pageok
pageok
pageok
The Judas Gospel:

Suppose that sometime around the year 3,800 A.D., someone wrote a newspaper that began: "According to a recently-discovered document, which appears to have been written sometime before 1926, Benedict Arnold did not attempt to betray George Washington and the American cause, as is commonly believed. Rather, Benedict Arnold was acting at the request of George Washington, because Washington wanted Arnold to help him create a dictatorship of the proletariat and the abolition of private property."

A reader who knew her ancient history would recognize that the newly-discovered "Arnold document" was almost certainly not a historically accurate account of the relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. The reader would know that the terms "dictatorship of the proletariat" and "abolition of private property" come from a political philosophy, Marxism, which was created long after Washington and Arnold were dead. The reader would also know that the most reliable records from the 18th century provided no support for the theory that Washington or Arnold favored a dictatorship of the proletariat or the abolition of private property.

This Friday's coverage of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" in much of the U.S. media was appallingly stupid. The Judas gospel is interesting in its own right, but the notion that it disproves, or casts into doubt, the traditional orthodox understanding of the betrayal of Jesus is preposterous.

In the March 2 issue of USA Today, ancient Egyptian documents expert James Robinson correctly predicted that the owners of the Judas Gospel manuscript would attempt to release it to coincide with the publicity build-up for "The DaVinci Code" movie, but explained that the "gospel" was part of a genre of pseudo-gospels from the second century onward, in which the authors simply made up the stories. In contrast, virtually all serious scholarship about the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) believes that they were written much closer to the events they describe--sometime in the first century a.d.

The influential Christian bishop Ireneus, in his treatise Against Heresies, written in 180 a.d., denounced the Gospel of Judas as the product of a gnostic sect called the Cainites. (Book 1, ch. 31, para. 1.)

The "Gospel of Judas" asserts that Jesus asked Judas to betray Jesus so that Jesus's spirit could be liberated from its earthly body. ("You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.") This statement is a classic expression of gnosticism, and for that reason is antithetical to Christianity.

Unfortunately, the amazingly mendacious DaVinci Code presents a picture of gnosticism that is wildly false — so it is helpful to set the record straight about what gnostics really believed.

The roots of the Gospel of Judas and of gnosticism go back to Marcion (approx. 100-160 a.d.). After he was excommunicated for heresy, he founded his own sect, the Marcionites. The Marcionites never grew as numerous as orthodox Christians, but for several centuries they were important rivals to the orthodox.

The Marcionites believed that the physical world was created by the angry god of the Old Testament, and that Jesus had been sent by a different god, who had nothing to do with the created world. Marcionites strove to avoid all contact with the created world. They were celibate, and ultra-ascetic. They did not even allow the use of wine at communion, insisting only on bread. Consistent with this highly ascetic view, they rejected war in any form. The Marcionites also denied the authority of the Old Testament, and most of the Gospels. Their only scriptures were portions of Luke, and ten epistles from Paul. (The idea of expunging the Old Testament from the Christian Bible was reintroduced by Adolf von Harnack, a very influential late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century liberal Protestant theologian. The Nazis enthusiastically adopted Harnack's proposal.)

The great nineteenth-century Catholic theologian John Henry Cardinal Newman explained that gnostics such as the Marcionites believed in "the intrinsic malignity of matter." The rejection of the Old Testament was necessary because the Old Testament is replete with stories about the wonders of the created world. In the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God looked at his newly-created natural world, "and God saw that it was good." Then, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them....And so God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." The Song of Songs rejoices in a newly-married couple's sensuous love. Ecclesiastes celebrates the natural cycle of life.

The New Testament agreed that the God who was the father of Jesus was the same God who had made the material world. In Acts, the Apostles prayed "Lord, thou are God, which has made heaven, and earth, and the sea..."

Newman also pointed out that "All the Gnostic sects seem to have condemned marriage for one or another reason." This is the opposite of the mainstream Christian view which, while recognizing that celibacy can be a special calling for some people, celebrates "holy matrimony." The Marcionites acknowledged that Jesus had been born of a woman, but claimed that the fetal Jesus never touched Mary's body or received any nourishment from her womb.

The Marcionite and other forms of Gnostic pacifism have a reasonable internal logic. If the entire world and every human body is repulsively unclean (if one looks on the whole creation the same way that the Old Testament regarded a leprous corpse), then it makes sense never to lift a finger to defend a human being who is being attacked. Why try to preserve the evil human body from destruction? And how sinful it would seem, in the Gnostic view, to involve oneself in the material world so greatly that one would actually use a physical weapon.

The earliest Christians seem to have foreseen that something like gnosticism would attempt to substitute itself for Christianity. In the First Epistle to Timothy, Paul specifically warned about the false teaching that would arise from "doctrines of devils." The evil doctrines that would arise in "latter times" would be "Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving."

Timothy's instructions also drew an important parallel between the carnal eating of meat and the carnality of marriage. Both are gifts which God created for humanity.

Gnosticism's hatred of the created world sets it in direct opposition to Jewish and Christian doctrine from the first chapter of Genesis all the way through the New Testament.

The Gospel of Judas adds no historical information to the biography of Jesus, but it does provide additional information about the gnostic heresy which thrived in the mid-second century, and which has attracted many adherents today as well.

UPDATE: Fantastic Planet provides very interesting, thoughtful commentary about the Gospel of Judas, written by a modern Gnostic.

stealthlawprof (mail) (www):
The MSM's coverage of religion is so pathetic that I routinely ignore it. The notion that Judas was a hero (and that a reputable source would advocate this) fits well with that pattern. Your clear and concise explanation of the background to this revisionist nonsense was much appreciated.
4.8.2006 2:50pm
Bobbie:
So, in short: assuming that the New Testament is the historically accurate pictures of Jesus, the Gospel of Judas is not true. Perhaps you should suggest the AP drop that footnote in one of its stories.
4.8.2006 2:55pm
M (mail):
I'd always understood the remarks from Paul to Timothy to be not a pre-warning about gnosticism but rather a (fairly obvious) rejection of Jewish dietary restrictions, a part of breaking with the Jewish past and rejecting those who wanted to bring Christianity back in to the Jewish tradition. You're right that the coverage is pretty bad, though it might be worth noting that most experts also think the canonical gospels were written down after the deaths of their supposed authors as well.



[There are standard commentators who would suggest that Paul's letter served both purposes. There are some scholars who argue that the letter wasn't really written by Paul, but was written in approx. 125 a.d., and attributed to Paul, in direct response to gnosticism.]
4.8.2006 3:02pm
Roach (mail) (www):
All of these stories are reported as if they should be shocking to believing Christians. But Chrisitans, and Catholics in particular, are well aware that the early history of the Church consisted in large part of refuting and expelling heretics of one stripe or another and, in turn, developing doctrine more fully and precisely in response to these attacks. Most of Christology was developed in response to the Arian heresy. Much of the free will doctrine was developed in response to the Pelagians.

This all seems a bigger problem for Protestants than Catholics. Catholics believe that the Bible has authority and is what the Church says it is because the Church has teaching authority and is endowed with inerrancy when speaking authoritatively on matters of faith and morals. So when the Church says Chris has two natures in one person, or that there is a trinity, or that the Gospel of Thomas is heretical while the Gospel of Mark is not, we can believe it. We believe it because the fountain of our faith is Christ and we believe he left the Church has his voice on earth. But what of Protestants. How can they believe the Counsel of Nicea and the ohter early counsels that defined doctrine (including the doctrine of which texts are inspired or not). The Bible did not come down from heaven, ready-made, and in codified form. Numerous texts floated around the early Christian Church. They were only fully codified some 300 years later, where numerous gnostic texts in particular were expelled. It's true the Gnostics thought they were Christians. So did the Arians, Nestorians, and Pelagians. But the Church said they weren't after an ecumneical counsel. And since I believe in the Bible because I believe in the Church, then I must believe that that excommunication was meaningful as well. Why do Protestants is the real question?


[DK: That's a whole other issue, but I don't think that Protestants consider themselves bound by the Council of Nicea for what constitutes the canon. That's why the intertestmental books (e.g., Judith, Macab., etc) are in the Catholic and Orthodox canons, but not in the Protestant canon.]
4.8.2006 3:02pm
Sam (mail):
Those damn asexual early-Christian Nazi-like pacificist vegetarian people-hating anti-gun nuts. Can't trust a thing they write. They were probably Democrats too.

[DK: Careful now. I'm a carnivorous gun-owning pro-Incarnation Democrat. :) ]
4.8.2006 3:03pm
Justin (mail):
M, indeed several hundred years later, as far as Luke is concerned - which is why the Jewbashing is a lot less in that one than the others, since the gospels were no longer being used to fight against their Jewish rivals for the heart and minds of the Semetic peoples.
4.8.2006 3:05pm
jvarisco:
This is all true, but from a religious perspective.

But if you are studying the gospels as a historian, none of them are presumed to be historically accurate. It is of course not the case that Judas disproves anything - but none of the gospels have been proven in the first place, so the version that one believes is based on faith, not any sort of historical accuracy.

This seems similar to the idea of Hadith in Islam; these are sayings that are attributed to the prophet, and used as additional guidance to the Quran. Each one has a list of names it was passed down through, which is meant to show its authenticity; for a believer, that may be relevant, but for a historian, it matters very little. None of them were written until well after Muhammad's death, and none are independently verifiable. The same is true of the gospels.


[DK: Of course you're right; the four traditional gospels are not self-authenticating for a person outside the faith community. But I would argue that they are more reliable, on the whole, than documents about the same events which were written later. By analogy, I don't consider the Koran to be self-authenticating, but I consider it to be more reliable about Mohammad's biography than the Hadith are, because the Koran was temporally closer to the events it describes.]
4.8.2006 3:05pm
JR (mail) (www):
David: Good post. I have found what some have said to be amusing. For example, consider the following material from this AP story. It states that one expert "expressed doubt that the new gospel will rival the New Testament, but he allowed that opinions are likely to vary." Expressed doubt? I am glad he stuck his neck out there on that one. A Princeton professor is quoted as saying, "The people who loved, circulated and wrote down these gospels did not think they were heretics." Well, isn't that helpful. Heretics don't label themselves as heretics. I wonder what her point was?

[DK: The Princeton prof was Elaine Pagels. It was a pretty good quote, in the sense that she didn't say anything inaccurate, and did say something that, at least to a superficial reader, would seem to bolster the legitimacy of the Judas Gospel. A great deal of her career has been devoted to mainstreaming gnosticism back into Christianity.]
4.8.2006 3:21pm
PersonFromPorlock:
The Nazis enthusiastically adopted Harnack's proposal.

They enthusiastically adopted four-lane limited access highways, too. So?
4.8.2006 3:23pm
Tom952 (mail):
Attempts to make sense of Christian origins from the Middle East are hopelessly muddled by lost and destroyed documents, lack of provenance of existing documents, and evidence that conflicts accepted versions.

For example, is there absolute irrefutable proof that Paul and Timothy didn't cook the whole thing up?
4.8.2006 3:25pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Roach:

Speaking for one Protestant (a Lutheran, ironically) it is a matter of faith and grace. It is as simple or as complicated as that.
4.8.2006 3:33pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
I am not sure I buy into the unstated premise of your essay. I agree that the Gospel of Judas is surely no more accurate than the marxist document about George Washington, but I dont think that the "true" Gospels are any more likely to contain actual truth. None of them were written at the time of Jesus's life and none of them are generally understood to be eyewitness accounts.

I was under the impression that the early Church exercised pretty stern editorial control over the gospels and it wouldnt surprise me if factual accuracy was sacrificed in favor of ideological goals. Knowing the truth is further complicated by the fact that the Church went on to become a centuries-spanning beaureacracy that would certainly have a vested interest in altering or concealing any early histories to support the stated dogma of the Church.

I'm not so much accusing the Catholic Church of being evil or mendacious as I am accusing it of being a centuries-spanning quasi-governmental institution run by human beings.
4.8.2006 3:33pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):

The Nazis enthusiastically adopted Harnack's proposal.

This is a pretty clear violation of Godwin's law. There may not be a bright line for use of Nazi analogies in arguments, but I am pretty confident that something this gratuitious crosses the line.

The argument is logically flawed, since early 20th century german philosophy has absolutely nothing to do with 2nd century Gnosticism beyond not being in agreement with Catholocism. Does this also mean that Jews are like Nazis because they reject dont concur with the Catholic Church on all issues?


[DK: I've argued previously, http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_01_29-2006_02_04.shtml#1138736303, that Godwin's Law isn't violated by discussing what the Nazis actually did. Harnack explicitly argued that Marcion had been correct about dumping the OT; there's no evidence that Harnack would have approved of what the Nazis did. Eric Voegelin is among the scholars who have argued that Nazism was heavily influenced by gnosticism.]
4.8.2006 3:43pm
JB:
Didn't Gnosticism have pre-Christian roots in Egyptian Greek philosophy? Those Gnostics who identified Jesus with their own messianistic figure became Christians, and in short order heretics.
4.8.2006 3:43pm
steve k:
"The earliest Christians seem to have foreseen that something like gnosticism would attempt to substitute itself for Christianity."

Don't you mean the (we believe) earliest followers of Jesus who ultimately won the fight to represent Christianity (to most people) seem to have foreseen that opposing groups like gnostics would also wish to win this battle.
4.8.2006 3:45pm
Peter Wimsey:
jvarisco - I'm not sure what you mean by "historical accuracy" or "independently verifiable." Certainly there is no proof that anyone came back from the dead or was cured of leprosy. On the other hand, most actual (i.e., those without a religious agenda) historians have a fairly rigorous understanding of which sayings of Jesus he probably said and which sayings were added later. The same is true concerning when the gospels were written, what kind of person wrote them, the extent to which they are derivative of other gospels and other material, along with some idea of the audience for whom they were written.

WRT media accounts of the gospel of judas - yeah, they are uniformly bad...although, to be fair, general understanding of how the NT canon came to be is also poor, but at least a little such knowledge would be a prerequisite for a better understanding of what the gospel of judas means.

I do find David's post to be overly deferential to orthodox views, however. The early church really was in a position of flux and could have easily ended up being a religion closer to Marcionism or Arianism than ended up being the case. After all, when Jesus was unexpectedly killed and then his apocalyptic prediction that many people who heard him preach would live to see coming of the lord did not come to pass, there was a lot of leeway for interpretation. Marcion's idea about the old testament god being different from the new testament god is the simplest explanation for the smiting of the old testament versus the loving of the new testament. And I suspect that, actually, most christians do believe something closer to (but not identical to) the gnostic idea of a soul with an existence independent from the body than to the orthodox view that your physical body will be resurrected and you will live again immortal. Despite the fact that the resurrection of the body was such a big deal to early orthodox christians that they specifically added it to the nicene creed.

Aside from doctrinal issues, though, the scholarship of the council of nicea has help up fairly well - with some disagreements, esp. wrt the apocrypha.

But I think the discovery of the gospel of judas is very interesting - not because it will really challenge orthodox christianity, but because it will give an interesting insight into the belief of an important early branch of christianity.
4.8.2006 3:59pm
shoelimpy™ (mail) (www):
Excellent analysis. The Gospel of Judas, while certainly an important document, does not in any serious way effect our understanding of the Bible. Anyone can write down anything they wish, it doesn't mean there is any veracity behind it.
4.8.2006 4:02pm
Fishbane (mail):
They enthusiastically adopted four-lane limited access highways, too. So?

