Sunday, September 12, 2010

Are the Four Canonical Gospels Fiction? Debate with Doug Shaver


 This is a debate on Theology Web with a worthy atheist opponent, whom I consider to be a friend, Doug Shaver. I think Shaver has one of the more rational approaches I've seen to the allegations of fictional Gospels. He's not saying they are lies, but that they were not an attempt at fraud. The Topic: The Gospel's are fictional. Doug is Affirmative, I am Negative.

Thanks to Metacrock for inviting me to this event and to Kelp and the other TWEB staffers for providing the facilities.
 Meta: I also thank my worthy opponent for consenting to debate and I thank Kelp for setting it up.


By "gospels" I refer particularly to the four canonical writings called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In general my arguments will apply as well to most if not all similar non-canonical writings, such as the gospels attributed to Thomas and Peter, but I'm going to treat them as irrelevant unless they come up in counterarguments. (It will be incidentally relevant, though, that anything I say pertinent to Luke's gospel will usually apply as well to the canonical Acts of the Apostles.)

By "fiction" I mean a nonfactual narrative composed by someone knowing it to be nonfactual and without intending his readers to think otherwise. I thus exclude any kind of fraud or lies. I neither assume nor imply any deceitful intent on the part of any author.

Meta:  I will not defend a position of inerrency, a certain degree of fictional material in the Gospels is not unthinkable to me. I will defend the overall outline of the narrative as historical. I think it's importan to take note of what is important to defend as historical. It's not important that each and every word recorded be proved historical or that each and ever miracle be historical. The general outline of the story consisting who Jesus was, what he taught in general and what the chruch teaches about the meaning of his death.

It makes much more sense to think that the theology of the resurrection was the chruch attempting to explain what happened to its leard, which would only be necessary if it really happened, than to think they made up the incidence of the cross and the empty tomb in order to fit come preconceived theology.

Any attempt to assess the gospel authors' intentions is inseparable from an investigative analysis of the origins of Christianity. The gospels were written during Christianity's formative years and were declared authoritative by certain of the religion's early leaders. What we need to explain is why those leaders considered them authoritative. One possible explanation is that the leaders had good reason to think these documents presented reliable historical information about Christianity's founding. I propose to demonstrate that such an opinion, if they held it, was unsupported by any good evidence and so was probably in error.

Meta: I don't mean any disparagement of my friend Doug, but I do feel that his is an inadequate analysis for the authorship of the Gospel. He seems to be assuming either that the Gospels were considered authoritative when they first appeared, he seems to assume single person authorship, or that the chruch authority structure was already in place and the Gospels accepted immediately upon their publication. These assumptions are wrong: the Gospels were the product of communities. As such there no reason to think they were accept by anyone outside of their respective communities for a long time after they began to circulate outside those communities. Their acceptance took shape gradually and acceptance by chruch leadership, other than the immediate community of origin, had noting to do with their composition.

The conventional thinking in our own time about Christianity's origins, even among secular historians, is what some scholars have called the "big bang" theory. In this scenario, one Jesus of Nazareth, a charismatic Jewish preacher, was executed by Judea's Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, around 30 CE. Soon afterward certain of his disciples, known as apostles, having become convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead, formed a religious sect based on his teachings and claiming that he was the son of God and the fulfillment of Jewish messianic prophecies. The sect's original membership was predominantly Jewish. Shortly after the sect's founding, a Pharisee called Saul of Tarsus was converted and commenced a missionary campaign among gentiles under the new name of Paul. He was successful while the original apostles had little success in converting other Jews. After the First Jewish War, Christianity in effect severed its connection with Judaism while maintaining that it was the legitimate heir to its parent religion. As the sect's founders died off, numerous competing versions of Christianity arose and had to be resisted by adherents of the original apostolic teachings. The dissident sects were eventually suppressed and the apostolic teachings survived as the historic orthodoxy.

One problem is that this account is itself just the historic orthodoxy. We are getting our history from the winners, and the winners, for nearly a thousand years, were the sole custodians of the documentary record. With almost no exceptions, we have no writings from ancient times except those that the church regarded as worth preserving.

