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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

More on Book

I am about half way through the aforementioned book (Does Jesus Exist?) and think it provides good evidence (more so than present for various other things that are thought to have occurred in the first century of the common era) that Jesus exists.  [A bit further on now.  A problem with the book is that the case seems a bit too easy for over three hundred pages.  It's like Perry Mason vs. his lackluster adversary.] 

The hard part -- some detail beyond the fact he lived, had siblings and was executed -- that tells more about his life comes at the end.  The enterprise seems akin to answering those who say Obama wasn't born in the U.S. (or in Hawaii -- does that even count? kidding!).  There are a few stray serious people who seem to believe that too.  OTOH, millions appear to seriously doubt Obama was born here, so it is a serious concern.  It is a basic question and provides a chance to examine the evidence and historical study as a whole.  And, that provides clear evidence from many sources (the four gospels alone arising from multiple ones) that Jesus existed.

Two red flags.  First, he repeatedly lumps the four evangelists together -- the purported authors were all originally uneducated layman from Palestine, not the Greek speaking authors of the text.  Also, the names of the gospels were provided much later.  Luke, however, is purported to be a Gentile follower of Paul, a physician, someone who very well might have the knowledge required to write the books in question. Also, putting aside a stray cameo of someone who might be Mark as a young boy/man, he is an exception -- Acts includes various passages in which "we" (Luke and Paul) is mentioned.  This is not to say "Luke" actually wrote Acts, but that he is a special case.

The author also notes that it is striking how little actual writing we have from that era -- only a few stray pieces of hard evidence, for example, exists of the Pontius Pilate.  I put aside that Hillel is not referenced -- he is said to have died in the beginning of the first century, but Wikipedia has him having a hard to believe life span, and though we have sayings of his, not sure if we have anything he actually wrote.  But, it is clear to him that the "suffering Messiah" idea was simply not accepted until the execution of Jesus, who various people thought the Messiah, made it a necessity to explain why he died in such a shameful way.  How do we know this?

Also, as I explained, a Jewish scholar in fact wrote a book before this one (not saying Ehrman should know every one, but if I know of him, why not he?)  arguing the idea was at least possible.  There are some people who have some strange ideas these days, which most people find outrageous, but they exist.  So, with respect, I don't know how we can know that a "suffering Messiah" idea wasn't at least deemed possible by a few, even if most (including pre-conversion Paul) Jews would find it outrageous, just as most Christians would find certain beliefs of outliers today.

I have long found the Hebrew and Christian scriptures quite interesting (sometimes say I would do more to learn about others -- have read a bit about Islam and other faiths -- but I am partially a product of my upbringing and culture in that respect, which is the normal path to religious faith as well)  and works of this nature are a bit amazing in what you can learn given what you thought you knew.  Few know, though the idea might seem reasonable upon contemplation, how the idea of God and Jesus developed over time in the Bible. Some have the overall idea that the gospels are of a piece -- thus, some portrayal of Jesus' life takes pieces from various sources.  But, they are conflicting in many ways. 

But, I remain dubious about those who try to say certain things with too much of a degree of certitude.  We have limited sources here, flawed in nature. That is part of the charm for those who make this their life work, but it still warrants a bit of humility.  It is okay to hypothesize up to a point.  Past that point is educated guesswork.  Overall, however, on balance of probabilities, the book is convincing thus far.  The author also writes for the lay reader in a respectable way.  This to me is the best approach and I dislike nonbelievers who write with an edge.

Think about spending the few extra hundred or so required to include an index for the paperback version though.


*  One issue addressed in the first half is that Paul met Peter and James (Jesus' brother) a few years after the Crucifixion. This is striking in itself: Paul (who doubters of Jesus do think existed) personally referenced a meeting with two key people in Jesus' life that lasted over two weeks.

A few doubters tried to explain away the idea James was Jesus' "brother," which the author says is a big stretch.  Catholics also do not want to accept that James was his actual full fledged brother since they have a doctrinal reason to have Mary be a virgin all her life.  This is one of those things many Catholics don't really buy if they think about it and besides is not compelled by what the gospels (only two of which discuss his birth) say.  The concern is Jesus own birth, not Mary as a whole.

Such things are pretty interesting to consider. For instance, the "immaculate conception" (a Catholic holy day celebrates this along with Mary's "assumption" body and all into heaven -- one of a few days other than Christmas where believers are obligated to go to mass when it is not a Sunday ... a nun once noted that two key moments in WWII occurred around those two dates)  concept is not Jesus' own, but of Mary.  If Mary actually was without sin, you would have thought it would be noticeable she was pretty special even before she had Jesus.

Anyway, James (not the same person as the apostle of that name) is an interesting character -- Josephus also briefly references him, explaining his controversial stoning by Jewish authorities in the early 60s.  He is one of the few followers of Jesus other than Peter that we know a bit about.