After reading Valerie Tarico’s Here are 5 reasons to suspect Jesus never existed, I decided to write of it as #fakenews analysis since, purposefully or not, it contains various characteristics of a classic example of such. It was published by The Raw Story (December 15, 2015 AD) and the story is so raw, in terms of serving up undercooked red herring, that there seems to be no fact checking whatsoever. Interestingly, Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and a former Evangelical: I wonder if she has ever placed herself on her own therapy couch so as to seek to discern why she (mis)handles such issues in the manner in which she does.
And in what manner is that? Well, she notes, “Not being an insider to this debate, my own inclination is to defer to the preponderance of relevant experts” and just who are her subjectively preferred preponderance of relevant experts? Well, she refers to that which “Most antiquities scholars think” which is generic enough to be meaningless but sound impressive (also, keep in mind that 51% is “most” but is awfully close to half). Thus, when she then refers to “these scholars” we know not of whom she speaks. However, she does end up naming names and these are all Atheists, Agnostics and all hyper “liberal” (I quote the term liberal due to a faint memory that G.K. Chesterton asked why theologians are called liberal when they deny miracles: would liberals not liberally allow for them?).
She names Reza Aslan, Bart Ehrman, David Fitzgerald, Richard Carrier, Robert Price, Joseph Atwill, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and good ol’ ExChristian.net—I was once debating various Atheists on that site simultaneously and one day the admin simply deleted all comments and shut down the section; little did they know that I had been copying, pasting and saving the discussion on a Word doc as it went along so, guess what, you can read it here.
Now, I have read much by Atheists, Agnostics and “liberals” on historical Jesus issues and it has strengthened my acknowledgement of Jesus as a historical personage. But what does Valerie Tarico get out of it? Well, she notes that “Most antiquities scholars think” that what the New Testament does is to “borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East” so that “a ‘historical Jesus’ became mythologized.” Yet, “other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually ‘historicized mythology’…those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel.” She refers to “arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology” and “the heated back and forth between mythicists and historicists”—I am not even joking, astonishingly she only views these (false dichotomy) extremes as the only options.
Yet, keep in mind that her aim is to demonstrate reasons so “suspect Jesus never existed.” While she admits that “The notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position” she has a loophole since “for centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves.” Apparently, that is just about enough to explain why one day after Jesus’ death (or resurrection or ascension) no one thought to radically claim that He never even existed. No, no one did so one year afterwards. Nope, not even one decade. Not one century. Not one millennia. Indeed, there are reasons why it took circa two full millennia before someone thought, “By golly, I’ve got it: He never even existed—and we are now historically (and philosophically as well as geographically) far enough away from His time to actually attempt to pull off this claim (and pull the wool over the eyes of psychologist and a former Evangelical, et al.).”
She notes “The internet phenom, Zeitgeist the Movie introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility”: indeed, see the videos The “Real” Zeitgeist Challenge Debunked, Zeitgeist, History Rewritten and Zeitgeist DEBUNKED
Now, let us get to the 5 reasons.
1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.
Bart Ehrman is an Agnostic who argues in favor of the historical Jesus as can be best heard within his discussion with an Atheist, see here. He is quoted, in part, thusly, “even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind.” See how goal shifting works? When you ignore those most interested in Jesus then you can prove that those uninterested in Jesus did not mention Him. Ehrman further notes, “we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus.” Yet, while it is an argument from silence, in either direction, the fact that Jesus locus of activity, Jerusalem, was destroyed in 70 AD seems relevant. I recall hearing an interviewer asking a detective if he had the case files for a certain case. The reply was no because that was kept in hardcopy within offices at the World Trade Center and when the towers went down the info was destroyed.
In any case, in my Historical Jesus – Two Centuries Worth of Citations I list plenty of relevant sources from that time frame.
2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.
A favorite tactic is to ignore all of the New Testament except for Paul since, or so it is asserted, he is an easy target for those scholars whose view range from “mythologized history or historicized mythology.” How so? Valerie Tarico refers to “the ‘Silence of Paul’ on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus.” Yet, note that what we know of Paul is due to his own letters, Luke’s gospel and Luke’s Book of Acts. His own letters were to Christian individuals and churches so he cannot be expected to write biographies: such is simple a conclusion from considering genre. Luke provides biographical info about Jesus and so the Paul obsessed ignore him.
In any case, Tarico writes, “Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth” and yet, Galatians 4:4 states “when the fullness of the time, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.” Wow, made of a woman!? Well, there’s a newsflash worthy to be preserved for two millennia! Well, fine, he does not use the terms “virgin” followed by “birth” but referring to God sending Jesus “made of a woman” can at least be seen as a hint.
