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At the end of the day…. December 31, 2005

Posted by roopster in Bible, Christianity, faith, God, Jesus, Religion, spirituality, Theology.
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I will concede that it’s impossible for me to provide you the proof that you ask for. Jesus said it best … that the works that he did are sufficient proof that he came from God. And I’ve found that the works he’s done in my life are proof enough.
– Novato

And there we have it. I believe that as Christians, we have to admit that many of our beliefs are experiential. There is no way to prove many of the things we hold to as reality. In fact, we have to give similar credibility to the scholars and their conclusions even though there is no way to substantiate all of their theories either.

I was taught our faith is not a “blind faith.” That it is based on actual facts and reality. However, the reality is, all we have to back up our beliefs are our own experiences. Some of us, have more experiences than others, and there are some who do not have any.

We also have to face the fact that there are many in other belief systems who have similar experiences. Why are our experiences any more credible than theirs? We have beliefs that we believe by faith and so do they. We have experiences to back up our beliefs, but so do they. As a result, I believe we should not be dogmatic about our beliefs.

I believe this is a healthy outlook to have on our faith. I believe it is with this viewpoint we can teach the principles that we believe can and will change lives. I believe it’s impossible to teach a message of love, compassion, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and tolerance when we believe that we have the only truth. In fact, this is the root cause of a culture of intolerance and spiritual abuse.

My beliefs work for me. They bring peace to my life. I can face myself when I wake up in the middle of the night. I do my best to have a positive impact on those around me, to not judge, to not sit in the seat of a scoffer, and to not be intolerant of others, their beliefs or their faith. Are my beliefs right? Well, from my perspective they are, but who knows?

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Comments»

1. Novato - May 25, 2005

Roopster,

You twist my words. I didn’t say that I couldn’t give proof. I said I couldn’t give the proof he asked for. Actually, I could have said that not even God can give Michael the proof he asks for. There is no proof that will satisfy a cynic, and God won’t bow to their arrogance.

In your and Michael’s world, historical eyewitnesses don’t count because they may be mistaken, deluded, lying, copying someone else’s work, they really didn’t exist, they may have been tripping on LSD, etc., etc. and on and on.

Present day eyewitnesses are too subjective, since after all, we’re just telling you what we think we know, which isn’t really valid, because, how does anybody else know if we know what we know. I mean, my wife probably didn’t really have cancer or it was just luck she got better. The deaf, blind, and crippled I’ve seen healed in Jesus’ name really weren’t sick; after all I’m not a doctor. How could I diagnose their diseases. They were probably faking anyway. And I really wasn’t a drug addict; I just thought I was, or I’m lying, or I’m crazy. And other people in other religions make similar claims…So no one and no thing can be trusted. A cynic believes that all people are insincere and motivated by self-interest.

And so the circular kind of logic you employ continues on and on. By your standards, nothing can be proven. Nothing is really real. Using your methods, 100 years from now we could prove that you guys didn’t really exist but were just parallel identities to some other real people. All we have to do is find some parallels and coincidences and voilΓ‘ – we have conclusive evidence. Whatever records exist, we just have to find somebody somewhere that falsified records and violΓ‘ – we have proof that records of your existence are false too.

Your hypocrisy is found in your double standard; on one hand a willingness and eagerness to sieze upon any and every shred of unfounded, unproven, conjecture, and theory as conclusive “proof” that the Bible account of Jesus’life is fictitious, coupled with an obstinate refusal to accept evidence that the Bible account is accurate no matter what the evidence. You hold an incredibly low bar on one hand accepting mere conjecture as fact, and an incredibly high bar on the other. Such dualism and hypocrisy hasn’t been seen since the days of the Pharisees. Like them, you strain out gnats and swallow camels.

You know, I am shamefully unprepared to enter an apolegetics debate with people as articulate and well prepared as you and Michael. I should have withdrawn early on. You guys are obviously well rehearsed and enjoy chewing up and spitting out naive Christians. Even though the “proofs” for your arguments seem to me to be wholly based on coincidence, speculation, and conjecture, I still wasn’t prepared to present my case very well. Michael’s presentation was excellent. He pastes quite well. But the arguments / evidence are nonetheless thin.

What ever happened to the book “Evidence That Demands A Verdict?” I read it perhaps 30 yrs ago and can’t even remember the arguments presented. Have you ever read it? What’s your assessment of that work now?

Novato

2. Roopster - May 25, 2005

Novato,

I sincerely apologize if you feel that I have twisted your words. Ultimately, every discussion I’ve seen between a Christian and someone who comes at it from a purely scholarly perspective ends up with the Christian making a comment similiar to yours… “I know because of what Jesus did for ME.” That’s the point I was trying to make.

Ultimately, I’m a facilitor here. I see your points and I see MT’s points. Neither of you can make your points with pure certainty. However, you have experience and he has a large research pool and theories. Which side is more credible? I believe this answer is a personal and individual one.

Christians somehow discount sceptical scholars but I feel they have the same rights to believe what they do as we do. In fact, the same arguments we use against them really applies to us. It’s quite ironic really.

I’m sorry but I cannot accept the circular reasoning of using the Bible to prove itself. The reality is there is little or no external proof to the gospels outside the gospels themselves. That’s a reality and the point I was trying to make. We simply accept things by faith (as they do also).

I view Josh’s ‘evidence’ as circular reasoning. Re-read it and you’ll see. The foundation for his arguments are theories in themselves and then he builds a “solid” framework from there.

I’ll respond more later.

Paul

3. Michael Turton - May 25, 2005

In your and Michael’s world, historical eyewitnesses don’t count because they may be mistaken, deluded, lying, copying someone else’s work, they really didn’t exist, they may have been tripping on LSD, etc., etc. and on and on.

No, Novato. Someone cannot be a historical witness if you can demonstrate that what they wrote is fictionalized. If you found the Gospel of Mark or Acts in a dig and gave it to me, I would without hesitation identify it as a piece of Greek fiction. The Gospels contain all the typical conventions of such fiction: empty tombs, survived crucifixions, trials by authorities, travel narratives, religious and cultic beliefs, parables, sayings, construction by paralleling ancient literature, historical settings, doublets, chiastic structures, and so on. All of the above are staples of fiction in the Hellenistic world. To cite my own commentary, Robert Price (2000, p214-21) has shown that empty tombs and resurrection scenes were a staple of early Greek and Roman popular romances, occuring in such stories as Chaereas and Callirhoe, Xenophon’s Ephesian Tale, Leucippe and Clitophon, Daphnis and Chloe, Heliodorus’ Ethiopian Story, The Story of Apollonius, King of Tyre, Iamblichus’ Babylonian Story, and in places in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass.

Now, that does not mean that they contain no history. Mark does, for example. But it does mean that they are not historical eyewitnesses. It is easy to see that many of the things they describe could not have happened in the way that they describe. For example, it is patently obvious that Jesus never walked into the Temple and shut down its operations — the Temple is as big as 35 football fields, it could hold several hundred thousand pilgrims during the festival, and there was a cohort of Roman troops stationed nearby to prevent such a thing. There are other reasons (everything in the Temple Ruckus is drawn from the OT) but the key point is this: despite the fact that the story as it appears in Mark is not the story of an eyewitness, it may contain a historical kernel — it may recall something that Jesus said or did to attack the Temple.