Meta: This view is ideological. It's really the ideology of an iconoclastic Jesus myth movement.  I wont speculate as to motives, that is not important. The fact of its' being ideolgoical is important because it is no less the result of a party line than the Orthodoxy they wish to counter. Moreover, what said above about the time line and the authority structure apply here. The Apostles may have been dying by the time we get the final form of the Gospels, the version we know today, but the Gospels were produced by communities not by chruch authorities at large. The not the works of a power structure and not necessarily accepted by them for some time. The battles Doug imagines were fought among he power structure of the chruch had yet to be fought when the Gospels were being composed.

Moreover, the conventional dating methods that place Mark at 70, Mat at 80, Luke 85 and John 95 only apply to the finished product of redaction, the point at which they began to circulate outside their communities. But most scholars now accept Helmutt Koester's idea that textual criticism reveals a much earlier layer of redaction that works form the same material and starts much earlier, within the life time of eye witnesses, during the lives of the Apostles and well before the kind of universal chruch superstructure that the Jesus Myth movement postulates. John Crosson agrees with Koster in placing the Passion narrative from pericopes to empty tomb at mid century, around AD 50. Peter Kirby tells us this view is now consensus.

(The accusations of some skeptics that the church actively sought out and destroyed heterodox writings is both unsupported and unmotivated. The church never needed to destroy those documents as long as no one took the trouble to copy them; time alone would have ensured their eventual disappearance.)

Meta: I commend my worthy opponent on his good sense.

In any case, for any historical investigation we can use no evidence except existing evidence. Hypothetical facts can never prove anything. The only facts we have are that certain manuscripts exist containing writings of a certain nature. They appear to be copies, several times removed, of certain original documents, concerning which the authors of certain other documents claim certain things about their provenance. It is not a fact, but only an inference based on presuppositions about the reliability of those claims, that the gospels' authors intended their works to be biographical sketches about the founder of their religion. It is a dogma originally propounded by some leaders of one particular sect of Christianity that happened by historical accident to become victorious over all other sects.

Meta: That is no the view taken by modern scholarship. Textual criticism is a science. It's a valid proven science and it demonstrates the existence of pre Markan readings, and there is a great deal of that evidence. We certainly can use such evidence to avoid using it is to turn our backs upon a hundred years of scientific progress. How odd that atheists laud scinece as the replacement for God but when push comes to shove any scientific evidence that disproves their view they treat like it's superstision and rubbish. If one took the same level of skepticism and doubt to astronomy or chemistry that these guys take to real Biblical scholarship perhaps those fields would look less certain too?

We need to hold him to his statement that hypothetical facts can't prove anything. Let's remember that when we talk about Peter who Paul met being the same Peter in the Gospels. There's a lot more erason to accept the textual criticism's work than  this hypothetical speculation which has not support at all of any kind.

Its' important to Doug's case to deny such evidence because evidence such as Koster's and other textual critics forms the basis of arguments that pro e the historicity of the major outline of the Gospel story. There aer many sources of material that can be teased out by textual criticism. Older readings found copies as part of latter texts demonstrate the existence of versions of the Gospels that existed decades before the standard dates. It's also the case that there's a huge trend to earlier dates.

(1) link to sight with trend to ealeir dates.

(2) Pauline connection

(3) non canonical Gospels

(4) Diatesseron


Precious few facts about Christianity's origins are truly uncontested by all competent authorities. However, a substantial fraction of the competent authorities are adherents of Christianity, and we are not committing the genetic fallacy if we take that into consideration when assessing their judgments.
 Meta: not the genetic fallacy it's guilt by association, with a bit of poisoning the well. This is very disappointing my worthy opponent needs to learn the proper way to handle evidence. This is nothing more than anti-intellectual evocation of the ideology against the enemy group and it's also again turning his back on scinece becasue it doesn't say what he wants it to.

It is not true that the majority of Textual critics are Evangelicals. He cannot use this broad brush to paint Koester or others I would quote without examining tier specific claims. Moreover, I quote very few non liberals. Hold his feet to the fire who who I quote make him show what camp they are in, and make him show why their specific works is wrong.