Tarico writes that Paul “never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings.”
1) “never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples”: (just in case, all Apostles were disciples but only 12 disciples were Apostles). In Acts 9:19 Luke relates that “Then was Saul [Paul] certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.” In 21:16 he notes “There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.” Oh, but Acts was written by Luke and so you can ignore his biographical statements about Paul so as to ignore Paul’s biographical statements about Jesus. Ah, but in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul write, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”
In verse 14 he noted that “I saw that they” Peter and Barnabas “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” yet, in verses 7-9 he referred to how “the gospel of the circumcision was…wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship” and referred to “James, Cephas [an aka for Peter], and John” as “pillars” so the issue was as noted: that in the one case, they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel but did so when it was pointed out.
So, he refers to Peter and James within the context of other Apostles and if the reply is, “Well, sure, he refers to them within the context of other Apostles but did not all the Apostles ‘disciples’” then you know that this is merely a game of semantics.
2) “he never says Jesus HAD disciples”: likely a semantic word game, as just noted, and also in 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles” within the genre of writing to Christians who know of the others.
3) “or a ministry…or gave teachings”: in 1 Corinthians 11:23 Paul refer to when “Jesus the same night” as in a biographical note “in which he was betrayed took bread,” etc. which He did so when? When He was gathered with His disciple Apostles at the last supper, they who were part of His ministry and whom He taught.
4) “or did miracles” this one also relates to the genre issue and keep in mind that Paul’s overall context is to deal with issues within the church such as church discipline about which his letters are often replies to questions.
Valerie Tarico also claims, “Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!” This is not only inaccurate but hyperbolic. We have already seen Paul refer to Peter and James as Apostles, a category in which he is placed as well so that he hardly dismissed them. BTW: there is a reason why she does not provide us quotations or citations: she likely is merely repeating the bankrupt claims of others and also, no such evidence exists. In fact, we know of one single instance of Paul confronting Peter and that was due to hypocrisy which Peter goes on to rectify, “when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:11-12) and “And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
The only other dispute is when “Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (Acts 15:36-41). Thus, this also was not about being considered to be nobodies and certainly not about not being true Christians: Barnabas and Paul both agreed to continue their gospel missions yet, to different regions with different companions.
3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.
Valerie Tarico asserts “the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them.” The claim is that the four gospels were not written by the Apostles but does not consider that, perhaps, they were assigned the names of their authors. They were assigned as such due to the church, as a whole, knowing who wrote what: within a historian’s context we must give personages who lived 2,000 years ago at least as much regard as personage who lived 2,000 years later to know such things.
Tarico then goes a step further by actually claiming, “the gospel stories don’t actually say, ‘I was there.’” Well, by definition those portions of each gospel which contains references to the assigned author’s own involvement are based on “I was there.” Also, it is not as simply as, for example, looking for the name “John” in the gospel of John (keeping in mind that John the Apostle writes about John the Baptist) since he often refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20).
Note that 1 John 1:1 states, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” but, apparently, since this is not a gospel then it does not count.
4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.
This subsection merely repeats the assertion within its tile, “they contradict each other” and “contradict” and simply refers us to the scholarship of the ExChristian.net site.
5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
Note that this is not about Jesus but about “Modern scholars” or rather, that which “Modern scholars” do with or make of Jesus.
She refers to options such as “a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, and nonviolent pacifist” and may I add, a composite of Pagan myths and, oh yeah, God incarnate. She quotes John Dominic Crossan of the (anti) Jesus Seminar as stating that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”
Yet, Valerie Tarico missed quite an opportunity since as a psychologist she could have given us insights into why various people come away with such varied views. For example, Sigmund Freud speculated that theists were seeking a father figure in God. Professor of psychology Paul Vitz noted that, for various reasons, the world’s most well-known Atheists had poor relationships with their dad’s and that, applying Freudian theory, they ultimately rebelled against the ultimate father figure: God—his book on this topic is Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism.
Well, at least Tarico was discerning enough to not title her #fakenews “5 reasons Jesus never existed” but “5 reasons to suspect Jesus never existed” since her 5 points certainly fail and her lack of knowledge of this topic is quite evident.
For more info on how the Pauline issue ties into historical Jesus issues, see Raphael Lataster on no historical but a celestial Jesus in Paul’s writings
Also, see my book The Apocryphal Jesus which reviews that which 35 apocryphal texts state about Jesus and include the list of 210 citations to Jesus within the first two centuries.
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