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Author Topic:   Reconstructing the Historical Jesus
caffeine
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Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


(1)
Message 162 of 560 (617138)
05-26-2011 4:47 AM
Reply to: Message 155 by crashfrog
05-24-2011 4:30 PM


Execution records
crashfrog writes:

But the Romans did keep execution records. The Romans were the pre-eminent record-keeping civilization of the age.

Jon, how do you think you would be able to rule an empire that stretched from Britain to the Middle East without substantial record-keeping? Implying that the Romans didn't keep records is what is ridiculous.

For this to be relevant, though, there have to be some surviving records of executions in first century Judaea. As far as I can find out, there are no surviving official records of any sort. So of course Jesus' isn't among them.

ABE: I started writing a completely different post, but having thought a bit have reconsidered.

'Jesus didn't exist' isn't really an explanation, it's a conclusion. The idea is to explain who or what it was the early Christians were talking about, and whether a mythical character makes more sense than a historical figure. Most agree that Judaea at the time was a hotbed of messianic activity, with regular revolts against Roman rule by various zealots and would-be Messiahs. For many of the these (eg. Simon of Peraea, Athronges, Judas of Galilee, Theudas) there is no evidence outside of Josephus, and for the later ones the Acts of the Apostles. None of the other writers knocking about in the first century whose works have come down to us bothered to mention any of them. This doesn't really lead us to conclude that none of them existed though, just that one more 'Messiah' rebel in Judaea clearly wasn't of that much significance.

The same applies to Jesus - he only became somebody of wider significance long after his death, after the message of his cult had appealed to all manner of gentiles and become a widespread religion. It seems more parsimonious to assume a real executed Jewish rebel, from a time and place in which executed Jewish rebels were commonplace, than it does to suppose a mythical character later redacted into a real man.

Now, this isn't to offer any support for the specific stories of the Gospels, as many are clearly inventions from various sources. But before you start protesting that we're back to 'a Jesus who didn't do this and that', the thread isn't called 'Is Chrisitanity True', but 'Reconstructing the Historical Jesus'. Obviously I don't believe in the myths about Jesus, not being Christian, but it's an interested topic what, if anything, these myths are originally based on.

Edited by caffeine, : No reason given.


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caffeine
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Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 164 of 560 (617157)
05-26-2011 10:09 AM
Reply to: Message 163 by Theodoric
05-26-2011 8:56 AM


Re: Execution records
Theodoric writes:

So the historical Jesus was as much historical as Robin Hood and William Tell?

How can we equate any of these 'messiah' rebels with Jesus of the Bible, if nothing in the bible actually happened? The "historical Jesus" wasn't named Jesus, didn't do miracles, wasn't the king of the Jews, wasn't crucified by the Romans, and didn't rise from the dead? That would make him not Jesus wouldn't it.

I wasn't suggesting to equate any of these rebels with Jesus. I was pointing out that Jewish rebels were a common thing in first-century Palestine, and none of them seem to have been mentioned by people like Philo, Seneca or Plutarch - so the fact that they didn't mention Jesus either isn't really relevant to the question of his historicity.

Jesus is much better supported historically that either Robin Hood or William Tell.

For Jesus, we have the Epistles and Gospels of the early Christian communities, many composed within a century of his death, which certainly profess to be about a real historical figure. For Robin Hood we have no idea when his death is supposed to be. The earliest mentions of him are in court documents which use the term 'Robin Hood' as a general pejorative for criminal types - the earliest mentions of him in any detail are much later, in stories presented as fiction. I know less about William Tell, but it seems the first documentary evidence of him was written about a century and a half after he was supposedly knocking about.

I'm not sure why you include 'wasn't named Jesus' and 'wasn't executed by the Romans' in your list of things that the historical Jesus wasn't. If there was a historical Jesus, then he probably was named Jesus and probably was executed by the Romans - as happened to the other would-be Messiahs of the time. As for the rest, is the historical Buddha not Buddha if he didn't do miracles, didn't really acheive enlightenment under a pipa tree, and didn't proclaim his own birth beneath a rain of heavenly water?