The handful of facts that actually are uncontested -- the data disputed by nobody -- are best explained by supposing the gospels to be fiction -- perhaps historical fiction, but fiction nonetheless. There could have been a real Jesus in the same sense that there was a real king of Scotland named Macbeth, successor of Duncan and succeeded by Duncan's son, Malcolm. Shakespeare's play Macbeth is still a work of pure fiction insofar as the real Macbeth never did or said anything that he is portrayed as doing or saying in the play. (That includes the assassination; the real Duncan died in battle, not in bed.)
Meta: a handful of facts is all it takes to demonstrate the historical outline of the story. All we need are two facts, the crucifixion and the resurrection, and we have Christianity.

This argument is going to come to nothing if he doesn't spell out what facts he means.

For no ancient document is a presumption of historical reliability the correct default position. Evidence of the author's intention to write history must be adduced from other pertinent facts. Testimony may suffice, if we know the basis on which the witness gives such testimony.
 Meat: that's an inadequacy standard. not a standard historians use. The Jesus myth crowd makes up its own rules taylored to get around the disproofs of real scholarship. Crosson says he assumes that the atuhors believed the stories of the Gosepls as fact, there no reason to assume otherwise. He has to overturn presumption so he has to show compelling reason why we should look it differently.

Even if we assume a certain degree of fiction the Gospels themselves are still artifacts that tell us about the history of the early chruch and it's belief. There's no reason not to understand what they wrote s the belief of the community.


In the case of the gospels, not even their existence is clearly and unambiguously attested before Irenaeus, ca 180 CE. He tells us nothing about his source of information about two of the authors, and for the other two he simply construes a vague offhand comment by Papias as proof that Matthew and Mark wrote them. No other patristic writer adds a single fact that provides any additional support to the historical orthodoxy about the gospels' provenance. On that basis alone, a great deal of skepticism about their historical reliability would be justified.
Meta: that's not true.

(1) we know their existence from 1 Clement (at least synopitcs)

(2) early fragments of John, not just Rylands but even Rylands establishes it as first decade 2c at the latest. The rule of thumb for text crits is ten years for copy and ten years for travel. The 135 Ryland's date is put back to AD 115.

(3) New Material reveals quotations of Mat in Talmud dates Matthew at about 70

(4) John A.T. Robinson begins dating proto Mark in the 30s. Since we know there were at least 2 versions fo Mark, because they are each used by Mat and Luke, then there must have been a pre Mark Mark way before 70.

(5) the material in Paul demonstrates his use of a saying source that is heavily synoptic and his allusions to narrative demonstrate the story was intact in the form we know it by AD 50 or so. (scroll to bottom of that link)
(6) 54 lost gospels that have been either found in fragment, in whole, or reconstructed from textual criticism (only a few are hypothetical). They all demonstrates the same basic story. MOST OF THEM FIRST CENTURY!

That does not yet rule out the possibility that the authors intended to write history, and I don't claim that anything rules it out altogether. All things considered, though, I think there is sufficient evidence to establish reasonable doubt.

Meta: you have not given us a reason to even doubt it.

We can begin by looking at the earliest Christian document that all modern scholars agree was meant by its author to be read as history: Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, which he finished writing apparently around the year 320. Opinion about his reliability is divided, but as far as we know, nobody before him even tried to get the facts of Christianity's story straight. And we can see why just by reading him. More on that point in a moment.
Meta: that is a huge assertion very much not i evidence. In fact it's contradicted by evidence.

(1) Papias in early second century (we are not totally dependent upon Eusebius for Papias, we have many fragments that don't rely on Eusebius.

(2) Polycarp around same period

(3) 1 Cerement.

(4) material in Paul already mentioned

(5) no reason to doubt Luke's claim that we was using prior attempts and researching.

This Pre Mark layer of Christian Gospel lit which the four Gospels are built upon is extremely important and we know from multiple sources that it existed.

