somehow believe that our testimony about an event we didn't witness is stronger or better than that of those who did.

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  7. Hey, I've tried to study this, too, to the best of my poor ability. I can agree that the gospel writers did not set out to write a complete biography concerning the life of Jesus, an objective history by contemporary standards.

    But, I don't think this means they had no concern at all for truth, or historical detail, either.

    I've mentioned before that some scholars feel that Acts is written very much in the literary style of Thucyides the Greek historian. Read the preface to Luke-Acts.

    I have to agree that the difficulty is more in the presupposition of philosophical naturalism which colors the interpretation of the texts.

    Also, to relate the resurrection of Jesus with the myths of the mystery cults which used the god's dying and coming back to life annually as an interpretion to explain the cycle of the seasons, I think it a real stretch.

    I could say more about all this, but I'll wait and see where our conversation leads. :)

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  8. Where there is inconclusive physical evidence they interject "just so" theories to fill in the blanks.

    ...

    By their own system they only show what they believed happened with an a priori nod to naturalism. No one accepts their work based on its merits, they accept their work because they are like-minded.


    Does this logic extend to the evolution-deniers or only to those with whom one disagrees?

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  9. BTW, Snad, I hope you only stock up on Puffs Plus with Aloe Vera. I can use nothing else. (LOL)

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  10. Thanks for the replies.

    A couple of things that have influenced me.

    1) Witnesses vs. Storytellers. I think that if we see the gospel writers as witnesses to a scene then we think of resurrection as an "event" in history. If we see the gospel writers as storytellers, then we see resurrection as fitting into that genre. It becomes a myth to tell us something about ourselves and the universe in which we live and "God."

    2) What is philosophical naturalism? I guess this is a belief that there can be nothing supernatural. I don't believe that because I have no idea. The issue is not philosophical naturalism. The issue is how we read texts.

    Let's take Genesis 1. If I don't believe that God created the world in seven days, is my unbelief because...

    a) I am stiffnecked and a sinner.
    b) I am so committed to philosophical naturalism that I can't believe a miracle.
    c) Because the story is a religious legend.

    Noah and the ark. It is not historical:

    a) I am stiffnecked and a sinner.
    b) I am so committed to philosophical naturalism that I can't believe a miracle.
    c) Because the story is a religious legend.

    Jesus as a child turning clay pigeons into live birds. Not historical:

    a) I am stiffnecked and a sinner.
    b) I am so committed to philosophical naturalism that I can't believe a miracle.
    c) Because the story is a religious legend.

    Jesus walking on the water. Not historical.

    a) I am stiffnecked and a sinner.
    b) I am so committed to philosophical naturalism that I can't believe a miracle.
    c) Because the story is a religious legend.

    Muhammed ascends to heaven.

    a) I am stiffnecked and a sinner.
    b) I am so committed to philosophical naturalism that I can't believe a miracle.
    c) Because the story is a religious legend.

    Elijah ascends to heaven.

    a) I am stiffnecked and a sinner.
    b) I am so committed to philosophical naturalism that I can't believe a miracle.
    c) Because the story is a religious legend.

    Jesus ascends to heaven.

    a) I am stiffnecked and a sinner.
    b) I am so committed to philosophical naturalism that I can't believe a miracle.
    c) Because the story is a religious legend.

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  11. "I think that if we see the gospel writers as witnesses to a scene then we think of resurrection as an "event" in history. If we see the gospel writers as storytellers, then we see resurrection as fitting into that genre. It becomes a myth to tell us something about ourselves and the universe in which we live and "God.""

    Sure we can see the gospels as either a type of history genre, or a type of storytelling/legend genre. But it seems like we should make that decision based on the writing itself and the purposes of the authors. It seems to me that there is very little evidence that they saw themselves as just guys sitting around a campfire making up clever stories to tell each other.

    As for your quiz, John, a skeptic might conclude that there appears to be little reason that option B wouldn't be the correct answer. Given the extent of that list of miracles, B seems to be as reasonable an explanation as option C. That is, without a corresponding list of miracles that you do believe, it seems like B could be reasonable answer as well.

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  12. Rev Shuck:

    Witnesses vs. Storytellers. I think that if we see the gospel writers as witnesses to a scene then we think of resurrection as an "event" in history. If we see the gospel writers as storytellers, then we see resurrection as fitting into that genre. It becomes a myth to tell us something about ourselves and the universe in which we live and God.

    But where is the guarantee that this myth actually does tell us something about ourselves and the universe?

    If it is a human creation, it might just as easily mislead us about ourselves and the universe.

    My position is that it is both history and myth. It tells us something about ourselves and the universe, and this truth is guaranteed by the fact that it actually happened.

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  13. "Sure we can see the gospels as either a type of history genre, or a type of storytelling/legend genre. But it seems like we should make that decision based on the writing itself and the purposes of the authors."

    I would agree with that. We should make these decisions based on the writing itself. What kind of literature is it? It is becoming more and more clear to me that we are in the realm of religious legend. It is legend with a purpose, and maybe many purposes, and different purposes for each author.

    I have no proof, but I think I could present a great deal of evidence why my reading of these texts is more plausible than reading them as historical witness.

    The point of my quiz is to challenge the charge of philosophical naturalism with the return charge of special pleading.

    Special pleading says:

    "All of these other stories are myths, but our guy, he really happened."

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  14. "I have no proof, but I think I could present a great deal of evidence why my reading of these texts is more plausible than reading them as historical witness."

    I'd be interested in seeing that, since I can't think of any at all. It really does seem clear that the Gospel writers certainly thought they were doing something far more historical than mythic -- or at the very least, they seem to work hard to convince the reader that's what they're doing. The writer of Genesis however, does no such thing.

    However, attaching these genre distinctions to works that are a couple thousand years old is itself greatly problematic. Genres change and evolve over time, even over decades, so I would also be interested in seeing why these modern categories are applicable to ancient writings.

    "The point of my quiz is to challenge the charge of philosophical naturalism with the return charge of special pleading. "

    But again it doesn't actually challenge that charge since it makes no practical distinction between Options B and C, does it?

