Sunday, December 18, 2005

Taking Issue with "The God Who Wasn't There"

Through looking at another website, I stumbled upon this shocker, which purports to do the following.

Bowling for Columbine did it to the gun culture.

Super Size Me did it to fast food.

Now The God Who Wasn't There does it to religion.

But this clip suffers from a fundamental logical flaw.
The clip tantalises us ...
The clip tantalises us with the notion that if Jesus was such a remarkable person why did no contemporary write about him. It's all part of what the website says is:
Dazzling motion graphics and a sweeping soundtrack propel this uncompromising and taboo-shattering documentary that Newsweek says "irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed."

So what is the argument? There is a gap of roughly 40 years, and this is troubling, because if Yeshua bin Yosef really did all these marvellous things surely people closer to the time (and Jesus himself presumably) would have done the First Century equivalent of "Blogged About it."

In today's day and age that seems pretty reasonable. The problem is, Jesus didn't live in today's day and age.

Let's consider some other historical figures:

  • Socrates

  • Confucius

  • The Buddha

  • Lao-Tzu

  • Sun-Tzu

Socrates left no writings of his own. We only know of him from Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes and Xenophon. (Hmmm, four guys like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, hmm? Ok, a stretch, I know.)

Most of what we know of Kǒng Fūzǐ (Confucius) is legendary. And just as biblical scholars have questioned the authorship of the Gospels, so too are there questions as to whether Kǒng Fūzǐ actually wrote any of the teachings attributed to him, e.g. The Analects.

The Buddha's life is considered by scholars to be completely legendary, and none of the sects can agree on what he actually taught.

Little is known for sure about the life of Lǎo Zi (Lao Tzu) according to Wikipedia, and his Authorship of the Tao Te Ching is contested.

The same is true of Sūn Zǐ, but substitute the sūn zĭ bīng fǎ for the Tao Te Ching.

But what does that prove? Nothing. The descendants of Kǒng Fūzǐ were honoured with titles. No one seriously doubts the existence of Socrates or the Buddha. The discovery of Sin Bin's bīng fǎ lends credibility to the existence of Sūn Zǐ, since Sun Bin was a descendent of Sūn Zǐ.

In fact, when you consider that histories of individuals were often written much later than life, the Gospels don't seem that bad. It took 400 years before anyone wrote a biography of Sūn Zǐ, and he was (and is) widely regarded as one of the greatest minds on the subject of warfare.

By contrast the Gospels were, as the clip asserts, written perhaps 40 years later? And even I dispute that. Let me digress to explicate the problem, since it was handed off rather flippantly in the clip. There is a view that since Mark and Luke have Jesus predicting the fall of the Temple, it must have been written after the fall of the Temple (otherwise how would the author have known about it?) There is a significant problem here too. It is possible even for mere mortals to make predications, and I don't mean the supernatural, crystal-ball type. Consider these cartoons directly after World War I:

And there is even one more damning, but I am unable to find it. It shows a baby peaking in on the Versailles Treaty. He's wearing a sash that reads "World War II".

All of these cartoons show that someone does not need to be supernatural to predict the future. One only needs to be able to analyse contemporary events from which future events can be extrapolated. Luke in particular gives us a glimpse that his Gospel and the Acts couldn't have been written any later than 62 CE. Why? That's when Paul was martyred. But at the end of Acts, Luke has only just left him before his first trial in Rome. If it was written after the 70s, when Luke and others surely knew of the death of Paul, why is it absent from the Acts?

In any case, that digression plays into the rest of my analysis. Since I digressed, let me recap.

My issues with the clip:

  1. Other historical figures were also not written about by their contemporaries, and some not until many centuries later.

  2. The Gap may not even be as wide as the clip portrays, since it is based on an assertion, that is by no means undebatable.

I wish to return to Luke for another point. The website has this to say:
Given these facts, Jesus would have been one of the most remarkable figures in Palestine. Yet not one historian of the time thought that this man was important enough to note, even in passing.
(And by implication none of the Gospel writer either.)

But that brings me back to an earlier point. The Ancient World didn't necessarily have the burning desire to blog about people the instant they came on the collective radar. Luke's own introduction to his Gospel seems to indicate that he researched the life and teachings of Christ with a view to publishing a paper (so to speak) after he was prompted to do so by Theophilus:
1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us,

2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,

3 I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus,

4 so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

(NAB Luke 1:1-4)

Notice that Luke seems to view there being other writers who preceded him. And there were even secular writers, like Josephus, who mentions Jesus and always appends the name "the one called Christ" or "the one commonly called Christ," indicating that Christ was very well known, enough that people differentiated him from other people named Yeshua.

Now what this all means is simple. Much like the other films cited on the website, this clip (and by extrapolation the rest of the film, although I'll blog more about it after I see it) makes use of very faulty argumentation. If you wish to oppose Christianity or knock holes in it, that's fine. But if you employ bad logic, bad references, and whiz-bang graphics, expect people to pipe up to point our the holes.

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