It seems to be from Eusebius himself that we get the big bang version of Christianity's origin. The basic story is all there in the first two chapters, obviously based primarily on the canonical gospels and Acts but supplemented with material from other sources. Some of those other sources are documents that he has read, but he often is clearly relying solely on stories he has heard from people he sees no need to identify. He introduces several factoids with no more attribution than "they say," "it is said," "tradition says," or some equivalent.

Meta:  Here we have a major problem for Doug's view. I have just demonstrated that this statement is not true. More importantly  not only is there a lot of material confirming historicity before Mark, way before Eusebius, not only can one put together the whole story as we know it from Pre Eusibian sources, outside the canonical Gospels But there is only one story. We that story repeated over and over again thorough hundreds of documents and it never never never changes.

The important point about it never changing is that myths do change. There are multiple versions of mot myths, but only one of the Gospel story, way up into the late third century that's the fist time we see even derivations from, excluding micro stuff, but even then the departure assume the original story.

The most important thing about this is that the backing material not only agrees with the orthodoxy but it also is produced by groups that scholars think of as enemies of the Orthodox. So that blows the theory that the historical outline is only coming form the Orthodox sources. Every single one of those  54 lost Gospels, as near as can be discerned, portray the same figure the same plot, same side kicks and so on. The same basic facts, here is a list of several off the top of my head tha tare aways consistant. there are no exceptions. there is no text that has his mother named Delores, no text has his major side kick named "Fred." It's always Mary his mother, Peter is top assistant, and so on. He's always from Nazareth, he's always crucified, never stoned, never stabbed, even when they say "hung" they mean crucified. It's always at 12 noon that he was crucified. He was always risen on the third day. this is multiplied by 54 Gospels and a hundreds of other Manuscripts.

1) Jesus lived on earth as a man from the beginning of the first century to AD 33.

2) That his mother was supposed to be a Virgin named "Mary"

3) Same principle players, Peter, Andrew, Philip, John, Mary Magdeline.

4) That Jesus was knows as a miracles worker.

5) he claimed to be the son of God and Messiah.

6) he was crucified under Pilate.

7) Around the time of the Passover.

8) at noon.

9) rose from the dead leaving an empty tomb.

10) several woman with MM discovered the empty tomb.

11) That this was in Jerusalem.

if it was a myth it would have multiple versions because Myths always do. The only reason it would have all one version that is never significantly altered is because everything knew the historical parts of it.


The Ecclesiastical History was written mostly if not entirely after the conversion of Emperor Constantine. The Roman version of Christianity, with which Eusebius was aligned, was calling the shots now: from this time forward, orthodoxy was whatever the church in Rome said it was. And according to the church in Rome, its authority was derived from the apostles' authority. More than once in his history, Eusebius identifies orthodox belief with apostolic belief -- not "Jesus said X" but "the apostles taught X." Christians are supposed to believe whatever the apostles believed, but if you then want to know what the apostles believed, you have to ask the church in Rome.

Meta: Most of the outline of the story can be demonstrated from pre Eusebian sources.

I'm not suggesting that Eusebius or any other Christian of the time was indifferent to Jesus' actual words, but he was clearly of the opinion that those words had to be understood as the authorities of the orthodox church said they were to be understood, because the authorities claimed that they, and they alone, understood Jesus' words the same way the apostles understood them. Orthodox Christianity, then, was all about the preservation of apostolic teaching (or rather, what the orthodox church believed the apostolic teaching to have been).
 Meta: this is just modern people trying to grapple with ancinet concepts of tradition.

Heresy, according to Eusebius, was no big thing as long as the apostles were still around to keep everyone in line. Simon Magus was one apparent exception, but by and large everyone was singing from the same hymnal up until the last of the apostles died off, and then it all started to come apart. Heresies sprang up right and left and the defenders of orthodoxy were obliged to battle them constantly. But, in due course,
Meta: that cannot be used as an excuse to push non-historicity. Eusebius never said anything about lying for the cause or any of that stuff. He was a find historian. That is demonstrtaed here.

. . . the splendor of the catholic and only true Church, which is always the same, grew in magnitude and power, and reflected its piety and simplicity and freedom, and the modesty and purity of its inspired life and philosophy to every nation both of Greeks and of Barbarians. At the same time the slanderous accusations which had been brought against the whole Church also vanished, and there remained our teaching alone, which has prevailed over all, and which is acknowledged to be superior to all in dignity and temperance, and in divine and philosophical doctrines. (Ecclesiastical History, 4.7.13-14.)

