03
May
11

A Trip To the Creation Museum of the Ozarks

The Creation Museum of the Ozarks

You remember how Branson is Las Vegas for Ned Flanders? Well, not yet. It’s missing a crucial component– a multi-million-dollar salmon-colored temple of lies. Enter Rod Butterworth:

This is really God’s vision, not mine. In the summer of 2007 I visited several dinosaur museums in different states (including one in Branson, Missouri) that were totally evolutionary in philosophy. One day in September 2007 I was literally meditating about this while resting and it suddenly came to me like a vision from heaven—Branson needs a creation museum.

And thus, the seed for the Creation Museum of the Ozarks was planted.

Are Christians even supposed to meditate? Anyway, they got incorporated and got concept drawings up, but they only got an actual museum up just recently, in nearby Strafford. Somebody in the Joplin Freethinkers forwarded this news to everybody, and I was like “OMG OMG OMG WE GOTTA GO.”

I called ahead to see if they were open, and while that was the case, it seems Dr. Butterworth wasn’t going to be there that day. His assistants would guide us through. He didn’t ask our group name, so I didn’t mention it.

Saturday came, and a whopping three of us headed to Strafford. We got there about 25 minutes before it opened, so we had a look around. Oh boy. I realized this wouldn’t be as fun as I had thought.

The interior

Calling the current location a hole in the wall would be getting your expectations up. Try a dent in a very steep incline. It’s a tiny little office space sandwiched between two other buildings. The windows were littered with Jurassic Park decals and vinyl toy dinosaurs. I secretly praise the indifferent universe that more members didn’t make the trip, for I smelled disappointment on the horizon. Either that, or it was the “Kuntry-Fied Cafe” across the street. Disappointment smells like delicious greasy spoon food; it’s an easy mistake.

To further compound the awkwardness, the two assistants that accepted us were super nice, cheery and gracious. They were completely unlike Dr. Sharp and other professional creationists I’ve met, who usually treat everyone around them like a mark. Our snark glands deflated, and we settled for biting our tongues as we were given the grand tour.

Different, Fake Evidence for a Different View

The mantra of this museum is the same as the big one in Kentucky- “same evidence, different views.” “We all work from the same evidence,” our guide told us, “we just have different ways of interpreting it.” Which is true, somewhat. Scientists go at things from an empirical, naturalistic perspective. Creationists make shit up. I’m not exaggerating; every single piece of evidence on display was either a blatant misinterpretation, an outright hoax, or wishful thinking.

Our guides showed us this evidence that the scientific community supposedly ignored. They wish. We had Ica stones, the London Artifact, polystrate fossils, the chameleon art that Dr. Sharp was hawking, T-Rex “blood cells“, the “living fossils disprove evolution” fallacy, the “monsters like Nessie and the Thunderbird prove that evolution is false even though those animals haven’t been proven to exist and are probably bullcrap anyway but wevs” canard. All items on display, all previously debunked or irrelevant from the start.

There was one I hadn’t seen before that caught my attention. It was a man/dino footprint from the Paluxy River in Texas. If you follow the topic, you already know about Paluxy’s infamous hoaxes, but our guide beat us to the punch. He admitted that most of them were phonies, but this one looks like the real deal! It even says on the printout-”verified by spiral CT scan!” Yet the evolutionists won’t let this information out to the public!

It caught my attention, because this is what the *coughcough* fossil looks like:

It’s not often a dinosaur print resembles a Lucky Charms marshmallow shape. Here’s a graphic for those of you not attuned to the fact that animal tracks aren’t normally flat and cartoony looking.

By "prepared a graphic" I mean "screencapped my Powerpoint." Don't hate.

When I got home I whipped out my google o’ nine tails and found out I wasn’t the first evolutionist to cover-up and ignore this thing. In creationist parlance, “covering up” is jargon for “looked at and dismissed as the obvious fake it was.” So creationists tried to salvage a source of bogus artifacts by presenting an even more bogus artifact. That works, I guess.

Did Not Do the Research

No. No, it is not a lemur.

Along with the humbug and fallacies and strawberry Newtons (yum!) were a lot of mistakes that seem to have been made out of sheer laziness. Fossils were misidentified, names were mispronounced, theories that haven’t seen the light of day since the late 70′s (hello, swamp-dwelling hadrosaurs!) were touted as current mainstream consensus.

“But but but,” you say, “scientists make mistakes all the time! You’re always harping about how that’s your biggest strength!” Ah, but there’s a difference, which was demonstrated to us when we reached the subject of hominids.

In 2009, scientists uncovered  remains of an early hominid called Ardipithicus. There was an ensuing media frenzy, and it turns out that it wasn’t as closely related to us as hyped. It’s still closer to us than chimps, though. Still an ape. Still a hominid. Our guide, however, told us that Ardi was debunked as “just a lemur.” That’s a little beyond laziness. It’s almost as if they’re deliberately lying to make the other side look bad. In science, mistakes are bugs in the system and are weeded out. In creationism, it’s a feature that’s selected for. That’s the difference between the two sides. That, and we have better taste in music.

Perhaps I protest too much though. These people believe in fire-breathing dinosaurs.

The Puzzling Possibility of Parasaurolophus Pyrotechnics

Remember when Dr. Sharp failed to deliver that doozy last time? Well, Dr. Butterworth and company came through, so eat it Sharp! We were escorted to the back to watch the above video, after which our guide elaborated on the remarkable abilities of Parasaurolophus.

Parasaurolophus. Not depicted: burninatin' the peasants.

Parasaurolophus was a lambeosaur, which is a duckbill dinosaur with a funky-ass head crest. After much theorizing and study, most scientists now think the crest was used to produce sounds. They even reconstructed the sound with computer models.

But some creationists, spearheaded by Duane Gish, like to think it stored hot chemicals in his head and shot it out in self defense, like how the modern day bombardier beetle shoots it out of its butt. Therefore fire-breathing. Therefore dragons. Therefore Jesus.

These guys get facts about the bombardier beetle and their own Biblical monsters wrong all the time– I challenge you to Google them yourselves, since I’m getting hyperlink fatigue– but everyone everywhere is mum on the possibility that Parasaurolophus could do this. Could it? I love dinosaurs, but I’m not an accredited Parasaurolophus expert. So I called someone who is.

I contacted Dr. Thomas Williamson, curator of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. You remember that Parasaurolophus sound reconstruction? He was behind that. I asked him if it was even possible.

“Wow,” he said, “that’s one I haven’t heard before.” Don’t blame me, man. Blame the evolutionist conspiracy.

Dr. Williamson politely disagrees. There’s no living analog of an animal with a bombardier-like ability to shoot hot liquid death out its honker, he told me. The crest was a thin structure and there was no evidence of any chemical-spewing bits. Most damning of all, however, was the fact that this crest was part of the respiratory tract. Inhaling toxic chemical residues doesn’t sound like evidence of good design to me.

But hey, science changes all the time. Perhaps when the CMOTO gets their funding they can use their spiral CT scans and make their own damn Parasaurolophus burnination simulation.

Computer reconstruction of fire-breathing Parasaurolophus. Verified by spiral C-T scan.

Winding Down

After the video was over, we were itching to end the awkwardness of the whole affair. We thanked our hosts, helped ourselves to some free literature, said goodbye to the Madagascar hissing cockroaches and made tracks to the nearby pizza joint. We felt dirty, and a little bit dumber, and I personally felt a little jealous because that rinkydink tourist trap had more Carnegie figures than I do (I collect those). A trip to the Springfield zoo helped us recoup.

Hopefully, if and when they get their big building, we’ll make another trip, and this time we won’t feel like schmucks.

Or better idea– we could just go to a real science institution instead. Like the nearby Dinosaur Walk in Branson!

This Thursday I’ll be presenting an even more laborious Powerpoint presentation at the Joplin Freethinkers meeting! It’ll be at Southwest Missouri Bank, Zora and Rangeline. 6:30 pm! Be there!

EDIT: Sweet bouncing baby Buddha! PZ Myers gave me a plug! Greetings Pharyngula readers!


45 Responses to “A Trip To the Creation Museum of the Ozarks”


  1. 1 Brownian
    May 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I remember reading about the bombardier beetle hypothesis (?) and hadrosaur crests when I was a kid. I didn’t know it was a creationist trope, but now that I think back on it, of course it was—who else would work so hard to posit a physiological explanation for some bit of mythology?

    Great review; I LOLed.

    • May 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      “who else would work so hard to posit a physiological explanation for some bit of mythology?”

      Cryptozoologists, of course! I noticed a long time ago that creationists like to piggyback on the backs of slightly more respectable pseudosciences. This museum was no exception. We had Nessie, Mokele-Mbembe, Thunderbirds, etc. etc.

      But strangely enough, no Bigfoot or Yetis. I wonder why…

      Thanks for commenting!