That proves it! civil engineers are Nazis! I always thought so.

Von Harnack is actually a pretty interesting figure. I do suggest to readers with interest in such things to look beyond Kopel's um, brief summary, of the man.
4.8.2006 4:02pm
BobN (mail):
My truth is True (with a capital T) because the folks who wrote my truth kicked out the folks who wrote the other truths.

What a ridiculous way to sort out the world.
4.8.2006 4:03pm
Chris of MM (mail) (www):
Just thought I'd note that while the post and some of the comments (e.g., Peter Wimsey's) seem to be saying that there is a strong consensus among scholars about the dates of the canonical Gospels, there is actually a fairly rigorous debate among scholars about the dates, with some placing them before, and some after, the fall of the temple of Jerusalem, and dates in the literature ranging from 60 ad to as late as the early to middle 2nd century, and there is even more debate about the authorship.
4.8.2006 4:10pm
Bobbie:
On the other hand, most actual (i.e., those without a religious agenda) historians have a fairly rigorous understanding of which sayings of Jesus he probably said and which sayings were added later.

Oh please. How could anyone possibly know with any sort of scientific certainty what Jesus did or did not say? If I told you I had four books written about a man tens of years after he died, how accurate do you think it would be? There's a rigorous debate between historians about what can likely be attributed to Jesus. There's hardly a consensus. Given the data points, it would be odd if there was.
4.8.2006 4:28pm
Steven Joyce (mail):
DK writes: "...I don't think that Protestants consider themselves bound by the Council of Nicea for what constitutes the canon. That's why the intertestmental books (e.g., Judith, Macab., etc) are in the Catholic and Orthodox canons, but not in the Protestant canon."

There are two inaccuracies in this statement.

1. Most Protestants (in particular Anglicans and Lutherans) accept the teachings of the Council of Nicea. Notable exceptions include Unitarians and Mormons.

2. The status of the deuterocanonicals/apocrypha (Judith, Maccabees, etc.) was not on the agenda of the Council of Nicea. The Council was mainly concerned with the Arian controversy and the date of Easter. The Council settled on the canonical books of the New Testament, but did not consider which books belonged in the canonical Old Testament. That question wasn't officially decided until the Council of Trent (which is obviously rejected by Protestants).
4.8.2006 4:32pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Well, I've been over Kopel's post twice now, &I can't find guns or the Second Amendment anywhere in it ... what gives?

[DK: Folks who have the gnosis will be able to see both themes clearly enough. :) ]
4.8.2006 4:32pm
Tom952 (mail):
Bobbie:

Actually, the situation is more akin to you asserting that you heard a rumor that four books written about a man existed, but the originals unfortunately are lost.
4.8.2006 4:38pm
The Cranky Insomniac (www):
2000 years after it was written, the Gospel of Judas is not the threat to the Catholic Church that it could have been back then. It's absurd to think it is in any way going to be a world-changing document, and it shouldn't be marketed as such. Thanks to the 1945 discovery at Nag Hammadi, we already have many other Gnostic gospels, and I'm pretty sure there haven't been mass defections (pun intended) from Catholicism or any other Christian faith. The gospel is, however, a fascinating historical document, and should be treated as such. Like the other Gnostic gospels, it gives us a glimpse into a religion that for the most part is long dead. And I, personally, think that's pretty cool.

But then again, I'm Jewish, so what do I know...

More here:

The Cranky Insomniac
4.8.2006 4:57pm
Rami:
I think that Bobbie has it right--you're problems with the Gospel of Judas are based on an assumption of accuracy of the four canonical Gospels--accounts written decades after the events the purport to describe and that contain significant discrepancies.

Gnosticism pre-dates Christianity, so finding Gnostic concepts in the Gospel of Judas doesn't tell us anything about the veracity of its narrative. Thus, your comparison with a tale of George Washington wanting to create a dictatorship of the proletariat is a false analogy.


[DK: If you like, change my Washington/Arnold example so that Washington is "trying to create a monarch who would exercise the absolute authority which God granted to Adam and sons of Adam through primogeniture." Then you'd have Washington/Arnold following the philosophy of Robert Filmer, who wrote in the 17th century. And it would still be implausible.]

To the extent that the Gospel of Judas does have anachronisms, that only tells us about the version of the Gospel that we have, not about its original version. It is useful to think of the undiscovered ur-source Q of the canonical Gospels, that contains the sayings of Jesus (which look an awful lot like the Rabbinic sayings in Pirkei Avot, excepting Jesus' position on divorce). The problems in the version we have do not tell us about the veracity of its sources. Indeed, it is worth remembering that there are non-canonical versions of the canonical Gospels, just as we have non-canonical versions of the books of the Hebrew Bible (for example, God appears in the Septuagint version of Esther, but not in the canonical Hebrew version), and non-canonical versions of the Koran (which the Saudi regime systematically destroys because of the threat they pose to fundamentalist Islam).

What the Gospel of Judas should remind us of is that religious texts (including the Koran) are not simple factual histories--they are writings with an agenda and need to be read as such.
4.8.2006 5:01pm
Smithy (mail) (www):
More typical liberal clap trap trying to undermine the sanctity of Scripture. I give this about as much credence as the Dan Rather TANG memos. I wonder what kind of typewriter the document was produced with?

I'm waiting until it's posted in pdf on the internet and the boys at Powerline have their way with it. Here's one person who thinks it's fake.


[DK: I disagree. We know from Ireneus--who wrote in 180 a.d., and whose authenticity is not is dispute--that there was a gnostic Gospel of Judas. The existing manuscript is consistent with Ir.'s description of the Gospel of Judas. I will change my mind, however, if the layout of the letters on papyrus fragments exactly matches the default settings of MS Word.]
4.8.2006 5:14pm
CharleyCarp (mail):
I'm no theologian, but it has always seemed to me that the roles played by Judas, Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the mob, and all the rest in that crucial week were essential for the fulfillment of the Christ's destiny &mission. We don't go around calling Italians 'christ-killers'* because we understand that although Pilate had the power to prevent the crucifixion, we don't want it to have been prevented. You can't get to the Resurrection without the death, you can't get to death without the trial, and you can't get to trial without the arrest.

So it seems to me perfectly plausible that Jesus would tell Judas to swallow his reservations, and go ahead and play his role in the drama. It doesn't actually change anything at all about the core teachings of Christianity.



[DK: The first sentence of paragraph isn't entirely implausible. The second sentence doesn't work, as applied to the Gospel of Judas, because the sanctity of the human body is a core teaching. The resurrected Jesus was resurrected in his physical body, and, post-resurrection, spent several weeks on earth teaching the apostles. Moreover, Christianity is the only major religion, as far as I know, which teaches that the end-time resurrection of the righteous dead will be accomplished by the literal restoration of their earthly bodies. If the Gospel of Judas made Jesus say something like "It is necessary that I be crucified so that sins may be forgiven," than I would agree with you that it wouldn't be inconsistent with core Christian teaching. But saying that the spirit needs to be liberated from the physical body is a gnostic concept that is completely contrary to the Old Testament, and to orthodox Christianity.]


* As we all know, over the years, plenty of people have called Jews 'christ-killers.' I've always thought this an excuse not a reason: hating Jews anyway (because they refuse the message), let's use this great excuse to mess them up. The Crucifixion is not a Bad Thing, it's part of the point.
4.8.2006 5:16pm
Enoch:
So it seems to me perfectly plausible that Jesus would tell Judas to swallow his reservations, and go ahead and play his role in the drama.

Well, then Judas sure got screwed when they sent him to Hell and branded him for all eternity as the Ultimate Betrayer.

Too bad The Passion of Christ didn't have Gary Oldman as Judas, saying (in Aramaic, of course) "I'm just a patsy! I'm just a patsy!"


[DK: "I'm just a patsy" does seem to be theme of the song Judas sings just before he hangs himself in Jesus Christ Superstar. A point that's made in Catcher in the Rye (and which I presume is also made in more traditional sources) is that Judas, even after betrayal, could have been saved, if he had formally repented, rather than killing himself.]
4.8.2006 5:34pm
Fishbane (mail):
Too bad The Passion of Christ didn't have Gary Oldman as Judas, saying (in Aramaic, of course) "I'm just a patsy! I'm just a patsy!"

Time for a reinterpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar! Other hilights include the Temple being recast as a meth house, and Mary Magdalene a medical marijuana patient fighting for her right to live. Oh, and the cast being the reunion of the members of Sha Na Na.
4.8.2006 5:53pm
Fishbane (mail):
Oops. DK beat me to it.
4.8.2006 5:54pm
Trask (www):
The New Testament Gospels are infinitely more reliable than the Gospel of Judas. I posted the comments below on my blog at AgapeRevolution.com recently.

This is the difference between the four gospels in the Bible and gnostic writings. According to Gary Habermas, a major New Testament scholar, all of the gospels in the New Testament were written either directly by one of the apostles or by a person under the direct influence of the apostles. Therefore, these are eyewitness recordings of the life of Jesus Christ. They were also all written extremely close to the death of Jesus Christ. All four gospels were written within "thirty-five to sixty-five years after the death of Jesus, close enough to allow for accurate accounts." (Habermas) Therefore, it is known that all of the gospels in the New Testament were written either by eyewitnesses or people under the influence of eyewitnesses within 35-65 years after the death of Jesus Christ. This is a powerful statement about the reliability of the New Testament accounts.

The Gospel of Judas was probably written long after the life of Jesus Christ by a person who did not know Judas nor was an eyewitness to the events. According to scholar Charles Hedrick, the "original Gospel of Judas was probably written in Greek in the second century AD." There is a major separation of time between when Judas was alive and when this document was authored. There is no reason to believe that a person writing about Judas this long after he was alive would have any special knowledge about the topic that could in anyway compare to the information provided by the gospels. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that most of the information in the Gospel of Judas is not made up. And at the very least, one must concede that the account of the gospels in the New Testament is far more reliable than the Gospel of Judas.
4.8.2006 6:06pm
Independent George (mail):
See also this informative post from Donald Sensing.
4.8.2006 6:09pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
This Friday's coverage of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" in much of the U.S. media was appallingly stupid. The Judas gospel is interesting in its own right, but the notion that it disproves, or casts into doubt, the traditional orthodox understanding of the betrayal of Jesus is preposterous.


Yes the idea that the gospel of Judas is a trustworthy historical source about Jesus is absurd and stupid. However, it is no more absurd and stupid than believing the same thing about the other gospels which we know were not only written well after the fact but significantly modified during the middle ages.


A reader who knew her ancient history would recognize that the newly-discovered "Arnold document" was almost certainly not a historically accurate account of the relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold.


Yes but a reader with just a basic knowledge of physics/the way the world generally works (people don't rise from the dead etc..) would have far more reason to reject ALL of the traditional gospels as any sort of historical authority on Jesus (except indirectly but the Judas Gospel is usefull in this way too).

Certainly you aren't denying that it is logically possible that the Judas gospel's accuretly record the historical record. Rather, given the inherent improbability of the events descrbed (Judas being asked to do this for Jesus) and the obvious explanation in terms of early church politics we deem the later explanation far more likely. However, the exact same thing is true (perhaps moreso) of the traditional gospels.

So sure a rational investigator should not (directly) allow his beliefs about the historical personage Jesus to be significantly swayed by the Judas gospel. However, such an investigator would no more be swayed by the other gospels and probably pay the historical (as opposed to sociological) jesus story no more mind than stories about Zeus.

So it seems a little unfair to me to dish such strong criticism on the Judas gospel and not point out that it is no worse than it's compatriots.
4.8.2006 6:09pm
Tom952 (mail):
Trask:

According to Gary Habermas, a major New Testament scholar, all of the gospels in the New Testament were written either directly by one of the apostles or by a person under the direct influence of the apostles.

How does he prove this?
4.8.2006 6:11pm
Trask (www):
This is what Habermas has to say about Authorship and Date in his article on Why The New Testament Is Historically Reliable.

The above described quality of manuscript data shows that the New Testament manuscripts were careful copies of what the original authors produced. However, this does not necessarily guarantee that the contents of these writings are historically accurate. The traditional strategy has been to argue that the Gospels and Acts were written by eyewitnesses, or those writing under their influence, thereby ensuring as much as possible the factual content. A somewhat more cautious position is that these five books were at least influenced by eyewitness testimony.7

Evangelical scholars often date each of the synoptic Gospels ten or so years earlier than their critical counterparts, who usually prefer dates of roughly A.D. 65-90. There is widespread agreement on placing John at roughly A.D. 95. This places the writing of the manuscripts thirty-five to sixty-five years after the death of Jesus, close enough to allow for accurate accounts.

Perhaps the most promising way to support the traditional approach is to argue backward from the Book of Acts. Most of this book is occupied with the ministries of Peter and Paul, and much of the action centers in the city of Jerusalem. The martyrdoms of Stephen (7:54-60) and the apostle James (12:1-2) are recorded, and the book concludes with Paul under arrest in Rome (28:14-31). Yet Acts says nothing concerning the deaths of Paul and Peter (mid-60s A.D.) or James, Jesus' brother (about A.D. 62). Moreover, accounts of the Jewish War with the Romans (beginning in A.D. 66) and the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) are also strangely absent. Further, the book ends enigmatically with Paul under house arrest, without any resolution to the situation.

How could the author of Acts not mention these events or resolve Paul's dilemma, each of which is centrally related to the text's crucial themes? These events would even seem to dwarf many of the other recorded occurrences.8 It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the author did not record these items simply because they had not yet occurred. These omissions argue persuasively for an early date for the composition of Acts, before the mid-60s A.D.

If it is held that Luke was written prior to Acts but after Mark and Matthew, as perhaps most critical scholars do, then all five books may be dated before A.D. 65. It is simply amazing that Acts could be dated A.D. 80-85 and the author not be aware of, or otherwise neglect to mention, any of these events.9
4.8.2006 6:16pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Or in short yes it does cast doubt on the traditional story of jesus. The Judes gospel forces many people to confront the fact that other other descriptions of Jesus's life with as much apparent authority as the canon directly contradict the canon. Sure they should have already realized that the canon was formalized by political infighting hundreds of years after Jesus's death and hence give it little to no weight whatsoever but the fact is most people have never given this serious consideration or research.

Ridiculous as it sounds many people really do believe in christianity on the ground that writtings like the gospels are reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus. This shows this belief is untenable as they have no principled way to distingush between the Judas gospel and the canon.

It's no different than the fact that people are more likely to give up faith in God when their spouse/child is taken from them at a young age in a horrific manner than when it happens to someone else. Sometimes the force of an argument isn't apparent until people see a clear cut contrete examples and the Judas gospel does this.
4.8.2006 6:19pm
Thief (mail) (www):
On a side note, wouldn't it be wonderful if this kind of critical theological thinking were applied elsewhere?
4.8.2006 6:19pm
PoohPoohBear:
If not Judas, who else should have betrayed Christ? The church would have us believe that Christ was born to die on the cross. If thats the case, then it was necessary as things played out, for someone to betray Christ in order for that to happen. Judas was the most expendable of the Disciples.
4.8.2006 6:21pm
Tom952 (mail):

In contrast, the Bodmer and Chester Beatty Papyri contain most of the New Testament, dating about 100-150 years later than the New Testament, using an approximate date of A.D. 100 for its completion.