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caffeine
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Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 232 of 560 (617768)
05-31-2011 8:54 AM
Reply to: Message 229 by crashfrog
05-30-2011 7:49 PM


Names and Roman Records

What was shown is that everybody agrees that the historic Jesus Christ wouldn't be called "Jesus Christ", because that's a combination of a Greek translation of a Hebrew name, plus a title. You've said that, Mod said that, a couple people have popped in here to tell me it again. Everybody agrees that the historic Jesus Christ wasn't called "Jesus Christ."

I've never asserted otherwise and I'm not "ignorant" of anything. When I characterize the "historic Jesus Christ" as someone who wasn't named Jesus Christ, that's a completely accurate way to portray the "historic Jesus Christ" position.

But it would also be accurate to say that Confucius wasn't called Confucius, Mencius wasn't called Mencius, Ghengis Khan wasn't called Ghengis Khan, Charles IV wasn't called Charles IV, Charlemagne wasn't called Charlemagne, Zoroaster wasn't called Zoroaster, Tamerlane wasn't called Tamerlane etc. etc. etc. All these facts are true, but aren't in any way relevant to a discussion of the historicity of these people.

crashfrog writes:

Well, we do have Judean records, if not execution records. And you deny that there was any execution-specific purge of Roman records.

Are you sure about the records? I've been doing my best to find anything about surviving administrative records of Roman Judaea, and have come up with nothing. Our source information at the time is primarily the gospels, Josephus, Philo and the writings of a few Roman authors. And this is a good deal of surviving information, when compared to the Empire as a whole.

When people write lists of Roman governers or recount the history of some events in the early Empire, they draw on the writings of ancient historians and other writers that have been copied down through the years, not on some sort of offical government documentation. These sorts of records simply don't exist, as far as I can tell. Show me where I should be looking, if I'm wrong.

Edited by caffeine, : Accidentally included a lot of extra text from the quoted post


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caffeine
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Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


(2)
Message 276 of 560 (618052)
06-01-2011 6:42 AM
Reply to: Message 238 by crashfrog
05-31-2011 11:57 AM


Re: Names and Roman Records
crashfrog writes:

Well, no, none of this is accurate. Confucious was called Confucious, that just wasn't his name. Ghengis Khan was called Ghengis Khan. Charles IV was called Charles IV and when he became king that was his name. (Just like Prince William's name actually is "Prince William", and when he goes by "William Wales" or "William Mountbatten-Windsor to sound like a normal person, that's actually an alias.)

All of those people were called by those names either during their lives or in the period immediately following their deaths, so it's 100% inaccurate to say that they were not. But the proponents of the "historical Jesus" propose an individual who was not referred to as Jesus Christ until many centuries after his supposed existence.

Later in the thread you conceded Confucius, but argued I was still 80% wrong. Let's see

Mencius is a Latinisation of a Chinese name too, and the first knowledge about him in Europe was bought by the same Christian missionaries as brought knowledge of Confucius - again, this is a name first used well over a thousand years after the death of its bearer.

The exact provenance of 'Ghengis Khan' seems unclear, but it's a later, European version of his name, possibly via a Persian transliteration. The original Mongol name should probably have begun with a 'ch' sound, and there is no harsh 'k' in the 'Khan' title.

Charlemagne is a later Gallicisation of the Latin 'Carolus Magnus' - Charles the Great or Charles the Strong. I'm unsure whether he attained this title in life, or only later, but they weren't calling him 'Charlemagne' in the 8th century.

Charles IV would have been known by a variety of names by his subjects and contemporaries, including 'Karel', 'Karl' and 'Carolus' (or similar - what I know of central European medieval languages could be written on a postage stamp). He certainly wouldn't have been known by the modern English 'Charles'.

'Zoroaster' is a Hellinised version of an old Persian name, dating to about 1,000 years after he was believed to have lived.

Tamerlane would have been known as Timūr Gurkānī when ruler of his empire, but Persian sources often refer to him as Tīmūr-e Lang, meaning 'Timur the Lame'. This was later changed to 'Tamerlane; by Europeans who heard of him via the Persian accounts - not sure exactly when, but I don't think it was during his lifetime.

Jesus Christ, if he existed, was called Jesus Christ within decades of his death at the latest, not centuries. We keep talking about this to make it clear that the names given to most historical figures are not what they would have been known as to people in their day. Names are translated, transliterated, misunderstood, and adorned with posthumous titles and regnal numbers all the time.

So then there's even less evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ than I thought!