      • 3 Craigore
        May 4, 2011 at 1:36 am

        “But strangely enough, no Bigfoot or Yetis. I wonder why…”

        I suspect that with the caliber of intelligence this “institution of science” attempts to attract, those critters might be confused for a ‘missing link’ which could give potential credence to ‘evilution’ and we can’t have that can we?

        I hadn’t realized that creatards considered Ardi to be ‘just a lemur,’ I mean how inept can you get… oh right, we’re dealing with creatards, duh. Speaking of tards have you read Ian Murphey’s article on his special trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky? http://buffalobeast.com/117/let_there_be_retards.htm
        Some of the finest in Gonzo journalism I’ve seen in a while. Anyway, thanks for the article. Consider it saved.

      • May 4, 2011 at 3:07 am

        Thanks Craigore!

        Maybe they did have Sasquatch in there. They must’ve classed it as a giant lemur.

  2. 5 Jim
    May 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Attended a Sunday School class where the teacher spoke about firebreathing dinosaurs just about a year ago. Well, by “attend,” I mean, “Was in the same builing as.”

  3. 6 James Yarovoy
    May 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Sounds like a fascinating trip! Did you ask them any difficult questions or were you just there to listen and observe?

  4. 8 Michael Swanson
    May 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I clicked my way through the video on mute for about a minute and I’m exhausted. How did you sit through the whole thing? With the sound on?

  5. May 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Jim Farlow did a spot on a NOVA production that touched on the question of the Paluxy River “man” tracks. Fakes aside, creationists (for some years now) have pointed at a real fossil trackway that seems to show a giant set of feet clad in mocassins or boots. Dr. Farlow on film showed that the trackway was made by a theropod, which for some reason was walking plantigrade (they normally walked just on their toes) and so was putting more weight on its metatarsals than on the toes. The result is a vaguely human shaped footprint (minus any human toes) and some minor impressions of the dinosaur toes. If the trackway is followed long enough, the theropod eventually reverts to digitigrade walking. But of course the creationists never show those in their publications!

  6. 12 Iain Brown
    May 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    The lemur discovered in 2009 he was talking about was clearly Ida (i.e. Darwinius masillae), not Ardi. Despite getting the name wrong it’s a fair summary, though hardly a smoking gun against human evolution.

    • May 3, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      That makes sense, considering all the taxonomic names they screwed up. Doesn’t help their credibility, I’m afraid.

    • 14 Mad Ness Monster
      January 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm

      To be fair, I get Ardi and Darwinius confused as well for some reason. Blame the mainstream media trying to say words about biology without f**king things up.

      But the first-breathing Parasaurolophus?!? Wow, that’s… Remember the semi-banned episode of “South Park” where they had the disclaimer running along the bottom, “This is what Scientologists actually believe”? Yeah.

  7. 16 Dave
    May 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Thought it might be worth mentioning, the bombadeer beetle thing is ripped straight from the movie Reign of Fire, which claimed that was how the dragons in it breathed fire (ducts to either side of the mouth having the two necessary chemicals). Yes, they got it from a second rate fantasy blockbuster film

    • May 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      The idea’s been around before then as well. Way back in elementary school, I vaguely recall it being in a children’s book that was a parody field guide to dragons.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the original idea came from a fantasy novelist like Anne McCraffey (sp?)

  8. 18 W.
    May 3, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Something doesn’t add up here…obviously…when the knight (soldier for christ…dumb!)fights the dragon and defeats the it (don’t they normally slay the dragon in these stories anyway?) he asks for the princess’s garter and bound it around the neck of the beast…hmmmmm…the look of the story could either be two ways: 1.) the princess must have been a really big girl for her garter to be bound around the monsters neck, or, 2.) the monster’s size is greatly over exaggerated and was way smaller, making the soldier seem like a bully….oh, and now that it has a magical piece of underwear around its neck, it’s like a little lamb…stupid…

    I can’t watch anymore…my alcohol intake is too low for this robot to continue watching, it’s so horrible!

    Yay for pizza and the Springfield Zoo though!

    • May 4, 2011 at 4:36 am

      W– I was intrigued and looked up the St. George myth on wikipedia.

      Good gravy, can creationists not get anything right?!?

      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George_and_the_Dragon

      According to the original legend, the dragon lived in a lake, and there’s NO MENTION of firebreathing. It was a plague-bearing beast that polluted the land.

      As for the garter– the creationist narrator almost certainly meant “girdle”, which back then referred to what we now call a “belt”.

      THESE ARE BASIC FACTS CREATONISTS! QUIT BUNGLING THEM!

  9. 20 dotmatrix
    May 4, 2011 at 1:31 am

    “Spiral C-T scan.” I really gotta remember that one.

  10. 21 Darryl
    May 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    You ask if Christians are supposed to meditate. The answer is yes, they are routinely encouraged to do so. But the word doesn’t mean quite the same thing. In Christian practice, to meditate is to prayerfully reflect on a Bible passage or some specific concern. Some believers feel this allows them to better hear the will of God. (Almost no Christian claims to hear an actual audible voice, of course. It’s usually a “still small voice” astonishingly like a thought in one’s own head. Go figure!) In literary terms, there are countless scads of Christian Meditations in print, often looking like a cross between an essay and a free-form poem, lots of white-space on every page, and just as often, thoroughly subjective and emotional in pitch.

    On the other hand, Eastern style meditation is verboten in fundamentalist churches, where it is seen as a clearly occult or demonic practice. In more mainline or liberal congregations, it can be a contentious issue, but there are many who feel they can incorporate, say, yoga or zen into their lives, as these don’t necessarily carry any belief requirement of their own. (Not in their popular Westernized form, at least.)

    in my upbringing, whenever I heard someone say “I’ve meditated on that, and I think God wants me to …” this nearly always meant that God had told this person exactly what he or she wanted to hear.

    Thanks for the amusing account of what sounds like a terribly awkward visit.

    • May 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      That may be so. I grew up around fundies who condemn meditation, yoga, whatever as being of the Devil. I assumed it was strictly an Eastern concept and/or a secular one (if it’s defined as just “thinking really hard with no distractions”)

  11. 23 InthewaterDSM
    May 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Great “review”. Thanks to PZ, I am enjoying your blog now, as well.

  12. May 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Johnny,

    Too bad you wasted all that time. You really should have spent it getting ready for the Rapture. As everyone should know, Harold Camping is certain it is coming 5/21/2011. And all those fossils will be star dust as of 10/21/2011.

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-01-01/bay-area/17466332_1_east-bay-bay-area-first-time-camping

    http://www.ebiblefellowship.com/wecanknow/index.html

    Nevertheless, amusing post.

    Jim

  13. 26 Donna Upchurch
    May 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    My father is Dr. Rod Butterworth and is looking forward to meeting you on Sunday. I hope you go with an open mind. I’ve noticed that a lot of responders to this blog seem to use the internet for their sole source of evolutionary and creation information (common for this current generation). I encourage you to seek out other sources of information as well that might not be as biased by current culture.

  14. 30 Andy
    May 19, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Interesting, if not one-sided. For some “free-thinkers”, you seem to be emphatic about one way of thinking. Since I’m one who takes a pragmatic approach to just about everything, and because I’m curious, do you have all the answers to life? Do you have empirical evidence that your claims are all true and have proven that creationist are all delusional? I think if any science could prove that [we] all life evolved from goo or someone can produce a body of evidence -which I’m sure nobody will agree to- that dispels all intelligent design we would all jump on that bandwagon and sing Kum-ba-ya around the campfire. I know Christians don’t get it right much of the time, but from my perspective, neither does the other side. The fact is, all I hear are scientists stating (every 5 minutes on PBS nature specials, or similar) all their information as fact – as they have that empirical proof that we all came from lower forms of life and it took millions upon millions of years to get to where we are today. So if stating a ‘perspective’ on the origin of man is told over and over from multiple fronts and bombarding everyone from an early age and stating as fact (yeah, long run-on sentence) people start to believe it AS fact.
    I’m going to keep a “free thinking” mind about this…

  15. 32 Andy
    May 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    @dotmatrix-
    http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=9629

    just so you know it wasn’t a made-up term. Had to look it up myself.

  16. 33 Rev Al
    May 21, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I can see that Andy does not understand what free thinking is all about. Just as the deffinition of freethinker states, we are those who reject dogma and form opinions based upon logic and reason.

    All of religion falls short when you use logic and reason not because it is a failed hypothesis but because it lacks the objective evidence to back it up. To use a few terms from logic, it is a vaild but unsound premise. It is valid because it teaches some good things, it is unsound because of the lack of objective evidence to support it.

    • 34 Calvin and Luther Can Kick Your Atheist Behind.
      May 21, 2011 at 10:34 pm

      Christianity is not a religion. Religions are based on “feeling and myth”

      Christianity is based on historical fact.

  17. May 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Calvin and Luther,

    You said,

    Christianity is not a religion. Religions are based on “feeling and myth. Christianity is based on historical fact

    That is a bold assertion I have not seen before. Let’s leave the OT for later and just address the NT. While I don’t doubt that a man named Jesus lived and died on a cross, the problem I have is with miracles and the resurrection. Would you be willing to state for the record the authorship of the first four books of the New Testament and any other underlying documentation for the events described therein, including any non-Christian corroboration?