    And the counter-argument is the Principle of Relevant Difference. No one was around to witness the creation of the world, not to mention write about it. :)

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  15. Almost without exception, we come to the gospel texts with our own formed pre-conception. Nobody believes Jesus rose from the dead on the basis of reading the Bible. The bible confirms their belief that he did, or fails to refute their belief that he did not.

    However, it is not out of the realm of possible things one can do with the Text to ask "what does the author believe?" or "what does the author assume?"

    What clues can we find in the text that might illumine these two questions?

    Of course if you come from the point of view that it is all the verbatim word of God, you can't even read it because of all the glare.

    What I like about John's method is that it still permits one to engage one's intellect. You can't analyze or critique a paper written by God.

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  16. Luke certainly set about to write history. He states that his account results from a careful examination of eyewitness accounts:

    Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

    And Alan you are quite correct about the relevant difference of the Gospel over the other stories.

    Multiple accounts by contemporaries or near contemporaries.
    --------------------------

    Even the most skeptical scholars believe that Jesus existed based solely on the Gospels.

    To believe in the existence of Jesus and not His Resurrection seems to me to be a case of Special Pleading.

    Unless you want to claim the Relevant Distinction of Philosophical Naturalism!

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  17. Hey guys,

    Read through the whole book of Acts, and listen to the apostolic witness relating to the resurrection. Check out especially the Sermon on Mars Hill, Acts 17:22-34. and the reaction of the people documented there.

    Also, look at Paul's defense in front of Agrippa. Acts 26. Hey, he opened his mouth, and Agrippa thought he was out of his mind.

    The king definitely did not interpret his witness in this mythical or metaphorical way. I can tell you that for sure, not according to the text.

    I understand that not everyone is going to accept the apostolic testimony. But, there's no way these writings have the flavor of mere myth to me.

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  18. I'm telling you what, brothers and sisters, Acts 26:8 just jumped out at me.

    I'm not charismatic, but this has to be a word from the Lord. :)

    ((John))

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  19. Jesus on Mars Hill? Was that in the Book of Mormon?

    Sorry, couldn't resist. It's actually the Areopagus in Athens (at the foot of the Acropolis), and I've actually stood on it myself (during my 2006 trip--I recommend it to anyone who can afford Euros nowadays).

    Harry, we run into the problem of who exactly Luke was, what his qualifications were, and whether he actually wrote what we now call the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The fact that the texts in question have these introductory paragraphs doesn't necessarily prove anything. Male escort Jim Guckert claimed his actual name was "Jeff Gannon" and that he was actually a professional journalist, and < sarcasm > was so convincing even to an expert like Ari Fleischer that he was able to talk his way into a White House Press Pass.< /sarcasm >.

    I can see why the atheist would not be persuaded by the circular argument that says because Jesus is in the Gospels, they are authentic, and Jesus is authentic because he is in the Gospels, which are authentic...

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  20. Alan and others,

    Thanks for engaging with me in this. This is most certainly a touchy issue and it is worth trying to figure out why we say what we do.

    Again, up front, the Easter proclamation, from my viewpoint, is that Jesus lives. I affirm that and I preach it (or at least try to do so).

    As I attempt to look at this mystery I find there is much more that I do not know than I know.

    Yet, I plunge ahead.

    I cannot offer proof for my view. I cannot even offer something very persuasive probably. But I can offer the way I see it and why. I am also open to being changed. I have changed a great deal.

    Let's look at the Emmaus story. Two disciples are walking and they are sad and confused. Jesus appears among them. They don't know who he is. They eat, and in the midst of breaking the bread, they recognize him and he vanishes.

    I love this story. I preach upon it a great deal. I don't think it happened. I think this story says a number of things, including the Christian conviction that the Risen Christ is seen among us in the breaking and sharing of the bread, a story for communion.

    It is a story that I think would have been recognized as such by its hearers. It follows the them of gods or angels in disguise visiting people. (Price gives the example of YHWH's angels visiting Sodom after visiting Abraham).

    I was also thinking of the guardian angel of Tobit in the apocryphal Book of Tobit who sneaks around without identifying himself.

    Price also mentions parallels in Greek literature: Zeus and Hermes visit palaces and hovels to determine whether mankind deserve destruction in a flood.

    Price includes this story. I quote him (p. 23, "Jesus is Dead")

    "...the Emmaus story greatly resembles a story of the fourth-century BCE, repeated long afterwards, in which a couple has journeyed far to the healing shrine of Asclepius, son of Apollo. Like other suppliants, they had expected a dream-appearance of the god who would relieve the woman of a prolonged pregnancy. But he had not appeared, and they were headed home depressed--until a mysterious stranger joined them and asked why they were so glum. Hearing the sad tale, he tells them to set down her stretcher, whereupon he heals her of what turns out to be tapeworms, not pregnancy at all. Then he disappears. Sound familiar? What are the chances the Asclepius version is but a myth, while the Jesus version is true fact? Be careful! That is what we mean by special pleading!"

    When I read Luke's story, I see it as a religious legend. It seems more plausible to me that the authors drew from a common mytheme and applied it to Jesus in order to show that Jesus is of the level of the gods.

    That is more plausible than thinking that there was this myth that becomes historically true for Jesus.

    As far Genesis chapter one is concerned, I think it does have parallels with the gospels. Genesis 1 is a retelling of Eneuma Elish with important theological innovations. Not least of which is the six day work followed by the Sabbath. If folks keep the Sabbath they are participating in the life of God. To keep the Sabbath is to be in the image of God.

    The gospels too, if we participate liturgically and ethically in the things that Jesus did (healing, loving enemies, etc.) we are participating in Christ--in the life of God revealed in Jesus.

    As God is a literary character in Genesis 1, so is the Risen Christ in the Gospels. But that doesn't mean neither is real--or that neither is worth giving ones' life to.

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  21. Even so, none of that is anything like a real genre analysis. Myth is general, and universal. History is specific, located in time and place and context. The story of Jesus Christ would have no meaning if it were not located within the context of Judaism, set in and around Jerusalem just before the destruction of the second temple, in the larger context of the Roman Empire, etc. Most of the things Jesus says make no sense outside the context of the Jewish culture he was in ... his allusions, his parables in particular are of a certain time and place and culture. The tale of the Good Samaritan makes little sense if you don't understand who the characters are and their relationships to each other. Sure, we have made these stories more universal in an attempt to apply the teachings to our lives, but the situations themselves are rarely those we find ourselves in. And there are plenty that, quite frankly, make little sense to us today.