How can you guys not be getting this? A lack of evidence lends support to my position, not to yours. If the only way there's "evidence" for the existence of Jesus is to turn the normal rules of evidence on their heads, then there's no evidence for Jesus Christ. After all, by that basis there's the same amount of evidence that "Life of Brian" was a documentary. Who says there can't have been a Jewish Cynic who was executed by the Romans after he was briefly captured by aliens?

The point is that this sort of evidence doesn't exist for historical figures from this period in general. Are we then to decide that the best hypothesis is that almost nobody existed in 1st century Judaea at all, since few are supported outside of the Bible and Josephus? This seems a strange way of building a historical picture, and not at all consistent with how historians (or you, I would expect) approach any other historical figure.

You seem very confused about this. Nobody is arguing for any purge. No purge is required to explain the absence of any records. It's just a fact that there are no official records of any kind because these things are perishable, and are not carefully preserved as works of literature or religious significance are. We have to build our picture of the past as best we can knowing that there will be no official records of anything at all.

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

Elsewhere in the thread you claimed that religions based around a real figure rapidly solidify and stop spreading shortly after the death of their founder, using the example of Scientology. I don't know too much about the history of Scientology, but this doesn't bear up when examining other religions. Assuming you accept the historicity of Buddha, the first split in his followers was druing his lifetime, and within a short period of his death Buddhism had fragmented into dozens of sects. Islam schismed immediately upon the death of Mohammed over disagreements about his successor. Both religions continued to expand rapidly.

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

Regarding Messiahship and Jon's argument: I'm not sure if I agree with Jon entirely, but I wanted to explain his argument because I think you've missed the point.

There were several Jews knocking about before the destruction of the temple who claimed to be Messiahs (at least according to Josephus, who is the source of most of our documentary knowledge about this time and place). Jon's position is that Jesus was likely one of these. His followers, like the followers of the other Messiahs, would have expected him to bring about a new Messianic age and restore the glory of Israel. However, like all the other Messiahs, he failed and was executed by the Romans. His followers, having seen their predictions fail, needed to come up with a post-hoc explanation for this, and create the new idea of the resurrection, the second coming and the impending kingdom of God, a theology which, whilst it gained little traction with the Jews, proved popular amongst Gentiles and spread rapidly.

Jon's point is that the story of a Messiah who died before achieving much is unlikely to have been invented by Jews, since it's contrary to the traditional Jewish view of the Messiah. If Christianity was created by spreading the views of an obscure Jewish sect to gentiles where they found a happy reception, then we wonder why the Jews invented a Messiah that wasn't a Messiah. It makes more sense, on this view, that their Messiah was originally supposed to be one, but actual reality got in the way and he was killed. If Christianity was not really based on the teachings of an obscure Jewish sect, then we're left trying to explain why it pretends to be. Why make Jesus a Jew?

Edited by caffeine, : I forgot about Zoroaster in my list of names.

Edited by caffeine, : Edit2: And I also forgot Ghengis Khan, it appears!


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caffeine
Member
Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


(1)
Message 283 of 560 (618408)
06-03-2011 9:18 AM
Reply to: Message 282 by PaulK
06-03-2011 8:42 AM


Re: Josephus
To clarify, this is the Testimonium Flavianum:

quote:
3. Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, 9 those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; 10 as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

and this, three paragraphs later, is the portion quoted by ramoss:

quote:
1. But the nation of the Samaritans did not escape without tumults. The man who excited them to it was one who thought lying a thing of little consequence, and who contrived every thing so that the multitude might be pleased; so he bid them to get together upon Mount Gerizzim, which is by them looked upon as the most holy of all mountains, and assured them, that when they were come thither, he would show them those sacred vessels which were laid under that place, because Moses put them there 12 So they came thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable; and as they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got the rest together to them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great multitude together; but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon file roads with a great band of horsemen and foot-men, who fell upon those that were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action, some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took a great many alive, the principal of which, and also the most potent of those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain.