  18. 36 Calvin and Luther Can Kick Your Atheist Behind.
    May 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Matthew –

    Tradition is unanimous that the disciple Matthew wrote this Gospel. An early church father, Papias (c. a.d. 60-130) spoke of Matthew as having written the “oracles” about Jesus. Later scholarship was in agreement. Some early manuscripts have the inscription “according to Matthew”.

    Mark –

    Church fathers Papias (A.D. 140), Justin Martyr (A.D. 150), Irenaeus (A.D. 185), and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195), all affirm that Mark wrote the second Gospel. To see who John Mark was: Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; Col 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24.

    Luke –

    It’s commonly accepted that the same man who wrote Luke also wrote Acts. The author is believed to have been a companion of Paul (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). Tradition names Luke as the author of the book of Acts; Irenaeus (c. A.D. 130-200), Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 153-217), the anonymous Muratorian Canon (c A.D. 170), and Eusebius (c. A.D. 325). Luke and Acts have a similar style and vocabulary and both are addressed to Theophilus.

    John –

    According to early church tradition the apostle John wrote this Gospel. Evidence points to this being correct (John 13:23, 21:24) John, son of Zebedee is not mentioned by name in this Gospel, which would lead one to believe that he wrote it. The author displays intimate knowledge of Jewish customs, festivals and beliefs and detailed geographical knowledge that would indicate he was a native of Palestine. He was also an eyewitness to many of the events recorded in his Gospel (19:35).

  19. 37 Calvin and Luther Can Kick Your Atheist Behind.
    May 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    From Gary Habermas book The Historical Jesus

    Ancient Non-Christian Sources

    Continuing our historical investigation into the early sources for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we turn next to the ancient non Christian sources. We will move, successively, from ancient historians, to government officials, to other Jewish and Gentile sources, to early gnostic sources and then to lost works that speak of Jesus.

    Ancient Historians

    Tacitus. Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 55 120 A.D.) was a Roman historian who lived through the reigns of over a half dozen Roman emperors. He has been called the “greatest historian” of ancient Rome, an individual generally acknowledged among scholars for his moral “integrity and essential goodness.”(1)

    Tacitus is best known for two works — the Annals and the Histories. The former is thought to have included eighteen books and the latter to have included twelve, for a total of thirty.(2) The Annals cover the period from Augustus’ death in 14 A.D. to that of Nero in 68 A.D., while the Histories begin after Nero’s death and proceed to that of Domitian in 96 A.D.

    Tacitus recorded at least one reference to Christ and two to early Christianity, one in each of his major works. The most important one is that found in the Annals, written about 115 A.D. The following was recounted concerning the great fire in Rome during the reign of Nero:

    Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
    Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.(3)

    From this report we can learn several facts, both explicit and implicit, concerning Christ and the Christians who lived in Rome in the 60s A.D. Chronologically, we may ascertain the following information.

    (1) Christians were named for their founder, Christus (from the Latin), (2) who was put to death by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilatus (also Latin), (3) during the reign of emperor Tiberius (14 37 A.D.). (4) His death ended the “superstition” for a short time, (5) but it broke out again, (6) especially in Judaea, where the teaching had its origin.

    (7) His followers carried his doctrine to Rome. (8) When the great fire destroyed a large part of the city during the reign of Nero (54 68 A.D.), the emperor placed the blame on the Christians who lived in Rome. (9) Tacitus reports that this group was hated for their abominations. (10) These Christians were arrested after pleading guilty, (11) and many were convicted for “hatred for mankind.” (12) They were mocked and (13) then tortured, including being “nailed to crosses” or burnt to death. (14) Because of these actions, the people had compassion on the Christians. (15) Tacitus therefore concluded that such punishments were not for the public good but were simply “to glut one man’s cruelty.”(4)

    Several facts here are of interest. As F. F. Bruce has noted, Tacitus had to receive his information from some source and this may have been an official record. It may even have been contained in one of Pilate’s reports to the emperor, to which Tacitus would probably have had access because of his standing with the government.(5) Of course, we cannot be sure at this point, but a couple of early writers do claim to know the contents of such a report, as we will perceive later.

    Also of interest is the historical context for Jesus’ death, as he is linked with both Pilate and Tiberius. Additionally, J. N. D. Anderson sees implications in Tacitus’ quote concerning Jesus’ resurrection.

    It is scarcely fanciful to suggest that when he adds that “A most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out” he is bearing indirect and unconscious testimony to the conviction of the early church that the Christ who had been crucified had rise from the grave.(6)
    Although we must be careful not to press this implication too far, the possibility remains that Tacitus may have indirectly referred to the Christians’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since his teachings “again broke out” after his death.

    Also interesting is the mode of torture employed against the early Christians. Besides burning, a number were crucified by being “nailed to crosses.” Not only is this the method used with Jesus, but tradition reports that Nero was responsible for crucifying Peter as well, but upside down. The compassion aroused in the Roman people is also noteworthy.

    The second reference to Jesus in the writings of Tacitus is found in the Histories. While the specific reference is lost, as is most of this book, the reference is preserved by Sulpicus Severus.(7) He informs us that Tacitus wrote of the burning of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., an event which destroyed the city. The Christians are mentioned as a group that were connected with these events. All we can gather from this reference is that Tacitus was also aware of the existence of Christians other than in the context of their presence in Rome. Granted, the facts that Tacitus (and most other extra biblical sources) report about Jesus are well known in our present culture. Yet we find significance in the surprising confirmation for the life of Jesus.

    Suetonius. Another Roman historian who also makes one reference to Jesus and one to Christians is Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas. Little is known about him except that he was the chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian (117 138 A.D.) and that he had access to the imperial records.(8) The first reference occurs in the section on emperor Claudius (41 54 A.D.). Writing about the same time as Tacitus,(9) Suetonius remarked concerning Claudius:

    Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.(10)
    The translator notes that “Chrestus” is a variant spelling of “Christ,” as noted by other commentators as well,(11) and is virtually the same as Tacitus’ Latin spelling.

    Suetonius refers to a wave of riots which broke out in a large Jewish community in Rome during the year of 49 A.D. As a result, the Jews were banished from the city. Incidentally, this statement has an interesting corroboration in Acts 18:2, which relates that Paul met a Jewish couple from Pontus named Aquila and his wife Priscilla, who had recently left Italy because Claudius had demanded that all Jews leave Rome.

    The second reference from Suetonius is again to the Christians who were tortured by emperor Nero:

    After the great fire at Rome . . . . Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.(12)
    Few facts are derived from the two references by Suetonius. The first relates (1) to the expulsion of Jews from Rome, but also makes the claim (2) that it was Christ who caused the Jews to make the uproar in Rome, apparently by his teachings. The second reference is quite similar to the longer statement by Tacitus, (3) including the use of the word “mischievous” to describe the group’s beliefs and (4) the term “Christians” to identify this group as followers of the teachings of Christ.

    Josephus. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus was born in 37 or 38 A.D. and died in 97 A.D. He was born into a priestly family and became a Pharisee at the age of nineteen. After surviving a battle against the Romans, he served commander Vespasian in Jerusalem. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., he moved to Rome, where he became the court historian for emperor Vespasian.(13)

    The Antiquities, one of Josephus’ major works, provides some valuable but disputed evidence concerning Jesus. Written around 90 95 A.D., it is earlier than the testimonies of the Roman historians. Josephus speaks about many persons and events of first century Palestine and makes two references to Jesus. The first is very brief and is in the context of a reference to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”(14) Here we find a close connection between Jesus and James and the belief on the part of some that Jesus was the Messiah.

    The second reference is easily the most important and the most debated, since some of the words appear to be due to Christian interpolation. For instance, a portion of the quotation reports:

    Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats. . . . He was (the) Christ . . . he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.(15)
    Since Josephus was a Jew, it is unlikely that he would have written about Jesus in this way. Origen informs us that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah,(16) yet Eusebius quotes the debated passage including the words above.(17) Therefore, probably the majority of commentators believe that at least a portion of the citation (the distinctly “Christian” words, in particular) is a Christian interpolation. Yet, other scholars have also supported the original ending.(18) A mediating position taken by many holds that the passage itself is written by Josephus with the questionable words either deleted or modified. So the major question here concerns the actual words of Josephus.

    There are good indications that the majority of the text is genuine. There is no textual evidence against it, and, conversely, there is very good manuscript evidence for this statement about Jesus, thus making it difficult to ignore. Additionally, leading scholars on the works of Josephus have testified that this portion is written in the style of this Jewish historian.(19) Thus we conclude that there are good reasons for accepting this version of Josephus’ statement about Jesus, with modification of the questionable words. In fact, it is possible that these modifications can even be accurately ascertained.