This is his best argument. A copy purported to date 150 after the purported original. Then he goes on to mention thousands of copies, and implies that proves something. He doesn't mention any study of the variation among the various copies; perhaps he considers it a stone best left unturned.

What you never have are the four original manuscripts, or even shreads of them, written in the original hand with the original ink on the original paper available for examination. Its always an oft told tale much repeated.

Willingness of modern printers to modify the text as they see fit in various editions undermines the credibility of any claims that these thousands of copies have been faithfully reproduced over the centuries.
4.8.2006 6:30pm
R:
So Catholics are just a bunch of AGnostics?
4.8.2006 6:32pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Trask said (emphasis mine),


This is the difference between the four gospels in the Bible and gnostic writings. According to Gary Habermas, a major New Testament scholar, all of the gospels in the New Testament were written either directly by one of the apostles or by a person under the direct influence of the apostles. Therefore, these are eyewitness recordings of the life of Jesus Christ. They were also all written extremely close to the death of Jesus Christ. All four gospels were written within "thirty-five to sixty-five years after the death of Jesus, close enough to allow for accurate accounts." (Habermas) Therefore, it is known that all of the gospels in the New Testament were written either by eyewitnesses or people under the influence of eyewitnesses within 35-65 years after the death of Jesus Christ. This is a powerful statement about the reliability of the New Testament accounts.


And I can find you ten people who talked with god yesterday but somehow I doubt you would put much weight into what they said.

Let's try to be consistant here. If your best friend who was reknown for truthfullness told you he had seen a dead man returned to life yesterday you wouldn't believe him so the idea that the gospels are somehow a reliable guide to the life of jesus are absurd.

Of course there almost certainly was a real historical person Jesus and the gospels may well make many truthfull claims about him (sayings, places he preached etc..). While I think you have overstated your case for the canon a bit I'm even willing to stipulate that these gospel's may get more things right than the gospel of Judas.

However, most people aren't concerned about which gospel had a more accurate list of the places jesus spoke. They are concerned about the big theological questions (was jesus the son of god, did he die and rise again). Even if the Judas gospel is incorrect and less likely to be correct than the other gospels if forces one to admit that some apparen't gospel turned out to be false and thus suggests that the canonical gospels might have a reasonable chance of being false.

The fact that you might have reason to believe the Judas gospel is less reliable is irrelevant. The mere existance of these gospel's showing the ability and willingness of people to write stories about jesus out of whole cloth. Once you assign even a tiny apriori probability that this happened in the canonized gospels one (at least if one believes based on biblical authority) has serious problems justifying christianity. If some man you knew to be totally trustworthy came up to you on the street and said, "This morning I rolled a perfectly fair 1000 sided die and if it came up 1 I committed to telling you a fantastic lie and if it came up anything else to tell you the most fantastic true statement I know," and then followed this by telling you about a guy he knew in Buffallo who rose from the dead and turned out to be the sun of god it would probably be a good choice to bet that the guy rolled a 1.
4.8.2006 6:56pm
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
There is a great website, EarlyChristianwritings.com with analysis &dating of the Gospels, New Testament, Apocrypha and the early Church fathers by (mostly secular) scholars that could probably shed light on matters of historical reliability &authorship.
4.8.2006 6:59pm
JDNYU:
As several posters have noted, there's no reason to get into some fight about whether this is historically accurate or not. Christianity is a religion based on faith, and most people have faith in the version of the religion set out in the usual versions of the Bible. However, this was part of the early Christian movement and it is obviously a tremendously important document for religious scholars and of interest to anybody interested in history.

DK's analogy is flawed because this is a religious document with historical significance, not a piece of reporting about history.
4.8.2006 7:03pm
plunge (mail):
David, given that you are arguing from a basically theological perspective (since you assume that the Gospels are nto subject to the criticisms rightly due to the non-cannon gospels), not a scholarly one, why would you expect journlists to present your point of view?

"This places the writing of the manuscripts thirty-five to sixty-five years after the death of Jesus, close enough to allow for accurate accounts."

For someone that claims that the media can't even give accurate accounts of same-day happenings, you believe that a heavily mythologizing and oral culture gives accurate accounts of events that happened several decades ago?

There are more textual differences in all the different copies of the texts we have for the Gospels than there are words in the entire NT. Some are minor: others are the inclusion of the last chapter of Mark or the entire discussion of the Trinity in John, much later in time.



[DK: I definitely don't think that the non-canonical gospels are immune from the types of historical investigation and criticism which are applicable to any other ancient documents. My point about the Judas Gospel is this: there is a widely-believed version about the relationship between two persons who are generally conceded to have actually lived. In this case, it's Jesus and Judas, but it could be Augustus and Antony. There are four sources (which have ideological biases) and which appear to have been written at least 20 but probably less than 65 years after the event, and to have relied in part on eyewitnesses. Another document, with it own, different, ideological biases, was written at least a century after the original event. Does the new document provide a substantial reason to disbelieve the version in the four, earlier-written accounts? I suggest not; and I suggest the reason to doubt the historical accuracy of the latter document is even stronger when it presents one of the historical actors as making a speech which appears to be inconsistent with other evidence about the ideology of the actor and the first generation of his followers. I might consider the possibility that the much-later document was more accurate if there was evidence that the earlier authors were subject to coercion or self-censorship -- such as Roman historians who were afraid to write about a current or recently-deceased tyrant.]
4.8.2006 7:03pm
KateCoe (mail):
I think the slimiest part of this is National Geographic's press juggernaut. Their PR makes it sound like this scroll was just dug up in a desert cave, last week, instead of re-emerging from a safety deposit box.
And I don't see the Apostles playing a sort of ancient version of Survivor--who's getting voted off the island, etc.
4.8.2006 7:04pm
The Cranky Insomniac (www):

So Catholics are just a bunch of AGnostics?


Cute, but no. Gnosis is usually translated as "knowledge" (although the meaning is actually closer to "insight.") so a Gnostic is roughly "one who knows." Agnostic, therefore, refers to "one who doesn't know."
4.8.2006 7:10pm
plunge (mail):
The English translation was recently completed. That's why it's in there.

I should add that the idea that the Gospels must have been based on eyewitness accounts because they must have been so early is made particularly silly by the fact that Paul's letters (at least the authentic ones) are by far the earliest documents in the NT, and not only is Paul not an eyewitness to the Gospel events, but he doesn't even mention anything about the core Gospel events/stories outside of the basic kerygma of death and ressurection.
4.8.2006 7:22pm
plunge (mail):
It's also worth noting that while Paul tolerated the idea of marriage, he found it somewhat detestable and sub-optimal.
4.8.2006 7:37pm
Grover_Cleveland:

According to Gary Habermas, a major New Testament scholar, all of the gospels in the New Testament were written either directly by one of the apostles or by a person under the direct influence of the apostles. Therefore, these are eyewitness recordings of the life of Jesus Christ.


Gary Habermas works for Liberty University, an instution founded by Jerry Falwell whose mission statement includes the following sentence: "God, the infinite source of all things, has shown us truth through scripture, nature, history, and, above all, in Christ.". Given that his employer is explicitly committed to the proposition that scripture is true, we may presume that he is not an impartial writer in this debate. I would give him as much credence writing on thscripture bring trueis matter as I would an employee of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence writing about the dangers of handguns.

It is true that it is very hard to find a truly impartial, rational analysis of the historical truth (or lack thereof) of the Canonical Gospels, but a researcher whose paycheck dependes upon his taking a certain position is the least impartial of all.
4.8.2006 7:41pm
Trask (www):
I do not have time to explain these arguments, but there are very good arguments within the theological literature that historically prove that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead actually happened, which provides very strong substantive support for the authority of Jesus Christ, the authority of the apostles, and the authority of the New Testament scriptures. Gary Habermas develops this approach in two articles. (Jesus Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism Part I and Part II) As far as the objection about oral tradition, the whole point is that oral tradition was unecessary. Eyewitnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were around at the time when all of the New Testament was written. All four gospels were written by people who got the information directly from an apostle or were written by an apostle like Matthew and John. The shooting of John F. Kennedy demonstrates this point. There have been tons of accurate documentaries put together on that event with eyewitness testimony within 35-65 years after the event. There maybe some disagreement over details, but with all of the accounts of the people that were there. One can paint a very accurate picture of what happened.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul made the following statement. "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."

Do you have any idea how brazen this statement is? Paul is stating that more than 500 people, many who were alive when he wrote this, saw Jesus at the same time. You can dismiss 20 people as crackpots, but you have to give credibility to the claim that 500 people saw Jesus all at once. Furthermore, hostile people converted to Christianity. James, the brother of Jesus Christ, did not become a follower of Jesus until after he witnessed Jesus alive. How many people on this planet are willing to declare that one of their siblings is God? Even James would not believe it, until the evidence was too impossible to deny. Paul actively persecuted and killed Christians. His goal was to eliminate them until he saw the risen Christ appear to him on the road to Damascus, and he converted. This is all eyewitness testimony from people who are still alive when the claims are being made, and some of the people converted from a hostile position because of what they witnessed.

Trask
AgapeRevolution.com
4.8.2006 7:48pm
Trask (www):
Gary Habermas works for Liberty University, an instution founded by Jerry Falwell whose mission statement includes the following sentence: "God, the infinite source of all things, has shown us truth through scripture, nature, history, and, above all, in Christ."

This is an irrelevant claim. First, I can assure you that professor goes to work at Liberty University unless they believe in the mission of the institution before they arrive there. Second, I can also assure you that there are much better universities to be a professor at if making money is all that you are concerned about. Third, all of the scholars at other universities have their own biases. Fourth, the biases that a person has are irrelevant. The question is whether the person presents good arguments. If Habermas has good arguments, believe him. If he has bad arguments, do not believe him. But do not use a belief that he is biased prevent you from listening and critically evaluating his arguments.
4.8.2006 7:55pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
I think everyone's picked around the other main historiographical and theological points, but I'll mention a couple of related problems with your initial analogy. One, it trades on the richness of our historical knowledge of George Washington relative to our historical knowledge of Jesus. We are far better epistemically situated to adjudge the content of the 1926 letter false or suspect than we are to make any similar judgment about correspondence we find from the early Christian era. This leaves readers artificially primed to believe that a person in 3800 A.D. who "knows her ancient history" will adjudge the 1926 letter false (presumably in the same way we should adjudge false the early Gnostic documents at issue here).

Two, and assuming that extant historical data continues to be preserved as reliably in the future as it is now, there will wind up being a pretty ginormous asymmetry between (1) the reliability and richness of historical data regarding George Washington as it will exist in 3800 A.D. and (2) the reliability and richness of historical data regarding Jesus as it exists now.
4.8.2006 7:56pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
A little off topic, but I'd like to take advantage of the gnosis in the group. Why did Jesus make such a big deal about not being touched on that first easter sunday? And why didn't they recognize him right away?
4.8.2006 8:16pm
plunge (mail):
It's not irrelevant when you are here claiming that the Gospels are historical true even and including the miracle aspects that no empirical study could possibly validate. If you believe as part of your mission in life that you must spread the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel, and then you present as your judgement that the Gospels are historically accurate, people are welcome to question your judgement. If you were citing some really hard core evidential arguments, that would be one thing, but since there is neither the time nor the space nor the expertise here to have a discussion on historical accuracy and some vague supposedly common sense arguments, judgements are all we have to discuss.

"Paul is stating that more than 500 people, many who were alive when he wrote this, saw Jesus at the same time. You can dismiss 20 people as crackpots, but you have to give credibility to the claim that 500 people saw Jesus all at once."

I can say that 10,000 people saw me turn into a pigeon in the middle of Central Park. So what? Paul, since HE wasn't there, almost certainly heard of this from someone else, who heard of it from someone else, who... especially in a culture where everyone is spread out and rumor is the primary form of communication, its not hard at all to believe that all sorts of minor events could become legend within a short time. Heck, to be a Christian you MUST agree that this is true, because you must also discount all the OTHER cults and religious traditions that told similar stories and incredible events being witnessed by their followers and others.

"How many people on this planet are willing to declare that one of their siblings is God?"

Are you kidding? For someone that claims to be presenting scholarship, you seem remarkably ignorant of just how common such declarations and resulting followers were in the culture of those times. Heck, the Roman Empire was at one time ruled by people who claimed to be, and who were worshiped as, gods. How can you possibly be incredulous that a highly superstitious culture, FULL of magical thinking, would come to believe this or that thing?
4.8.2006 8:16pm
plunge (mail):
I note, Trask, that the site you link to (agapepress) implies that the "fragile evolutionary narrative" is only able to be propped up because of "Big Brother." Is this the sort of scholarship that you subscribe to? That's the sort of well-informed authority to which we are supposed to be listening?
4.8.2006 8:24pm
juris_imprudent (mail):

All four gospels were written by people who got the information directly from an apostle or were written by an apostle like Matthew and John.

Funny, but I don't recall hearing about any of the canonical gospels written in Aramaic. That was the language of the apostles and presumably their immediate disciples. As opposed to say Saul, a Jewish-born, Greek-influenced, citizen of Rome, and of course the later early Christians who were predominately Greek speaking/writing.
4.8.2006 8:33pm
Tom952 (mail):
Paul, since HE wasn't there, almost certainly heard of this from someone else, who heard of it from someone else,


Or, Paul fabricated the story.
4.8.2006 8:35pm
Tom952 (mail):
Think about it - what makes you believe ancient Middle Eastern holy men are any more credible than modern Middle Eastern holy men?
4.8.2006 8:37pm
Trask (www):
[A]ssuming that extant historical data continues to be preserved as reliably in the future as it is now, there will wind up being a pretty ginormous asymmetry between (1) the reliability and richness of historical data regarding George Washington as it will exist in 3800 A.D. and (2) the reliability and richness of historical data regarding Jesus as it exists now.

I hate to keep deferring to Prof. Habermas in this debate, but he addresses the point about historical information about Jesus from extra-Biblical sources too.

"Extra-biblical sources are another avenue worth pursuing when determining whether the New Testament texts speak reliably concerning historical issues. While less frequently used by scholars, a number of ancient secular sources mention various aspects of Jesus' life, corroborating the picture presented by the Gospels.10 The writers of these sources include ancient historians such as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Thallus. Jewish sources such as Josephus and the Talmud add to our knowledge. Government officials such as Pliny the Younger and even Roman Caesars Trajan and Hadrian describe early Christian beliefs and practices. Greek historian and satirist Lucian and Syrian Mara Bar-Serapion provide other details. Several nonorthodox, Gnostic writings speak about Jesus in a more theological manner.11

Overall, at least seventeen non-Christian writings record more than fifty details concerning the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, plus details concerning the earliest church. Most frequently reported is Jesus' death, mentioned by twelve sources. Dated approximately 20 to 150 years after Jesus' death, these secular sources are quite early by the standards of ancient historiography.