 Meta: he was Containtine's PR man. But this is just one camp calling the other "ideological." Here we see the cold war, communist and anti-communist, played out again only with atheists and Theists. That's not historical proof of anything, it's one camp saying "don't let their camp feel good about itself."

And so the doctrinal wars did end. Eusebius got that part right. But the story doesn't seem to have begun the way he said it began. Paul himself complained about how many people were preaching gospels other than his own, and several modern scholars he had good reason to complain. According to Bart Ehrman, there was a multitude of sects calling themselves Christian "as far back in fact as our earliest sources go" (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p. 11), and we have no clear evidence that any one of them had a better claim than the others to be the real thing. A list of scholars whose research provides data supporting Ehrman's position would include F.C. Baur, Walter Bauer, Walter Schmithals, James M. Robinson, Helmut Koester, J.D.G. Dunn, Robert K. Price, and Burton Mack.
Meta: The pretense that this has anything to do with the writing of the Gospels must be shattered with the fact that the communicates that produce them did their work centuries before this. To pretend that the Gospels weren't written until Eusebius fly in the face of all scholarship, believing and other wise. There are no atheist scholars who agree with him who have expertise in the field (Yes, there are atheist Bible scholars, Elaine Pagles is one).

If Doug is not saying this then the point about Euseibus is moot because the story was set in stone by the end of the first century.


Most conveniently for the sect that eventually triumphed, its founders seem to have had an aversion to writing. Here is how Eusebius himself tells it:
Those great and truly divine men, I mean the apostles of Christ, were purified in their life, and were adorned with every virtue of the soul, but were uncultivated in speech. They were confident indeed in their trust in the divine and wonder-working power which was granted unto them by the Saviour, but they did not know how, nor did they attempt to proclaim the doctrines of their teacher in studied and artistic language . . . paying little attention to the composition of written works. . . .

And the rest of the followers of our Saviour, the twelve apostles, the seventy disciples, and countless others besides, were not ignorant of these things. Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity. (Ecclesiastical History, III.24.3, 5.)
 Meta: actually this is in harmony with the Gospels, they were supposed to be fishermen and other working class people. The early Bishops were from the slave classes. But this is just ignoring the facts, who wrote those 54 Gospels? They are also ignoring what we know about the production of Gospels. They were produced by communities not by individuals. that means there were a lot of communities in the early days. They all agree on the same basic story remember.

Doug:As for how he came to know any of this, Eusebius offers not a clue.

 Meta: wrong again. he claims to have had books and researched it in books. He claims to have had the whole of Papias writing, and what he says harmonizes with the independent fragments that we have.


So far as we can tell, it was just the only explanation he could conjure up that seemed plausible to him. It is interesting, too, that in this passage, he says that only two of the "twelve apostles . . . and countless others" who knew Jesus ever wrote anything about him, although elsewhere in his history he endorses the authority of I Peter. Maybe he noticed that whoever wrote it didn't give any indication of having known Jesus. Whatever . . . .
Meta: (1) he means Gospels, not epistles.

(2) Dont' forget the 54 lost Gospls and thier agreement. So Eusebius did not have all the facts. He didn't all have all the materiel. Probably those where not written by eye witnesses, but it is an artifact that documents the fact the one story was known to be histoircal.
(3) He sticks in the quip that the Gospels give no indication of knowing Jesus that assertion demosntaes a lot of knoweldge about ancinet world literature. When we read about people they do't go I knew this guy I knew just what he looked like and there I was right beside him." They didn't write in first person a lot.
(4) Doug is contradicted (as am I) by Gpete because it has a first person section.
(5) the lack of indication that they knew him is an ancient world form of writing bu it also has something to do with the Gospels being produced by a community not just one guy.