    In 1972 Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem released the results of a study on an Arabic manuscript containing Josephus’ statement about Jesus. It includes a different and briefer rendering of the entire passage, including changes in the key words listed above:

    At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.(20)
    Of the three disputed portions, none remains unchanged. The initial problematic statement “if it be lawful to call him a man” has been dropped completely, recounting only that Jesus was a wise man. The words “he was a doer of wonderful works” have also been deleted. Instead of the words “He was (the) Christ” we find “he was perhaps the messiah.” The phrase :he appeared to them the third day” now reads “they (the disciples) reported that he had appeared to them,” which is an entirely true statement which was voiced by the first century eyewitnesses. Lastly, the statement that “the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him” has been drastically reduced to “concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders,” which concerns the messiah and possibly not even Jesus, according to Josephus. Therefore, while some words are completely deleted, others are qualified by “perhaps” and “reported.”

    There are some good reasons why the Arabic version may indeed be the original words of Josephus before any Christian interpolations. As Schlomo Pines and David Flusser, of the Hebrew University, have stated, it is quite plausible that none of the arguments against Josephus writing the original words even applies to the Arabic text, especially since the latter would have had less chance of being censored by the church. In addition, Flusser notes that an earmark of authenticity comes from the fact that the Arabic version omits the accusation that the Jews were to blame for Jesus’ death, which is included in the original reading.(21)

    After an investigation of the question, Charlesworth explains his view that Josephus’ original version is “both an interpolation and a redaction.”(22) But he provides three reasons why Josephus still wrote most of the passage: some of the words are very difficult to assign to a Christian writer, the passage fits both grammatically and historically, and the brief reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20 seems to presuppose an earlier mention.(23)

    Charlesworth concludes that the Arabic rescension is basically accurate, even if there are still a few subtle Christian alterations. He concludes about this passage with some strong words: “We can now be as certain as historical research will presently allow that Josephus did refer to Jesus,” providing “corroboration of the gospel account.”(24)

    We conclude that Josephus did write about Jesus, not only in the brief statement concerning James, but also in this longer account. The evidence points to his composition of this latter passage with the deletion and modification of a number of key phrases which were probably interpolated by Christian sources.

    What historical facts can be ascertained from the deleted and altered portions of Josephus’ statement such as those changes made in the Arabic version? (1) Jesus was known as a wise and virtuous man, one recognized for his good conduct. (2) He had many disciples, both Jews and Gentiles. (3) Pilate condemned him to die, (4) with crucifixion explicitly being mentioned as the mode. (5) The disciples reported that Jesus had risen from the dead and (6) that he had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion. (7) Consequently, the disciples continued to proclaim his teachings. (8) Perhaps Jesus was the Messiah concerning whom the Old Testament prophets spoke and predicted wonders. We would add here two facts from Josephus’ earlier quotation as well. (9) Jesus was the brother of James and (10) was called the messiah by some.(25)

    There is nothing really sensational in such a list of facts from a Jewish historian. Jesus’ ethical conduct, his following, and his crucifixion by the command of Pilate are what we would expect a historian to mention. Even the account of the disciples reporting Jesus’ resurrection appearances (if it is allowed), has an especially authentic ring to it. Josephus, like many historians today, would simply be repeating the claims, which were probably fairly well known in first century Palestine. That the disciples would then spread his teachings would be a natural consequence.

    Josephus presented an important account of several major facts about Jesus and the origins of Christianity. In spite of some question as to the exact wording, we can view his statements as providing probable attestation, in particular, of some items in Jesus’ public ministry, his death by crucifixion, the disciples’ report of his resurrection appearances, and their subsequent teaching of Jesus’ message.

    Thallus. At least the death of Jesus was mentioned in an ancient history composed many years before Tacitus, Suetonius or Josephus ever wrote and probably even prior to the Gospels. Circa 52 A.D. Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time.(26) This work itself has been lost and only fragments of it exist in the citations of others. One such scholar who knew and spoke of it was Julius Africanus, who wrote about 221 A.D. It is debated whether Thallus was the same person referred to by Josephus as a wealthy Samaritan, who was made a freedman by Emperor Tiberius and who loaned money to Herod Agrippa I.(27)

    In speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and the darkness that covered the land during this event, Africanus found a reference in the writings of Thallus that dealt with this cosmic report. Africanus asserts:

    On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.(28)
    Julius Africanus objected to Thallus’ rationalization concerning the darkness that fell on the land at the time of the crucifixion because an eclipse could not take place during the time of the full moon, as was the case during the Jewish Passover season.(29) But Wells raises a fair question about this testimony. Africanus only implies that Thallus linked the darkness to Jesus’ crucifixion, but we are not specifically told if Jesus is mentioned in Thallus’ original history at all.(30)

    If this brief statement by Thallus refers to Jesus’ crucifixion we can ascertain that (1) the Christian gospel, or at least an account of the crucifixion, was known in the Mediterranean region by the middle of the first century A.D. This brings to mind the presence of Christian teachings in Rome mentioned by Tacitus and by Suetonius. (2) There was a widespread darkness in the land, implied to have taken place during Jesus’ crucifixion. (3) Unbelievers offered rationalistic explanations for certain Christian teachings or for supernatural claims not long after their initial proclamation, a point to which we will return below.

    Government Officials

    Pliny the Younger. A Roman author and administrator who served as the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, Pliny the Younger was the nephew and adopted son of a natural historian known as Pliny the Elder. The younger Pliny is best known for his letters, and Bruce refers to him as “one of the world’s great letter writers, whose letters . . . have attained the status of literary classics.”(31)

    Ten books of Pliny’s correspondence are extant today. The tenth book, written around 112 A.D., speaks about Christianity in the province of Bithynia and also provides some facts about Jesus.(32) Pliny found that the Christian influence was so strong that the pagan temples had been nearly deserted, pagan festivals severely decreased and the sacrificial animals had few buyers. Because of the inflexibility of the Christians and the emperor’s prohibition against political association, governor Pliny took action against the Christians. Yet, because he was unsure how to deal with believers, if there should be any distinctions in treatment or if repentance made any difference, he wrote to Emperor Trajan to explain his approach.

    Pliny dealt personally with the Christians who were turned over to him. He interrogated them, inquiring if they were believers. If they answered in the affirmative he asked them two more times, under the threat of death. If they continued firm in their belief, he ordered them to be executed. Sometimes the punishment included torture to obtain desired information, as in the case of two female slaves who were deaconesses in the church. If the person was a Roman citizen, they were sent to the emperor in Rome for trial. If they denied being Christians or had disavowed their faith in the past, they “repeated after me an invocation to the Gods, and offered adoration . . . to your [Trajan’s] image.” Afterwards they “finally cursed Christ.” Pliny explained that his purpose in all this was that “multitudes may be reclaimed from error.”(33)

    Since Pliny’s letter is rather lengthy, we will quote the portion which pertains directly to an account of early Christian worship of Christ:

    They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food — but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.(34)
    At this point Pliny adds that Christianity attracted persons of all societal ranks, all ages, both sexes and from both the city and the country.

    From Pliny’s letter we find several more facts about Jesus and early Christianity. (1) Christ was worshiped as deity by early believers. (2) Pliny refers late in his letter to the teachings of Jesus and his followers as “excessive superstition” and “contagious superstition,” which is reminiscent of the words of both Tacitus and Suetonius. (3) Jesus’ ethical teachings are reflected in the oath taken by Christians never to be guilty of a number of sins mentioned in the letter. (4) We find a probable reference to Christ’s institution of communion and the Christian celebration of the “love feast” in Pliny’s remark about their regathering to partake of ordinary food. The reference here alludes to the accusation on the part of non Christians that believers were suspected of ritual murder and drinking of blood during these meetings, again confirming our view that communion is the subject to which Pliny is referring. (5) There is also a possible reference to Sunday worship in Pliny’s statement that Christians met “on a certain day.”

    Concerning early Christianity, (6) we see Pliny’s method of dealing with believers, from their identification, to their interrogation, to their execution. For those who denied being Christians, worship of the gods and the emperor gained them their freedom. (7) Interestingly, Pliny reports that true believers could not be forced to worship the gods or the emperor. (8) Christian worship involved a pre dawn service, (9) which included singing hymns. The early time probably facilitated a normal working day. (10) These Christians apparently formed a typical cross section of society in Bithynia, since they were of all classes, ages, localities and of both sexes. (11) There were recognized positions in the church, as illustrated by the mention of the two female deaconesses who were tortured for information. While Pliny does not relate many facts about Jesus, he does provide a look at a very early example of Christian worship. Believers were meeting regularly and worshiping Jesus.