Or take the sequence in the grainfield in Mark 2. John Meier, a mainstream scholar and cleric, notes:

“….having Pharisees suddenly pop up in the middle of a grainfield on the Sabbath to object to the disciples’ activity strains credibility. It almost looks like something out of a Broadway musical. Are we to imagine that Pharisees regularly patrolled grainfields on the Sabbath, looking for possible violations? Or have the Pharisees sent out a special commission to spy on Jesus and his disciples in this particular grainfield? In a number of dispute stories in the Gospels, the Pharisees or other opponents have a strange way of suddenly appearing on the scene just when Jesus or his disciples are doing or saying something objectionable. The scenario becomes even more unlikely if we accept the view of those commentators who suggest that the Pharisees did not enjoy a sizable presence in Galilee at the time of Jesus. Moreover, even if the Pharisees did have an organized presence in Galilee at the time, we might expect them to encounter and perhaps clash with Jesus in some synagogue on the Sabbath. But in a grainfield on the Sabbath?”(p573-4)

Similarly, he continues:

“But the way the counterquestion begins in v. 25 signals the problems to come: “Did you never read what David did … ?” Let us remember what the supposed historical situation in Mark 2:23-26 is. Challenged by some Pharisees, who are noted for their exact and exacting study of Scripture, Jesus counter-challenges them on their home ground: exact knowledge of the written Scriptures (“Did you never read .. . ?”). Jesus, therefore, is not appealing to some stray oral tradition or his own made-up-on-the-spot version of the David story. He consciously challenges the experts in the Scriptures to recall and then properly understand a given text of Scripture, namely, 1 Sam 21:2-10.

The problem is, Jesus proceeds in the presence of these scriptural experts to mangle and distort the text of the story, whether we read the text in its masoretic Hebrew form, in the alternate form found in the Qumran fragment of 4QSamb, in the Septuagintal Greek form (which often agrees with 4QSamb against the MT), or in the targumic Aramaic form.”(p574)

“If this scene gives us a true picture of the biblical knowledge and teaching skill of the historical Jesus, then the natural and very effective response of the Pharisees would have been not fierce anger and concerted opposition but gleeful mockery. They would have laughed their heads off-and invited the populace to do the same-at this uneducated woodworker who insisted on making a fool of himself in public by displaying his abysmal ignorance of the very scriptural text on which he proposed to instruct the supposedly ignorant Pharisees.”(p579)

You can see that Meier gives one reason (among many) to support the judgment, accepted by mainstream scholarship, that this event never occurred.

The deaf, blind, and crippled I’ve seen healed in Jesus’ name really weren’t sick; after all I’m not a doctor. How could I diagnose their diseases. They were probably faking anyway. And I really wasn’t a drug addict; I just thought I was, or I’m lying, or I’m crazy. And other people in other religions make similar claims…So no one and no thing can be trusted.

I think you’ve missed the point. I do not dispute your experiences (I’ve seen such healings myself), but rather, your interpretation of them. For my wife makes the same claim, that she has seen people healed too, in her guru’s presence. And further, she claims that the healings you have witnessed were actually the results of the prayers of her religion. So which interpretation of events should I buy?

All we have to do is find some parallels and coincidences and voilΓ‘ – we have conclusive evidence.

Be fair. Not only did I show you the parallels, I also showed you the linguistic connection. In many cases the OT is not only paralleled by actually cited — in Greek, word for word. For example, in Mark 2 Helms (1997, p3) points out that the verse is built out of Exodus 23:20
.
Here is my herald whom I send on ahead of you
Idou, apostello ton aggelon mou pro prosopou sou

taken directly from the Greek of the Septaugint version of Exodus:

Idou, apostello ton aggelon mou pro prosopou sou

coupled with an obstinate refusal to accept evidence that the Bible account is accurate no matter what the evidence.

I am eagerly awaiting — three posts now! — any evidence you want to put on the table.

You know, I am shamefully unprepared to enter an apolegetics debate with people as articulate and well prepared as you and Michael. I should have withdrawn early on. You guys are obviously well rehearsed and enjoy chewing up and spitting out naive Christians.

On one hand you accuse me of being unwilling to face the evidence (but I read the Bible every day, and I have hundreds of books and articles on it, and I moderate a discussion group on it, and argue and debate with scholars, including believing ones) — and then on the other hand you claim that you are too naive to present the evidence. I have a problem with this position…

If you consider yourself a “naive Christian” why not go out and read? I always recommend that people go out and read up on the scholarly works. If you are not comfortable with the mainstream, Luke Timothy Johnson has written several good conservative introductions to the NT that you might enjoy. I can also suggest other conservative works. If you want to understand how scholarship on the NT works, pick up some introductory text like Krentz’s The Historical-Critical Method. My main interest happens to be the Gospels and Acts, so I can’t help much with Paul and the OT. My deepest apologies.

Two good websites are Peter Kirby’s Early Christian Writings (www.earlychristianwritings.com) and Mark Goodacre’s NT Gateway (www.ntgateway.com). Kirby is a student right now, but he’ll be famous in a few years, and Goodacre is a brilliant scholar and believing Christian whose work and ideas are widely admired. Also good is Religion Online, which has a million useful articles. Kirby’s site also has links to 00s of books online.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people who do “Bible Study” never study the Bible. They don’t learn Greek, study the society and history of the period, understand how the text is reconstructed, and so on. Instead, they memorize a body of interpretations of the text. I mean, if you were going to study Slaughterhouse-Five, you’d read about Vonnegut’s life, about WWII, about Dresden, US consumer culture, the Gospels, Christianity, US history, the soldier’s experience of WWII, and so on. Did you do all that when you did your Bible study? If you didn’t read books about the history of Palestine, and the Roman empire, and so on, why not? Were not interested, or was the information kept from you? Or what?

What ever happened to the book “Evidence That Demands A Verdict?” I read it perhaps 30 yrs ago and can’t even remember the arguments presented. Have you ever read it? What’s your assessment of that work now?

EtDV is a pretty slender reed on which to hang a faith. If you want to post arguments from it here I’ll be happy to show you why they are not correct.

Michael Turton

4. Monk-in-Training - May 25, 2005

Good day gentlefolk,

One thing I personally try to do when entering discussions of this nature is to always keep in focus the idea that people can look at the same issue and genially have different conclusions, with no nefarious intent.

I generally find myself agreeing doctrinally with Novato, however I can’t agree with his methodology as much. And my post will interact with both of their recent ones.

First, Novato.

In your and Michael’s world

How did they become linked? Does Paul even know Michael?
How is that relevant to the discussion? It appears you see them as antagonists to you.

By your standards, nothing can be proven

This is ascribing motivations and conclusions to someone else that may or may not be the case, and then making further speculations derived from this. Not a good way to make an argument, and be listened to, my friend.

Your hypocrisy

Again, not a good way to get someone to agree with, or listen to your concerns.

You know, I am shamefully unprepared to enter an apolegetics debate with people as articulate and well prepared as you and Michael.

Very good, humility goes far in debates, and it begs the question, why not? Or perhaps better, do you want to be?
If so, check out http://www.apologetics.com

I should have withdrawn early on.
Please don’t, your thoughts would not be represented, and Michael might want to hear them. I certianly do.

You guys are obviously well rehearsed and enjoy chewing up and spitting out naive Christians.

This is hard for me to understand, since Paul (roopster) appears to me to support your argument more than Michael does, and even so, how can you ascribe motives to them, unless you are feeling that you wished you could do that, or some similar thing?

Even though the “proofs” for your arguments seem to me to be wholly based on coincidence, speculation, and conjecture, I still wasn’t prepared to present my case very well. Michael’s presentation was excellent.

This is wonderfully written, and it appears to be heartfelt, very good. As always, we have to remember that the Jesus we believe WAS on earth, was about Love, not “proving” anything.