    The creation story on the other hand has no dates, times, or places. It could have happened 6000 years ago or 13 billion years ago. The flood story requires 4 elements: a righteous man, a bunch of sinners, a boat, and a lot of rain.

    So, we find some similarities between this ancient Greek story of Apollo, written at least 400 years before the Emmaus story, so we'll ignore the fact that they were written by very different people for apparently very different purposes at different times and in different cultures. Then we'll apply our modern labels of myth to both of them. I'm a chemist not a historian or a literature scholar, but that still sounds like kinda lame scholarship to me.

    In the same way, there are a great many similarities between The Lord of the Rings books and the Gospels. Since I know one was written by a stuffy old Englishman as a hobby, can I conclude that the Gospels were as well, and that they were originally written as letters by a father to his son, who was fighting in a big World War against fascism?

    Heck, why would anyone want to bother with Gospels? The Frodo story is way more interesting.

    I'm not attempting to be intentionally obtuse here, I honestly don't understand the difference between what you're saying about the Gospels and why the exact same claim couldn't be made for any particularly detailed, well-told morality tale. In that case I we just need to find a really good story, and follow the lessons taught by the main character. Yoda seems nicer than God and doesn't require nearly as much sacrifice.

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  22. Hey Alan,

    Thanks. I do agree that we cannot understand the gospels, their message, or literary type, without understanding the particular setting. The Roman setting is huge filled with Roman and Greek mythology with which our gospel tellers had to contend.

    You wrote:
    "The creation story on the other hand has no dates, times, or places. It could have happened 6000 years ago or 13 billion years ago."

    However, scholars date the creation story, that is Gen. 1:1-2:4a during the exile. The myth was in response to the dominant myth of its day enacted and enshrined in Babylon. The Priestly writer changed it significantly to meet the needs of these 6th century authors and their communities. Its truth even in our setting is powerful. Earth is good not evil, humankind is essentially created in God's "image" not as slaves to the gods as Enuma Elish said.

    It seems plausible to me that the myth of Jesus Christ is also told in response to the dominant myths of its day. Who is Lord? Not Caesar, although it sure seems like it. No, this Jesus, who is crucified by Rome, is Lord.

    Sure we could live by Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare, the capitalist myth, or the myth of redemptive violence. I choose the Jesus myth. Or it chose me.

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  23. "I choose the Jesus myth."

    Sounds like special pleading. ;)

    I wonder if, in 500 years someone will contend that the myth of Abraham Lincoln was created by African Americans as a response to the dominant myths of the antebellum South. Here's a guy who came from nowhere, grew up poor, yet ascends to rule the land, frees the slaves, and then is killed for it.

    Now, since that story shares much in common with lots of other "savior" myths, one can conclude that it's just a myth, not history, right?

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  24. Rev. Shuck:

    If you argue that the Resurrection is a myth, you really ought to explain how it is you ever came to hear of Jesus.

    Rev. N.T. Wright writes:

    "Why did Christianity even begin, let alone continue, as a messianic movement, when its Messiah so obviously not only did not do what a Messiah was supposed to do but suffered a fate which ought to have showed conclusively that he could not possibly have been Israel’s anointed? Why did this group of first-century Jews, who had cherished messianic hopes and focused them on Jesus of Nazareth, not only continue to believe that he was the Messiah despite his execution, but actively announce him as such in the pagan as well as the Jewish world, cheerfully redrawing the picture of messiahship around him but refusing to abandon it? Their answer, consistently throughout the evidence we possess, was that Jesus, following his execution on a charge of being a would-be Messiah, had been raised from the dead."

    The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Event"

    You ought to read the whole of this essay.

    If you do not dismiss the Resurrection out of hand because of a commitment to philosophical naturalism, then you have to do a bit of historical argument as to how the Jesus movement survived the death of its leader.

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  25. Well, here's another good word. :)

    For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 1Pet.1:16.

    No way would I center my whole life in following after myth regardless of any element of truth or deeper meaning.

    It's just not good enough for me. And, I don't think it would have been enough for the early Christians facing persecution and even death for their faith, either.

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  26. ""I choose the Jesus myth."

    Sounds like special pleading. ;):

    You have a point there. Why might I choose and continue to participate in Christianity over say another faith or none? That is a good question for anyone participating in any faith or none.

    As far as Honest Abe is concerned, you don't have to believe in Abe Lincoln. There is an historical record.

    If 500 years from now, the only thing that survived about Abe Lincoln was a story like the one you described, and a cult that worshiped him as a god, then I would say, well there may have been an Abe but we know nothing about him.

    This is the case with Jesus. We know nothing about the historical person save for these texts who proclaim him as a god.

    I am not saying there wasn't a person Jesus. There may have been. It is just we know little or nothing about the historical figure as all that survives are these gospels.

    If they are trustworthy historically, then why doesn't every historian whether religious or secular affirm them as historical?

    The consensus among historians is that Abe Lincoln did exist and there is a large body of literature about the things that he did.

    There is no consensus among historians that Jesus rose from the dead, save for Christian apologists who use history when it is convenient for them (ie. the Pope and N.T. Wright).

    Let's address N.T. Wright next:

    Harry,

    "If you do not dismiss the Resurrection out of hand because of a commitment to philosophical naturalism, then you have to do a bit of historical argument as to how the Jesus movement survived the death of its leader."

    Would you be willing to affirm that the Quran was revealed through the prophet Muhammed as the word of God. How else can you explain the growth of Islam?

    Or, that Joseph Smith received the Golden Tablets from a divine being? How else do you explain the growth of Mormonism?

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  27. Rev. Shuck.

    I can explain the existence of Islam by pointing out that the first followers enjoyed a string of military victories.

    I can explain the existence of Mormonism by pointing out the first followers found a place they could live undisturbed by their persecutors.

    Christianity grew without violence and without isolation. You'll have to find another reason.

    -----------------------------

    Does the existence of holocaust deniers force you to be skeptical of the historicity of the holocaust?

    Can you accept the holocaust only as a myth?