    Emperor Trajan. Pliny’s inquiry received a reply which is published along with his letters, although Emperor Trajan’s response is much shorter:

    The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those denounced to you as Christians is extremely proper. It is not possible to lay down any general rule which can be applied as the fixed standard in all cases of this nature. No search should be made fore these people; when they are denounced and found guilty they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that when the party denies himself to be a Christian, and shall give proof that he is not (that is, by adoring our Gods) he shall be pardoned on the ground of repentance, even though he may have formerly incurred suspicion. Informations without the accuser’s name subscribed must not be admitted in evidence against anyone, as it is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and by no means agreeable to the spirit of the age.(35)
    Trajan responds that Pliny was generally correct in his actions. If confessed Christians persist in their faith, they must be punished. However, three restrictions are placed on Pliny. (1) Christians should not be sought out or tracked down. (2) Repentance coupled with worship of the gods sufficed to clear a person. Pliny expressed doubts as to whether a person should be punished in spite of repentance and only recounts the pardoning of persons who had willingly given up their beliefs prior to questioning. (3) Pliny was not to honor any lists of Christians which were given to him if the accuser did not name himself.

    These conditions imposed by emperor Trajan give us some insight into early official Roman views about Christianity. While persecution was certainly an issue and many Christians died without committing any actual crimes, it is interesting that, contrary to popular opinion, the first century was not the worst period of persecution for believers. Trajan’s restrictions on Pliny at least indicate that it was not a wholesale slaughter. Nonetheless, the persecution was real and many died for their faith.

    Emperor Trajan. The existence of trials for Christians, such as the ones held in the time of Pliny, is confirmed by another historical reference to Christians. Serenius Granianus, proconsul of Asia, wrote to emperor Hadrian (117 138 A.D.), also in reference to the treatment of believers. Hadrian replied to Minucius Fundanus, the successor as Asian proconsul and issued a statement against those who would accuse Christians falsely or without due process. In the letter, preserved by third century church Historian Eusebius, Hadrian asserts:

    I do not wish, therefore, that the matter should be passed by without examination, so that these men may neither be harassed, nor opportunity of malicious proceedings be offered to informers. If, therefore, the provincials can clearly evince their charges against the Christians, so as to answer before the tribunal, let them pursue this course only, but not by mere petitions, and mere outcries against the Christians. For it is far more proper, if any one would bring an accusation, that you should examine it.(36)
    Hadrian explains that, if Christians are found guilty, after an examination, they should be judged “according to the heinousness of the crime.” Yet, if the accusers were only slandering the believers, then those who inaccurately made the charges were to be punished.(37)

    From Hadrian’s letter we again ascertain (1) that Christians were frequently reported as lawbreakers in Asia and were punished in various ways. (2) Like Trajan, Hadrian also encouraged a certain amount of temperance, and ordered that Christians not be harassed. (3) If Christians were indeed guilty, as indicated by careful examination, punishments could well be in order. (4) However, no undocumented charges were to be brought against believers and those engaged in such were to be punished themselves.

    Other Jewish Sources

    The Talmud. The Jews handed down a large amount of oral tradition from generation to generation. This material was organized according to subject matter by Rabbi Akiba before his death in 135 A.D. His work was then revised by his student, Rabbi Meir. The project was completed about 200 A.D. by Rabbi Judah and is known as the Mishnah. Ancient commentary on the Mishnah was called the Gemaras. The combination of the Mishnah and the Gemaras form the Talmud.(38)

    It would be expected that the most reliable information about Jesus from the Talmud would come from the earliest period of compilation — 70 to 200 A.D., known as the Tannaitic period. A very significant quotation is found in Sanhedrin 43a, dating from just this early period:

    On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward ad plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!(39)
    Here we have another brief account of the death of Jesus. These two references to Jesus being “hanged” certainly provide an interesting term to describe his death. But it should be noted that the New Testament speaks of crucifixion in the same way. Jesus is said to have been “hanged” (Greek kremámenos in Gal. 3:13), as were the two males killed at the same time (Greek kremasthenton in Luke 23:39). While the term “crucified” is a much more common reference to this event,(40) “hanged” is a variant expression of the same fate.

    From this passage in the Talmud we learn about (1) the fact of Jesus’ death by crucifixion and (2) the time of this event, which is mentioned twice as occurring on the eve of the Jewish Passover. We are surprisingly told (3) that for forty days beforehand it was publicly announced that Jesus would be stoned. While not specifically recorded in the New Testament, such is certainly consistent with both Jewish practice and with the report that this had also been threatened on at least two other occasions (John 8:58 59; 10:31 33, 39). It is related (4) that Jesus was judged by the Jews to be guilty of “sorcery” and spiritual apostasy in leading Israel astray by his teaching. (5) It is also stated that since no witnesses came forward to defend him, he was killed.

    It is interesting that there is no explanation as to why Jesus was crucified (“hanged”) when stoning was the prescribed punishment. It is likely that the Roman involvement provided the “change of plans,” without specifically being mentioned here.

    Another early reference in the Talmud speaks of five of Jesus’ disciples and recounts their standing before judges who make individual decisions about each one, deciding that they should be executed. However, no actual deaths are recorded.(41) From this second portion we can ascertain only (6) the fact that Jesus had some disciples and (7) that some among the Jews felt that these men were also guilty of actions which warranted execution.

    There are various other references to Jesus in the Talmud, although most are from later periods of formulation and are of questionable historical value. For instance, one reference indicates that Jesus was treated differently from others who led the people astray, for he was connected with royalty.(42) The first portion of this statement is very possibly an indication of the fact that Jesus was crucified instead of being stoned. The second part could be referring to Jesus being born of the lineage of David, or it could actually be a criticism of the Christian belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Another possible reference to Jesus states that he was either thirty three or thirty four years old when he died.(43) Many other allusions and possible connections could be mentioned, such as derision of the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth(44) and references to Mary, Jesus’ mother,(45) but these depend on questions of identification of pseudonyms and other such issues.

    Because of the questionable nature and dates of these latter Talmudic references, we will utilize only the two earlier passages from the Tannaitic period in our study. While the latter references are interesting and may reflect older traditions, we cannot be sure.

    Toledoth Jesu. This anti Christian document not only refers to Jesus, but gives an interesting account of what happened to Jesus’ body after his death. It relates that his disciples planned to steal his body. However, a gardener named Juda discovered their plans and dug a new grave in his garden. Then he removed Jesus’ body from Joseph’s tomb and placed it in his own newly dug grave. The disciples came to the original tomb, found Jesus’ body gone and proclaimed him risen. The Jewish leaders also proceeded to Joseph’s tomb and found it empty. Juda then took them to his grave and dug up the body of Jesus. The Jewish leaders were greatly relieved and wanted to take the body. Juda replied that he would sell them the body of Jesus and did so for thirty pieces of silver. The Jewish priests then dragged Jesus’ body through the streets of Jerusalem.(46)

    It is true that the Toledoth Jesu was not compiled until the fifth century A.D., although it does reflect early Jewish tradition. Even though Jewish scholars scorn the reliability of this source,(47) the teaching that the disciples were the ones who removed the dead body of Jesus persisted in the early centuries after Jesus’ death. As reported in Matt. 28:11 15, this saying was still popular when the gospel was written, probably between 70 85 A.D. Additionally, Justin Martyr, writing about 150 A.D., states that the Jewish leaders had even sent specially trained men around the Mediterranean, even to Rome, to further this teaching,(48) which is confirmed by Tertullian about 200 A.D.(49) In other words, even if the Toledoth Jesu itself is too late or untrustworthy a source, in spite of its early material, the idea that the tomb was empty because the body was moved or stolen was common in early church history, as witnessed by other sources.

    Other Gentile Sources

    Lucian. A second century Greek satirist, Lucian spoke rather derisively of Jesus and early Christians. His point was to criticize Christians for being such gullible people that, with very little warrant, they would approve charlatans who pose as teachers, thereby supporting these persons even to the point of making them wealthy. In the process of his critique he relates some important facts concerning Jesus and Christians:

    The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.(50)
    From the material supplied by Lucian we may derive the following data concerning Jesus and early Christians. (1) We are told that Jesus was worshiped by Christians. (2) It is also related that Jesus introduced new teachings in Palestine (the location is given in another unquoted portion of Section II) and (3) that he was crucified because of these teachings. Jesus taught his followers certain doctrines, such as (4) all believers are brothers, (5) from the moment that conversion takes place and (6) after the false gods are denied (such as those of Greece). Additionally, these teachings included (7) worshiping Jesus and (8) living according to his laws. (9) Lucian refers to Jesus as a “sage,” which, especially in a Greek context, would be to compare him to the Greek philosophers and wise men.

    Concerning Christians, we are told (10) that they are followers of Jesus who (11) believe themselves to be immortal. Lucian explains that this latter belief accounts for their contempt of death. (12) Christians accepted Jesus’ teachings by faith and (13) practiced their faith by their disregard for material possessions, as revealed by the holding of common property among believers.

    The portion of Lucian not quoted presents some additional facts. (14) The Christians had “sacred writings” which were frequently read. (15) When something affected their community, “they spare no trouble, no expense.” (16) However, Lucian notes that Christians were easily taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals.(51) From Lucian, then, we learn a number of important facts about Jesus and early Christian beliefs. Many of these are not reported by other extra New Testament beliefs.