Altogether, these non-Christian sources mention that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, performed miracles, led disciples, and that many thought he was deity. These sources call him a good teacher or a philosopher and state that his message included conversion, denial of the gods, fellowship, and immortality. Further, they claim he was crucified for blasphemy but rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, who were themselves transformed into bold preachers.12"

The best extra-Biblical source may be Josephus (37-100 A.D.) who was an ancient Jewish Historian near the time of Jesus.

This passage from Josephus is almost universally accepted as authentic:
"But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned." [Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1]

This passage from Josephus is more controversial.
"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day." [Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3]

Among academic scholars in the twentieth century, there has been a growing consensus that this passage from Josephus may be authentic. Alice Wheatley says:

"In general, the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together, with a greater tendency among scholars of all religious backgrounds to see the text as largely authentic. On the one hand this can be interpreted as the result of an increasing trend towards secularism, which is usually seen as product of modernity. On the other hand it can be interpreted as a sort of post-modern disillusionment with the verities of modern skepticism, and an attempt to recapture the sensibility of the ancient world, when it apparently was still possible for a first-century Jew to have written a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum."


Trask
AgapeRevolution.com
4.8.2006 8:40pm
Tom952 (mail):
Does this Josephus document actually exist today? If so, where is it?
4.8.2006 8:43pm
Trask (www):
4.8.2006 8:52pm
Tom952 (mail):
That is the William Whiston translation of the writings alledged by Josephus, but it does not say what Mr. Whiston translated. By itself it has no more provenance than "The Living Translation" of the bible on sale now.

The question is, does the actual original manuscript written by Josephus exist in the original form, with the original words, ink, and paper? If so, where is it?
4.8.2006 9:01pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Justin, there is no Jew-bashing anywhere in the New Testament, at least nothing against Jews as Jews. There are clear statements against the Jewish leaders. These occur throughout the gospel of John. There are several statements against the majority rejection of Jesus by Jews as a whole. Of course, these are to be expected. If Jesus is the Messiah, then those rejecting him are rejecting the servant God has sent. Even if you didn't view Jesus as the Son of God, being the Messiah would at least mean being a prophet of God, and rejecting a prophet of God is a very serious thing. Just read through the prophets. Most of the important prophets were extremely harsh against the people they were sent to, usually the people of Israel. Jeremiah, for instance, has some very harsh things to say against the Jews of his time. Does that mean he's Jew-bashing? Isn't it more accurate to call it internal self-criticism of one's own people? Moses did that. Samuel did that. Elijah did that. Amos did that. Hosea did that. Isaiah did that. Micah did that. Jeremiah did that. Ezekiel did that. Zephaniah did that. Malachi did that. Jesus did that. Why is it a problem if the authors of the gospel did it as well? Why is it a problem if Paul did it? Confusing internal criticism of one's own people with Jew-bashing is just amazingly obtuse. The real reason Luke has less of this is that Luke was a Gentiles. The Jewish authors of the NT did far more of the internal critique of their own people than these Gentile outsiders did.
4.8.2006 9:02pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Tom952: It's highly unlikely that Paul and Timothy could have cooked the whole thing up. Consider Paul's statement in I Corinthians about all the eyewitnesses to Christ's resurrection who were still around. He wouldn't be appealing to eyewitnesses unless there were at least that many people still around who would at least testify that they had seen Jesus after his death. That couldn't happen if Jesus had never existed unless it was some mass conspiracy, which means Paul and Timothy weren't alone in cooking the whole thing up.

Another reason I think Paul and Timothy couldn't have cooked the whole thing up is because there's a genuine Jewishness to Paul that doesn't go away and yet there's something so revisionist to the Jewish mindset of the day. It's as if something happened to Paul that made him rethink everything he'd been taught in rabbinic school and change his stance entirely. He thought of himself as one of the worst of sinners for having persecuted Christians. I find it hard to believe that he made up the story of Jesus to begin with because the gospels are just so different from his own work and just strikingly consistent, as if they're dealing with the same subject matter from a very different standpoint), but even aside from that there's some real sense of conflict about himself that I don't think you'd have if he'd just made it up.
4.8.2006 9:04pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Beerslurpy: The standard view is that the gospels were based in part on eyewitness accounts passed on through oral tradition and written sources, many of which go back to the historical Jesus. More conservative scholars tend to find much more of it reliable for reconstructing the historical Jesus, and more liberal scholars take less of it to be accurate, but all except the most lunatic of Jesus Seminar types will consider the main bulk of the gospel materials at least to have some basis in historical fact about the real Jesus. Scholarship has been generally moving in a more conservative direction on this matter, also, not that you'd know it from watching any specials on the History Channel or anything.

I was under the impression that the early Church exercised pretty stern editorial control over the gospels and it wouldnt surprise me if factual accuracy was sacrificed in favor of ideological goals.

On the other hand, ideology could motivate someone who knows how it really went down to suppress texts that are passing around that get it wrong. Why does ideology have to trump truth if the people whose ideological goals have them because they trace their understanding of things back to the guy who founded it all? It would surprise me greatly if people who knew Jesus and believed him to be resurrected from the dead wouldn't suppress things they believe to be inaccurate presentations of everything Jesus was about. It's simply a non sequitur to take ideology as a sign of inaccuracy.
4.8.2006 9:05pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Steven Joyce: He said Protestants don't consider themselves bound by the Council of Nicea. You object that Protestants accept the teachings of the Council of Nicea. But that's not an objection to what he said. Protestants do in fact accept Nicea because they think it's true, not because they think its being a council binds them. The Catholic view is that its being a council binds them. Protestants aren't bound by the council. They do happen to think the council got it right. The reason is that they see the council's conclusions taught in the pages of the scriptures themselves. This is how almost all Protestants I know of who are even aware of what Nicea says would think of it.
4.8.2006 9:10pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
logicnazi: Middle Ages? They've copies of the gospels much older than that. There were little bits added later that scholars and Bible translators know were added later. I suggest you go study some text criticism (and not Bart Ehrman's style of taking the few serious additions and acting as if they're representative of a wide phenomenon instead of admitting that those are the only examples). This is a major field of study, and most text critics admit that the earliest copies we have are very reliable as to what they probably said in their earliest form, which would have been mid-late 1st century.
4.8.2006 9:10pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Plunge: Paul's letters include several things from the gospels. There's the communion institution formula, which is very similar to those in the three synoptic gospels. All four accounts have variations, but most variations appear in at least two of the four accounts. His is the fullest. I think that's a sign of the accuracy of all four.

There are also many quotes of ethical teachings of Jesus, e.g. his teachings on marriage in I Cor 7 or his teachings on violence and revenge in Rom 12-13. Paul shows real familiarity with some of the traditions that ended up in the gospels, though he doesn't normally use the gospels as a starting point in most of his arguments. He uses the Hebrew scriptures usually.

If his statements in Galatians are to be trusted, we should expect very little of his thought to have been directly influenced by the gospels or the apostles. He spent years by himself working through the scriptures figuring out what they must mean in light of his experience on the road to persecute Christians in Damascus. Whatever happened in that event, it clearly caused him to reexamine everything he thought, and much of his reexamination is closely tied to his rereading of the Hebrew scriptures themselves, with some influence from the Jesus sayings he had encountered along the way.

As for marriage, you seem to have a pretty jaundiced view of his full-blown teaching on it. Roughly half of scholars who write on Ephesians don't think Paul wrote it himself, but even if that 50% is correct, it probably does at least stem back to his teachings in spirit. I happen to think he wrote it, but it doesn't ultimately matter to my point if one of his followers put together a book summarizing his views.

So consider Ephesians 5, then. It would seem to have none of the negative, and if you just followed that you'd have the opposite view of what you'd get if you just took I Cor 7 out of context (as you did). The reality that you can see if pay attention to the whole Pauline corpus is that he saw marriage as a wonderful illustration of the relationship between Father and Son in the Trinity and of the relationship between Christ and the church. This appears in both I Cor 11 and Eph 5. He also saw that it involves responsibilities that some ought not to seek if they are gifted with singleness as he was and can serve the purpose of the gospel without the distractions of a family. This appears in I Cor 7 but also in several other places without the length of focus it appears there. So accepting Paul's teachings doesn't require seeing marriage as bad anymore than the view that priests should be celibate requires seeing marriage as bad for those who are not priests. It's just a view that marriage is good for some and worth avoiding for others. There's no inconsistency there.
4.8.2006 9:16pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
juris_imprudent: Pretty much everyone in the Roman empire at the time spoke either Latin or Greek, depending on which part of the empire they were in. In Palestine, it was Greek. It's true that Aramaic wasn't the native language, but everyone knew a little Greek in order to engage in commerce with non-natives and with the Roman soldiers and authorities. This is especially true of Jews, who made it a practice to be quite literate and who used the Septuagint translation of the Bible, which was in Greek, rather than reading the Hebrew text itself. The apostles would all have known Greek to some extent.
4.8.2006 9:17pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Tom952: Apparently we don't have an original copy of the Gospel of Judas either. If it was originally written in Greek, we don't even have a manuscript copy of the original. All we have is in Coptic. See Ben Witherington's post on this. Unlike Gary Habermas, Witherington is an evangelical scholar who is counted among the best of biblical scholars among mainstream biblical scholars. Habermas isn't as incompetent as some here have suggested he is, but he isn't cream of the crop. Witherington is.
4.8.2006 9:22pm
Friedrich Foresight (mail):
> "So when the Church says Chris has two natures in one person..."

Is this the same Chris who's the Rock www.imdb.com/name/nm0001674/ on which the Church is built? And who is "hate[d]" www.imdb.com/title/tt0460637/ of all men?

> "The Bible did not come down from heaven, ready-made, and in codified form."

Thank you, Sir Leigh Teabing! I'm not sure a Catholic wants to go too far with the "not faxed down from heaven" line of argument. Once you start arguing "The Catholic Church decided which books would go into the Bible, based on its assessment of their orthodoxy", you've opened the door more than halfway to The Da Vinci Code.

> " the smiting of the old testament versus the loving of the new testament."

Actually there's considerable smiting in the New Testament as well, provided you keep reading all the way to the end.

> "Catholics believe that the promises of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit prevent the Church (and its Vicar, the Pope) from erring in matters of faith and morals. Unfortunately, there is nothing preventing a Pope from making bad prudential judgments"

As a Protestant, I find this an illogical distinction to attribute to God. A Pope who says "Go exterminate the Albigensians" can do just as much harm as one who says "The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, not the Father and the Son" (the first is the Catholic and Protestant view, the second the Eastern Orthodox view). Catholicism holds that no deity in His right mind would ever set up a church that could get the Filioque wrong, but would be happy to accidentally launch an unjustified crusade now and then. Yet RCs accept Orthodox as fellow believers (as more "kosher", so to speak, than Protestants) even though the EOs got it wrong and the Protestants got it right, by Catholic standards, on so fundamental a matter as the nature of the Trinity.

The distinction seems particularly illogical given that Catholics usually find themselves telling Protestants "You're not saved by faith (= correct doctrinal propositions) alone, but by works as well." Being guaranteed infallibility on the doctrinal propositions, while being left all on your own to go wrong (often quite badly wrong, as JPII himself acknowledged) on the "prudential" judgments, can lead to you doing some pretty bad works.

> " For instance, converts (to anything--Christianity isn't treated specially) won't get easy citizenship in Israel. It doesn't mean you aren't Jewish, though."

I have, anecdotally, heard otherwise: that, say, Woody Allen would do better invoking the Law of Return than Hugh Montefiore or Joseph Lustiger, for example. If the rationale for Israel is "a state where devout Jews can practice their religion freely", then Woody Allen should have no special privileges: Woody and Montefiore/ Lustiger should be both excluded. On the other hand, if the rationale for Israel is "a state where ethnic Jews can live without fear of racial discrimination or pogroms", then Montefiore/ Lustiger should be included since they too would have gone to the camps had the Nazis captured them.

Someone tell my if my anecdotal evidence here is inaccurate? I'm about as pro-Israel as most Christians can get, but it makes it hard to defend Israeli policies when critics say "Your Zionist friends discriminate against your own co-religionists".

Part of the reason for the disparate treatment, it seems, is that becoming an atheist normally involves simply "not practising" whereas becoming a Christian/ Messianic Jew involves an active commitment to a different religion, one that also involves proselytising (one of the biggest practical differences between Judaism and Christianity).
4.8.2006 9:25pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
Many Christian theologians have stopped using the term "Old Testament" because it suggests that the original covenant has been superseded. Instead, they refer to the "Hebrew Scriptures" or the "Jewish Bible," in an effort to be accurate without implying a value judgment.

To Christians, of course, it is the Old Testament. But to Jews is it simply the Bible or Tanach. I realize that the phrase Old Testament resides so deeply in western culture that even Jews use it, but I think it would generally be a better idea to say Jewish Bible.

And is there an "angry God of the Old Testament" Not in my book.
4.8.2006 9:29pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Also, it's worth pointing out that in the comments Witherington deals with the claim that Gnosticism was around before Christianity. It was not, and it's generally accepted nowadays that those who once thought that were referring to something else that they now call proto-Gnosticism, which was really just a potpourri of various things like mysticism and middle-Platonism.
4.8.2006 9:30pm
Tom952 (mail):
Consider Paul's statement in I Corinthians about all the eyewitnesses to Christ's resurrection who were still around


So, the proof is that Paul says there were just TONS of eyewitnesses, you know...so it must be true!

This is just more of the same.

What we know about Paul is not reassuring. He was educated, likely a Jew or educated by Jews. That would require some family status, and official records. Yet, no one can find evidence that he did indeed come from Tarsus as he claimed. Now why would one step off the boat in a new land and lie about one's previous address? Why, to leave a spot of trouble behind.

66 AD was a time of turmoil because of the destruction of the existing religious order. As such, it was also a time of opportunity. Records survive of competing new religions that arose and differentiated themselves from the disfavored Judaism of the day in one way or another. One of these new sects was Paul's version of christianity.

So, what irrefutable proof is there that Paul and Timothy didn't just set themselves up as religious leaders and concoct a tale based on an little of this and an little of that as required to attract the most followers? They could have co-opted others to create documents to support their tale, or simply written them themselves and attributed them to dead people, to prevent inconvenient inquiry.

Another absolutely ludicrous aspect to all this is the proclivity (which continues to this very day) of religious franchisees to destroy documents and other artifacts in an intellectually dishonest attempt to freeze a version of the story and protect it from contrary evidence. A document can be examined and found to be fraudulent, but a rumor is much more ethereal and malleable. These acts belie their assertions that these things are handed down from god the creator of heaven and earth.
4.8.2006 10:00pm
plunge (mail):
"It's as if something happened to Paul that made him rethink everything he'd been taught in rabbinic school and change his stance entirely."

Like, as some have speculated, getting kicked out pretty early in? :)

Gnosticism qua that capitalized name wasn't around, but the basic ideas certainly were. Again, one of the main concerns that Paul has is arguing against the idea of a purely spiritual rebirth, which seemed to be a commonly cropping up theme that he wanted to disabuse his followers of.

In any case, while Witherington is solid and respected scholar, his views, and especially his appraisal of the work of people like Bart Ehrman is by no means the final word on the subject. They all have equally dismissive responses to his criticisms, and the debate continues.