Of course, as everyone in this forum knows, by Eusebius's time there were lots of gospels and other writings floating around that lots of people believed had been written by one or another apostle besides Matthew or John. But, by his time, the church's consensus was against the authenticity of those documents. Now, Eusebius reports the consensus, but he doesn't explain how it was reached or, more to our point, on what factual evidence it was based. What did the church authorities actually know for a fact about any of those documents? In particular, what did they know about the provenance of the canonical documents?
Meta: Even the gospels he mentions don't disagree with the basic facts.they agree with points I mention above. Notice Doug doesn't present any evidence of other Gospels. he mentions them but which one's? when were they produced? Most of the 54 I name were first century.


They knew nothing that Eusebius didn't know, and Eusebius didn't know anything, so far as we can tell, beyond what he had read in Irenaeus. All we get in turn from Irenaeus is the four names that have come down to us. For Luke and John he cites no source at all and for Matthew and Mark we get the Papias story. And what do we know about Papias's sources? What he tells us is that he knew some men who told him that they had known some of the apostles.
Meta: Totally false assumption, Eusebius claims to have a lot more sources that just that one. Apparently my friend Doug has never read Irenaeus becasue he says a lot more than the four names. He talks about Polycarp and how he knew him personally and how Polycarp told him that he knew John.

quoting myself from Doxa, and refering to sources I've read:

According to Iranaeus Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (Martyred in AD 155?) knew the Apostle John. This doesn't seem likely and has been denounced by the great Church historian B.H. Streeter (The Primitive Church ,1923) and others. The date of Ploycarp's Martyrdom is fixed by W.A. Waddington (see Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, p.144). The tradition recorded in the Martyrdom of Polycarp says that he was 86 years old when he went to his glory as a martyr. This would place his birth in the year 69 AD. Assuming he was a teenager (and he was supposed to be very young) when he knew John, this would place their friendship around the late 80s. Is it possible that John lived this long? Clearly legend has it that John lived to be over 100, returned from Patois and worked in the church of Ephesus. But those legends are probably diriven by the statements in the Gospel which imply that John would not die or wouldbe very old when he did die. If Johannie authorship holds up, and John was in Ephesus in 90 to write his Gospel, than it is possible that he knew Polycarp. The information that these two men did know each other comes through Iraneaeus who did know Polycarp.
from fragments of the lost work of Iraneaeus. Speaking of what Polycarp  told him:

also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eyewitnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. (documented by Calvin college)
Well, isn't that enough? Sure it is, if you presuppose that the orthodox church leadership was more or less infallible throughout the first few centuries of its existence, which seems to be about what Eusebius thought. Only heretics can be wrong, and Irenaeus hated heretics, so whatever he said had to be the truth. If he said he believed Papias, then by golly we'd better believe Papias, too. And if he said the Acts of the Apostles was written by a good buddy of Paul's, then a good buddy of Paul's had to be the guy who really wrote it.
Meta: We know Papias lived close to the last generation of witnesses and knew several of them. He says so himself. We have several fragments. that does not just come form Eusebius but the fragments prove he did have extensive writings. Iraneaeus tells us Papias and Polycarp studied together and both knew John. fragments:

Papias talks about the authorship of the Gospels. It doesn't just come from Eusebius, they are assuming that Eusebius is lying. No reason to assume that.


We ourselves know practically nothing about Papias besides his name.
Meta: wrong, I just demonstrated it's wrong. we know form fragments of his writings and from Iraneaus

He is not mentioned by anyone who could have been a contemporary of his, and we get very little from later writers who had heard anything about him.

 Meta: Iraneaeus was, he was contemporary with Polycap who was contemporay with Papias, although Ira was younger.


He was apparently a bishop of Hierapolis, wrote a five-volume work called something like Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord, and died sometime around 130 CE. Irenaeus believed, for reasons he does not state, that Papias was "a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp" (Adversus Haereses, V.33.4). Nothing from his work survives except a handful of quotations in Irenaeus and Eusebius.

