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Review: The Case For The Real Jesus

As I promised last week, I was going to write a short review on another Strobel book. On the off chance that Camping and his stupidity of the rapture was right, I waited till after 6 to write this since if the Christians were raptured I wouldn’t have to torture myself by writing this. Since Camping apparently went camping somewhere in southern California and there was no rapture, guess I should get on with the rest of this article.First let me list the names of this book’s six chapters or as Strobel calls them challenges.

1. Scholars Are Uncovering A Radically Different Jesus In Ancient Documents Just As Credible As The Four Gospels.

2. The Bible’s Portrait Of Jesus Can’t Be Trusted Because The Church Tampered With The Text.

3a. New Explanations Have Refuted Jesus Resurrection.

3b. The Cross-Examination.

4.Christianity’s Beliefs were Copied From Pagan Religions.

5. Jesus Was An Imposter Who Failed To Fulfill The Messianic Prophecies.

6. People Should Be Free To Pick And Choose What To Believe About Jesus.

Of course there is an introduction and conclusion along with two appendices that assume the reader is going to reach Strobel’s conclusion (speak of arrogance). Again (and I assume it is in all his “Case” series) he presents his arguments as if they were being examined in a court of law but once again he failed to present the “defense” and only presented the prosecution. He did bring up some of the defense but as he allowed witnesses for the prosecution to speak,  he spoke (in somewhat of a caricature) for the defense and other than that he silenced it. Is the “evidence” for Jesus so shaky in Strobel’s opinion that it must be presented only one sided?

Strobel’s first challenge (Scholars Are Uncovering A Radically Different Jesus In Ancient Documents Just As Credible As The Four Gospels) is one where he relies on the canonical gospels being written not long after the resurrection, being eyewitness testimony and not pseudo-epigraphical. As I wrote last week, the canonical gospels are in no way eyewitness testimony. At best they are hearsay and at worst they are fictional accounts. As far as being dated close to the resurrection and eyewitness (or secondhand testimony), the gospel of Luke is usually dated sometime around 75 CE. That is all well and fine but it  is in no way true. Luke’s gospel as well as it’s companion (Acts} were both addressed to Theophilus. Theophilus was the bishop of Antioch from 169-177, so much for the early dating of Luke (and Acts). Of course it could have been addressed to an other Theophilus that left no evidence in history but unless there is evidence pointing to that, why should it be believed? Besides, there are no citations in any extra-biblical sources quoting the gospels (or even mentioning them) until 180 CE. Addressing the pseudo-epigraphical claim (just restricted to the canonical gospels) we have one that was written by Luke but considering the dating I put forth above, he was not a traveling companion of Paul unless he toted around a corpse. Still for the sake of argument I will grant the author as being Luke. John was written by John (not the apostle). Matthew is a pseudo-epigraphical book as well as Mark. In other words, they are forged in the names of Matthew and Mark. I will not even try to claim the non-canonical gospels were written by those whose names appear on them but I will say if being pseudo-epigraphical did not exclude two out of four gospels and nine out of 23 Pauline epistles, why should it exclude the non-canonical writings? As far as dating, the writings found at Nag Hammadi in 1945 have been dated to the early second century (before Theophilus was bishop). Not only that but they (one gospel) was even mentioned by the early church. Now on to Strobel’s conclusion that the non-canonical writings can be ignored in the search for the real Jesus, he is dead wrong. The non-canonical writings can only be ignored if you have some kind of mental hangup that requires Jesus to be real and portrayed as in the canon. The non-canonical writings are just as valid as the canon.

Strobel’s second challenge (The Bible’s Portrait Of Jesus Can’t Be Trusted Because The Church Tampered With The Text) is going to be a very small paragraph since even Christian Bible Scholars agree that there have been many redactions and interpolations made in  the bible and in extra-biblical writings. How Strobel can deny them for the most part and ignore the rest as inconsequential should say tons about his bias and the mental gymnastics required to believe in an historical Jesus, at least the one depicted in the bible.