    -------------------------

    Did you read the article? I would be interested in hearing your rebuttal. If you have a good rebuttal, I may not change my mind, but I might learn something.

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  28. Harry,

    "I can explain the existence of Islam by pointing out that the first followers enjoyed a string of military victories.

    I can explain the existence of Mormonism by pointing out the first followers found a place they could live undisturbed by their persecutors.

    Christianity grew without violence and without isolation. You'll have to find another reason."

    Of course you can explain these other movements. If you weren't special pleading for your own special religion, you would find that there many ways to explain the rise of Christianity by historical means without resorting to "God did it."

    You certainly can say "God did it." There is no way to refute that. It is a theological claim that can equally be made by other religious movements as well.

    "Does the existence of holocaust deniers force you to be skeptical of the historicity of the holocaust?"

    No.

    "Can you accept the holocaust only as a myth?"

    No.

    "Did you read the article?"

    No.

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  29. You didn't read the essay, so you don't understand how Wright demolished the "many explanations" that have been offered.

    You are certainly entitled to your opinions, but you have brought into question your willingness to examine all the evidence with an open mind.

    Oh, well.

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  30. Harry,

    You are a guest on my blog and most welcome to post here. If you have a point to raise, a summary of another position (ie. Wright), a quote from an article to add to the discussion, then by all means, share it.

    I am not particularly interested in the reading assignments you offer. Do your own work and present it.

    For the record, I have read a great deal of NT Wright. And I may in my own time, read that article.

    In the meantime, if you have something specific, share it.

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  31. "If they are trustworthy historically, then why doesn't every historian whether religious or secular affirm them as historical?"

    That seems like a rather unreasonable expectation. Plenty of historians today disagree about historical events that have happened in just the last few decades (the end of the cold war is a great example ... was that caused by Reagan, the unsustainable policies of the USSR, other world events, etc.)

    This is what I was saying about not treating the Bible as a science textbook.

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  32. Yes, Alan, the disagreement of historians about just about everything was the burden of my question about the holocaust, having taken an extreme example.

    In any case historiography is a moving target. Todays historians don't agree with yesterdays, and todays won't agree with tomorrows.

    For example, the claim that the NT accounts are myth is actually and old theory which was popular when the Gospels were dated as late 2nd C. texts. There was plenty of time for oral accounts to mutate into myths, and do so in a more pagan context.

    As scholars now consider the Gospels to be documents written while eyewitnesses were still alive, this theory is no longer as popular. There wasn't enough time for the oral accounts to change, and pagan models wouldn't be used by Jewish followers.

    If the facticity of the Resurrection is a minority opinion among historians, so, nowadays, is the position that the Resurrection is a myth.

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  33. I think we have pretty well muddied up the waters between history and faith.

    I think it is time for a poll on the sidebar.

    Question:

    Does Christianity rest on the claim that the Resurrection is a fact of history?

    Is that a fair question?

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  34. The results would be interesting.

    If I might suggest a sharper version of the question:

    "Paul wrote:

    'And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.' (1 Cor. 15:14)

    Agree or disagree?"

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  35. I agree with that statement from Paul.

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  36. Clearly I just need to read the book, because none of this conversation has made any sense at all, so far. :)

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  37. Hey Alan,

    I think we are talking past each other, my friend!

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  38. Harry, Christianity spread the way it did largely because of Constantine's conversion to Christianity (as a result of a dream he had in which he was promised a military victory if he put a cross on top of his signa) and his subsequent string of military victories. It cemented Christianity in Europe, and a string of military victories kept Europe from being conquered by Islamic armies. Christianity then spread to the Americas, subsaharan Africa and Asia again largely through a string of military victories.

    If we're talking about spreading religion via military might, then Christianity has far outperformed Islam.

    If you were to make the argument that only a religion that spread by the power of its message can be considered genuine, then probably the most likely candidate is Buddhism. It spread from India to East Asia almost entirely by missionary activity, and its presence in the West is entirely the result of missionary activity and not military action.

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  39. "I think we are talking past each other, my friend!"

    Entirely possible. :)

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  40. Who is Lord? Not Caesar, although it sure seems like it. No, this Jesus, who is crucified by Rome, is Lord.

    John, this, in a nutshell, summarizes an important point that Dominic Crossan has made. The proclamation that "Jesus is Lord" was radical challenge to the authority of Caesar. Caesar was not Lord--it was Jesus. Pretty subversive stuff.

    I really don't get why so many people have a problem with myths that point to deeper truths. Where were all those people back in the 1980s when the Bill Moyers-Joseph Campbell interviews were all the rage? Where's PBS when you need them?

    Myths are good. Myths are powerful. There is nothing negative about calling something a "myth".

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  41. "Myths are good. Myths are powerful. There is nothing negative about calling something a "myth"."

    You're right, there isn't, if what you're calling a myth is actually a myth. But sometimes it matters whether or not a thing actually happened.

    God created the universe. That's pretty cool regardless of whether or not he did it in 6 days or 6 bazillion.

    However, Jesus's sacrifice on the cross is pretty lame if he didn't actually, you know, die on a cross. Not ... um ... well, not really much of an example of sacrifice then is it? And as a moral example it comes up a little short for Jesus to tell people to take up their crosses if he's just sitting on the couch watching the chariot races and eating snickerdoodles. :)

    And, if he didn't exist at all then where exactly does he get off telling me what to do? ;)

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  42. Flycandler:

    The historical question under consideration is how a Jewish Messianic movement survived the death of the Messiah under conditions of severe persecution.

    There were other pretenders to Messiah whose movements were crushed without much trouble. When the would be Messiah died, his followers realized he wasn't the Messiah.

    What is different about the Christians who continued to recognize Jesus as Christ even after his ignoble execution.

    That is the historical problem to be addressed.

    One solution is that His resurrection proved to His followers that He indeed was the long looked for Messiah.

    The article by NT Wright I linked above makes the case much move convincingly than I can, if anyone would bother to read it.

    -------------------------------

    I agree that the explosive growth of Christianity after Constantine is attributable to military and political action.


    MS:

    Myths are certainly powerful, but are not necessarily good. Consider the myth of the Aryan Race and the Thousand Year Reich.

    If the myth you follow isn't historically true, it is at best a harmless delusion, and a worst a nightmare.