 Meta: wrong I've already given the link we do have fragments

here they are again:

So far as we can tell from those quotations, he never actually saw either of those two books that he was told Matthew and Mark had written. We may infer from those quotations that he although he claimed to know someone known as Presbyter John, this was not likely to have been the apostle called John. His only unambiguous testimony is that he had some occasions to talk with some men who claimed to have known some apostles.
Meta: doesn't have to be Apostle John, as he tells us Elder John was also a witness to Jesus life (and I beieve he was actually the final redactor of GJohn and the author of 1-3 John). Buckingham also thinks so too.

Speaking of Polycarp, though . . . . We're to believe that he knew the apostle John, because Irenaeus said so. Funny thing is, though, we don't have Polycarp's own word for that. Some of his writings survive, but he doesn't say anything in them about having met John. 

 Meta: We have letters written when he was on his way to die and to be killed in the area. So of course he was thinking of what to say to the churches he was passing through. Not conducive to reminiscing.  Why is Iraneaeus word not good enough? He tells us Polycarp told him directly, why should we believe he's lying? Because it's too unthinkable to believe him?

We don't have a version of the Damascus road incident written by Paul. He wrote all those letters and never mentioned it once. But no scholar questions that Luke made it up. don't look now but you are arguing from silence.

Of course, we wouldn't expect him to mention that in everything he wrote, and we know he wrote some other stuff that did not survive. Now, it is surely reasonable to think that he if he had met one of the original 12 apostles, he would have said so in at least one of his writings. But if he did, how come that document was not preserved? It surely would have been widely circulated and copied many times. And even if all those copies had somehow perished, surely somebody would have mentioned having read the document. The extant literature is filled with references to documents that we no longer have, but there is not a single comment about anything Polycarp wrote about his acquaintance with John. That is highly improbable on the assumption that there ever was such a meeting.
Meta: Be nice if Churchill wrote about what FDR was really like, but he didn't. Does that mean Churchill never met FDR?

Irenaeus makes his claim about Polycarp's acquaintance with John in Adversus Haereses (III.3.4), which he wrote at around the age of 50. He tells of meeting Polycarp during his "early youth," presumably meaning late adolescence, certainly not after his early 20s. It's a pretty impressionable time of anyone's life, and Polycarp would have been, as Irenaeus says he was, very old by that time. So here is Irenaeus, himself approaching old age, recalling a conversation he had during his early youth with an old man reminiscing about his younger years. That is a mighty tenuous basis on which to pin a fact that we should expect to be, but is not, otherwise corroborated.

Meta: I've already linked to the source above. He tells us about it in a last fragment. Not Against Hereies although he did mention it there. In the other work he talks about Polycarp actually telling him about John. He is saying that he studied with him on an extended basis. He knew him well.

I still remember my next door neighbor who was 80 tell me when I was six about his exploits in WWI. I know I got them right because as man I discussed it with his wife. She was many years younger than he was and she lived to be 100.

That leaves us with no direct contact between the writer of any extant Christian document and any of Jesus' apostles -- no actual witness to the existence of a single person who is supposed to have known Jesus in person. 
 Meta Assertion contradicted by the facts. Not only did I disprove yoru point about Papias and Polycarp but it goes well beyond them as you will see next time.

Someone will ask: But what about Paul? He testifies to having met three of Jesus' disciples: Cephas (Peter), James, and John. Yes, he says he knew three men who had those names -- but he does not corroborate their discipleship. Paul never says that any man he ever met was ever personally acquainted with Jesus of Nazareth during Jesus' lifetime. We have to go to the gospels to make that connection.
Meta: that old ploy! I am very disappointed. Notice how overtime, EVERY SINGLE TIME the Myther ideology is disproved by facts or by scholars they remove the counter evidence by trying to deny the method. They don't want to hear from scholars, tehy refuse to accept scinecetific textual criticism and when directly contradicted, well just ddoubt that taha's who they wer. O fcourse!

maybe Paul in Luke is total different guy. maybe Paul in Corinth is a totally different Paul than Paul in Rome? sure any time my view is disproved the counter evidence goes by-by because it's about a different guy. How rational is it to doubt that? How many leaders of the chruch between 33 and 64 were likely to be named Peter, James, John? Those were common names but we know the guys talked about in the Gospels would be leaders and they should have been around at that time. What are the reasons for thinking they aren't the same? Certainly Clement implies that Peter was the same Peter. why think otherwise? Papis doesn't mention two Peters. Clearly Josephus says that James the brother of Jesus was the leader of the chruch. How many James the brother of Jesus would have been head of the chruch at that time, when the actual relatives were still around to be leaders?