His third challenge (New Explanations Have Refuted Jesus Resurrection) and it’s pseudo-cross-examination really deserves no refutation since it refutes itself (meaning the biblical story) but nonetheless, I will write some on the subject. First let me say there are really no “new” explanations refuting anything. They may be new to Strobel but I really don’t think he has been leading a sheltered life. As far as the cruciFICTION and resurrection, the four canonical gospels can’t even agree on the order of events, what events happened and who was the first witness. To make matters worse, church teaching varies depending on the church as to who the first witness was. As an aside, read the four accounts and then ask yourself why the Catholic church claims the first witness to the resurrection was Peter while some Orthodox churches claim it was James while the text itself claims it was Mary Madalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome,  and Joanna (all in differing combinations). Another extremely strong indication of it’s mythical (and allegorical) nature is the tale of Pilate releasing a prisoner to the crowd. Firstly, there never was a custom of releasing a prisoner on the passover much less someone actually convicted of a crime. Secondly, the mythical nature becomes much clearer when the name of the released prisoner is looked at in Aramaic. The Aramaic word for son is Bar while the Aramaic word meaning father is Abba. The Aramaic phrase BarAbbas means son of the father which is what some claimed Jesus was. What did I mean by allegorical? This fable is an obvious allusion to Jesus being a Yom Kippur atonement.

The fourth challenge (Christianity’s Beliefs were Copied From Pagan Religions) was my favorite chapter and one I found the most interesting. There are unquestionably similarities between Christianity and many Pagan religions. Question is who did the copying? The answer isn’t as easy as it seems from either side. There were crucified gods before Christianity but that doesn’t mean Christianity copied them. That is undoubtedly a possibility and it is even somewhat probable but on the other hand if you are coming from a culture where gods are crucified, how can one say it wasn’t culture that “created” a crucified Jesus but a copying from paganism? Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there was nothing copied from Paganism. There are plenty of things that can be traced back to their mythological roots. One I find particularly fascinating is the Dagon (the fish god) myth that eventually became historicized through John The Baptist (bet you never look at a Christian fish the same again) and the obvious copying of the demoniac at Gadara from book 10 of the Odyssey . In either event, personally I do not see how this chapter does anything to forward Strobel’s case. It is true there are many places on the internet that claim what he says but to be perfectly honest, I would have preferred he address the Dagon historicization through John among other more concrete myths. Instead he chose the easy (cowards) way out.

The fifth challenge (Jesus Was An Imposter Who Failed To Fulfill The Messianic Prophecies) would be answered by a resounding yes, Jesus is an identity thief. Strobel tries to twist messianic prophecy (Old Testament prophecy) into some that must happen pre-70CE and some to happen post 70CE. That just isn’t true. Now of course there are things Jesus couldn’t control for example like where he was born. But that presupposes an historical Jesus. Fact is there is nothing written in the New Testament as far as prophecy that couldn’t have been written by anyone living in the first or second centuries. As far as Old Testament prophecy, if there is no historical Jesus, his life could easily be molded to fit the so-called messianic prophecies. {There are over 300 claimed messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. A careful reading of them will reduce that number to a mere handful.) This is the reason why I claim Christianity would not need an historical Jesus to begin and would be much better off without one.

The last challenge (People Should Be Free To Pick And Choose What To Believe About Jesus) isn’t a challenge as much as it’s a request to believe the biblical Jesus versus the non-biblical concept of Jesus. Besides, if a Christian is free to cherry pick from the bible, why should anybody else not be able to cherry pick what they want about Jesus?

My conclusion is the same as it was with his other book, if this is what passes for scholarship among Christians, we are doomed.

Some further reading you might enjoy

[tweetmeme source=”noreligionblog” only_single=falsehttps://noreligionblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/review-the-case-for-the-real-jesus]

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