Novato, I hope you know that I am only trying to give you insight into how you interact with the process to help your points be more acceptable. I mean no attack on you, personally.

Now on to Michael. πŸ˜‰

Someone cannot be a historical witness if you can demonstrate that what they wrote is fictionalized.

Why? Clearly anyone can take an event in their lives, revise it a tad, add some funny emphasis, OR revise it to line up more with a story or prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures, and it becomes “fictionalized”? I am of Irish descent, and I assure you, we can spin a yarn based on truth, even pretty close to the real story, yet revise it in certain ways to make it funnier, or have more impact.

The Gospels contain all the typical conventions of such fiction

Perhaps they do, but wouldn’t ANY written work from ANY time/culture would be saturated with items from that culture? Most people of the time were illiterate, so those who actually did the writing had been trained in the schools of the day, and soaked in the culture, so clearly allusions to Jewish or Greek history would help them frame stories to reach the populace better. These books were always meant to be heard, not read.

it is patently obvious that Jesus never walked into the Temple and shut down its operations

Who ever said He did? Isn’t that a supposition on your part? He drove out some money changers and upset some operations, but looking back from this century to that, did He shut down the Temple? I don’t see that from the text, I do see Him annoying the Temple establishment.

“….having Pharisees suddenly pop up in the middle of a grainfield on the Sabbath

Towns, farms, grainfields were MUCH smaller in those days, this isn’t Kansas where they are miles long and far away from people. You could have a “grain field” less than 30 ft wide, easy. This could be in or near a village that contained Pharisees just as easy as not. Why isn’t that just as possible?

In a number of dispute stories in the Gospels, the Pharisees or other opponents have a strange way of suddenly appearing on the scene just when Jesus or his disciples are doing or saying something objectionable.

Hm, ok my first thoughts on this, is what if only the stories that the Pharisees were at got recorded? I mean doesn’t make much of a dispute, if there isn’t some oppositon. Surely there could just as easily be stories that were not disputes, no Pharisees and not recorded?

Jesus, therefore, is not appealing to some stray oral tradition or his own made-up-on-the-spot version of the David story. He consciously challenges the experts in the Scriptures to recall and then properly understand a given text of Scripture, namely, 1 Sam 21:2-10.

I really like this, and intend to steal the idea from you and use it along with Acts 17:11! πŸ™‚ (can I?)

Jesus proceeds in the presence of these scriptural experts to mangle and distort the text of the story

Do we know that for certain? Perhaps He was using a variation that is no longer extant for us to look at today.

she claims that the healings you have witnessed were actually the results of the prayers of her religion.

I would not dispute they are the result, God is merciful and not bound by any theological construct we limited creations come up with. πŸ˜‰

In many cases the OT is not only paralleled by actually cited — in Greek, word for word. For example, in Mark 2 Helms (1997, p3) points out that the verse is built out of Exodus 23:20

I agree with this, but my interpretation is different. I would say that an educated Jewish scribe would use familiar lines to specifically tie the events he was recording to the familiar Scriptures of the people to whom the message was intended. Why isn’t that just as valid as being made up?

I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people who do “Bible Study” never study the Bible. They don’t learn Greek, study the society and history of the period, understand how the text is reconstructed, and so on.

Again, this is a jewel, and I love it, and I confess that I am just as guilty as the next “naive Christian”! πŸ˜‰

Well guys, That was a long winded post, please know that I only want to interact with the conversation, and have no intention to offend or wound.

5. Novato - May 25, 2005

Monk,

Thanks for the admonition. Your points are well taken, and you’re right. This is a very personal issue for me, since my God is a very personal God. My emotions boil over into my writing occasionally. You’re right, it’s not the best way to make an argument. For me it’s not just an intellecutal debate, but more akin to talking about my mother. My apologies to all, especially Michael.

Michael,

For hundreds of years people have embraced the gospel (Bible) message and benefited from it tremondously without an understanding of apologetics, Greek, Hebrew, history, literature, Hellenistic life, or many of the other things you seem to consider important. What kind of God / message would it be if you had to be a university professor and educated in all those areas in order to benefit from it? It’s a message for simple people. It doesn’t require scholarship – only a little faith. While scholarship is important, I believe that scholarship without experience is worthless. In other words, it seems to me that the higher up the scholarship tree you go, the more devoid they are of any sense of living faith and a personal God who lives and does miracles today for his children. That being the case, I have little motivation to climb that tree any higher.

I keep rejecting your arguments because they rely too much on conjecture, but maybe I’m missing something. Please explain to me how coincidences in writing style, similarities in content (empty tombs, survived crucifixions, trials by authorities, travel narratives, religious and cultic beliefs, parables, sayings, construction by paralleling ancient literature, historical settings, doublets, chiastic structures, and so on), coincidences with OT miracles, and the other things you cite prove that the Gospels are fictitious? Don’t those things only serve to prove that there’s similarities, coincidences, parallels, etc.? It seems to me like you’re making a gigantic leap in drawing your conclusions.

I’ll await your response.

Novato

6. Anonymous - May 25, 2005

What happened to Josephus in this discussion?

7. Roopster - May 25, 2005

Anon,

See Regarding the quotes from the historian Josephus about Jesus from CARM, a 501(c)3 nonprofit Christian apologetics organization.

Even Christian apologetics admit that they quotes are of suspect.

Paul

8. Michael Turton - May 26, 2005

Why? Clearly anyone can take an event in their lives, revise it a tad, add some funny emphasis, OR revise it to line up more with a story or prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures, and it becomes “fictionalized”? I am of Irish descent, and I assure you, we can spin a yarn based on truth, even pretty close to the real story, yet revise it in certain ways to make it funnier, or have more impact.

I totally agree, Monk. But here’s the problem: once that has been done, how do you know which parts are the revisions, and which are not? You’d need some credible outside vector on the problem, which we don’t have. Or else you’d need some reliable methodology to strain out the fiction, which we don’t have.

“Fictionalizing” is not a problem for my belief that Mark is fiction — it supports it. It is a problem for those of you who want to rescue some history from the text.

Perhaps they do, but wouldn’t ANY written work from ANY time/culture would be saturated with items from that culture? Most people of the time were illiterate, so those who actually did the writing had been trained in the schools of the day, and soaked in the culture, so clearly allusions to Jewish or Greek history would help them frame stories to reach the populace better. These books were always meant to be heard, not read.

Certainly, but again we’re stuck. Imagine if the only thing we had left for the history of our day in 2,000 years were Hollywood movies, and we had to figure out what was fiction and what was not. We might be able to figure out that Independence Day was bad history (bad moviemaking too πŸ™‚ ). But what would we do with something like Gone with the Wind or Saving Private Ryan? SPR went a little farther than most WWII movies, but there are still plenty of Hollywood conventions in its presentation, and especially Spielberg’s personal formulae. That’s where we are looking at the Gospels.

Who ever said He did? Isn’t that a supposition on your part? He drove out some money changers and upset some operations, but looking back from this century to that, did He shut down the Temple? I don’t see that from the text, I do see Him annoying the Temple establishment.

I hate being accused of “supposition” by people who are apparently unfamiliar with the text. Please take a good hard look at v16:

15: And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; 16: and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. (RSV)

The NIV has:

16and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.

and the YLT has:

16and he did not suffer that any might bear a vessel through the temple,

Take a look at My Commentary entry on the Temple Ruckus to see why this should not be regarded as a historical event. That verse is key.

Note that this doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t make pronouncements against the Temple. It does mean, however, that the burden of proof is on you to show that he. I can show the fictional derivation of the Temple Ruckus on every level. If you want to assert that it has a kernel that goes back to Jesus, you’ll need a methodology to show that.