And so we have no reason except 1800 years of church dogma to think the gospels record any thing factual about Jesus of Nazareth.
Meta: While I admire my friend's intelligence and applaud his reasoning  I must say his concept of historical presumption is a bit lacking. He has given us no reason to doubt anything. His evidence has to be really first rate to over turn history. Historical presumption is Historical fact! What histoirans assume as fact he wants to throw out on nothing stronger than the supposition that Maybe MAYBE it was a different Peter, MAYBE but he cant' even give us a good reason to think so.

There is not a single uncontested fact contradicting the supposition that they are works of pure fiction. There is no undisputed evidence that the authors, whoever they were, had access to any primary source about Jesus, nor even any good evidence that they were likely to have used any secondary sources. For the uncontested evidence that we have in hand, the most parsimonious explanation is that, no matter when they might have been written, the gospels' existence was practically unknown to the Christian community at large before the middle of the second century, by which time nobody had any idea who the authors actually were. They came to be regarded as authoritative within one of the numerous Christian sects that existed at that time for one reason alone: They supported that sect's teachings. How the authors' names were chosen is anybody's guess, but then whoever picked them was just guessing, too. All it took to make the names stick was for someone in authority to endorse them, and that someone happened to be Irenaeus.

This is not an argument against Jesus' historicity, because under this scenario his historicity is irrelevant. Even assuming that the man existed, we have no good reason to suppose the gospel authors intended to write a true story about him, any more than Shakespeare was trying to write a true story about Macbeth -- or, perhaps more analogously, a true story about Caesar's assassination. Caesar actually was assassinated, sure, but it didn't happen like Shakespeare said it happened. And so it was, most likely, with Jesus' execution by Pilate.


Weekend Fisher said...

Wow, Meta, how you have the patience. My hat is off to you man.

I'm reading your friend and thinking "Seriously, read the second generation group known as the apostolic fathers." Or "Have you never heard of the Muratorian Fragment?" Or maybe an intro book from another perspective, just so he'll have heard both sides of the argument (e.g. how many pre-Eusebian sources there were). But he sounds so ... well, frankly, closed-minded, that I don't know if he's open to the possibility that his general narrative is off.

His basic premise is that the early Christians didn't know anything about the life and teachings of the people (e.g. Peter, James, John) who started the groups to which they belonged and taught them everything they knew about Jesus and kept in contact with them afterward. Also overlooks how the leaders tended to be chosen by how much they knew about what the original apostles taught. (And all the various references in the New Testament about "witness" and "testimony" and seeing it themselves etc somehow isn't taken to be any indication that they were trying to be factual.)

And he seems fond of Ehrman ... which explains a lot. Ehrman's honesty with his sources is something less than impressive. Besides which, Ehrman seriously argued that polytheism was a valid early form of Christianity, and the only reason a polytheistic Christianity didn't win was because of the winners writing the history books. Ehrman doesn't take any account that Judaism is monotheistic, therefore any legitimate Christianity is monotheistic. Ehrman's calling our monotheism an instance of "the winners writing the history books" - that seems like corroboration that the legitimate side won, if we go with Jesus and the apostles being Jewish. And it makes me wonder (not for the first time) what Ehrman is playing at by trying to pass off a polytheistic sect as a legitimate candidate for "the true record of what Jesus and the apostles taught".

So like I said, my hat's off to you, man.

Take care & God bless

Metacrock said...

yes, I agree with every point you make here. That's the way those Jesus mythers are. They can't answer so much evidence they just take it away be refusing to accept it's reality.

Muratorian fragment, I knew I was forgetting something.

tinythinker said...

Metacrock, you need to print and frame that:

"Wow, Meta, you have so much patience."

And keep it next to your computer for the times you go online to places like CARM and T-Web.


Metacrock said...

thanks Tiny. I ran out of patience with carm.