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caffeine
Member
Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 310 of 560 (620513)
06-17-2011 11:42 AM
Reply to: Message 288 by crashfrog
06-16-2011 11:21 PM


Why Jesus Malverde and John Frum
Why was John Frum invented? It's easy to work this out, since we know exactly where it happened - in Vanuatu in the late 1930s. Amongst a people whose traditional culture was being suppressed by British colonialism and European missionaries, stories grew of a hero who would throw the oppressors off the island, and who told everyone to abandon European ways and keep with traditional customs. The story was spread by traditional leaders. So, we have people losing their power over society making up stories which support their position, and people under colonial oppression embracing a source of cultural pride against their occupiers. This is an alternative explanation to an actual John Frum going around saying these things. Note that it contains more than 'people made things up'.

Why Jesus Malverde? For starters, I'd say his genuine existence is more likely than John Frum's. The basics of the story aren't particularly outlandish - we can't just assume that he's a myth because we lack docmentary evidence. If there isn't a Malverde, then his invention as an urban myth makes sense. We're talking a time just before the Revolution, in a very unequal society that had always been very stratified in class (and continued to be, even after the Revolution), with corrupt security services. A story of a heroic bandit being brutally killed by the corrupt army would find easy traction in such a society. Note that nobody ever claimed Malverde was a Messiah or in any mystical - he simply got co-opted into Mexico's syncretic Catholicism, already rich with scores of local saints and traditions condemned by the Vatican as pagan or heretical.

These are alternative explanations to the historicity of the characters behind them. 'He was made up' isn't. An attempt to give a similar explanation to the Jesus story, to me at least, would probably rest around people creating new myths to explain the fact that the messianic age never came before the Temple was destroyed - the earliest Gospel, Mark, may well have been written shortly after the Temple's destruction. The problem with this is that Paul's letters suggest belief in an executed and ressurrected Messiah who would come back soon already existed before the Temple was destroyed. This is the argument me and Jon were getting at before. Why did the Christians have their Messiah being executed and ressurected? Why not just a Messiah yet to come. Unless, of course, they'd already pinned their hopes on a genuine person who was executed before bringing about any Messianic Age?


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caffeine
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Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 311 of 560 (620514)
06-17-2011 11:51 AM
Reply to: Message 308 by Jazzns
06-17-2011 11:11 AM


Re: Lots of dead messiahs?
I am curious, where did you get this information?

I am not saying you are wrong, just that I have never head this before. Do you have some reference about how common 'Messiahs' where and that they were "almost all" executed by the Romans?

It's mostly from Josephus. He lists a few different would-be Messiahs who got executed by the Romans.


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caffeine
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Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 395 of 560 (620694)
06-20-2011 7:40 AM
Reply to: Message 386 by crashfrog
06-19-2011 11:34 PM


Re: Christianity without Jesus
By which of course you mean "scholars who believe in the existence of a historical Jesus Christ." For real scholars who follow evidence there's evidence, apparently, for an authorship of Mark at least as early as 50 AD.

Funnily enough, the only people I can find claiming that Mark is so early are Christians, since this way they can argue that the author is more likely to have met Jesus and that the prophecy of the Temple's destruction was written down before the Temple was destroyed. From the fact that the Mark 13 appears to be about the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple, secular scholars pretty much universally date it in the 70s or 80s.

You also claimed upthread that 1 Thessalonians mentions Luke, so must postdate it. This simply isn't true. There are bits of 1 Thessalonians which people argue must be later additions, since they sound more like Luke than Paul, but Paul certainly never mentions Luke.

In your efforts to make Paul dependent on the gospels, you're making the gospels more contemporaneous with the events they describe, and attributing to the authors the powers of prophecy (or at least great foresight!).


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caffeine
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Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 448 of 560 (620825)
06-21-2011 9:24 AM
Reply to: Message 441 by Modulous
06-20-2011 6:02 PM


The founders of the world's religions
Maybe we could compare.

Christianity - under dispute in this thread
Islam - Mohammed, consensus is he is a historical figure.
Buddhusm - Siddhartha Gautama, believed to be historical
Hinduism - no claimed founder
Judaism - claimed founder, the consensus of which is thought to be a fictional construct.

Any others?

I wrote the following whilst going through the mass of posts that seem to appear on this thread every night. As a brief aside, maybe there would be less accusations of lying and idiocy being thrown around if more time was spent thinking and less posting.