"It's just a view that marriage is good for some and worth avoiding for others. There's no inconsistency there."

I didn't say there was an inconsistency. What I said was that Paul seems to feel that celibacy was superior to marriage: I agree that its debatable, especially since it involves trying to read into his tone, but I don't see how you can argue its a view out of context. In any case, since he seems to have believed that the world wouldn't last much longer in any case, pushing too hard one way or the other would soon be a moot point from his perspective.
4.8.2006 10:02pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Look, I wasn't arguing that no one could assert that 500 eyewitnesses were around without there being any. People assert things all the time and don't care if people check up on them. I was arguing that no one could do so in the way he did, naming lots of names of people well-known to the recipients of the letter, unless those eyewitnesses he named could be checked. That means that if it was a conspiracy it was a lot more than him and Timothy. It would have to include Peter, John, James, and anyone else Paul named. I think there are many internal characteristics of the NT itself that argue against any such view to begin with (especially their willingness to die for this thing that you think might be a flat-out lie), but my point was merely that if it's a conspiracy it's ludicrous to claim that Paul and Timothy were the only ones involved in creating it. If they coopted others, then it was a conspiracy of more than two.

By the way, proper names should be capitalized even if they refer to beings you consider to be fictional. Your last sentence should read "handed down from God the creator" and not "handed down from god the creator" as if you're just using the common noun 'god', which is inappropriate in the Christian context and would need an article anyway, as common nouns do when referring to a particular instance. I know people like to run roughshod over conventions of capitalization nowadays in the instant messenger generation, but that doesn't mean it's right to do so in a serious discussion like this.
4.8.2006 10:12pm
jvarisco:
DK) It is true that the gospels are closer, but that does not seem to be all that relevant. My point was that unlike your analogy, the gospels are not actually history, but elements of a certain faith. Individuals might consider them to be true, but no objective historian would (except based upon their personal faith). This differs from your analogy; we know what GW was like, and in fact have primary sources written while he was still alive.
4.8.2006 10:12pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Paul argued that celibacy was superior to marriage when it came to one particular task, the one he was engaging in, which was a traveling ministry that he would call as many to as could. He might have extended it to include Christians in heavily persecuted times, but I don't think he would have pushed it quite as strongly in that context.

It's also not true that he didn't think the world would last much longer. In some of his letters he assumes for the sake of argument that he might be present at the return of Christ, and in others he assumes he will probably die first. I believe there's even one letter where he is willing to allow himself into both groups (in different parts of the letter). Some uncharitably assume he was changing his views, but it's simply more likely that he didn't know when Christ would return and was willing to think himself potentially part of either group.
4.8.2006 10:17pm
Chris of MM (mail) (www):
I love how someone managed to blame the finding and publicizing of the Gospel of Judas (a gospel, by the way, about which scholars have known for a long time) on liberals. It's almost as though there are some Volokh readers who have a module in their brain that takes as input anything they disagree with or don't like and spits out, "[Disagreeable information] is just another attempt by liberals to attack [object of disagreeable information]."
4.8.2006 10:18pm
plunge (mail):
"That means that if it was a conspiracy it was a lot more than him and Timothy."

Why keep trying to ascribe to an easy to discount implausible conspiracy that's far more plausible as simply legend or hyperbole or mistake? As I noted, if you are a Christian, then then you must believe that this sort of thing happens to otherwise honest people all the time, in order to discount all the other religious traditions, movements, claims, and so forth that are in the offing.
4.8.2006 10:22pm
Trask (www):
Acts 21-22


When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, "People of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place." (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, "Get rid of him!"

As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, "May I say something to you?"

"Do you speak Greek?" he replied. "Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?"

Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people."

Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

"Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense."

When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

"About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?'

" 'Who are you, Lord?' I asked.

" 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

" 'What shall I do, Lord?' I asked.

" 'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

"A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him.

"Then he said: 'The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'

"When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. 'Quick!' he said. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.'

" 'Lord,' I replied, 'these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'

Paul here spoke to a crowd of rioting Jews in Jerusalem that wanted to kill him. This by itself demonstrates the credibility of his beliefs because he is risking death by saying these things to a large mob. He told them that he once passionately hated Christianity like that did. He acted under the direction of the Jewish authories to help arrest and kill Christians. He says during his speech directly that if they do not believe him, they should go verify this with the Jewish authorities. This is a man that was a zealous Jew his whole life until his conversion.
4.8.2006 10:32pm
Tom952 (mail):
The traditional view is that it was written by the Macedonian Christian physician and historian Luke the Evangelist, the companion of the apostle Paul, in the first century AD.
The Acts of the Apostles, Wikipedia

Well, first, does the document actually exist for examination, or are we still talking about a rumor of a document?

Second, this is hardly corroboration from an independent source, "the companion of the apostle Paul".
4.8.2006 10:46pm
JDNYU:
Trask,

So Paul was a zealous follower of one religion and then became an even more zealous follower of another religion. That happens all the time (cf. many members of cults, etc.) and doesn't bear on his credibility or on the historical truth of anything. Indeed, it speaks only to the aforementioned zealousness of his beliefs.

Clearly you have faith in your religion so what difference does it make if aspects of it are/are not historically accurate? The Bible says lots of things that cannot literally be true (e.g., the Creation story); why would its rendering of the life of Jesus need to be any different?
4.8.2006 10:56pm
Ken Arromdee (mail):
if the rationale for Israel is "a state where ethnic Jews can live without fear of racial discrimination or pogroms", then Montefiore/ Lustiger should be included since they too would have gone to the camps had the Nazis captured them.

Someone tell my if my anecdotal evidence here is inaccurate?


I just finished saying that converts (to anything) don't get easy citizenship in Israel, regardless of whether they are "ethnic Jews". You responded by pointing out that converts who are "ethnic Jews" don't get easy citizenship in Israel.

I don't see how you're disagreeing with me. The ability to get citizenship under the Law of Return is not the same thing as "ethnic Jew", so the fact that they don't match up isn't surprising. There are "ethnic Jews" who can't get citizenship this way, and non-"ethnic Jews" who can (parents/spouses of Jews).
4.8.2006 10:57pm
arthur (mail):
If the text of Ulysses were lost, it would be possible to piece together all of the salient facts of the Joyce novel from the four most popular works of criticism written 15 to 50 years after the initial publication (Especially if one of the surviving sources was the Cliffs Notes). Then if someone dug up ten or twelve more critical essays, some sooner and others later, you'd get an even better account of the original work. You might find a list of all of the minor characters, all of whom could attest to the actual existence of Leopold Bloom. Form the secondary sources alone, you'd have a large number of independent individuals who write as if these characters existed, and did particular things on a particular day. Perhaps an undergraduate exam paper on the book would turn up that got all the major facts wrong, and the reconstructors would dispute its authenticity or would disagree about its relevance to the field of study.

Perhaps eventually a genuine copy of Ulysses itself might be found, and you'd have the perfect source. You'd know all there was to know about Leopold Bloom, and you could now confirm that for the most part, the secondary sources and their recent editors basically got it right.

None of these sources would provide any useful information whatsoever about a day in the life of the historical Leopold Bloom, because despite all the corrpborating evidence, no such animal ever existed.
4.8.2006 10:57pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Why do people who accept teachings on faith insist the rest of us to accept them as historical facts?

I am fascinated by the impact of the DaVinci Code. The book itself is another in the thriller genre about a couple being chased around Europe while they solve a mystery. I think Ludlum did quite a few like this. It's only unique element is the speculation that Jesus was married and sired a child. The book itself is of little importance.

What I do find important is the paralysis and impotence of the organized church to refute it. Nobody can demonstrate anything about Jesus' marital status. There is opinion, speculation, and indignation. But there are no facts being offered in rebuttal. I suppose that's not surprising since there were no facts offered in the affirmative.

The church has not even told us why it matters if Jesus was married. Who cares? Would marriage change the belief of the faithful about Jesus mission to save mankind? Maybe he liked to play soccer, too. So what?

I'd suggest that much of what is offered as fact by religion is simply a belief of a particular faith community. The belief is based on the acceptance of a story on faith. But after many years, people forget it is faith and think it is proven and demonstrable fact. Perhaps religion is being forced to confront its roots.
4.8.2006 11:03pm
P. Paul (mail):
Look Ma, it's intellectuals! Look how big their heads are! Gosh, gee, amazing!
4.8.2006 11:20pm
SLS 1L:
Trask - people die for religious beliefs all the time. See e.g. Islamic terrorists or those who die in religious wars. The fact that one person refused to recant his faith in the face of an angry mob is evidence that his faith was strong, not that it was well-founded.

In any case, your analysis assumes that the events described actually happened and were accurately described rather than well-spun. If the people of Jerusalem were still alive to know the events were inaccurate, how many of them cared enough (and were literate enough) to find out what Christian writings were saying? How many of that minority would have bothered investing significant effort in disputing the accuracy of the facts described? How many of the newly converted Christian faithful would have found the claims of unbelievers more believable than the claims of the author of Acts?
4.8.2006 11:49pm
Trask (www):
So Paul was a zealous follower of one religion and then became an even more zealous follower of another religion.

Name one other historical person, who was the central oppressor of a religion, that instantaneously converted to the religion that s/he was oppressing after literally seeing the figurehead of that religion while s/he was on his/her way to literally go and oppress some believers of that religion. Also, it is not enough for this person to convert to this religion, this person must become the greatest missionary of this religion who travels to all corners of the world preaching this religion to people while in the process being imprisoned, beaten by mobs, stoned to the brink of death, and then eventually martyred. And because of this persons missionary work, this person also has to lay the seeds through their missionary work for the conversion of the greatest empire that the world had ever seen. Oh ya, and this religion that this person spreads all over the world needs to eventually grow from an unheard of religious sect into the world's largest religion.

Clearly you have faith in your religion so what difference does it make if aspects of it are/are not historically accurate? The Bible says lots of things that cannot literally be true (e.g., the Creation story); why would its rendering of the life of Jesus need to be any different?

You are confusing epistemology with ontology. An epistemological question refers to how we know something. An ontological question is a question about existence. You presuppose that Christians do not care about facts and truth because faith is a means that is used by Christians to understand reality. In reality, Christians are just as concerned about the truth as anybody else. Christians just do not believe that reason is the exclusive means of coming to an understanding about truth. Christians believe that it is also possible to understand reality through non-rational experiential forms of knowledge.

A good argument can be made that faith must necessarily precede reason. How do you know that all truth must be proved through the use of reason? You cannot use reason to prove this because doing so would violate the very principles of rational inquiry because you would be relying on circular reasoning. A second possibility is that some intuitive knowlege (faith) revealed this principle to you. But if you rely on faith to prove that all truth must be demonstrated through reason, you have just denied your own principle because you have relied on a non-rational form of knowledge, which disproves the very precept at issue, that all knowledge be understood through reason.

A good argument can also be made that God must precede reason. A fundamental assumption of rational proof is that using this method of proof will tell us something about the nature of reality. However, this is an undemonstrated presupposition. Michel Foucault pointed this out in Truth and Juridicial Forms, "What is it, really, in Western philosophy that certifies that things to be known and knowledge itself are in a relation of continuity? What assurance is there that knowledge has the ability to truly know the things of the world instead of being indefinite, error, illusion, and arbitrariness? What in Western philosophy guarantees that, if not God? Of course, from Descarte, to go back no further than that, and still even in Kant, God is the principle that ensures a harmony between knowledge and the things to be known. To demonstrate that knowledge was really based in the things of the world, Descartes had to affirm the existence of God." Therefore, you have two options. You can accept as your first principle that there is a God, and as a result you can legitimately assume that reason corresponds to reality, or you can become an epistemological nihilist like Foucault and dangerously reject any possibility of objective truth or meaning.

You also make the argument that the literal creation story cannot be true. I am unsure why that is the case. If one presupposes the existence of an omnipotent God that is capable of speaking the world into being, I do not understand what the problem would be with the creation account literally occuring.

So in conclusion, Christians do not reject the importance of reason. In fact, as I have argued, one may need to rely on both faith and God before one can even engage in rational inquiry. Christians just believe that reason is not the exclusive means of understanding reality because there are also experiential forms of understanding.


Trask
AgapeRevolution.com
4.8.2006 11:54pm
jackson dyer (mail):
"This Friday's coverage of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" in much of the U.S. media was appallingly stupid. The Judas gospel is interesting in its own right, but the notion that it disproves, or casts into doubt, the traditional orthodox understanding of the betrayal of Jesus is preposterous."


The Judas gospel addresses a quandary in the Christian gospel. If Jesus' fate was predetermined how can any of the actors in that little drama be held responsible for their own role in it?

Whether what is recorded in the Judas gospel ever occurred or not is beside the point, since we don't have any proof that what occurred in the gospels is the gospel truth either.

That people were already asking these questions in the century following Jesus' death means that there was already doubt about among Christians about the received ideas of their religion.

As Elaine Pagels persuasively argued there was no single Christian religion back then and what appears as a monolithic faith was actually imposed by authorities using the power of the Roman State to impose their will in dissenters.
4.9.2006 12:03am
Gaius Obvious (mail):
Did Plato and Xenophon make up the story of Socrates? Did he not really exist? There is less physical evidence of his existence than there is of Christ's. There is most definately no "original manuscript in the original handwriting in original ink" of either of those two. By the same criteria we must conclude that Socrates never existed and those quotes attributed to him were never spoken. Same for most of the ancients.
4.9.2006 12:16am
AppSocRes (mail):
In the 19th and early 20th centuries there was enough knowledge of Judaeo-Christian religion and the history surrounding the time of Jesus that nonsense like that being written about the Gospel of Judas and The DaVinci Code wouldn't have passed the laugh test. (supporting datum: in her novel Middlemarch George Eliot signifies the profoundly mundane religious knowledge of a major character by noting that he kept well-read copies of the King James Bible and Josepus's collected works on his bedstand)

Unfortunately, professional intellectual lightweights like Pagels, Crosnan and the "Jesus Seminar", and their ilk, have helped create a climate that supports thinking like this. It's funny how in her popular writings on Gnosticism, Pagels never mentions the fascinating debates over whether women had souls and the place of bean-digestion in supporting the demiurge that made Gnostic thought so much more enlightened than Christian theology. Crosnan, of course, loves to cite imaginary works like the Q gospel -- creatively derived from 2nd century writings -- to refute the historicity of Paul, whom we know wrote first-hand about 1st century Christianity. With religious "professionals" like this why should we expect anything better of laymen?

One of the bothersome things about the removal of religion from public life in the West is the profound intellectual vacuum it has left in its wake. As might be expected, the most grotesque forms of superstition -- masking as openness of thought or New Age religion -- have replace a magnificent religious, moral, and philosophical edifice that was and is a major support of liberal political philosophy. Without this support I personally do not think liberalism can maintain.