    Mara Bar Serapion. The British Museum owns the manuscript of a letter written sometime between the late first and third centuries A.D. Its author was a Syrian named Mara Bar Serapion, who was writing from prison to motivate his son Serapion to emulate wise teachers of the past:(52)

    What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment fort heir crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.(53)
    From this passage we learn (1) that Jesus was considered to be a wise and virtuous man. (2) He is addressed twice as the Jews’ King, possibly a reference to Jesus’ own teachings about himself, to that of his followers or even to the wording on the titulus placed over Jesus’ head on the cross. (3) Jesus was executed unjustly by the Jews, who paid for their misdeeds by suffering judgment soon afterward, probably at least as reference to the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman armies. (4) Jesus lived on in the teachings of the early Christians, which is an indication that Mara Bar Serapion was almost certainly not a Christian. Rather, he follows Lucian and others in the popular comparison of Jesus to philosophers and other wise men in the ancient world.

    As Bruce notes, some of Mara Bar Serapion’s material concerning Athens and Samos is quite inaccurate.(54) Yet the statements about Jesus do not appear to be flawed and thus add to our extra New Testament data about him.

    Gnostic Sources

    This category of extra New Testament sources is different from all the others in that these works often at least make the claim to be Christian. Although scholars still debate the question of the origin of gnosticism, it is generally said to have flourished mainly from the second to the fourth centuries A.D. It is from four, second century documents that we get the material for this section. While it is possible that there are other gnostic sources as old or older than the four used here, these have the advantage both of being better established and of claiming to relate facts concerning the historical Jesus, many of which are not reported in the Gospels.

    However, it must be admitted that this group of writers was still more influenced by the New Testament writings than the others in this chapter. Yet, although many of the ideas in these four books are Christian, gnosticism in many of its forms and teachings was pronounced heretical and viewed as such by the church. Hence we are discussing such material in this chapter.

    The Gospel of Truth. This book was possibly written by the gnostic teacher Valentinus, which would date its writing around 135 160 A.D. If not, it was probably at least from this school of thought and still dated in the second century A.D.(55) Unlike some gnostic works, The Gospel of Truth addresses the subject of the historicity of Jesus in several short passages. It does not hesitate to affirm that the Son of God came in the flesh. The author asserts that “the Word came into the midst . . . it became a body.”(56) Later he states:

    For when they had seen him and had heard him, he granted them to taste him and to smell him and to touch the beloved Son. When he had appeared instructing them about the Father . . . . For he came by means of fleshly appearance(57)
    From these two quotations this book indicates (1) that Jesus was the Son of God, the Word and (2) that he became a man and took on an actual human body which could be perceived by all five senses. (3) We are also told that he instructed his listeners about his Father. According to The Gospel of Truth, Jesus also died and was raised from the dead:
    Jesus was patient in accepting sufferings . . . since he knows that his death is life for many . . . he was nailed to a tree; he published the edict of the Father on the cross. . . . He draws himself down to death through life . . . eternal clothes him. Having stripped himself of the perishable rags, he put on imperishability, which no one can possibly take away from him.(58)
    Here and later (18:23) the author states (4) that Jesus was persecuted and suffered and (5) that he was “nailed to a tree,” obviously referring to his crucifixion. (6) We are also told of the belief that it was Jesus’ death that brought salvation “for many,” which is referred to as the imparting of Light to those who would receive it (30:37; 31:12 20). It is also asserted (7) that Jesus was raised in an eternal body which no one can harm or take from him. The theological overtones in The Gospel of Truth (as well as in other gnostic writings) present an obvious contrast to the ancient secular works inspected above. Yet, even allowing for such theological motivation, these early gnostic sources still present us with some important insights into the historical life and teachings of Jesus.

    The Apocryphon of John. Grant asserts that this work is closely related to the thought of the gnostic teacher Saturninus, who taught around 120 130 A.D.(59) The Apocryphon of John was modified as it was passed on and was known in several versions. Irenaeus made use of one of these versions as a source for his treatment of gnosticism, Against Heresies, written ca. 185 A.D. Thus, by this time, at least the major teachings of The Apocryphon of John were in existence.(60)

    In a largely mythical treatise involving esoteric matters of gnostic theology, this book does purport to open with a historical incident. We are told:

    It happened [one day]when Jo[hn, the brother] of James,—who are the sons of Ze[bed]ee—went up and came to the temple, that a [Ph]arisee named Arimanius approached him and said to him, “[Where] is your master whom you followed?” And he [said] to him, “He has gone to the place from which he came.” The Pharisee said to him, “[This Nazarene] deceived you (pl.) with deception and filled [your ears with lies] and closed [your hearts and turned you] from the traditions [of your fathers].”(61)
    This passage relates (1) that John the disciple, in response to a question from Arimanius the Pharisee, stated that Jesus had returned to heaven, a possible reference to the Ascension. (2) The Pharisee responded by telling John that Jesus had deceived his followers with his teachings, which is reminiscent of the Talmud’s statements about Jesus. Whether such an encounter between John and Arimanius actually occurred or not, such is apparently a typical view of Jesus’ teachings from the standpoint of the Jewish leaders.

    The Gospel of Thomas. This book describes itself in the opening statement as “the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke.”(62) Grant notes that this collection of teachings thereby purports to be the words of the risen Jesus, thus accounting for the almost complete absence of statements concerning his birth, life and death.(63)

    The text is usually dated from around 140 200 A.D., although it reflects thought of even earlier periods.(64) As such it could present some accurate facts concerning Jesus.

    In an incident similar to Jesus’ question at Caesarea Philippi,(65) reported in the synoptic Gospels, The Gospel of Thomas also presents Jesus asking his disciples, “Compare me to someone and tell Me whom I am like.” They respond by describing him as an angel, a philosopher and as an indescribable personage.(66) In a later passage the disciples refer to Jesus as the consummation of the prophets (42:13 18).

    Jesus is said to have partially answered his own question on several occasions. He describes himself as the Son of Man (47:34 48:4), which is also the name most commonly reported in the Gospels. On other occasions he speaks of himself in more lofty terms. To Salome, Jesus states “I am He who existed from the Undivided. I was given some of the things of My father.”(67) Elsewhere he speaks of himself as the Son in The Gospel of Thomas.(68) In another instance Jesus speaks in more specifically gnostic terminology:

    Jesus said, “It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there.(69)
    In these passages which concern the identity of Jesus, we are told (1) that Jesus asked his disciples for their view. (2) Their responses were varied, with the comparison of Jesus to a philosopher being especially reminiscent of the references by Lucian and Mara Bar Serapion. Jesus then identified himself as (3) the Son of Man, (4) the Son of His Father and (5) as the All of the Universe.

    The Gospel of Thomas also records a parable concerning the death of Jesus (45:1 16) and relates his subsequent exaltation (45:17 19). Again, Jesus is identified as “living” or as the “Living One,” a reference to his post resurrection life (see Rev. 1:17 18).(70) These references relate (6) the death of Jesus and (7) his exaltation as a result of his resurrection from the dead.

    The foregoing references in The Gospel of Thomas require further comment. Initially, they often appear to be dependent on gospel testimony, especially in the question of Jesus’ identity and in the parable of the vineyard. Additionally, the overly obvious gnostic tendencies, such as those found in the identification of Jesus with the “Undivided” and with the “All,” including monistic tendencies, certainly cast doubt on the reliability of these reports.(71)

    The Treatise On Resurrection. This book is addressed to an individual named Rheginos by an unknown author. Some have postulated that Valentinus is the author, but most scholars object to this hypothesis. The ideas are somewhat Valentinian, which could point to the presence of earlier ideas, but it is probably better to date the work itself from the late second century A.D.(72)

    For the author of The Treatise of the Resurrection, Jesus became a human being but was still divine: {From the typesetter: is it “Treatise on” or “Treatise of the”?—Consistency!}

    The Lord . . . existed in flesh and . . . revealed himself as Son of God . . . Now the Son of God, Rheginos, was Son of Man. He embraced them both, possessing the humanity and the divinity, so that on the one hand he might vanquish death through his being Son of God, and that on the other through the Son of Man the restoration to the Pleroma might occur; because he was originally from above, a seed of the Truth, before this structure (of the cosmos) had come into being.(73)
    In this passage we find much gnostic terminology in addition to the teachings (1) that Jesus became flesh as the Son of Man in spite of (2) his true divinity as the Son of God who conquers death.

