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THE WHOLE TRUTH
Wayne Everett Orgar
"The Myth of the Historical Jesus" will be the subject of a conference at Stanford University on September 15, 2006. The Committee For the Scientific Examination of Religion is sponsoring the conference. The timing couldn't be better. This morning on the CNN website, an article appeared about the Italian court case that will ask a priest to defend the historicity of Jesus (1). The article offered typical apologetic references to claim that an historical Jesus existed as though there was no doubt. This couldn't be further from the truth. Let's think about the fine line between truth and deception for a moment.
In my professional career, I have appeared in court or deposition as an expert witness. The testimony starts with a typical oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Last year when I was in deposition I initally refused to swear since the words, "so help me god" were added. These words are unnecessary and I had spoken to the defense attorney about insuring that the words were left out to not delay the proceedings. When I sat silently for a few moments and looked at the attorney, the court reporter immediately restated the oath without the god words and without instruction. She knew of my request but was testing my veracity.
With the current emphasis on political spin and public relations marketing, false impressions are more often created by leaving out truth than by saying something that isn't true. Thus, an oath in court requires telling the whole truth. The courts know very well that a false impression can easily be made if one fact is given but the other ten facts remain untold. The whole truth will often weaken or destroy your case. Such is the case with the myth of an historical Jesus.
What were the points supposedly supporting the historicity of Jesus in the CNN article?
"A passage of Josephus' "Jewish Antiquities," completed in A.D. 93, cites the execution in A.D. 62 of "the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James by name."
Righi also cited Pliny the Younger, who in the early second century described a policy of executing Christians who refused to curse Christ, and Tacitus, another writer of the same time who wrote that Jesus was executed by the sentence of Pontius Pilate."
This is pretty sad as the best that can be offered in a short space to defend an historical Jesus. First, we need to remember that close to 60 writers wrote of the important events and persons in the early first century in this region and none mentioned Jesus or the astounding things attributed to him. The references above come from a time period much later. None of these were eyewitness accounts and we know that the Gospels weren't eyewitness accounts either.
Josephus has been analyzed and digested repeatedly. This particular quote is a dubious statement for the Jesus of the New Testament. Scholars have detailed the different versions and interpolations of the writings of Josephus and it takes volumes to really understand the development of this unlikely statement in some of the versions of Josephus (2). There is a valid question about who this James even was. Even with that understanding, Josephus could not really have known if this James had a brother named Jesus. The best he could have done is to repeat a story of other's beliefs about this person in the latter part of the first century. The earlier writings of Josephus curiously make no mention of Jesus or his alleged disturbances despite being closer to the time he would have existed. Really, if this guy Josephus is so important to Christians, why didn't Yahweh cause him to write about Jesus in a complete way and in a manner not so easily subject to scholarly questioning?
The other two references are even worse. With regard to Pliny the Younger, no one is disputing the existence of Christians in the second century. This provides no evidence for a physical Jesus in the early first century. Christianity is based on the Christ, a metaphysical idea, not necessarily a being who was human and on earth. There were many Christs. Pliny did not use the name Jesus and was not an eyewitness.
The statement about Tacitus is equally useless. The complete quote reveals how bogus this all is. He did not use the name Jesus as the CNN article said, he used the term Christus as a founder of the Christian religion. He framed his discussion within the idea that Nero was looking for a scapegoat for the burning of Rome and chose Christians to blame and persecute. Sorry, historians agree that Nero did not burn Rome and wouldn't need a scapegoat. There is no evidence that Nero persecuted Christians. Tacitus was not an eyewitness to the early first century and had no records to claim a crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. He is not a reliable historian. He is either repeating stories or the quote is again a forgery, as many scholars now think. There is more to this story but it is clear that either the theologians that CNN is relying upon are not giving accurate information to CNN or the writer of this story is not telling the whole truth.
This all creates a false impression. I find these attempts very deceptive in that they do not provide all the truth so a reader can develop an informed opinion about the alleged historicity of Jesus.
1. Italy court asks: Did Jesus exist? (http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/01/22/christ.book.ap/index.html). Accessed 1/22/06.
2. The Jesus The Jews Never Knew. Frank Zindler. American Atheist Press, Cranford, NJ. 2003. Pp 31-102.
1. Doherty, Earl. Challenging The Verdict. A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ." Age or Reason Publications: Ottawa, Canada, 2001.
2. Doherty, Earl. The Jesus Puzzle. Canadian Humanist Publications: Ottawa, Canada, 1999.
3. Kurtz, Paul. The Transcendental Temptation. Prometheus Books: Buffalo, NY, 1991.
4. Helms, Randel. Who Wrote the Gospels? Millenium Press: Altadena, CA, 1996.
5. MacDonald, Dennis. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. Yale University Press: New Haven, 2000.
6. Price, Robert M. Deconstructing Jesus. Prometheus Books: Amherst, NY, 2000.
7. S., Acharya. The Christ Conspiracy. The Greatest Story Ever Sold. Adventures Unlmited Press: Kempton, IL, 1999.