Towns, farms, grainfields were MUCH smaller in those days, this isn’t Kansas where they are miles long and far away from people. You could have a “grain field” less than 30 ft wide, easy. This could be in or near a village that contained Pharisees just as easy as not. Why isn’t that just as possible?

I agree. On the Sabbath? What would they be doing? Patrolling the fields looking for reformist agitators? The scene is clearly contrived — as Meier noted below, opponents who pop up, make a comment, and then disappear are a staple of Mark’s gospel.

Hm, ok my first thoughts on this, is what if only the stories that the Pharisees were at got recorded? I mean doesn’t make much of a dispute, if there isn’t some oppositon. Surely there could just as easily be stories that were not disputes, no Pharisees and not recorded?

Sure. Prove it.

A further problem is that there is no evidence of any Pharisees in Galilee prior to 70. Galilee was the least Judaized part of Palestine — “Galilee of the Gentiles” the rabbis called it. Additionally, no one knows who and what the Pharisees were, and scholars do not agree on whether they would have been opposed to Jesus’ mission. Indeed, some scholars, such as Hyam Maccoby, have argued that Jesus was a Pharisee. A substantial minority of scholars does not believe that there were Pharisees in Palestine prior to 70. For a good grip on things, see Steve Mason’s review article CURRENT SCHOLARSHIP ON THE PHARISEES or the discussions in Theissen and Merz’s The Historical Jesus (which I highly recommend as an encyclopedia on the HJ and related issues, by two prominent German Christian scholars). So given all that, demonstrating that this pericope contains any history is difficult.

It gets worse, though, because the saying about the Sabbath is a common Jewish one. Further, this pericope is part of a larger chiastic structure laid out by Joanna Dewey in a landmark article several years ago. Once again, we see the same pattern of literary contrivance at all levels.

Who knows? Maybe something like this event did occur. But how will you demonstrate that?

Do we know that for certain? Perhaps He was using a variation that is no longer extant for us to look at today.

Perhaps. But I’ve discovered that Mark has an interesting habit of referring to texts in one place that he will parallel elsewhere in the Gospel. Here the Abiathar mistake compels the reader to go back to 2 Sam and read about Abiathar. There you will run into passages that Mark will later use to construct the arrest scene in Gethsemane. I am convinced that Mark never errs without good reason — Mark intends to point to something when he makes “mistakes”. In fact, my own view is that Mark was one of the great literary geniuses of history, who founded a whole new genre, and whose work has been copied and elaborated on for 20 centuries.

I would not dispute they are the result, God is merciful and not bound by any theological construct we limited creations come up with. πŸ˜‰

Yes, well, I would dispute both result and theological construction πŸ™‚ . But that’s the problem. Once you suspend natural law, you are without any basis to attribute causation (in fact you are on a slippery slope to solipsism, but that’s an issue for another post). Actually, there’s no reason that advanced alien tech could not be at work either.

I agree with this, but my interpretation is different. I would say that an educated Jewish scribe would use familiar lines to specifically tie the events he was recording to the familiar Scriptures of the people to whom the message was intended. Why isn’t that just as valid as being made up?

It’s certainly a “valid” narrative technique. But recovering the history is now not possible. In fact, were it not for the Church’s claim that there is history down there, what reason would we have to think that there is history in Mark’s narrative? None that I can see. Everything can be shown to be literary construction. *shrug*

Many thanks to Paul for letting me monopolize his blog!

Michael

9. Michael Turton - May 26, 2005

For hundreds of years people have embraced the gospel (Bible) message and benefited from it tremondously without an understanding of apologetics, Greek, Hebrew, history, literature, Hellenistic life, or many of the other things you seem to consider important.

I don’t want to get into an argument about whether historical Christianity has been beneficial.

What kind of God / message would it be if you had to be a university professor and educated in all those areas in order to benefit from it? It’s a message for simple people.

“A simple message for simple people” is an interpretive stance, Novato. It’s OK to assert it at me, but if you do, you are making a claim about the text that the evidence of text itself does not support. For example, consider the Centurion’s Confession in Mark 15:39. Mark has cleverly packed the text with ambiguity. First, the Greek does not contain “the” so the usual translation you see, Truly this man was the Son of God is wrong. Edwards (2000) writes:

“It is doubtful whether any English translation can adequately represent the qualitative emphasis that Mark expresses in 15,39 by placing an anarthrous predicate before the verb. Perhaps the verse could best be translated, “Truly this man was God’s son.” This has the advantage of calling attention to Jesus’ role or nature as son of God. It minimizes the question whether the word “son” should be understood as definite or indefinite. At the same time it leaves open the possibility that Mark was thinking of Jesus at this point as “a son of God.”

Fowler and MacDonald have both noted that the Centurion’s pronouncement contains a brilliant bit of ambiguity. Perhaps he is speaking sincerely. Or perhaps he is being mocking: Truly this man was a son of God (and I’m Julius Caesar!). The best part is, no matter which way you read it, it is still ironic. Mark was an effing genius.

Or consider Mark 4:11-12. What does Jesus mean when he says the parables are only for insiders? The verse has vexed interpreters for centuries, and when Luke and Matt copied Mark, they rewrote it to soften it. Donald Juel has a nice line on that verse:

“The efforts of interpreters to bring these verses under control border on desperation.”

The fact is that Mark is a very complex document that you have been taught to think of as simple. And that brings up the core reason for this conversation:

You want to know why you should read about the text, Novato? Because until you start reading what others have said and developing your own take on the text, your brain is at the mercy of others. You’ve been sent to Bible Study to memorize interpretations that you have been taught to think of as “authoritative”. Your mind has been controlled by another, and you have forfeited your own autonomy and intellectual freedom. One of the great tragedies of modern Protestantism is that it killed the Pope, and then promptly erected a thousand little popes in his place. Ironic, isn’t it, that a movement born so that each man could develop his own reading of the text has become the most controlling religious view of all…

…The reason you read, Novato, is so that you can get a bead not merely on the text, but on how people interpret it. Nobody who seriously studies Mark, outside of conservative Christians, believes it is a simple text. So why do you? Answer: because that’s what you have been told.

It doesn’t require scholarship – only a little faith. While scholarship is important, I believe that scholarship without experience is worthless. In other words, it seems to me that the higher up the scholarship tree you go, the more devoid they are of any sense of living faith and a personal God who lives and does miracles today for his children.

I can name many scholars who would be profoundly insulted by this argument, including some of my favorites, such as as the Quaker Ched Myers. Certainly people give up literal views of faith as they move up into the scholarly tree. But they do not necessarily give up faith. You should read Myers’ Binding the Strong Man which is not only a brilliant reading of Mark but a profound statement of faith in God and in fellow men. Many of the scholars I know are engaged in social and political activism.

This kind of thinking, that scholars are not True Believers, is a kind of response that you have absorbed from the conservative religious culture that has overseen your adoption of Christianity. It’s just a way of getting you to rationalize for yourself your own lack of commitment to understanding the Bible. Once again, Someone Else is controlling your interpretation of events: someone else has not only handed you a way to think about the text, but also handed you a way to think about people….who think about the text. It’s sad, Novato.

From my angle it looks like what you did was make a raft in a sea of pain and call it God. And one day someone comes along and says “Time to get off the raft and swim for yourself.” Swimming for yourself doesn’t mean that you need to give up God — there are thousands of knowledgeable pastors and academics who are passionate Christians, socially involved, yet well aware of the historical and textual issues. I’m not asking you to become an atheist. I am, however, begging you to stop accepting what you have been told is “true” and instead find out for yourself. Swimming means it is time to get off the raft, Novato. The water may be cold, but it refreshes. And unlike rafts, life grows in the water.