One final comment: The recent court decision about The DaVinci Code was unfortunate. It is too bad the judge did not get the authors who were suing the author of The DaVinci Code to admit that theirs was a work of fiction and not history and that the author of The DaVinci Code was in fact stealing their fictional setup. By ruling as the judge did, the court has given tacit support to the notion that the story presented in the earlier work and in The DaVinci Code is history, not fiction; and thus allows the author of The DaVinci Code to get away with stealing the conceptual basis of a piece of fictional writing. I'm not sure of the law on this, but the justice seems clear.
4.9.2006 12:20am
JDNYU:
Trask,

I wasn't trying to suggest that Christians don't care about truth, rationality, etc in some broad sense.

I was just trying to ask the narrow question of why it matters (to you or anybody) if the Bible is historically true or not, in part or in whole? I don't think anything you said in your (rather extensive) response answers that. To ask a related question, would Christianity's effect on your life be lessened if something in the Bible didn't actually go down exactly as described?
4.9.2006 12:21am
Lev:
So, I asked the Rabbi if the Old Testament was true.

The Rabbi answered: It is true, but not necessarily accurate.

================

Re the DaVince Code - doesn't every work of fiction start with the implied, at least, statement that everything that follows actually happened? Isn't that the first step of reading fiction, the willing suspension of disbelief?

================

I really liked the movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, in which, contrary to The DaVinci Code, Jesus does not marry Mary Magdalene and have children.
4.9.2006 12:55am
Trask (www):
Would Christianity's effect on your life be lessened if something in the Bible didn't actually go down exactly as described?

I believe that the Bible is inspired revelation from God that is completely reliable. However, there are certain facts in the Bible that are more essential to the Christian faith than others. In Genesis 5:15 it says, "When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared." I believe that this verse is accurate, but if it turned out that Mahalalel actually became the father of Jimmy, that would probably not have a devastating effect on the Christian faith.

However, there are certain facts in the Bible that are essential to the Christian faith, which means that the Christian faith probably cannot exist without them. In Genesis 1:1, it says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This verse is essential to the Christian faith. If there were either many gods or no gods that created the heavens and the earth, an essential assumption of the Christian faith would be undermined.

In Gensis 1:27 it says, "So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." If this verse actually did not happen, then an essential element of the Christian faith would be undermined. The fact that humans were created in the image of God is the foundation for human dignity, and as a result, it is the foundation for all of the moral precepts in the Bible that require human beings to love their neighbor as their self.

The Book of Genesis also records the fall of human beings into the sin condition. If human beings actually never fell into a sin condition, then an essential element of the Christian faith, which says that human beings have a sin nature would be undermined.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ came into the world as both God and man, he lived a perfect life without sinning, he died and unjust death on the cross, and he rose again from the dead. All of these facts are essential to the Christian faith. If Jesus Christ had sinned, then his punishment would have been just and his death could not have produced forgiveness for the sins of the world. If Jesus did not die on the cross, he could not have taken the punishment of the world upon himself. All of these historical facts directly implicate Christian doctrine.

This is best demonstrated by what Paul had to say in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19. "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins."

Unlike some other religions, Christianity is not just about spirituality. The historical decisions of human beings have direct implications on their faith. The decision of God to become historical through becoming a human being also directly implicates the Christian faith. The Christian faith cannot be separated from certain historical truths.
4.9.2006 1:07am
Tom952 (mail):
AppSocRes:
One of the bothersome things about the removal of religion from public life in the West is the profound intellectual vacuum it has left in its wake.


Intellectual vacuum? The stark contract between the free, prosperous, U.S. and the barbarous, murderous, near stone age Middle East is the intellectual fecundity of the West. So much research springs forth from the West in general and the U.S. in particular that English has become the international language of science. The brightest students of the world learn English and pack our graduate schools because they are the place to go for knowledge.

Intellectual vacuum indeed!
4.9.2006 1:19am
Peter Wimsey:
Tom writes, repeatedly
Well, first, does the document actually exist for examination, or are we still talking about a rumor of a document?


AFAIK, there are no original documents from the ancient world. No Homer, no Plato, no Aristotle, no Caesar, no Greek drama or poetry, no Herodotus, no Thucydides, no Ovid, no Livy - no nothing.
4.9.2006 1:19am
JDNYU:
Trask,

Fair enough. I have some stuff I'd like a little more clarity on, but I'm afraid it would result in more Foucault quotes, so I won't bother :)

Anyway, and I mean this as a very narrow follow-up, if anything in the Gospel of Judas was historically true, would it undermine your faith? And specifically, if the historical Jesus did ask Judas to betray him, would that have any effect on your faith?

As I think should be clear by now, I'm not trying to score points of you or something, I'm just curious.
4.9.2006 1:19am
Lev:
By the way, isn't the publication of the Gospel of Judas an insult to Christianity and Jesus? And, consequently, shouldn't all involved in the publication be given a Death Fatwa?
4.9.2006 1:37am
Trask (www):
JDNYU,

In relation to the Gospel of Judas, I think there are some inherent tensions between the Gospel of Judas and Christian theology. First, I think under the account in the Gospel of Judas, Jesus commits suicide, which would be immoral under Christian ethics. In the Gospels, Jesus was aware of his impending death throughout his ministry, but he took no active steps to cause his own death. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus would essentially have hired a hit man to kill himself. This would probably destroy the ability of the death on the cross to provide forgivenss for the sins of the world because Jesus himself would have been a sinner through his act of suicide.

Second, the theology in the Gospel of Judas is Gnostic heresy, which is contrary to the Christian view of salvation. Gnostics believed that the material world was evil (i.e. sin), and it is necessary to gain the secret knowledge to escape the repressive effects of the material world. This is contrary to Christian theology. Christianity says that sin is caused through immoral behavior of people who choose not to love God and choose not to love their neighbor as their self. The point of the death of Jesus on the cross in Christian theology was to bring forgiveness for sin by taking the punishment of the world upon himself.

The whole account of the Gospel of Judas is based around achieving the secret knowledge that would bring salvation from the material world. Jesus tells Judas "You will sacrafice the man that clothes me." This indicates that the purpose of the death of Jesus Christ was to bring about an escape from the repressive effects of the material world and not to bring salvation for the sinful actions of human beings. This is just two problems. There are many others. But the point is that there are inherent and fundamental tensions between Christian Theology and the Gospel of Judas.
4.9.2006 2:03am
Donald Meaker (mail):
It is important to note that old manuscripts were, almost by definition, not used very much. If it was used, it would be worn out and then, if useful, copied.

Why not used? Perhaps because it did not agree with accepted and established doctrines! Consider your cookbook. The pages most used are in the worst conditions. Clever housemaids who take care of children know to select the dirtiest recipies to be sure to get something with which the children are comfortable.
4.9.2006 2:12am
Eric1972 (www):

AFAIK, there are no original documents from the ancient world. No Homer, no Plato, no Aristotle, no Caesar, no Greek drama or poetry, no Herodotus, no Thucydides, no Ovid, no Livy - no nothing.


What if all Greek poetry was written by Larry the sheep herder in 500 AD, so what? That fact wouldn't make the content less valuable (except in historical context and to believers in the Greek gods). However, if the Gospels were also not authentic (in terms of having verifiable original copies) they would turn from what some to be a historical view of events to merely a fictional collection of short stories.
4.9.2006 3:28am
Jon Cohen (mail):
Jackson asks:

"If Jesus' fate was predetermined how can any of the actors in that little drama be held responsible for their own role in it?"

Because God's plan will demonstrate his justice, that each gets reward or punishment that demonstrates his mercy and love for us all.

"That people were already asking these questions in the century following Jesus' death means that there was already doubt about among Christians about the received ideas of their religion."

100 years later in an era when Jews were being cruxified en masse and few could read or write, that's not surprising. The epistles from Paul in the New Testament are filled with concern because of the influence of false teachers. Jesus even rebuked Peter on several occasions.

"As Elaine Pagels persuasively argued there was no single Christian religion back then and what appears as a monolithic faith was actually imposed by authorities using the power of the Roman State to impose their will in dissenters."

I haven't read that, but Christians ought to study both the Old and New Testament for themselves so they can be confident that the theology of New Testament is consistent with the Old. We know that the Old Testament is verbatim accurate because of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
4.9.2006 4:06am
WAL:
There's a lot that you can use to question the Bible. Namely, the fact that people don't come back from the dead, aren't usually healed by being touched, or don't win battles by raising their hands.

If you want to question parts in it, those are your best paths to use. The fact that original manuscripts don't exist aren't of serious importance here unless you want to junk 99% of the section in history books that dates before 1000 AD. No original documents of Socrates survive. The only transcripts of Cato's speeches you can find were written down hundreds of years after the fact. Who says Hannibal existed? Maybe he was just some random barbarian raider conjured up as an excuse to attack Carthage. Was Cicero really divorced? Was he actually executed? Or, did he flee to Eastern Europe with his wife to father a line of kings that included the Czars of Russia?

It makes as much sense to argue that as to claim conspiracy theories here. To believe this, you need to believe either A.) the people who followed Jesus did an about-face upon his death and decided to spend their time preaching something contradicting what they saw and what he preached (in which case I don't see why they wouldn't just follow and invoke someone else) or B.) after Jesus death (when those original followers were dead), Jesus's life and message were gradually distorted over time. The problem I have with B is that there are copies of the Gospels that were made before the Catholic Church became the official religion of Rome and wielded real power.

It would have been much more pointless to distort the religion for a church's own purposes, when your power as a bishop was over potential lion-fodder. At that point in Christianity's existence, debates would have been much more over what you believed than any power play.

In the first few centuries parishioners as well as popes were still getting their heads chopped off. If some group forms a cabal one day and decides to preach that something else happened, it's going to affect their credibility with their followers. They aren't going to keep their parishioners or attract new ones when a potential new follower of theirs is told by other Christians that what's being preached just came out of thin air last week.

These documents date from later times. They weren't as widely followed. I say Occam's Razor here implies people didn't follow them because they didn't believe them; that's all.

Re: Books:

A lot of those that survived -

1. just had the pages stuck into different bindings when they wore out. (lambskin lasts a lot longer than acidic paper)

2. weren't used as much because they were just decorative and weren't meant to be paged through on a regular basis anyway.
4.9.2006 4:09am
steve k:
"Did Plato and Xenophon make up the story of Socrates? Did he not really exist? There is less physical evidence of his existence than there is of Christ's."

I usually try not to get into these silly arguments, but if you really want to insist, I'd say the evidence for Socrates is better. (In fact, I happen to believe both lived, though what they did while alive is a much trickier question. I've also seen this argument made about Julius Ceasar and Jesus, by why even bother.)

First, as far as I know, there's no physical evidence for almost any particular person who's been dead more than a few hundred years. So we have to look at other sources.

For Jesus, you've got a small number of mostly unknown, interested parties writing about his life decades later, some using unknown source material. Even though Jesus is reported to have done a lot of amazing things, there is simply no contemporary reporting of these events. That the stories spread and made him quite well known centuries later doesn't do anything to verify them.

Meanwhile, for Socrates (who, by the way, was so famous he had a fair amount of widespread people who didn't personally know him writing about him after his death), we have three great men who knew him personally writing about him. He was such a celebrity in his day that Aristophanes satirized him in THE CLOUDS. (The story goes that Socrates stood up in the audience so they could compare his face with his mask onstage.) Xenophon and especially Plato were close to him and reported what they saw and heard, personally. They were also writing for an audience that had known him personally.

Mind you, this doesn't mean we believe everything from these sources. In fact, we recognize they are interpreting his life for us, and, in fact, it's all but certain that much of Socrates presented by Plato is more Plato than Socrates. Furthermore, if any one of them claimed Socrates could, say, levitate, we would consider this a fanciful legend that grew up around him, and not the truth. (I believe some writers claim there were signs in the sky when Socrates was born, but I believe this was claimed after the fact for a number of famous men.)

The argument that there's some sort of conspiracy to create fake ancient documents (from many different sources) is too silly to take seriously.

So, on balace, if you really want to be fair, you should go with Socrates.
4.9.2006 5:54am
David Maquera (mail) (www):
I think David Kopel's post explains a major difference between the so called "Gospel of Judas" and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In the latter, there are numerous references to Jesus fulfilling prophecies of the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. In the little bit that I have been able to read from the "Gospel of Judas," there is no reference whatsoever to the Old Testament.

Also, regardless of whether or not the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were first hand accounts or not, the fact of the matter is that they do not contradict Old Testament theology in any way. In fact, they represent a continuation of Old Testament theology in a way, which the "Gospel of Judas" does not.

Finally, no one can honestly assert there are discrepancies between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There may be more or less material in each of the foregoing gospels but that is because they were written to different audiences (eg. you don't find one Gospel saying that Jesus fed 5,000 people with five fish and two loaves and another Gospel saying that Jesus fed only 2,000 with two fish and no loaves of bread).
4.9.2006 8:47am
dwight (mail):
DK wrote:
[DK: I definitely don't think that the non-canonical gospels are immune from the types of historical investigation and criticism which are applicable to any other ancient documents. My point about the Judas Gospel is this: there is a widely-believed version about the relationship between two persons who are generally conceded to have actually lived. In this case, it's Jesus and Judas, but it could be Augustus and Antony. There are four sources (which have ideological biases) and which appear to have been written at least 20 but probably less than 65 years after the event, and to have relied in part on eyewitnesses. Another document, with it own, different, ideological biases, was written at least a century after the original event. Does the new document provide a substantial reason to disbelieve the version in the four, earlier-written accounts? I suggest not; and I suggest the reason to doubt the historical accuracy of the latter document is even stronger when it presents one of the historical actors as making a speech which appears to be inconsistent with other evidence about the ideology of the actor and the first generation of his followers. I might consider the possibility that the much-later document was more accurate if there was evidence that the earlier authors were subject to coercion or self-censorship -- such as Roman historians who were afraid to write about a current or recently-deceased tyrant.]

But I have always thought that the canonical accounts gave hints that SOMETHING ELSE (and I don't mean something sexual, although I suppose that is also possible) was going on between Judas and Jesus, when Jesus says, "Do what you have to do quickly" and the kiss. Those two things hint at some other agenda
which COULD have been expunged from the canon.

If George Washington was known in history to have said something similar to Benedict Arnold, wouldn't we all be wondering what was up with that?

Dwight
4.9.2006 10:12am
SLS 1L:
David M. - if you really think there are no discrepancies, try this more-or-less seasonal "Easter Challenge":

Provide an account of the Passion, from the Triumphal Entry to the end of the last Gospel. Where there is ambiguity about the order of certain events, include them, but note it. There is one catch: not a single detail must be ommitted. You'll quickly find that this is impossible.
4.9.2006 10:20am
Cala:
This Friday's coverage of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" in much of the U.S. media was appallingly stupid. The Judas gospel is interesting in its own right, but the notion that it disproves, or casts into doubt, the traditional orthodox understanding of the betrayal of Jesus is preposterous.


I hate to break up a good round of media bashing, but the NYT article I read on this acknowledged readily that a) the Gnostic story had been rejected as heresy sometime ago and that b) the existence of this Gospel at most confirms the existence of the heresy, which was never disputed. Like finding a first-run print of Homer, which would not be taken as evidence that the Greek pantheon really existed.