    So Jesus came to this world in the flesh of a man, died and rose again:

    For we have known the Son of Man, and we have believed that he rose from among the dead. This is he of whom we say, “He became the destruction of death, as he is a great one in whom they believe.” Great are those who believe.(74)
    In less esoteric language we are told (3) that Jesus died, (4) rose again and (5) thereby destroyed death for those who believe in him.
    We are told of Jesus’ resurrection in other passages as well:

    The Savior swallowed up death. . . . He transformed [himself] into an imperishable Aeon and raised himself up, having swallowed the visible by the invisible, and he gave us the way of our immortality.(75)
    Do not think the resurrection is an illusion. It is no illusion, but it is truth. Indeed, it is more fitting to say that the world is an illusion, rather than the resurrection which has come into being through our Lord the Savior, Jesus Christ.(76)
    These two quotations even present an interesting contrast on the subject of Jesus’ death and resurrection. While the first statement is mixed with gnostic terminology, the second assures believers that the resurrection was not an illusion, which reminds us of some gnostic tendencies to deny the actual, physical death of Christ.(77)

    Since Jesus has been raised the author counseled Rheginos that “already you have the resurrection . . . why not consider yourself as risen and (already) brought to this?” Thus he is encouraged not to “continue as if you are to die.”(78) The resurrection of Jesus thereby provides practical considerations in causing the believer to realize that he already has eternal life presently and should not live in fear of death. This teaching is similar to that of the New Testament (Col. 3:1 4; Heb. 2:14 15) and gives added significance to Lucian’s report of Christians who believed that they are immortal and thus unafraid of death.

    Once again, these previous four sources are theologically oriented, freely incorporating many gnostic tendencies, in addition to being generally later than most of our other sources. While these two qualifications do not necessitate unreliable reporting of historical facts about Jesus, we are to be cautious in our use of this data.

    Other Lost Works

    Acts of Pontius Pilate. The contents of this purportedly lost document are reported by both Justin Martyr (ca. 150 A.D.) and Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.). Both agree that it was an official document of Rome. Two types of archives were kept in ancient Rome. the Acta senatus were composed of minutes of the senatorial meetings. These contained no discussions of Christ or Christianity as far as is known. The Commentarii principis were composed of the correspondence sent to the emperors from various parts of the empire. Any report from Pilate to Tiberius would belong to this second group.(79)

    Justin Martyr reported around 150 A.D. in his First Apology that the details of Jesus’ crucifixion could be validated from Pilate’s report”

    And the expression, “They pierced my hands and my feet,” was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed in His hands and feet. And after he was crucified, they cast lots upon his vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen you can ascertain the “Acts” of Pontius Pilate.(80) {Capitalization or not of He/Him/His needs to be consistent throughout quote}
    Later in the same work Justin lists several healing miracles and asserts, “And that He did those things, you can learn from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.”(81)

    Justin Martyr relates several facts, believing them to be contained in Pilate’s report. The chief concern is apparently Jesus’ crucifixion, with details such as (1) his hands and feet being nailed to the cross and (2) the soldiers gambling for his garments. But it is also asserted (3) that several of Jesus’ miracles were also included in Pilate’s report.
    Tertullian even reports that Tiberius acted on the report:

    Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favour of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all accusers of the Christians.(82)
    Tertullian’s account claims (4) that Tiberius actually brought details of Christ’s life before the Roman Senate, apparently for a vote of approval. The Senate then reportedly spurned Tiberius’ own vote of approval, which engendered a warning from the emperor not to attempt actions against Christians. As noted by Bruce, this incident, which Tertullian apparently accepts as accurate, is quite an improbable occurrence. It is difficult to accept such an account when the work reporting it is about 170 years later than the event, with seemingly no good intervening sources for such acceptance.(83)

    It should be noted that the Acts of Pilate referred to here should not be confused with later fabrications by the same name, which may certainly have been written to take the place of these records which were believed to exist.

    There may well have been an original report sent from Pilate to Tiberius, containing some details of Jesus’ crucifixion. In spite of this, it is questionable if Justin Martyr and Tertullian knew what any possible report contained. Although the early Christian writers had reason to believe such a document existed, evidence such as that found in the reference to Thallus is missing here. In particular, there are no known fragments of the Acts of Pilate or any evidence that it was specifically quoted by another writer. Additionally, it is entirely possible that what Justin thought original was actually a concurrent apocryphal gospel.(84) At any rate, we cannot be positive as to this purported imperial document. Like the gnostic sources, we therefore are cautious in our use of this source.

    Phlegon. The last reference to be discussed in this chapter is that of Phlegon, whom Anderson describes as “a freedmen of the Emperor Hadrian who was born about A.D. 80.”(85) Phlegon’s work is no longer in existence and we depend on others for our information.
    Origen records the following:

    Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.(86)
    So Phlegon mentioned that Jesus made predictions about future events that had been fulfilled.

    Origen adds another comment about Phlegon:

    And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles.(87)
    Julius Africanus agrees on the last reference to Phlegon, adding a bit more information: “Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth to the ninth hour.”(88)

    Origen provides one other reference, this time actually quoting Phlegon on the subject of the resurrection: “Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.”(89)

    From Phlegon we therefore learn the following items: (1) Jesus accurately predicted the future. (2) There was an eclipse at the crucifixion from the sixth to the ninth hours, (3) followed by earthquakes, (4) all during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. (4) After his resurrection, Jesus appeared and showed his wounds, especially the nail marks from his crucifixion.

    Synopsis: Jesus and Ancient Christianity

    When the combined evidence from ancient sources is summarized, quite an impressive amount of information is gathered concerning Jesus and ancient Christianity. It is our purpose in this section to make a brief composite picture of the historical data. We have investigated a total of seventeen sources that present valuable material with regard to the historical Jesus and early Christianity. As noted above, not all of these records are equally good documents, but even minus the questionable sources, this early evidence is still very impressive.(90) Few ancient historical figures can boast the same amount of material.

    The Life and Person of Jesus. According to the sources which we have investigated above, the ministry of Jesus, the brother of James (Josephus), was geographically centered in Palestine (Tacitus, Lucian, Acts of Pilate). Jesus was known as a wise, virtuous and ethical man (Josephus, Mara Ben Serapion), who was reported to have both performed miracles (Acts of Pilate) and made prophecies which were later fulfilled (Phlegon, cf. Josephus). A result of his ministry was that he had many disciples, from both the Jews and the Gentiles (Josephus, Talmud).

    Of the sources which we studied, the gnostic works, in particular, comment on the person of Jesus. They relate that on one occasion he asked his disciples who they thought he was (Gospel of Thomas). Although there were varied answers to this question, these works agree that Jesus was both God and man. While he was a flesh and blood person (Gospel of Truth, Treatise on Resurrection), as indicated by the title “Son of Man” (Gospel of Thomas), he is also said to be the Son of God (Treatise on Resurrection, Gospel of Truth, Gospel of Thomas), the Word (Gospel of Truth) and the “All” (Gospel of Thomas).

    As pointed out earlier these gnostic works are somewhat questionable sources for the historical Jesus because of their late and theological character. However, some secular sources for the historical Jesus report similar beliefs. They assert that Jesus was worshiped as deity (Pliny, Lucian), and that some believed he was the Messiah (Josephus) and even call him “King” (Mara Bar Serapion). At least these beliefs on the part of certain persons are a matter of historical record.

    The Teachings of Jesus. An interesting tendency among some ancient authors was to view Jesus as a philosopher with some distinctive teachings (Lucian, Mara Bar Serapion, cf. Gospel of Thomas). Lucian lists some of Jesus’ teachings as the need for conversion, the importance of faith and obedience, the brotherhood of all believers, the requirements of abandoning the gods of other systems of belief and the worship of himself, which was either taught or at least the result of his teaching. It might also be inferred that the Christian belief in immortality and lack of fear of death reported by Lucian is also due to Jesus’ teaching.

    Pliny’s report that believers took oaths not to commit unrighteousness is probably due to Jesus’ warnings against sin. The Gospel of Truth adds that Jesus taught his listeners about his Father and that Jesus realized that his death was the means of life for many.

    The Death of Jesus. The Jewish leaders judged that Jesus was guilty of teaching spiritual apostasy, thereby leading Israel astray (Talmud, cf. Apocryphon of John). So the Jews sent a herald proclaiming that Jesus would be stoned for his false teaching and invited anyone who wished to defend him to do so. But none came forth to support him (Talmud).

    After suffering persecution (Gospel of Truth) and as a result of his teachings (Lucian), Jesus was put to death (Gospel of Thomas, Treatise on Resurrection). He died at the hands of Roman procurator Pontius Pilate (Tacitus), who crucified him (Josephus, Talmud, Lucian, Gospel of Truth, Acts of Pilate) during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (Tacitus, Phlegon).

    Even some details of the crucifixion are provided. The event occurred on Passover Eve (Talmud) and included being nailed to a cross (Phlegon, Gospel of Truth, Acts of Pilate, cf. Tacitus), after which the executioners gambled for his garments (Acts of Pilate). There were signs in nature, too, as darkness covered the land for three hours due to an eclipse of the sun (Thallus, Phlegon), and great earthquakes occurred (Phlegon). One writer (Mara Bar Serapion) asserted that Jesus was executed unjustly and that the Jews were judged accordingly by God.

    The Resurrection of Jesus. After Jesus’ death it is recorded that his teachings broke out again in Judea (Tacitus, cf. Suetonius, Pliny). What was the cause for this new activity and spread of Jesus’ teachings after his death? Could Jesus have been raised from the dead? Various answers are mentioned. Mara Bar Serapion, for example, points out that Jesus’ teachings lived on in his disciples.