I keep rejecting your arguments because they rely too much on conjecture, but maybe I’m missing something. Please explain to me how coincidences in writing style, similarities in content (empty tombs, survived crucifixions, trials by authorities, travel narratives, religious and cultic beliefs, parables, sayings, construction by paralleling ancient literature, historical settings, doublets, chiastic structures, and so on), coincidences with OT miracles, and the other things you cite prove that the Gospels are fictitious? Don’t those things only serve to prove that there’s similarities, coincidences, parallels, etc.? It seems to me like you’re making a gigantic leap in drawing your conclusions.

I have a whole commentary on Mark here that lays out a methodology and then explores the text in minute detail. A good place to start might be the Temple Ruckus where I lay out a case for fictionality based on a huge variety of factors. From there, jump around and see what you like. The presence of literary conventions alone or extensive paralleling alone or extensive citation alone or historical implausibility alone would not make for fiction. It is the presence of all of them, plus many other things, that makes Mark most probably a fiction. Note that in my commentary I take a weaker position; namely, that historicity cannot be demonstrated. I try to keep my private conclusions and my public conclusions separate. In any case, my interpretation of Mark is not online yet, as I am withholding it for publication, if some publisher is kind enough to accept my work. *fingers crossed*

Michael

10. Novato - May 26, 2005

Michael,

No thanks. I’m not interested in anything else you have to say. You’ve built a case you consider to be true around suppositions that I categorically reject. The basic premises of your arguments are flawed in my opinion.

These are just a few examples: Your assertion that there are literary similarities to Greek writers of the day in Mark and OT parallels proves nothing, except that there are similarities and parallels. Your opinion that Mark is fiction is just an opinion based on conjecture.

Your guess work regarding Pharisees in a field is just that; supposition and guess work. Your conjecture doesn’t prove the event to be fictitious. But the low bar you’ve set for yourself allows you to accept your conclusions as fact.

And your claim that because Jesus “would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. “(RSV) means that he shut down the temple, is also a stretch. It doesn’t say he shut down the temple. Only that he blocked people from carrying things through the temple. We don’t know how long he blocked their passage. Would 60 seconds be long enough to “shut down the temple?” How about 2 min. or 5 min.? I hardly think so. So you, in your apparently usual fashion extrapolate the conclusion you wish. You invent things that aren’t there to suit your own ends.

In addition, you don’t want what I have either, so there’s no point in continuing the conversation. It’s the principle of not casting our pearls before swine. Not that either of us are swine; it would just be a waste of time.

Novato

11. Anonymous - May 26, 2005

Your guess work regarding Pharisees in a field is just that; supposition and guess work.

If so, then it is widely shared supposition and guesswork, for it represents the mainstream view.

The basic premises of your arguments are flawed in my opinion.

Although you confessedly do not know anything about the text you claim is the center of your religious life, you nevertheless are certain I am wrong. Can you think of any other field where you make such a claim?

It’s strange, don’t you think? The atheist begs the Christian to read about the Scriptures, and the Christian categorically refuses. When I was in the Peace Corps in Kenya, one year we had no rain and after weeks of desperation the shaman went up to the top of the local mountain to summon rain through rainmaking ceremonies. The next day the rains arrived. The elders were sitting around in the local tea shop drinking tea and munching on fried dough, and discussing this miracle when the shopkeeper pulled out the newspaper that had, two days prior, predicted rain. Turned out that the shaman was the only one among the elders who could read. The storekeeper made zero headway with the elders when he tried to convince them that they had been bamboozled. Finally they walked away rather than listen.

That’s what you sound like.

in addition, you don’t want what I have either, so there’s no point in continuing the conversation.

There’s always a point in dialogue, Novato, and I’ll always be here ready to listen, whenever you want to talk.

Michael Turton

12. Roopster - May 26, 2005

Gentlemen,

This has been a very enlightening discussion.

I hope others benefited from it as much as I did.

Paul

13. Zoe - May 26, 2005

Love the discussion Roopster…having been where Novato has been & leaning now towards where Michael is…it has been interesting to read along regarding M’s contribution regarding Mark. I always said Mark was my favourite book in the Bible, though I could never really say exactly why…maybe because the story of the paralytic was my favourite story.

I think you’ve got one of the best blog commenting sections around Roop…enjoy Monk’s contributions as well.

14. Novato - May 26, 2005

Micheal,

You’ve missed the point of my frustration. You have never once acknowledged that what you’re doing is based on conjecture and speculation. You continually build “houses” of [so-called] fact on foundations of straw. When I look at why you believe something, it’s nearly always conclusions based on your or someone else’s speculation, conjecture, extrapolation, and would require me to turn off my brain in order to embrace it.

Then you continue with some other lengthy dissertation spouting your so called facts, data, Hellenistic literary reviews, etc. You may fool some people by your appearance of authoritative scholarship and superior intelligence, but I’m not impressed. I must say you do it very well. It takes years to fabricate and perfect such a demeanor.

When I look at the foundation you’re standing on, I find it’s the straw and cardboard of speculation and conjecture. I’m unwilling to waste more time playing this game with you.

Since you are obviously a very smart and educated person, I can only conclude that your willful and repetitive practice of mounting complicated intellectual polemics that are based on thin conjectural information, is either a ploy to make your baseless argument “sound” impressive and authoritative, and thereby occult its weak foundation, or else you’re a cynic whose only purpose is to tear down Christianity. Or maybe you’re all of the above. I don’t know. I’m just speculating. But at least I know it, and clearly say that I am.

Novato

15. Novato - May 26, 2005

Roop,

Hey man, I know you love me and there was no malicious intent regarding “twisted words.” My words were vague and left a lot of room for interpretation, which isn’t your fault. If I would have elaborated more, my full meaning would have been clear to all.

Novato

16. Paco - May 26, 2005

What Novato said…

17. paco - May 26, 2005

PS… the bottom line is that spiritual things are just that… spiritual. That doesn’t mean there aren’t intellectual reason’s for belief… there are. However, I’ve found God communicates with a man’s heart not his head… God is “Spirit” and operates within that dimension. Those that want to figure everything out will always find reason’s not to believe, thus locking themselves out of the kingdom of heaven, the access of which is only by faith. To be locked out of spiritual realities because of an overly educated mind and undereducated spirit is very much a Western Hemisphere phenomenon… more’s the pity.

18. Novato - May 27, 2005

Paco,

Tiene la razon.

Novato

19. Michael Turton - May 28, 2005

Micheal,
You’ve missed the point of my frustration. You have never once acknowledged that what you’re doing is based on conjecture and speculation. You continually build “houses” of [so-called] fact on foundations of straw. When I look at why you believe something, it’s nearly always conclusions based on your or someone else’s speculation, conjecture, extrapolation, and would require me to turn off my brain in order to embrace it.

Novato, nothing in my analysis is based on speculation. You have simply claimed that it is “speculation” without providing any concrete counterargument to anything I have said.

Then you continue with some other lengthy dissertation spouting your so called facts, data, Hellenistic literary reviews, etc. You may fool some people by your appearance of authoritative scholarship and superior intelligence, but I’m not impressed. I must say you do it very well. It takes years to fabricate and perfect such a demeanor.

I’m not sure what you mean here. When I cited John Meier on Mark 2, I was citing one of the most important NT scholars of our time, and a Christian cleric. What exactly would you say was wrong with citing a recognized expert in his area of expertise? And further, what specifically can you say was wrong with his arguments?