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  43. Yes, I did read it, and having studied a good bit of Roman history myself, I think it's piffle.

    Christianity was largely tolerated by the Roman government as just another fanciful cult. Cults were fashionable in Rome (e.g., cults of Cybele, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus), and all throughout the New Testament it is clear that the Romans weren't the ones persecuting the Christians, it was the Jewish authorities.

    Famously, after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, Nero tried to pin the blame on the Christians and thus began a mass persecution of Christians in Italy. Christianity was highly fragmented, at the very least into factions of Jewish Christians, Pauline Christians, Gnostics and Marcionites.

    It was Constantine I who, after his dream and military victory, legalized and converted to Pauline Christianity, and one of his successors, Theodosius I, made Christianity the state religion. Then, by sword, Christianity was spread throughout the known world.

    Other minority religions also survived Roman oppression (most notably Judaism after the Great Jewish Revolt), and most ended up being overrun by either the Roman Christians, the Goths (who by the end of the Roman Empire were Christian) and Byzantines, or the Muslim Caliphs.

    However, to say that Christianity's spread had nothing to do with the fact that some of the western world's mightiest militaries were spreading it is not historically accurate.

    Christianity was not unique in its central motif of resurrection, and fact the Roman state religion was based on a concept of the emperors becoming gods after their deaths (officially beginning in 14 CE, quite some time before Jesus' crucifixion).

    I simply think that claims to Christianity's uniqueness have to be found elsewhere.

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  44. Myths are certainly powerful, but are not necessarily good. Consider the myth of the Aryan Race and the Thousand Year Reich.

    I was wondering how long it would take for Hitler to show up. It's been, what, ten minutes?

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  45. I was wondering how long it would take for Hitler to show up. It's been, what, ten minutes?

    Yeah, and it wasn't even Viola who brought it up this time. :)

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  46. You're right, there isn't, if what you're calling a myth is actually a myth. But sometimes it matters whether or not a thing actually happened.

    Well, "matter" depends on who is doing the inquiry and why they are doing it. What matters to a historian or physicist might not matter to a theologian. They are addressing different concerns. So in your Genesis example, in fact to a physicist it does matter a great deal whether the earth was created in six days or not; but to a theologian, it doesn't matter at all.

    And some people wear more than one hat. A physicist might be a theologian, or at least an amateur theologian, in certain contexts. The physicist who cares about the literal details of the creation of the universe in his job might not care about a mythical description of a six day creation when he goes to church on Sunday.

    Also, we have to decide what we mean by "matter". If matter means that we reject it as irrelevant or worthless to our faith, then that is one thing; but if we say that it "matters" in the sense of informing our theology, that is different. Knowing that the world is the product of 13.7 billion years of evolution does matter in the sense of telling us something about God's nature and how God acts in the world that is different than what we might have thought if the world was created fully formed in its present state 6000 years ago.

    So there are many kinds of "mattering" involved when we accept that the resurrection myths about Jesus (of him walking on the road to Emmaus, of him ascending "up" to heaven after 40 days, the whole nine yards) are not literally true. Is it possible to build a faith around the notion that Jesus was not physically, literally resurrected as Matthew, Luke, and John claim? Of course it is. Does the knowledge that the resurrection stories are creative stories that cannot be taken literally true inform our faith in some way? That is also true. So in that sense, it does matter.

    What it boils down to is that one can be a person of faith and a follower of Jesus without believing that these creative stories about the resurrection were historically true. Marcus Borg has often tried to bridge the gap between those who take these stories literally and those who don't; his point it, let's look at the deeper meaning, and he has striven to find a way that people who both take the stories literally and those who do not can agree on shared deeper meaning that these stories might point to.

    I thought Grace made a telling comment when she wrote:

    No way would I center my whole life in following after myth regardless of any element of truth or deeper meaning.

    It's just not good enough for me.


    A lot of people cling to religious dogmas precisely because a lot of believers think that their faith cannot survive the challenge that comes from a paradigm shift. The pastor of a church I used to attend talked about the crisis that a lot of seminary students undergo around their second semester or so, when they realize that their old paradigm could not withstand the findings of biblical scholarship. She said this is a fairly common phenomenon, and it even has a name (which I forget). Some do lose their faith as a result of this; others, however, learn to adjust their paradigms and move on.

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  47. MS:

    What it boils down to is that one can be a person of faith and a follower of Jesus without believing that these creative stories about the resurrection were historically true. Marcus Borg has often tried to bridge the gap between those who take these stories literally and those who don't; his point it, let's look at the deeper meaning, and he has striven to find a way that people who both take the stories literally and those who do not can agree on shared deeper meaning that these stories might point to.

    A failed project. There is no shared deeper meaning the two can agree on.

    And I find the deeper meaning the progressives find to be actually rather banal, especially when compared to the deeper meaning of the orthodox.

    I understand that this is a matter of taste, and if I find progressive spirituality to be spiritual junk food, you might find the filet mignon of orthodoxy to be too rich for your palate.

    c'est la vie

    ---------------------------

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  48. "So there are many kinds of "mattering" involved when we accept that the resurrection myths about Jesus (of him walking on the road to Emmaus, of him ascending "up" to heaven after 40 days, the whole nine yards) are not literally true."

    Actually there's only one kind of mattering...as in "doesn't matter." :) There are currently 6 billion people on this planet. None of them is going to be raised from the dead either. So why would I possibly care about this mythical guy named Jesus, who didn't live but then died? I'm supposed to learn sacrifice from a mythical guy who never actually sacrificed anything himself? I'm supposed to learn service from someone who never existed?

    Sorta misses a major point of the story in the first place doesn't it? You know ... the whole thing about God coming to earth in human form. Sorta important, right?

    Real people matter. I can watch TV for fiction. Again, I've given half a dozen examples of other stories, etc. There has been a lot of hand waving, but no one has actually bothered to confront my examples and correct my misunderstandings.

    With love (seriously), this conversation reminds me of a bunch of first year grad students in a bar. :) If you can't explain this stuff to me, someone who is a friendly listener, is it any wonder people think progressives are nuts? ;)

    "the findings of biblical scholarship."