The *headline* was eye-catching, of course, but the article, if you read the whole thing, managed a pretty fair recounting of the discovery and its place in history *without* a gratuitous Nazi reference.
4.9.2006 11:11am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Hemmingway wrote a cool short story about the Roman Soldiers who supervised the crucifixion drinking at a tavern that friday night.
4.9.2006 11:33am
argbefore (mail):
It should not be surprising that journalists do not distinguish between the historically consistent and the anachronisticly inconsistent scriptures. Since most journalists do not believe in the veracity of the bible, they must consider all religious scriptures to be fraudulient and therefore all equally valid. Anachronisms in themselves are negligible when compared to their incredulity to the healings, virgin birth, the trinity, and other miracles of the gosples.

For a good review of scientific evidence of the existence of the human soul see:

http://www.victorzammit.com/book/index.html
4.9.2006 11:38am
WAL:
Steve K,

I'm pretty sure that the post you're relplying to was being sarcastic.

But 2.), do you know of actual writings from within a couple decades after Socrates's death (I mean not just stuff that was first written down then, but for which we have manuscripts that date that far back. It's possible; I don't intend this to be sarcastic, but I just don't know of any.)

If there aren't, I think the same game can be played here. I want a book that says the kings of England are descended from Cesarean and Cleopatra. People should have more fun with this.
4.9.2006 12:15pm
steve k:
I think the post I was referring to was making the point that the historicity of Jesus is superior to any other ancient figure, so if you believe Socrates existed, you should believe Jesus did, too. In fact, this is a fairly common argument from a certain portion of Christian apologsists. I am not claiming Jesus didn't exist, but merely that the evidence that some other ancient historical figures existed is better.

As for writings about him, as mentioned above, we have contemporaries Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes. Aristotle also mentions him, though he was born a generation after Socrates died.

I've also heard there might be some fragments about him, though I can't verify this. But we do have stories that Socrates was a famous man, both in his day and after. Allegedly, he was a character in the work of other playwrights. Also, there were supposed to have been many accounts of his life and sayings. However, almost none of them from ancient times come down to us--we only get this information from secondary sources.

The vast majority of writings from Ancient Greece have not survived. Also note that most of the content that survived we get from copies done much later.
4.9.2006 12:49pm
abb3w:
Part of the problem is that we're probably missing at least one of the primary sources, the "Q" gospel. We don't (so far as we know) have any of the direct teachings of Jesus as written in his own hand, nor even copies of them. So, from a scholarly standpoint, we're playing a historical game of "telephone", and trying to reconstruct an original from the multiple ways the message came out.

The gospel of Judas is another flawed copy of the message. Since it's later than the others, it's had more time for errors to creep in. Furthermore, it's from a group with an agenda to push, which may have resulted in slanting of the message. However, the same can be said of the gospels selected by the Catholic Church. The problem with most theological discussion is that believing disputants all think THEY, and they alone, have the One True Original Message correct.

No doubt literary analysis techniques will be attempted to try and figure out if the Gospel of Judas was merely a corruption of another gospel, or whether it was derived via an independent account. Could go either way, although I suspect it's another corruption derived from "Q" given what I've heard so far.

I often try to take a pragmatist approach to the universe, pissing off everyone in the vicinity. From where I sit, it doesn't matter whether the Gospel is authentic, or a 3rd century forgery. I'm not bothered by "inherent and fundamental tensions between Christian Theology and the Gospel of Judas". It's possible (even likely) the modern church has the message of Jesus slightly skewed. If you drop doctrine and blind faith, it's possible that the message Jesus was teaching was flawed to begin with. I don't overly care even whether it's fact or not. It may, however, have something in it that would help suggest how we can better give along... a piece of the Truth, as it were. The Bible has some, as does the Q'ran, the book of Mormon, and many other "holy" writings. They also have a mix of bad advice, too... and still each group believes their work alone (and interpretation) is the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth. I think they're all blind and standing next to an elephant. This is one more perspective... although possibly it stood too close to the back end of the elephant.
4.9.2006 1:52pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
ASR,

One of the bothersome things about the removal of religion from public life in the West is the profound intellectual vacuum it has left in its wake. As might be expected, the most grotesque forms of superstition -- masking as openness of thought or New Age religion -- have replace a magnificent religious, moral, and philosophical edifice that was and is a major support of liberal political philosophy.

You might note that the belief in (and fear of) the occult flowered in the Renaissance. The belief in witchcraft had been largely stamped out by the Church by the late medieval period and trials were very rare. The greatest hysteria over witches came after the intellectual ferment and open minded exploration of man's condition. Thankfully, our reaction to "New Age" nonsense is not anything like that of our forebears.

It is the Renaissance that gave rise to the philosophical edifice underpinning liberal political forms and not any religious doctrine of that, or subsequent eras. The concept of citizenship is a relic of pagan Rome, not of Judeo-Christian theo-politics.
4.9.2006 2:07pm
tom wright (mail) (www):
<blockquote>
If the entire world and every human body is repulsively unclean (if one looks on the whole creation the same way that the Old Testament regarded a leprous corpse), then it makes sense never to lift a finger to defend a human being who is being attacked. Why try to preserve the evil human body from destruction? And how sinful it would seem, in the Gnostic view, to involve oneself in the material world so greatly that one would actually use a physical weapon.
</blockquote>

Well, we just discovered the foundations of both the Green movement and the Violence Policy Center.
4.9.2006 2:18pm
Elliot123 (mail):
AppSocRes:

One of the bothersome things about the removal of religion from public life in the West is the profound intellectual vacuum it has left in its wake.

I'd say religion is losing its place in public life due to the intellectual scrutiny directed towards it. The argument from authority is no longer sufficient to buttress religious claims.
4.9.2006 3:55pm
Elliot123 (mail):
In the last post I left out significant quotation marks. Here's how it should read.

AppSocRes:
"One of the bothersome things about the removal of religion from public life in the West is the profound intellectual vacuum it has left in its wake."


I'd say religion is losing its place in public life due to the intellectual scrutiny directed towards it. The argument from authority is no longer sufficient to buttress religious claims.
4.9.2006 3:57pm
jackson dyer (mail):
Gaius Obvious:

"Did Plato and Xenophon make up the story of Socrates? Did he not really exist? There is less physical evidence of his existence than there is of Christ's. There is most definately no "original manuscript in the original handwriting in original ink" of either of those two. By the same criteria we must conclude that Socrates never existed and those quotes attributed to him were never spoken. Same for most of the ancients."


Socrates' existence is evidenced by diverse sources.



However, even if he did not exist, that would not invalidate his philosophy. Neither would it invalidate that of Plato or Aristotle's. The validity of their thought does not depend on their existence as does that of Jesus.
4.9.2006 4:06pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Hypothesis: The number of comments on any particular thread will continue to grow as long as the Conspirators leave it at the top of the page. People will continue to talk about a topic long after everything useful has been said unless they are given something new to talk about.
4.9.2006 4:07pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Can you imagine if Ted Williams had used steroids and Human Growth Hormone? or had used an aluminum bat?


[DK: I refuse to imagine the steriods/HGH possibility, because I don't think Ted Williams would cheat. I wonder if an aluminum bat might have impaired him, perhaps; He had such a keen sense of smell that he said he could actually smell when the wooden bat hit the ball in just the right place. My guess is that modern year-round conditioning would have made a bigger difference for him, or for other mid-century players, than any modern illegal chemicals. Of course in imagining a Ted Williams under modern conditions, we also have to include that he would face far better pitching today than he did in the olden days. He did play part of his career after the color barrier was broken, but obviously the full influx of black pitchers into the major leagues had not yet taken place. Moreover, baseball pitchers during Williams' career were mainly recruited from the U.S., whereas today there are many pitchers from Central America and the Far East. Not only does the broader talent base of pitchers raise the overall level of pitching, it means that there are significantly fewer weak pitchers, and data show that hall of fame hitters, especially home run hitters, acquire a disproportionately large number of their hits from a relatively small group of weak pitchers; that's one reason why batting records are often broken in the first season after expansion teams are added. On the other hand, there were only 8 teams in the American League, whereas there are 14 today; so perhaps the increasing number of teams balances the more diverse availability of good pitchers, so that pitching quality is, on the whole, about equal today to pitching quality in the Ted Williams era.


Although I have seen films of Ted Williams, I never met him in person, or personally saw him play, so we cannot discount the possibility that he never existed; nor is it impossible that the theory of Ted Williams as a man who played his entire major league career for the Boston Red Sox may be only one of many understanding of Ted Williams; the "Red Sox-only" theory could have been foisted on a gullible public by the Boston media.


4.9.2006 4:25pm
Grover_Cleveland:

Finally, no one can honestly assert there are discrepancies between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There may be more or less material in each of the foregoing gospels but that is because they were written to different audiences (eg. you don't find one Gospel saying that Jesus fed 5,000 people with five fish and two loaves and another Gospel saying that Jesus fed only 2,000 with two fish and no loaves of bread).


You're joking, right? Look no further than the very first sentence of the New Testament. The genealogies of Jesus given by Matthew (here) and Luke (here). can't even agree on the name of Joseph's father.
4.9.2006 5:39pm
Righteous Bubba (mail) (www):
Every college student should have come across Three Versions of Judas by Jorge Luis Borges, and I'm pretty amazed that so few people who are interested/annoyed at the Gospel of Judas controversy have brought it up.

Borges, in a review of scholarly works which have never been written, examines the theological twists that allow Judas a central, yet hidden role in the passion.
4.9.2006 5:47pm
AST (mail):
Think of the Gnostics as the sleazy tabloids of their day. The new testament is full of warning about them and others like them who were passing around forged gospels and so-called Forty Day Documents which purport to contain the secrets which Jesus taught his disciples in the time between his resurrection and his final ascension. I expect more of these things will be found, but then Dan Brown is doing a pretty good job of promoting his own false scriptures even today.

The New Testament is full of warnings by the Apostles to the various churches warning them against the forces trying to change their doctrines. I believe these forces eventually won out, because neither the Catholic nor Greek Orthodox church resembles the Christianity described in the New Testament. The Gospel of Judas is a good example of what kind of false documents were circulating.
4.9.2006 5:54pm
Friedrich Foresight (mail):
> "free, prosperous, US and the barbarous, murderous, near stone age Middle East is the intellectual fecundity of the West"

You mean the USA where churches are empty on Sundays, vs the Middle East that is dominated by a majority population of zealous born-again Christians? Oh, wait...

This is the problem with the "religion causes barbarism" meme, a.k.a "Pullmanism": most of its examples tend to indict, not all religion in general, but some religions in particular. (Very few of its holders manage to land any punches on Buddhism, for example.)

Why not compare the US with, say, Russia today after 70 years of enlightened atheism?
4.9.2006 6:31pm
Jon P:
Friedrich,

Russia's problem was communism, not atheism, and even communist Russia could hardly be described as an "intellectual vacuum."

How anyone can seriously claim that the decline of religiosity and rise of secularism in the West (including America) has created a "profound intellectual vacuum" is beyond me. It's just nonsense.
4.9.2006 7:11pm
digital commuter (mail):
AppSocRes:

"One of the bothersome things about the removal of religion from public life in the West is the profound intellectual vacuum it has left in its wake. "


This is ridiculous.


It was religious totalitarianism that created a profound poverty of thought in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire that lasted well into the modern era.

The west recovered its intellectual glory because courageous men challenged the true believers at no small cost to themselves.

Today, again free intellectual discourse is being challenged by religious totalitarianism of all stripes.
4.9.2006 7:40pm
Milhouse (www):

Moreover, Christianity is the only major religion, as far as I know, which teaches that the end-time resurrection of the righteous dead will be accomplished by the literal restoration of their earthly bodies.

Unsurprisingly, Judaism teaches the same thing.
4.9.2006 7:47pm
SLS 1L:
I think most of the Jews I know would find that pretty darn surprising.
4.9.2006 8:05pm
Ken Arromdee (mail):
Finally, no one can honestly assert there are discrepancies between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Boy, there are a lot of dishonest people around.
4.9.2006 8:08pm
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):


This is ridiculous.


It was religious totalitarianism that created a profound poverty of thought in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire that lasted well into the modern era.



This of course is perfect nonsense. Not only was the post-roman world much more intellectually &technologically innovative than is commonly let on - in many cases, on a more progressive pace than the Roman world which preceded it - but institutions of religion played a significant role in the supplementation &promotion of this learning. What's more, this has become more &more the common wisdom among the majority of historians. The narrative of a magnificent civilization cast into a dark age by a backward theocratic reign, only to finally remerge during the renaissance &eventually the enlightenment is dated &false. Whilst it may be of some use to the antagonists of organized religion, it's not especially accurate.
4.9.2006 8:18pm
Sydney Carton (www):
Mr. Kopel,

I don't know why you'd want to start a thread on this blog related to Christianity. All it does is open the door to skeptics and others to mock the beliefs of Christians. These threads are teriffic examples of intellectual intolerance, and also, an amazing display of ignorance about the topic, Christianity, being discussed. It'd be nice to respond to these comments, as some have attempted, but it's so depressing because you eventually realize that you're arguing with a brick wall that cannot be swayed from their hatrid by anything.
4.9.2006 8:25pm
SLS 1L:
Sydney - exactly how many posts mock the beliefs of Christians? With this many comments I'm sure someone has, but scanning the comments over again I don't see a whole lot of mockery.

Please consider that (a) "mock" does not mean the same thing as "criticize" and (b) "mock the belifs of theologically conservative evangelical and Catholic Christians" is not the same as "mock the beliefs of Christians."
4.9.2006 8:31pm
Porkchop (mail):
In all this discussion of Gnosticism and Gnostics, I think that one point that has been missed is that most of the descriptions of Gnostic beliefs and practices referred to in this thread (as with most descriptions of other heresies) were originally written by the people who suppressed them. I suspect that there may have been a bit of bias or victor's history in those descriptions.

The Roman Catholic Church was pretty harsh in dealing with heresy before losing the backing of the civil authorities post-Reformation. I suspect that most of the "heretics" were somewhat less evil and perverted than they were described to be in order to justify the most severe punishments. I further suspect that the same is true of Gnosticism and Gnostics.
4.9.2006 9:30pm
Sydney Carton (www):
SLS: ""mock the belifs of theologically conservative evangelical and Catholic Christians" is not the same as "mock the beliefs of Christians.""

Ah, anti-Catholicism, the last acceptable prejudice. So by your own terms, mocking Catholics is ok. That's a perfect example of why threads like this are totally useless. Even if you and I were to discuss things, you'd consider it ok to mock Catholics. You should be ashamed. Excuse me if I consider a conversation between us to be a complete waste of time.

Criticism is fine, but there are people in this thread assert things so hateful that an exercise in refuting a lie becomes too tedious. Check out Elliot123's posts as a typical example (as if Catholics haven't refuted the Da Vinci code, or as if religion is being destroyed in the face of intellectual attack).
4.9.2006 9:34pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I don't see why David shouldn't speak on this subject. We have plenty of Jewish oriented posts by other Conspirators here, and David is obviously Christian, and, I believe, devoutly Catholic. Indeed, I find it a bit refreshing, though I obviously don't agree with some of the posts above.
4.9.2006 9:54pm
dwight (mail):
OK, I'm still asking what the agenda is with Jesus clearly KNOWING that Judas was going to betray him and telling him to do it quickly, and the fact that Judas kisses him. Don't those facts indicate that there is something going on, even in the canon, other than run-of-the-mill betrayal?