When I look at the foundation you’re standing on, I find it’s the straw and cardboard of speculation and conjecture. I’m unwilling to waste more time playing this game with you.

It’s fine that you think it is all cardboard. But why?

Since you are obviously a very smart and educated person,

Thank you! And to think a moment ago you said my demeanor was fabricated! πŸ™‚

I can only conclude that your willful and repetitive practice of mounting complicated intellectual polemics that are based on thin conjectural information, is either a ploy to make your baseless argument “sound” impressive and authoritative, and thereby occult its weak foundation, or else you’re a cynic whose only purpose is to tear down Christianity. Or maybe you’re all of the above. I don’t know. I’m just speculating. But at least I know it, and clearly say that I am.

I’m glad you think that my arguments are “thin” and I am very willing to take any corrective you might apply. Nobody likes to have thin arguments! So what specific aspects of my arguments are “thin?” Feel free to take on the of major events from my Mark Commentary, perhaps one we’ve discussed (The Temple, Jairus’ daughter) and show why my arguments are thin and conjectural.

Perhaps there’s a third position, Novato, about my motives: I am passionately interested in Mark, a writing that I love, and want to suss out everything about it.

Michael

20. Michael Turton - May 28, 2005

To be locked out of spiritual realities because of an overly educated mind and undereducated spirit is very much a Western Hemisphere phenomenon… more’s the pity.

Paco, this is simply an expression of the in-group desire to control the minds and bodies of others. Authority-belief systems like Communism, Christianity, Islam, Fascism — even modern corporations, all deploy similar arguments to get their victims to shape their own behavior in the way the System desires.

And I do not like listening to the wistful expressions of others’ desires to gain control over my mind and body. “Spiritual” here in your remarks is simply a call for submission to the power you hope to wield over me, just as Communists accuse their victims of failing to grasp the immutable laws of history, or Fascists accuse their victims of being insufficiently patriotic. It is all the same language, the language of dominance, power and control and I reject it utterly.

Michael

21. Novato - May 28, 2005

Michael,

I trust the U.S. constitution and related history. However, I’m not prepared (studied) to provide any historical proof to a challenger that it happened the way I was taught. I trust what I’ve learned and experienced. UNLESS that challenger can show me sufficient evidence that what I believe / learned is severely flawed, I have no interest in spending the enormous amount of time it would take to become a historian.

My position regarding the NT account of Jesus is similar. Christianity has withstood the scrutiny of skeptics, scholars, cynics, Caesars, believers, and unbelievers for roughly 2000 yrs. I’m satisfied that people smarter than I and better equipped and educated have done an adecuate job searching out the issues.

You claim that I have to prove something. I’m standing on what has worked in my life and has a 2000 yr. historical precedent of working. Like I said, I’m satisfied with the precedent and experience I have until somebody can show me sufficient reason to doubt it. So far you haven’t done that. You’ve only offered speculation and conjecture.

Let me cite just one example that hopefully you’ll respond to. You claim that Jesus shut down the temple, and because there is no other record of the temple ever being shut down, then the story must be fictitious. The way you linearly arrive at such a conclusion is simplistic conjecture.

First of all, the scripture doesn’t say that he shut down the temple as you assert. It says that Jesus “would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. ” (RSV) It doesn’t say he shut down the temple. Only that he blocked people from carrying things through the temple. We don’t know how long he blocked their passage. Would 60 seconds be long enough to “shut down the temple?” How about 2 min. or 5 min.? I hardly think so. Yet you seize upon what the BIBLE DOES NOT SAY as “proof” that the account is fictitious. It’s your opinion based on your conjecture; nothing more. Fine, you can believe that if you want to, but don’t expect thinking people to forsake 2000 yrs of history, precedent, and experience based on your simplistic challenge.

Why should anyone waste their time trying to prove your conjecture to be wrong? Why should I waste time trying to prove that something that didn’t happen, really didn’t happen merely because you conjecturally attempt to raise some kind of doubt about the veracity of the story? I find this pattern to be consistent throughout your arguments.

Secondly, if Jesus did shut down the temple, the fact that you can’t find any corroborating evidence doesn’t prove that it didn’t happen. It only proves that you can’t find any evidence. Does the fact that we can’t see planets beyond the reach of our telescopes prove there are none there? No, it only proves that we can’t see beyond the reach of our telescopes.

Drawing speculative conclusions based on what’s not known, like you do, is a waste of time and you haven’t proven anything. Now, is your argument regarding this point thin or not?

Novato

22. Michael Turton - May 29, 2005

Let me cite just one example that hopefully you’ll respond to. You claim that Jesus shut down the temple, and because there is no other record of the temple ever being shut down, then the story must be fictitious. The way you linearly arrive at such a conclusion is simplistic conjecture.

Novato, that isn’t what I claim. Rather, it is the (1) lack of external witnesses, including other Christian writings; (2) the creation of specific verses off of the OT (Neh 13); (3) the presence of Mark’s style in all non-OT verses; (4) the low historical plausibility of Jesus being able to attack the money changers without any retaliation, and to interrupt traffic in the Temple (for any length of time); (5) the story appears to echo the Onias story in Maccabees (whose appeared to his followers after his death, and whose brother’s name was Jesus) and (6) the fact that the Temple story appears to fall in sequence with the Elijah-Elisha stories from 2 Kings that also structure other Markan events. This is not an analysis that depends on a single vector, Novato, nor should you represent it that way.

I’m satisfied that people smarter than I and better equipped and educated have done an adecuate job searching out the issues.

That’s pretty much what I’m telling you! And the conclusion of many of the smart people who searched out the issues is that Jesus never staged a ruckus in the Temple. It’s not a credible story for the multiple reasons I listed above. So many scholars have given up on the historicity of the story, and instead believe that it reflects some attitude or saying of Jesus in which he attacked the Temple.

It says that Jesus “would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. ” (RSV) It doesn’t say he shut down the temple.

Novato, here’s the danger of using translations. The Greek there actually says that Jesus prevented anyone from carrying vessels through the Temple. The “vessels” in question are the ones used by the Temple itself. In other words, Jesus is there preventing the sacred vessels from being carried out of the Temple, just like Onias III, who would be killed for this and later come back to his followers in a dream. See a parallel there?

In any case the text as it is written clearly specifies that Jesus prevented the occurrence of something that no one wanted to happen — why would anyone be moving the sacred vessels out of the Temple in the first place? That verse causes headaches for translators because it is so impossible on every level (why would anyone move the vessels out, and how could Jesus stop them? the Temple had its own guards, and there were tens of thousands of pilgrims willing to lend a hand). The RSV gets rid of the problem by deleting the object from the sentence, while the NIV, probably the least trustworthy of the major modern translations, turns ‘vessels’into ‘merchandise.’ The YLT preserves the original reading fairly well.

Secondly, if Jesus did shut down the temple, the fact that you can’t find any corroborating evidence doesn’t prove that it didn’t happen.

Novato, this logic is not tenable. Imagine if we were standing over a dead body in the road:

MICHAEL: Look, a dead body!
NOVATO: Tom did it.
MICHAEL: What evidence do you have to support that assertion?
NOVATO: Just because there’s no evidence, doesn’t mean that Tom didn’t do it.

You want to assert “this story is historical” you need to supply evidence and argument. I’ve developed a powerful argument showing that it is fiction on every level.

The lack of corraborating evidence in both Christian and non-Christian writings is not proof of anything. It becomes a powerful silence when you place it in conjunction with everything else we know about Mark, and about this story.

Now, is your argument regarding this point thin or not?

Actually, my argument here is pretty strong, which is why it is widespread among NT scholars.