    Well that's one thing... but with all do respect to everyone here, what has been presented here so far isn't really scholarship of any sort, biblical or otherwise. Hence, I think, my confusion. I'm asking for specifics and presenting specific questions, and specific examples, and mostly what I've read is a lot of hand-waving.

    If you are honest with yourselves, I think you'll see that what has been written so far here, it's all just post-hoc reasoning backed up with a lot of talk about "myth".

    Now I'm a chemist and I realize that my field is particularly privileged when it comes to things like evidence and facts. But I'm assuming that even poor lowly humanities folks like historians and literature scholars have some standard of evidence that they use for attempting to determine whether or not something actually happened, right? Something other than, "Well we a priori believe all the rest of these stories are myths, and this story is sorta like those so it must be a myth too."

    One can imagine why some folks, including myself, are dubious about such a claim.

    "Is it possible to build a faith around the notion that Jesus was not physically, literally resurrected as Matthew, Luke, and John claim? Of course it is."

    A faith? How odd. How does have faith in a myth, when you've already convinced yourself that it didn't really happen. And why would one? If we take the Biblical notion that faith is being sure of something we haven't seen, why would we need faith to believe in something that we know never occurred? I don't really need faith to believe in something that never happened, do I? Or rather, if it is a kind of faith, it isn't that difficult, is it?

    I have faith that green roach people never walked the earth. Meh. Big deal, I'm not about to create a cult that worships the green roach people who never walked the earth. Because. They. Never. Walked. The Earth. :)

    And let's not pretend that doesn't matter, or that we actually are all believing in the same story. Perhaps such a faith in mythical creatures can be constructed (faeries? unicorns?) but it clearly isn't the same sort of faith I hold at all. I believe Buddha existed, but that hardly makes me a Buddhist now does it? And I think Zeus was a myth, but that doesn't make me a Zeus-ian (?) either, does it? :)

    All that is hopefully taken in the spirit that it was intended. :)

    "A lot of people cling to religious dogmas precisely because a lot of believers think that their faith cannot survive the challenge that comes from a paradigm shift."

    True. And a lot of people accept malarky because it's wrapped up in a bunch of clever sounding words.

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  49. I'm supposed to learn service from someone who never existed?

    I for one never said that Jesus never existed. I am distinguishing here between the credible and the fanciful. It is not particularly fanciful to say that someone lived, preached something wonderful, and gave his life for what he lived and preached as fully as one possibly can. It is quite fanciful, on the other hand, to suggest that he was resuscitated after he died, walked around, and then rose "up" to a mythical heaven represented by an ancient three-tiered cosmology. the former is a realistic assessment of a fantastic person's life; the latter is mythology.

    A faith? How odd. How does have faith in a myth, when you've already convinced yourself that it didn't really happen. And why would one?

    Perhaps, instead of going off half cocked on the subject, you could try asking people who have actually built a faith that is not based on a literal belief in the resurrection how it is that they have done so. Or you could try reading a book by Marcus Borg or Dominic Crossan. The fact is that people have done so, whether it makes sense to you personally or not. So clearly it is possible to build such a faith.

    I'm really not sure what you are on about, to be honest. The faith isn't in the "myth", but in the greater message that the myth points to. The myth is not the object of faith.

    My opinion is as follows. The myth of Jesus walking around on earth after he died points to the idea that, after his death, his followers could not accept that his life and message were over, that they felt that Jesus so embodied the truths that he told that they continued to feel his presence with them. A half century after Jesus died, the expression of this belief was codified into lovely mythological stories, the evolution of which can be traced just by reading the various accounts int he order they were written, starting with Paulin 1 Corinthians, followed by Mark, then Matthew and Luke.

    They make for nice stories, but there is simply no need to be so credulous as to take them literally.

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  50. "the former is a realistic assessment of a fantastic person's life; the latter is mythology."

    Based on? Based on what evidence? Seems to me that there isn't really much more evidence that Jesus actually lived than that he performed miracles. And doesn't most of the evidence that we have that Jesus lived contained in the very same texts that also say that he walked on water?

    I mean, based on your language "fanciful", mythical, etc... it sounds unlikely that you came to this conclusion based on evidence, rather than having this conclusion first and finding "evidence" to support it. I don't know you, so that's just a guess based on the language you used.

    See what I did there? :) I made a conclusion based on a reading of a text and the language used. Some folks call that discourse analysis, and it's a pretty well developed field. Seems like there could be some evidence from that field that would have something to say to what we're discussing. Certainly more than hand-waving in any event. Just sayin'. :)

    "Perhaps, instead of going off half cocked on the subject..."

    You know, quite frankly I've had enough of snotty comments from the conservatives who lurk around here. If my asking friendly questions is going off "half-cocked" and you can't be bothered to a) treat my questioning respectfully, and 2) actually attempt to answer those questions, then why bother responding to my comments in the first place?

    I have put plenty of clues as to my sincere attempt to be friendly, understanding, and interested in this topic in my comments. :) Again, a careful reading of the text provides valuable evidence.

    "...you could try asking people who have actually built a faith that is not based on a literal belief in the resurrection how it is that they have done so."

    I believe nearly every comment I have left on this thread has been an invitation for someone to explain to me what they mean by "believing" in something that they don't believe in, ie. having faith in a myth.

    "They make for nice stories, but there is simply no need to be so credulous as to take them literally."

    Again, you provide no evidence, just the assertion that taking them for historical events is too "credulous." What I've been asking about is why one would believe a story about some guy named Jesus and not an equally engaging story about some guy named Frodo, or a green dude named Yoda, or some tall guy named Lincoln. If Jesus didn't do the things that he supposedly did, then he's just some mensch walking the desert. Big deal, those are a dime a dozen in the middle east, then and now.

    So....again, as I wrote above (the text really does mean something) all that is hopefully taken in the spirit that it was intended. :) If folks cannot take some simple friendly questions then please let me know, and I'll stop asking questions.

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  51. Seems to me that there isn't really much more evidence that Jesus actually lived than that he performed miracles.

    This sounds like a variation on the "if it isn't all true, then it must all be false" argument that conservatives often use. I disagree that there the same amount of evidence to support both. I suppose it is possible that Jesus didn't exist; then again, if he didn't exist, I think it would have been necessary to invent him. My concern is not with a religion about him, but rather with the faith (and faithfulness) of him. So if he never actually existed, that would not change my feeling that the religion that that he is said to have promoted still resonates with me.

