Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Arguments for the Historicity of Jesus

Courtesy of Dan:
  1. Very few of the relevant myths predate Christianity, and the common elements between them and Christianity (such as communion, virgin birth, resurrection) have a different significance and/or are cast in a different light.
  2. Because of #1, the parallels are largely apparent with very little true substance, so borrowing and/or influence could not be said to exist.
  3. Currently popular, advanced in "Reinventing Jesus": In cases where the correspondence is legitimate, it is more likely that influence goes the other way, with pagan religions borrowing from Christianity.
  4. alternate argument to #3 advanced by Justin Martyr in the 2nd century: The correspondence is legitimate, and exists because demons read the prophecies about Jesus and tried to discredit him in advance by counterfeiting what he would do so that he wouldn't be believed when he did come.
  5. alternate argument to #3 and #4 advanced by C.S. Lewis: Christianity copies other religions because God saw the yearnings of the human heart working themselves out in the stories men told, and decided to fulfill them in actual fact.
  6. Robert Van Voorst in "Jesus Outside the New Testament" makes an affirmative (rather than defensive) case for historicity. R.T. France does the same in "The Evidence For Jesus." Alastair McGrath has some material on the topic in "The Genesis of Doctrine"
  7. Good historians take historical texts as being generally accurate while attempting to control for bias, and the gospels (particularly Luke) are definitely written as history. In absence of contradictory evidence the gospels should be accepted as generally accurate history.


Blogger Dan Sawyer said...

Clarifications on #6: Well, it's been a while, but basically they discuss Josephus (and conclude that the Testimonium is partially genuine), they discuss Irenaeus and other Patristic sources and extracannonical gospels that contain Jesus traditions that conflict with the gospel accounts, and use these references to argue towards historicity along the lines of "there's too much here for there not have been a historical core around which the traditions could accrete."

I should point out that I think ever single one of these arguments fail either on the merits or on relevance. They're arguments I've most commonly heard advanced by more reputable scholars, and I think that they play as convincing only if you begin with the common-sense assumption that something leaving a huge legacy as Christianity has done must have come from the reaction to a single, powerful personality. It's a bit like deducing the existence of an extra solar planet from the wobble its orbit induces in its parent star. But, like in the case of planets, all you're detecting is SOME kind of nexus, and it's a leap unwarranted by the evidence to go from "there is something that inspired all this" to "the events in the gospels are historical inspired all this." In the absence of contravening evidence, I think historicity is a reasonable hypothesis (if a bit overreaching the evidence) to hold tentatively until the contravening evidence is presented - however, I find the contravening evidence to be of such a character that historicity is rendered unreasonable without beginning from the assumption that Jesus really walked the earth. I personally find the mythicist case convincing, though I don't think it wholly unlikely that there might be an individual lost to history down at the core of it all.

7/12/07, 10:29 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

'and the common elements between them and Christianity (such as communion, virgin birth, resurrection) have a different significance and/or are cast in a different light.'

What are the common elements between John the Baptist and Elijah?

Or between Jonah being 3 days in the fish and Jesus?

Do these common elements have a different significance in the Old and New Testaments and/or are cast in a different light?

Were Christians capable of taking motifs from other stories and casting them in a different light?

8/8/07, 11:20 PM  

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