Fine, you can believe that if you want to, but don’t expect thinking people to forsake 2000 yrs of history, precedent, and experience based on your simplistic challenge.

Believing that Jesus did not cause a ruckus in the Temple is not “forsaking 2000 years of history.” Almost all the scholars who believe the Temple Ruckus never happened are Christians, and learning this did not destroy their faith. Most of them have a pretty strong faith, in fact, and some of them are quite eloquent on the topic.

I don’t expect you to ‘forsake’ anything. Whatever decisions you make are entirely yours. I just think it rather odd that you have never read about the text you think is central to your life.

Michael

23. Novato - May 29, 2005

Michael,

Your argument is:

(1) lack of external witnesses, including other Christian writings;

The lack of external witnesses doesn’t prove anything. Drawing any conclusions based on the lack of external witness requires conjecture. Granted, other witnesses would strengthen the argument for the veracity of Mark’s account, but the absence of them isn’t PROOF of anything.

(2) the creation of specific verses off of the OT (Neh 13);

Could be coincidence. In any case, conclusions based on this HYPOTHESIS require more conjecture and speculation. Are you forgetting that this is a supernatural book? God could inspire any parallel or coincidence he chooses. He chooses the foolish things to confound the wise.

(3) the presence of Mark’s style in all non-OT verses;

This is your interpretive opinion. Regardless of how expert your (or other’s) opinion may be, it’s still just an opinion and not evidence or proof of anything. Again a weak and subjective argument.

(4) the low historical plausibility of Jesus being able to attack the money changers without any retaliation, and to interrupt traffic in the Temple (for any length of time);

Low plausibility? You’re speculating. This is a weak argument requiring more conjecture. It certainly isn’t proof of anything. Just a hunch. If Jesus was just a mere man, it’s still arguably plausible that he did what Mark claims. If he’s the miracle worker the scripture paints him to be, this would be no problem at all.

(5) the story appears to echo the Onias story in Maccabees (whose appeared to his followers after his death, and whose brother’s name was Jesus)

Appears to echo…? Are you guessing again? Appearances and echos are not evidence; just more fodder to feed the conjecture mill of your mind.

(6) the fact that the Temple story appears to fall in sequence with the Elijah-Elisha stories from 2 Kings that also structure other Markan events.

Appearances are only facts in your imagination. The appearance of anything requires more conjecture and speculation in order to draw a conclusion.

I said:

Secondly, if Jesus did shut down the temple, the fact that you can’t find any corroborating evidence doesn’t prove that it didn’t happen.

I guess I didn’t say this well. I’m hypothetically saying that even if your assertion that this scripture indicates that Jesus shut down the temple, just because you can’t find any further corroborating evidence that it happened, doesn’t prove that Mark’s account is fiction. I don’t agree with your assertion because Mark doesn’t say that the Temple was shut down, and to arrive at that conclusion requires more speculation.

Novato

24. Michael Turton - May 29, 2005

(1) lack of external witnesses, including other Christian writings;

The lack of external witnesses doesn’t prove anything. Drawing any conclusions based on the lack of external witness requires conjecture. Granted, other witnesses would strengthen the argument for the veracity of Mark’s account, but the absence of them isn’t PROOF of anything.

I never said it was PROOF of anything. There’s no such thing as PROOF except in mathematics and logic, Novato. In the scholarly and scientific disciplines we go where the weight of evidence lies. The silence in the outside sources is powerful evidence in conjunction with everything else I have mentioned.

(2) the creation of specific verses off of the OT (Neh 13);

Could be coincidence. In any case, conclusions based on this HYPOTHESIS require more conjecture and speculation. Are you forgetting that this is a supernatural book? God could inspire any parallel or coincidence he chooses. He chooses the foolish things to confound the wise.

Unfortunately “this is a supernatural book” is an unsupported assertion of yours and further, no scholar can make an argument that way (after all, I can claim any argument is supported by the supernatural. My Tibetan Buddhist wife believes Christianity is demon worship and my arguments are supported by her supernatural beliefs). Doing good scholarship requires that we renounce the idea that the supernatural has explanatory power. This position is called methodological naturalism, and was developed by Christians and Deists during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as part of the development of modern science and scholarship. It’s what makes progress possible.

Specific verses in the Temple Ruckus are drawn from Neh 13 and also from Isa and Jer. i can give you the relevant citations of the scholarly literature (they are on my website where you can get them easily). But you haven’t read my article yet, have you?

(3) the presence of Mark’s style in all non-OT verses;

This is your interpretive opinion. Regardless of how expert your (or other’s) opinion may be, it’s still just an opinion and not evidence or proof of anything. Again a weak and subjective argument.

Alas, no, for redaction critics have identified the hand of Mark very clearly in 11:15-19 in verses not drawn from the OT. See, for example, the summary in Ludemann Jesus After 2,000 Years. It’s not my speculation, Novato. Arguments from style may contain an element of subjectivity, but it is a rather widely shared subjectivity.

(4) the low historical plausibility of Jesus being able to attack the money changers without any retaliation, and to interrupt traffic in the Temple (for any length of time);

Low plausibility? You’re speculating. This is a weak argument requiring more conjecture. It certainly isn’t proof of anything. Just a hunch. If Jesus was just a mere man, it’s still arguably plausible that he did what Mark claims. If he’s the miracle worker the scripture paints him to be, this would be no problem at all.

Novato, here is an argument you have utterly failed to grapple with, so I’ll simply repeat it again. (1) Roman soldiers stationed nearby specifically to prevent any trouble with the Temple (2) moneychangers naturally had own guards and far outnumbered Jesus & followers. They were performing a valuable religious service and there is no way a crowd would permit interference in their work (3) Temple had its own guards (4) Temple was so huge and packed with pilgrims at festival that there is no way Jesus’ demonstration would be noticed, let alone effective. All that applies double.

A further problem, as Buchanon (1991) points out, is that the Temple was not merely the main religious institution of the Jewish religion, it was also the national treasury and its best fortress. The Temple’s importance should not be underestimated: all three sides in the internal struggle during the Jewish War fought to gain control of the Temple. Not only is it highly unlikely that Jesus could have simply strolled in and gained control of the Temple, it is also highly unlikely that anyone would have permitted him to leave unmolested after such a performance.

(5) the story appears to echo the Onias story in Maccabees (whose appeared to his followers after his death, and whose brother’s name was Jesus)

Appears to echo…? Are you guessing again? Appearances and echos are not evidence; just more fodder to feed the conjecture mill of your mind.

Hmmm…let’s see. Onias III tried to prevent the vessels from being moved out of the Temple. Onias III was betrayed and killed. Onias III appeared to his followers after death. Are you saying that none of these parallel any events in the Jesus story? Oh, and Onias III had a brother named Jesus. Mark also offers us other Maccabee parallels, but that is neither here nor there.

(6) the fact that the Temple story appears to fall in sequence with the Elijah-Elisha stories from 2 Kings that also structure other Markan events.

Appearances are only facts in your imagination. The appearance of anything requires more conjecture and speculation in order to draw a conclusion.