    According to the Toledoth Jesu, the disciples were going to steal the body, so Juda the gardener reburied it and later sold the body of Jesus to the Jewish leaders, who dragged it down the streets of Jerusalem. Justin Martyr and Tertullian object, asserting that the Jews sent trained men around the Mediterranean region in order to say that the disciples stole the body. The earliest of the sources, Matt. 28:11 15, claims that after Jesus was raised from the dead, the Jewish leaders bribed the guards in order to have them say that the disciples stole the body, even though they did not.

    But we are also told that Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to his followers afterwards. Josephus seems to record the disciples’ belief in the resurrection of Jesus, noting that these witnesses claimed to have seen Jesus alive three days after his crucifixion. Phlegon said that Jesus appeared and showed the marks of the nail prints in his hands, and perhaps other wounds, as well.

    The resurrection of Jesus is defended especially by The Treatise on Resurrection, but also proclaimed by The Gospel of Truth and The Gospel of Thomas. Afterward, Jesus was exalted (Apocryphon of John, Gospel of Thomas).

    Christian Teachings and Worship. Christians were named after their founder, Christ (Tacitus), whose teachings they followed (Lucian). Believers were of all classes, ages, localities and of both sexes, forming a cross section of society (Pliny). For Christians, Jesus’ death procured salvation (Gospel of Truth) for those who exercised faith in his teachings (Lucian). As a result, Christians believed in their own immortality and scorned death (Lucian), realizing that eternal life was a present possession (Treatise on Resurrection).

    Additionally, Lucian relates several other Christian teachings. Believers had sacred writings which were frequently read. They practiced their faith by denying material goods and by holding common property. They went to any extent to help with matters pertaining to their community. However, Lucian does complain that Christians were gullible enough to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous persons.

    Pliny relates that believers met in a pre dawn service on a certain day (probably Sunday). There they sang verses of a hymn , worshiped Christ as deity and made oaths against committing sin. Then they would disband, only to reassemble in order to share food together, which is very probably a reference to the love feast and Lord’s supper. Pliny also makes reference to the existence of positions in the early church when he mentions two female deaconesses.

    The Spread of Christianity and Persecution. After the death of Jesus and the reported resurrection appearances, the disciples did not abandon the teachings which they had learned from him (Josephus). By the middle of the first century, Christian doctrine, and the crucifixion of Jesus in particular, had spread around the Mediterranean. In fact, skeptics were already offering rationalistic explanations for supernatural claims only some twenty years after Jesus’ death (Thallus).

    More specifically, Christian teachings had reached Rome by 49 A.D., less than twenty years after the death of Jesus, when Claudius expelled Jews from the city because of what was thought to be the influence of Jesus’ teachings (Suetonius). By the time of Nero’s reign (54 68 A.D.), Christians were still living in Rome (Tacitus, Suetonius). We are also told that Christians were present during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Tacitus).

    The spread of Christianity unfortunately involved persecution fairly early in its history. Sometimes it was tempered by a certain amount of fairness, but it was real and serious for many early believers, nonetheless. The Talmud relates an occasion when five of Jesus’ disciples were judged to be worthy of death. Tacitus provides much greater detail. After the great fire at Rome, Nero blamed the occurrence on Christians, who are described as a group of people who were hated by the Roman populace. As a result, many believers were arrested, convicted, mocked and finally tortured to death. Being nailed to crosses and being burnt to death are two methods which are specifically mentioned. Such treatment evoked compassion from the people, and Tacitus

  20. 38 Calvin and Luther Can Kick Your Atheist Behind.
    May 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    And lastly, Jim, because Kage will get testy if I keep this up, (maybe I should say testier), this is an article on miracles by the brilliant (and no longer living) Greg Bahnsen:

    http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa165.htm

  21. 39 Calvin and Luther Can Kick Your Atheist Behind.
    May 22, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    /Users/kboehne/Desktop/Bible and Archaeology-1.pdf

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, I love history and this is a link to archaeological discoveries relating to scripture.

    • 40 Hey, Calvin
      May 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      Does it make you feel smart to paste long passages into blogs? If I were Kaje, I’d remove your drivel. Read some Hitchens or Ehrman or Fitzgerald or Carrier.

      • 41 Calvin and Luther Can Kick Your Atheist Behind.
        May 23, 2011 at 1:15 am

        It isn’t logical to believe that the universe and all of it’s order happened by accident. Life can’t come from non-life. You can’t get something from nothing without a Creator.

        Logic reflects who God is. A worldview that doesn’t include a Creator can’t account for logic, reasoning or anything else. Atheist can use these things, only because God allows them to, but they cannot account for them.

        And you asked if cutting and pasting these things makes me feel smart – reading and studying these articles affirms my belief in God and the Christian faith and makes my faith stronger every single day. There is abundant proof for the Christian God.

  22. May 23, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Calvin and Luthor,

    You appear to be a practiced apologist for Christianity. I commend you for making the considerable effort you have in researching the matter.

    In addition to reading your comment I also read Dr. Bahnsen’s treatise at your link, and have thought about it all, comparing it with my own life experience and my early experiences in Christian churches. I do not want you to think I do not take this seriously, to respond to so much information so soon, but I am old and the information is largely not new to me. I am not persuaded by it.

    There is no doubt that a wise man named Jesus lived, preached and was crucified. And I must say, Christianity is a good religion. Like many others it espouses the Golden Rule, which is a fine formula for getting us all to live together in peace. But the bible contains many contradictions and even Christ’s philosophy gives me some problems. For example, the admonition to turn the other cheek when assailed physically, or to love my enemies. I frankly can not imagine loving Osama bin Laden for example, nor not coming to my wife’s rescue if she were being raped.

    But, the evidence for miracles and the resurrection is hearsay evidence and would be rejected by any court (for good reason), even if it were fresh and not based on oral compilations decades after the events before being written down and edited by committees. For me to assume this stance, of course, would be considered by Dr. Bahnsen “arrogant”, a term he uses several times for unbelievers. But to me it is not arrogance at all, but simple skepticism. I find it interesting that Christianity demands belief as an a priori condition for its members. A quote from Robert Bolton some 400 years ago is pertinent to this. He said,

    “A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses. It is an idea that possesses the mind.”

    In other words, if belief precedes reason, then it is belief that controls you, and not you the belief. That appears to be the case with Christianity, and in my opinion it is what just happened to poor old Harold Camping and his flock. And it doesn’t help the case for rationality that the carrot for believing is eternal life and the stick for not believing is eternal torture.

    I have never seen a miracle, an event that could not be explained in a rational way, so why should I believe hearsay accounts of such things? The Catholic Church is currently grooming the former pope, John, for sainthood and is looking for miracles to justify it, two being required. They say they have the first in hand now, the regression of cancer in a woman. But such things can be a function of a varying immune system. I am like Saint Thomas, a skeptic. Unlike Thomas, I ask for the evidence only to be denied it. I have corresponded with a Catholic priest on the subject – he believes that Thomas went to heaven despite his doubts. Lucky fellow. Why am I not afforded the same opportunity?

    Do you believe in an active, loving God? A God who listens to and answers prayers? A God so great that He sees and cares about the fall of every sparrow? Go to the Google search engine and enter ” children mudslides dead “. I did that, hoping to recall what I read earlier today about some 20 children killed by mudslides in Indonesia. The search engine, as you will see, indicates that it has happened numerous times all over the world in just the last decade. If God controls events or answers prayers, then try to imagine any excuse whatsoever why He would allow the tragic deaths of innocents like this. There is no good answer for this, just as there is no good answer for why God would sacrifice His son in a primitive block of time, and having done so do such a poor job of recording and publicizing it. And what about all the people born before the time of Christ? Did a perfect God mess up and then try to rectify his mistake?

    It is innate in human beings to be superstitious. That is a function of our self-awareness, something in the animal kingdom in which we excel. I blogged about it, and the question of first causes, recently at this link:

    http://jwheeler59.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/curiouser-and-curiouser/

    I don’t hate Christians and I have no desire even to damage their faith. I like Christians (except for the pedophiles and other crooks). If Christianity didn’t exist I think it would be necessary to invent it, because it is a damper on humanity’s self-destructive tendencies. I just don’t believe it, and there is a part of me, a big part, that really wishes it were true. I’m not looking forward to death – it scares the hell out of me.

    Peace.

    Jim

  23. 43 Calvin and Luther Can Kick Your Atheist Behind.
    May 23, 2011 at 2:31 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful, polite response Jim. I read your blog earlier today and I will check back for new posts. I’m going to go back and read some of your old posts.

    I’m glad that you don’t hate Christians, except for “pedophiles and other crooks”. I don’t hate skeptics, even skeptics who are “pedophiles and other crooks”. (I do hate what they do and hope that they all receive just punishment)

    There does seem to be way too much venom from some who post. You are a breath of fresh air.
    Thanks again.


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