    One thing to bear in mind is that the ancient world is full of fanciful stories about people who actually existed. Roman Emperors were said to have had virgin births, for example. The point is that the bar has to be a hell of a lot higher for fanciful stories than they do for statements that a certain person existed. I just doubt that a full religion would have sprung up about an invented person. Furthermore, although we have no eyewitness accounts of anyone who met Jesus, we do have an eyewitness account of somehow who knew people who knew Jesus--namely, Paul, who had contact with Jesus's disciples (and a famous dispute with one of them, Peter, at the Jerusalem council.)

    If my asking friendly questions is going off "half-cocked" and you can't be bothered to a) treat my questioning respectfully...

    My apologies. I apparently misconstrued the tone of your questions. I've had my own dealings with snotty conservatives lately, so I might be on the defensive.

    Again, you provide no evidence, just the assertion that taking them for historical events is too "credulous."

    If you think that believing in stories of people walking on water, rising from the dead, and ascending to a heaven that is supposedly "up" there somewhere do not require some credulousness, then I don't know what does. I used to believe in Santa Clause when I was a kid, too.

    If Jesus didn't do the things that he supposedly did, then he's just some mensch walking the desert.

    A lot of Buddhists manage to follow the message and life of Buddha without believing that Buddha himself walked on water or performed other unbelievable things. Some figures in the history of world religions had something special, something wonderful, to say, so wonderful that others decided to take up the cause. There is nothing odd about that. And anyway, one could do worse than follow a mensch in the desert.

    As I said above, I am interested in the religion of Jesus, not the religoin about Jesus. Marcus Borg describes Jesus as a "spirit person", someone who lived his life with a special, close relationship to God. I think that what he had to say in his life rings true for us today. The Kingdom of God is still something that we ought to be realizing here on earth--as opposed to the secular kingdoms of power and violently imposed Empire. Jesus faced the Roman Empire; today we have the American Empire. Do we live according to God's Kingdom, or according to the Empires of this earth?

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  52. by the way... You do have to at least appreciate the humor of the fact that I'm perceived as too credulous when all along I've been asking for evidence. :)

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  53. "This sounds like a variation on the "if it isn't all true, then it must all be false" argument that conservatives often use"

    Perhaps it sounds like it but it is different. What I am saying is that if one treats the historical narratives in the Gospel as evidence for some guy named Jesus having lived, then there should be good evidence for why you don't treat those very same texts as evidence that he actually did the things contained in those narratives.

    Here was the line from the original post that I found problematic: "Did Jesus rise from the dead? That wouldn't be a bad thing either. But given the nature of our sources, there is no particular reason to think so. (p. 10)"

    OK, fine... so what is that evidence? When reading any text is is often easy to discern to which genre that text belongs. Read a chemistry journal article and you can be sure in 2 or 3 sentences that you're reading a chemistry journal article and not a science fiction short story, based on the use of language, the tone, the grammar, the vocabulary, etc.

    So, here we have some narratives that purport to be eyewitness accounts, not just storytelling. You say that you believe Jesus existed (I'm guessing that's at least partially based on the Gospels?). OK, then where is the genre shift from eyewitness account to fanciful story telling about the resurrection?

    Here's an example: the annunciation. There are many clues in the text that the story of the annunciation is not an eyewitness account. The biggest clue is that the Gospels weren't written by Mary and that it's unlikely that anyone who wrote the Gospels were actually in her room that night. Then, after the calling of the apostles, the Gospels shift from being stories that someone would have had have heard from a friend of a friend who knew Mary's hairdresser, to stories that people could have actually been there to witness. Genre shift seems evident to me.

    However, there is no similar shift, that I know of, in the story as it proceeds from Judas's betrayal, to Jesus's arrest, to his death, to his resurrection. In fact, the Gospel writers are very clear that there were not only witnesses to the empty tomb (a couple men ran over to it, just in case you're not likely to believe a woman), but then witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

    So, I keep asking for evidence of this shift.

    Or is the contention that the whole thing was made up from beginning to end? Is the contention that it's all just a good story, that he didn't call the Apostles, he never spoke to a woman at a well, etc.? If that's the case, then there seems to be scant evidence that he ever actually existed in the first place. It's not like Yeshua was an uncommon name, and it's not like there weren't plenty of itinerant preachers/insurrectionists in the area at the time.

    " The point is that the bar has to be a hell of a lot higher for fanciful stories than they do for statements that a certain person existed."

    Well, I'd say that's true for scientific claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. However, given that we have very little evidence outside of the texts that are being criticized in the first place that makes even the evidence that he existed problematic. Can't we just make the argument that he was invented? After all, the Jews were under the gun, they had these stories about a Messiah that was going to come, etc... Why should we believe any of it?

    "Furthermore, although we have no eyewitness accounts of anyone who met Jesus, we do have an eyewitness account of somehow who knew people who knew Jesus--namely, Paul, who had contact with Jesus's disciples"

    True, but Paul was obviously delusional because he claimed to have met Jesus. :) Clearly he saw which way the wind was blowing with this whole Christianity thing, and decided to leap in and have a go at it. Look what it got him in the end! He's famous. No one would ever know about some guy named Saul, who was just another Pharisee.

    "As I said above, I am interested in the religion of Jesus, not the religoin about Jesus."

    This seems like a very interesting comment in a postmodern world. The medium IS the message, isn't it? :) One cannot, in my opinion, get much out of the teachings of Jesus if one doesn't know much about Jesus himself. The story of the woman at the well, for example, doesn't make much sense if it isn't an interaction between this woman and a Jewish rabbi.

    Or maybe I'm just not Greek enough to be such a dualist. :)

    "And anyway, one could do worse than follow a mensch in the desert."

    Meh. Like I said, Frodo or Yoda are cooler.

    The more I read your responses, it occurs to me that believing this is a myth requires a leap of faith. Heh. Sorta like believing this is real. ;)

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  55. So, here we have some narratives that purport to be eyewitness accounts,

    They are not eyewitness accounts. They were written long after his death. We have no eyewitness accounts of his life.