Novato, there’s a couple of issues here you appear to be unaware of. The use of the word appear is scholarly idiom; it is simply a politeness form that prevents strong statements from being made. The fact is that Jesus’ career closely parallel’s Elijah’s, a fact known to scholars since the previous century (see Abbott’s entry in 1899 Encyclopedia Biblica or Goodspeed’s 1937 introduction. I believe William Sanday’s 1876 Introduction to the NT also mentions it, but I am not sure as have not read it in a while). Point is, that this is a known factoid and not conjecture on my part. So please stop using the word “conjecture” to describe something that has been known to scholars for a century or so. Here’s Edgar Goodspeed (1937, p125-6):

“Much closer parallels to the Gospel of Mark, at least, are afforded by the Elijah and Elisha cycles of the Books of Kings: I Kings, chapter 17-II Kings, chapter 2; and I Kings 19:19, II Kings chapters 2-13. It is a striking fact that almost everything Jesus is reported as doing in Mark has parallels in these cycles, which it is plain had a great influence on the writer. Indeed, the shadow of Elijah or Elisha falls on almost every page of the Gospel of Mark

Do you think that all these scholars for the last century are “conjecturing”? Or what?

The best explication of this is Brodie’s A Crucial Bridge which is very affordable.

I guess I didn’t say this well. I’m hypothetically saying that even if your assertion that this scripture indicates that Jesus shut down the temple, just because you can’t find any further corroborating evidence that it happened, doesn’t prove that Mark’s account is fiction. I don’t agree with your assertion because Mark doesn’t say that the Temple was shut down, and to arrive at that conclusion requires more speculation.

Novato, I don’t think you quite understand the problem. The lack of corroborating evidence is not a problem for my claims, it is a problem for yours. You want to maintain that Jesus did this — prove it with evidence and argument. You can’t say that “He did it!” is the default position that I must bring down. That is not how scholarship works. The reality is that NO position is the default position and each must be supported by evidence and argument. I’ve supported mine with relevant citations from the scholarly lit. Your entire argument consists of calling this “conjecture.” See the problem here? When pressed for evidence for what you believe, you keep saying: but it could be true, and anyway, it is all miraculous, so Jesus could have done it. I argue from evidence, you argue from what looks like “faith” but is really more like a stubborn refusal to think about the issues.

Here’s the problem I alluded to earlier: you don’t know why you believe it, but you are certain you are right. If I press you for reasons, you tell me that you are certain scholars have solved these problems although you cannot name even a single one who has. The problem is not my unwillingness to engage with the material or with the people write about it. The problem is not my unwillingness to read and learn. It is not me who retreats into stubborn truculence when confronted with problems. It is not me who is certain he is right even though he has no idea why.

If you have time, head over to some of the websites I’ve mentioned and read, read, read. I do not understand people who claim that the Bible is the center of their lives, yet have put less effort into reading about it than they do into reading about the claims on food packaging.

Michael Turton

25. Novato - May 29, 2005

Michael,

You said, “I do not understand people who claim that the Bible is the center of their lives,…”

Yes, you clearly don’t understand spiritual things.

Novato

26. Jason - April 20, 2007

My. My. Where to even begin with all that has come before.

Does one have to prove that the Gospel accounts are “truth” per se in order for them to be considered legitimate works to shape the life of faith for a believer. I find that the first question most people ask (is this true?) is simply not the right first question. The right first questions about any Biblical text are: what does it teach about God and what does it teach about humanity and their relationship with one another? These are the questions that the Bible seeks to answer. Questions about historical accuracy are secondary questions.

Historicity becomes important in answering the two questions I have listed above because the texts should be studied within their socio-cultural context.

When we do this what we find are texts that were being written to communities of faith to shape the lives of those communities. The Bible cannot, in my estimation, be sufficiently interpreted by those who are asking the wrong questions first. The Bible is not a history book or a science book. It is a book of faith for communities of faith.

This is not to say that people can’t ask questions about historical “truth”. We can do that. But it does not really get at the core issues dealt with in the Bible.

I happen to believe that many of the writings of the Bible reflect the predelictions and the socio-cultural biases of their authors. But I also believe that the Canon is the inspired word of God which means that I – as a member of the faith community – must deal with scripture within this canonical framework. Others may want to deal with historicity. I can play that game, too. But historicity should not be the primary issue within the community of faith. The interpretation of the inspired word as it relates the life of the faith community in today’s cultural context should be the primary concern for the communities of faith that call scripture “holy”.

Within the movements that try to sort out the historicity of scripture, there is a desire to believe that scripture is somehow a guide for the life of the faithful, but rather than dealing with the text as a whole, it is often preferable to cut out the portions of the text that do not align with our own sensibilities about our contemporary spirituality and morality.

The Bible becomes a significantly more challenging text when we set aside our desire to pick parts out of it as true or untrue and begin dealing with it as a whole.

We can quote scholars all day long. For many of those that were listed above, a quick pull of some books off of my shelf could refute all that MT has said above and some of what Novato has said. And then you will tell me why my scholars are wrong and I will tell you why your scholars are wrong. I just don’t think that’s profitable.

Have you ever noticed how these apologetic conversations usually only drive people further into the positions they had when they began?

27. Adam - May 8, 2007

Hey man. I found your blog yesterday and I am really enjoying it. I am in a very similar place as you in regards to my Christianity.

With that said, I have a question for you: Do you belief one can find salvation only through Christianity? I wuold love t here back from yo. Thanks.

28. roopster - May 9, 2007

Adam,

If you believe that, you’d have to accept that God is not fair because there are many who never hear the gospel. Is God just? Some see this as mutually exclusive arguments.

Paul

29. Carlton Figg - March 15, 2008

Hello, all you guys — I’m still looking for an explanation, or interpretation, of Peter’s statement (1Peter 3:18) when he made it amply clear that Jesus did not rise in the body. He was “killed in the body” and was “raised in the spirit”. Admit it — this does tend to cast a shadow over the “ressurection-of-the-body” theory as preached by Christiandom. In the same vein, Paul (1Cor: 15,42) also goes to great lengths to say that the body as we know it does not rise from the dead — the spirit does.

I have repeatedly presented these passages to priests and theologians over the last decade, but in vain. Nobody seems able to explain the “resurrection” theory as taught to the world through Christianity. One priest pointed out that Jesus himself prophesised that He would rise on the third day. I do not deny that — however, Jesus said He would rise. He didn’t say that His body would rise. Jesus spoke in the spirit, and he obviously meant that His spirit would rise on the third day.

I may add here that this question has resulted in considerable hostility and, if some people had their way, I’d have been burnt at the stake a decade ago. But I maintain that it is a logical question, and one that calls for an answer. Unfortunately, in my quest for the truth (which will set me free), all I have managed to do is stir up one hornets nest after another as I repeatedly discover that bigots are a dime a dozen in the Christian world.

I have now come to the conclusion that, in my own inimitable blundering way, I may have stumbled over one of the most catastrophic contradictions that stand beween The Bible and the Church.

30. Carlton Figg - March 15, 2008

And yes, there are people out there who are even now preparing to come at me with stories of the “resurrection” scenes as depicted in the Bible. I will answer them when the time comes. Meanwhile, let me remind one and all that just as the “ressurection” scenes are from the Bible, the statements by Peter and Paul (debunking the ressurection story) are from the very same Bible. I shall continue this discussion when the provocation comes.

31. Bible Devotions - August 21, 2008

Brother,

There is no doubt that Christianity has a very strong logical basis. In fact, people such as C.S. Lewis and Modern day Apologists like William Lane Craig, for example, have proved this time and time again.

However, some things just can’t be explained, but only experienced. But even if we could explain and prove everything, there would still be a number of people who wouldn’t accept it, because they love doing evil; and to accept the truth about who and what they are, would put them in a situation of having to give up what they love to do. But they don’t want to do that. Thus, they would rather believe a lie than to accept the truth…

32. Bible Devotions - August 21, 2008

Carlton, it seems you have your verses mixed up. This is what 1 Pt 3:1 says:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;(1 Peter 3:1 KJV)

It says nothing about what you are saying.


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