Religions' founders (the religions are taken from Wikipedia's list of largest religions by number of adherents)

Christianity - Currently up for dispute
Islam - Mohammed is generally accepted as historical
Hinduism - origins lost to the mists of time -no idea
Buddhism - The Buddha is generally considered a historical figure
Taosim - Dao is generally considered a historical figure
Confucianism - Confucius is generally considered a historical figure
Shintoism - no known real or mythical founder - a religion that grew out of tribal myths
Sikhism - founded by Nanek Dev Ji - certainly historical
Judaism - another ancient one, but if we're counting Moses as the founder then probably mythical
Jainism - controversial. The founder is often argued to be Parshavanatha, whose historicity is disputed. Jains themselves claim an earlier founder, who is almost certainly mythical.
Baha'ism - Founded by the Bab - indisputably historical
Cao Dai - The founders are certainly historical figures
Chendoism - founded by Choe Je-u, a historical figure
Tenrikyo - founded by a real Japanese woman, Oyasama
Wicca - no real founder, but it's popularisers were certainly real people
Church of World Messianity - Founded by a real guy called Mokichi Okada
Seicho-no-le - founded by a real guy called Dr. Tanaguchi
Rastafarianism - founded by a real guy, Marcus Mosaiah Garvey, and claiming that another real guy - Haile Selassie, is God.

Real, historical people far outnumber mythical ones. The only ones we really have with mythical founders are the truly ancient ones, and it's possible these we only consider mythical since so much time has passed that the stories that have grown up around them have less connection to reality.


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caffeine
Member
Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 452 of 560 (620836)
06-21-2011 10:35 AM
Reply to: Message 449 by PaulK
06-21-2011 10:07 AM


Re: The founders of the world's religions
Yes, further reading seems to suggest that Lao-zi should be down as 'disputed, quite probably mythical'. I also got his name wrong.

Regarding Wicca, I had a quick read, and it seemed there were a variety of people behind the religion. Gardner made it internationally popular through his writings, and heavily influenced the way people think about it, but he joined a little witches coven, so he can't really be called the founder. He's more or a Paul than a Jesus.


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caffeine
Member
Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 455 of 560 (620856)
06-21-2011 12:01 PM
Reply to: Message 451 by ScientificBob
06-21-2011 10:27 AM


Re: Christianity without Jesus
But that's exactly the issue at hand. You do NOT have a "single" source. You have NO sources (that are contemporary and independent). You only have baseless claims and anecdotal stuff that is written down at best decades after the facts and for the most part, more then a century after the fact - and written by people that are clearly biased towards the topic as well...

The repeated claim seems to be that Jesus is treated differently from other historical characters, but this isn't true. There are many people whose historicity is widely accepted, despite the total absence of any evidence contemporary with their lives. Nothing that survives was written about Mohammed in his lifetime, nor Confucius. All the early sources on Mohammad are written by Muslims, and all the early sources on Confucius are written by Confucians. I'm not attempting to claim that the historical evidence for these two is less than that for Jesus - I don't know enough about it. It's simply that the insistence on contemporary written accounts is not the standard way we approach questions of historicity, nor does it make much sense for people like these for whom we shouldn't expect it.


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caffeine
Member
Posts: 1799
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


(1)
Message 553 of 560 (622743)
07-06-2011 9:47 AM
Reply to: Message 552 by ScientificBob
07-06-2011 9:24 AM


Re: Summary: Jesus Myther's and Creationists
The comparisons to known fictional characters are silly, because there is a clear difference in the two cases. Fictional books claim to be fictional books. They usually have little disclaimers in the front describing them, and the characters they contain, as fictional. The gospels purport to be historical documents. These are not equivalent.

The thing is, people writing things saying 'X person existed and did this' is the only evidence for most figures in ancient history. If they ruled an empire, or wrote a bunch of books, then we might have more (but not always). Demanding stricter evidence leads us to conclude that most historical figures from the time probably didn't exist, which is a bit silly.

Recognising the limitations of what we can know with confidence about such distant times, and accepting that our conclusions can only be tentative, we have to assess the likelihood of claims that 'x person existed and did x'. Do we have a clear historitcal setting for them, or are they placed in a vague and undefined distant past. Is there evidence that we would expect to have been left by such a figure? Do they fit their time and place? Are there aspects of the story which we wouldn't expect to be made up?

The existence of a character like Jesus can only be framed in such tentative terms, and this is the sort of thing which needs to be discussed to decide whether existence or non-existence is more likely. Repeatedly demanding evidence which shouldn't exist is a waste of everybody's time.


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