Don't these elements of the canonical story indicate that there were other elements to the story, even early on, but that only a few hints of them were permitted into the account?

I feel the pain of those like Sydney Carton, who appear used to discussing biblical matters only with believers and have to endure the shock of hearing "unbelievers" have opinions that challenge their beliefs.

Dwight
4.9.2006 10:01pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I do find the languages used interesting. Jesus preached primarily in Aramaic, though he presumably also knew Hebrew, as any observant Jew would, but I think there was no indication that he knew Greek. Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (when it was ultimately written down), but the later books, apparently after the Babylonian exile, were written in Aramaic. But then, the Christian Bible was written, supposedly originally, in Greek. The problem there is that some of the attributed authors may not have been literate enough to write in Greek. There is some indication that at least one Gospel (Matthew, I think) may have originally been written in Aramaic.

In any case, Aramaic is a Simitic language closely related to Hebrew. It was already fairly predominent in the Middle East, esp. along the Mediterranean, by the time of the Persian conquest. But it was the Persians who really made it ubiquitous there, adopting it as their administrative language. In the years between the Babylonian Exile and the Crucifiction of Jesus, it was the primary spoken language of the area of the Middle East that included the areas in which the Jews primarily lived and where Jesus lived and taught.

Greek was not the language of the Roman Empire, but rather the primary language of the eastern Roman Empire. Educated Romans knew and spoke Greek, but used it for culture and philosphy, not administration or military matters. But that is precisely the problem here - it was writen and spoken by the educated elites, and not by the general public, esp. in places like Jerusalem. They spoke Aramaic, except for in the Temple, where Hebrew, of course, was still spoken.

It is unlikely that Jesus knew Greek, nor, his brother, James. Luke, of course, most likely spoke Greek as a first, or, at worst, a close second language. Paul obviously spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, but probably did write most, if not all, of his letters in Greek, as he was trying to appeal to a Gentile audience, and many of the targets of his letters lived in Greek speaking areas. But I do wonder about some of the rest of the New Testament. Was it all originally written in Greek? Or was some of it written in Aramaic, and later translated to Greek, with a loss of the Aramaic source? What about Q?
4.9.2006 10:33pm
Victoria:
Friedrich:


As a Protestant, I find this an illogical distinction to attribute to God. A Pope who says "Go exterminate the Albigensians" can do just as much harm as one who says "The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, not the Father and the Son" (the first is the Catholic and Protestant view, the second the Eastern Orthodox view).


As a Protestant, you might want to rethink your theology. You have it exactly backward. Actually, Catholics and Protestants believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, while Orthodox don't necessarily. The Wikipedia article on the Nicene Creed is an interesting one, with some insight on how decision-making and schism can happen in the universal Church.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed
4.9.2006 10:47pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
RESPONSE TO SLS 1L: I challenge you to provide any example(s) of discrepancies and/or contradictions. When you do so, you and I can engage in a thoughtful dialogue.
4.9.2006 10:51pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
So, uh, did these guys forget to blog today? :(
4.9.2006 11:00pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Yeah... give the law geeks something to chew on, eh? We lose patience in 24 hours!
4.9.2006 11:05pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
If Jesus was God..or the son of God..wouldn't he know every language automatically???
4.9.2006 11:14pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Finally, no one can honestly assert there are discrepancies between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. "

John disagrees with the others about the day of the crucifiction.
4.9.2006 11:17pm
Elaine T (mail):
Following up from Bruce Hayden's comment a few above this one, I've recently read a book (title to the effect of The Difficult Sayings of Jesus) which claims the Gospel of Mark and others were either originally written in Hebrew or translations of oral Hebrew work, due to the idioms used. I wanted more meaty stuff than the author put in, but it was an interesting suggestion nontheless. He also seemed to find some 'sayings' bad English, or unintelligble which I thought fairly plain. FWIW.

And in college when I was studying Greek, I noticed the Greek of the Gospels, even of John's which is weird, was much much simpler than the Greek of Aristotle and Plato. It was much easier to translate. One of the professors called it 'street Greek' (Koinic IIRC, was the technical term). Common speech, not educated. Maybe not Spanglish or Ebonics level of badness compared to educated use of the language, but not Literary. This makes me think maybe the commoners did know some Greek, just to get around in their own environment.
4.9.2006 11:37pm
Milhouse (www):
Moreover, Christianity is the only major religion, as far as I know, which teaches that the end-time resurrection of the righteous dead will be accomplished by the literal restoration of their earthly bodies.
Unsurprisingly, Judaism teaches the same thing.
I think most of the Jews I know would find that pretty darn surprising.
I never cease to be amazed by how little many Jews seem to know about Judaism. Any Jew who finds this surprising needs to do some reading. Starting with the last of the 13 Articles, and the second of the 19 blessings (7 on sabbaths and holiday) that form the central section of every Jewish prayer service.
4.10.2006 12:17am
Friedrich Foresight (mail):
> "As a Protestant, you might want to rethink your theology. You have it exactly backward"

Hi, Victoria. You're right, I got them backwards. Perils of typing in 10-point Courier in a com.box and then trying to drag and drop to achieve parallelism. I know the Vatican and the Prots accept the Filioque while the Byzants don't. Apart from that typing slip, though, I stand by the substance (no pun intended) of my argument.
4.10.2006 1:05am
Friedrich Foresight (mail):

> 'Russia's problem was communism, not atheism, and even communist Russia could hardly be described as an "intellectual vacuum". How anyone can seriously claim that the decline of religiosity and rise of secularism in the West (including America) has created a "profound intellectual vacuum" is beyond me. It's just nonsense.'



If that level of precision is your yardstick, then apply it to the Middle East, where "religion" is indeed widespread and deep but "Christianity" is a tiny and persecuted sect. "Christianity" is to "religion" as "Communism" is to "atheism". It's like complaining about "animals" when you really mean rampaging pit bulls. Leave the three-toed sloths out of it.

Please note that I did not call Russia an intellectual vacuum. That was someone else: kindly refrain from confounding the persons here. I do believe it is a moral vacuum, even post-Communism. The fact that Russians are more interested in alcoholism than in raising children is one indicator.
4.10.2006 1:19am
jackson dyer (mail):
"I never cease to be amazed by how little many Jews seem to know about Judaism. Any Jew who finds this surprising needs to do some reading. Starting with the last of the 13 Articles, and the second of the 19 blessings (7 on sabbaths and holiday) that form the central section of every Jewish prayer service."
http://volokh.com/posts/1144517340.shtml#80678

Milhouse


I am familiar with Maimonides' "ani maamim..."

You need to realize that it is believed by most Orthodox Jews, but not necessarily by either Conservative of Reformed Jews.
4.10.2006 1:53am
marghlar:
"Christianity" is to "religion" as "Communism" is to "atheism".

Friedrich, these kind of analogies would lead to flunking an SAT. What on earth do you mean here? Clearly Christianity is a religion; Communism is not an atheism. One can be a Christian communist, or a jewish, or an atheist communist.

The point made above stands firm -- Russia's problems almost certainly had more to do with economics (and mass murder by the state) than to the decline of religion.

Note that many Western European countries have similarly seen a decline in religiosity, with not nearly the level of cultural distress that Russia has seen.
4.10.2006 2:53am
Das (mail) (www):
From about 50 AD to 380 AD the best minds of the Roman empire hammered out the basics of the Christian faith. Every exciting heresy we think we can come up with has already been dealt with and expertly so. We might wish that these minds paid more attention to germ theory or hanging kites with keys in electric storms or printing presses or steam power - but - they didn't. Christian theology - the church fathers - is one area of study where the ancient world has it all over us. As per Kopel's fine entry here, the Gospel fo Judas was known studied and shredded by contemporaries; there is no fresh meat here for us; everything relating to early church doctrine has been chewed and then some. Few of us study this time in European history - we are vulnerable to DaVinci Code like fakey breathy trumped-up scoops.
4.10.2006 2:54am
Friedrich Foresight (mail):
Christianity is one version of "religion". Marxism is one version of "atheism". Not, of course, the only version: ask Ayn Rand, Bentham or John Rawls. (But that, in itself, to me seems evidence against the Voltairean argument that "All humankind would agree on basic morality if only these religious nutjobs didn't claim that [g]od had given them some special revelation overriding the natural laws against murder, slavery, etc". The four atheists above would themselves disagree sharply over correct morality.)

Re decline in religiosity: Western Europe has seen religious fall, but less so than Russia did. Take Sweden, for example, where the king is crowned in a Lutheran church and takes an oath to uphold the unaltered Augsburg Confession. Scandinavia's less religious than (red) America is, but it's much less atheistic than the USSR was -- and hence much less stuffed up now than the former USSR is.
4.10.2006 3:14am
marghlar:
Please explain your assertion that Marxism is a subset of atheism. Certainly, the two often go together. But that is correlation, not causation.

Why do I need to believe that God does not exist, in order to think that property and labor ought to be controlled and distributed by the state? This seems perfectly compatible with a great number of theistic philosophies.
4.10.2006 3:38am
SLS 1L:
marghlar - 'Marxism' is often used today to mean 'communism' generally, or any school of thought heavily influenced by some aspect of Marx's views. But the old-school Marxism that actually believed in Marx's theory of historal determinism was definitively atheistic; that's why Marx called it dialectical materialism. On the other hand, Marxism still isn't really a subset or type of atheism. Perhaps a more accurate analogy would be "Marxism is to atheism as evangelical Protestantism is to Biblical inerrantism" - not all evangelical Protestants believe that Bible is inerrant, and evangelical Protestants aren't the only ones who so believe.
4.10.2006 4:19am
SLS 1L:
David M. - for a simple and classic example, consider what the people who went to the tomb saw. Was it "a young man"? Mark 16:5. One angel? Matthew 28:2-4. Two men? Luke 24:4. Had the stone already rolled away from the tomb before Mary Magdeline arrived (John 20:1) or did she see it roll away in a violent earthquake (Matthew 28:2)?

Or, alternatively, was Joseph's father Jacob (Matthew 1:16) or Heli (Luke 3:23)?
4.10.2006 4:38am
Pendulum (mail):
Wow. I sure am glad I don't believe in God, Jesus, or religion. It seems like a lot of work.

Of course, I'll have hell to pay, but that's why it's good that there is no hell.
4.10.2006 5:29am
Pettitt (mail):
Matthews account was organized topically, not chronologically. As for the lineage, Matthews account is the legal lineage complimented by Luke's physical lineage.
4.10.2006 10:20am
marghlar:
SLS 1L: Yeah, that was exactly my point.
4.10.2006 11:17am
Guest2 (mail):
Relatedly, I highly recommend Philip Jenkins's Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford 2002).
4.10.2006 11:58am
Grover_Cleveland:


Matthews account was organized topically, not chronologically. As for the lineage, Matthews account is the legal lineage complimented by Luke's physical lineage.



According to Luke, Jesus's "physical" lineage didn't involve Joseph at all. What gives?
4.10.2006 2:22pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
Well gnostic beliefs are not so easily compartmentalized - they were present in the writings of Paul

I Corinthians 2:6-9:
But we speak wisdom among the perfect (teleioi); but wisdom (sophia) not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world (actually rulers of this age (aiones)), who come to nought.
7 But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, that hidden wisdom which God had predetermined before the ages for our glory:
8 which none of the princes of this age knew, (for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;)


The followers of Jesus thought that he was the Messiah - a man sent by God, not an aspect of God himself. Paul altered this by accepting the gnostic idea that the mankind had been willingly enslaved to an evil God and that the Supreme God was proscribed by law from freeing them. Jesus was God made flesh so that the 'archonites' would act against him thinking he was just a man. By directly acting against the supreme God they forfeit their rights to humanity - we see the origins of the idea that mankind's sins were washed away by his death - an unintentional contract violation that nullified humanity' obligations to their masters returning them to the jurisdiction of the Supreme God.

These concepts and terms were used in several of the other Mystery religions of the day that also claimed to reveal hidden knowledge - Christianity was just the one that made good but it is still a hodge podge of all the trendiest of ideas of the time.
4.10.2006 3:11pm
Volvodriver (mail):
Perhaps the anaology to Washington is not apt because, unlike Jesus of Nazareth, there is a wealth of primary source documents about Washington and his deeds. Perhaps a better anology might be someone about whom there is little or no surviving writing, like, say, Jefferson's slave Sally Hemings.

Wait, that might make the later rendition the more accurate one. Let us hope that the gnosis did not include DNA testing.
4.10.2006 4:21pm
Adam K:

For a good review of scientific evidence of the existence of the human soul see:

http://www.victorzammit.com/book/index.html


From your link: "21. The Ouija Board"
4.10.2006 5:48pm
David Matthews (mail):
"Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (when it was ultimately written down), but the later books, apparently after the Babylonian exile, were written in Aramaic."

While this is true, the Septuagint was in wide use in the 1st century AD by Jewish scholars, since it was allowed to contain much color and commentary that was not found in the Hebrew. Probably many Rabbis of the time were familiar enough with Greek to navigate the Septuagint; if Jesus actually debated with the Pharisees he most likely had picked up a fair ammount, also.
4.10.2006 6:43pm
crane (mail):
Speaking of contradictions between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the disagreement over the day of crucifixion is actually a lot more significant than the previous commenter who mentioned it let on. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all time it so that the Last Supper was the Passover Seder, while John places it earlier. As a result, in John's account, the crucifixion takes place while all the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in preparation for the Seder. Hence, the Lamb of God.

If I remember my religion classes correctly, John was writing for more of a gentile audience, while the other three were more interested in relating Jesus to Jewish tradition.
4.10.2006 6:58pm
Juan Notwithstanding the Volokh:
Thanks all for a hilarious end to my day. For those who have faith, proof is not necessary, so contrary evidence is not threatening. I encourage those who feel strongly about the gospel of Judas to reflect on their faith.
4.10.2006 7:04pm
Das (mail):
juan notwithstanding the voloh

I'd be interested to see if you have the cojones to face down Muslims with your hilarious non-belief. Something tells me, not. meantime, how incredibly brave of you to mock Christians. I didn't think such bravery possible in today's world.

Yeah right.
4.12.2006 2:55pm
Tom Warttle:
"The Marcionites never grew as numerous as orthodox Christians" ??!!

"Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity
by Walter Bauer

For hundreds of years everyone assumed that the earliest Christians were orthodox New Testament Roman Christians, and "heretical" Christianities—like Gnosticism and Marcionism—developed later, branches off the original orthodox trunk.

Then in the 1930s this German guy named Walter Bauer decided to actually look at the evidence. Imagine! What he discovered was that pretty much everywhere he looked—Syria, Palestine, Egypt, etc.—the "heresies" weren't branches off any trunk, they were the original local Christianities. And they weren't small marginal sects, they were the main local Christianities.

The evidence shows that all around the Mediterranean, outside Rome, the orthodox New Testament Roman Christianity was a secondary sect, a sect that became dominant only after the conversion of Constantine gave it the advantage of Roman swords. Wos.

No wonder the big boys call this as a paradigm shattering book. Scholarly and technical, especially in the tedious...[etc.etc.]"

source of this book reivew
4.13.2006 1:31pm