    In fact, the Gospel writers are very clear that there were not only witnesses to the empty tomb (a couple men ran over to it, just in case you're not likely to believe a woman), but then witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

    On the contrary, the Gospel writers did such a bad job of getting their stories straight that it is impossible to harmonize them. Who was at the tomb? What did they see? What instructions were given--one Gospel says they were to go to Galilee where they'd find Jesus, another told them to stay in Jerusalem where they'd find Gjesus. And so on. And the earliest Gospel to be written makes no references to any eyewitnesses to a resurrected Jesus--it stops with an empty tomb, and gives us no stories whatsoever of a resurrected Jesus walking around on earth. Paul, who wrote even earlier than Mark, makes no reference to an empty tomb-and in 1 Corinthians describes his own experience of the risen Jesus in the same terms as the experiences of the risen Jesus by other disciples, which strongly suggests that he didn't believe that Jesus was walking around on earth.

    Or is the contention that the whole thing was made up from beginning to end? Is the contention that it's all just a good story, that he didn't call the Apostles, he never spoke to a woman at a well, etc.?

    Are you just asking rhetorical questions? Are you unaware of the vast array of biblical scholarship that is out there? Are you familiar with the two-source hypothesis? With the research of the Jesus Seminar?

    Can't we just make the argument that he was invented? After all, the Jews were under the gun, they had these stories about a Messiah that was going to come, etc... Why should we believe any of it

    Sure, you can make any argument you want. I already stated my reasons why I don't think that this is the case that it was invented. If you choose not to accept those reasons and you think that Jesus didn't exist, then more power to you. If, on the other hand, you are just playing devil's advocate for the sake of arguing, then I don't really see what this discussion is accomplishing.

    True, but Paul was obviously delusional because he claimed to have met Jesus. :) Clearly he saw which way the wind was blowing with this whole Christianity thing, and decided to leap in and have a go at it.

    Again, you just seem to be playing devil's advocate for the hell of it. Do you actually believe that Paul was deluded or not? What we have from Paul are not narratives, but letters that he wrote to congregations for specific circumstances. Different genres. If you think that Paul was a liar, then so be it. I think that for the most part he was honest, although of course, as a human being, he could have been self-deluded like anyone can be. As for his claim to have seen Jesus, I disagree--he claimed to have in some sense experienced Jesus, as he also asserted about the other disciples (in 1 Corinthians).

    One cannot, in my opinion, get much out of the teachings of Jesus if one doesn't know much about Jesus himself.

    Who is this "one" you speak of? You? Speak for yourself then. I, personally, think that the validity of a message does not depend on our full understanding of the person who formulated it. If you think differently, that is your right.

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  56. Harry,

    To me, it's a matter of "truth," not "taste."

    It's deeply offensive and heart-breaking to me to hear the account of the resurrection of our Lord compared to science fiction like tales of monsters crushing cars in Japan by a minister of the Christian church.

    God have mercy!

    Mystical, I was not reared in a conservative setting, and at one time was a totally skeptical, agnostic. You're assuming that orthodox Christians are all insecure, and fearful, unaware of the findings of modern scholarship.

    Many have searched through all of these issues themselves, and yet have become persuaded of God's love in the reality of the incarnation, and the empty tomb. We don't feel that our faith rests in fairy tales.

    What you assume is a "new paradigm shift," actually reflects ancient heresy. There is truly nothing new under the sun.

    But, we can argue, and debate until those "proverbial cows come home." But, in truth only God's spirit can bring anyone to Christian faith.

    As Paul writes, "The preaching of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness. But, to those who are being saved it is the power of God."

    How well I know this even from my own spiritual journey. So many of the things that I secretly mocked and scorned have now become life, and precious to me.

    (I'm off the blogs, and away for Easter break now so can't respond to any comments.)



    Sincerely,
    Grace.

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  57. "It's deeply offensive and heart-breaking to me to hear the account of the resurrection of our Lord compared to science fiction like tales of monsters crushing cars in Japan by a minister of the Christian church.

    God have mercy!"

    That was below the belt, Grace. You know as well as everyone else here that I was commenting on literary genres.

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  58. Seeker,

    You wrote:

    "The pastor of a church I used to attend talked about the crisis that a lot of seminary students undergo around their second semester or so, when they realize that their old paradigm could not withstand the findings of biblical scholarship. She said this is a fairly common phenomenon, and it even has a name (which I forget). Some do lose their faith as a result of this; others, however, learn to adjust their paradigms and move on."

    Yes. But there is a third option. Some neither left seminary nor did they shift paradigms. They instead filled their ears with cotton, saw seminary as something to be endured rather than a place to learn, and nurtured themselves with fundamentalist apologists.

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  59. "If, on the other hand, you are just playing devil's advocate for the sake of arguing,"

    Nope. Simply applying the arguments used here to the entire text.

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  60. John,

    I'm sorry. I should have shared with you my concern privately, and not openly on this blog. My comment didn't reflect the love of Christ toward you.

    Sometimes I start typing with my heart before my mind is fully engaged, and I'm not sensitive enough to where the other person is at, or really how they might be feeling. I blew it here.

    I have graduated from a very progressive seminary, though. I think that there is a difference of opinion among scholars relating to so many of these issues.

    If you studied with Dr. Bruce Metzer, at Princeton, for instance, you know what I'm saying.

    It's not that orthodox Christians are all stuffing their ears full of cotton. I'm not. But, needless to say, I'm seeing all this very differently.

    I think that basically the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith, the risen Lord.

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  61. Thanks Grace for your apology.

    For clarification:

    I didn't know you went to seminary so I wasn't talking about you. Nor did I say "orthodox Christians" stuff their ears with cotton.

    I am an orthodox Christian. I fully affirm our creeds, the PCUSA Book of Confessions, and my ordination vows.

    The cotton stuffers are the fundamentalists who are not orthodox but have stolen the name.

    Yup, I was honored to meet Bruce Metzger in person at PTS.

    As far as issues regarding Christology, of course there are differences of opinion.

    That is why it is good to read widely.

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  62. Yeah, Reverend Smarty-Pants, should I also read Mein Kampf?


    Sorry. We'd gone another five minutes without a Hitler reference. I thought we were due. ;-)

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