On the Danger of Overstating Apologetic Claims for the Christian Faith

The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, in 1601. But was Peter really crucified upside down? Well, according to Sean McDowell (in this linked YouTube video), Peter was most probably killed as a martyr, for his faith. But the historical record of him being crucified upside-down is difficult to substantiate (It might be true, but it may not).

I can not tell you how many times I have used this argument, in conversations with non-believers, over the years: With the exception of John, the “Beloved Disciple,” all of the remaining 11 original disciples of Jesus (after Judas Iscariot) were martyred for their faith. This is a proof of Christ’s resurrection. For why would all of those in Jesus’ inner circle “die for a lie?”

Sound familiar?

If you are like me, you probably read it in books like Josh McDowell’s More Evidence That Demands a Verdict, or more clearly, in his More Than a Carpenter, apologetic books for the Christian faith that have been around for decades. Here is how Josh McDowell put it in More Than a Carpenter, perhaps as late as a printing in 2009(?), or a few years earlier (from an online excerpt, in the chapter on “Who Would Die for a Lie?):

“I can trust the apostles’ testimonies because, of those men, eleven died martyrs’ deaths on the basis of two things: the resurrection of Christ, and their belief in him as the Son of God. They were tortured and flogged, and they finally faced death by some of the crudest methods then known:

1    Peter — crucified

2    Andrew — crucified

3    Matthew — the sword

4    John — natural

5    James, son of Alphaeus — crucified

6    Philip — crucified

7    Simon — crucified

8    Thaddaeus — killed by arrows

9    James, brother of Jesus — stoned

10    Thomas — spear thrust

11    Bartholomew — crucified

12    James, son of Zebedee — the sword”

.

That is a pretty powerful argument.

But here is the problem: This argument is an overstatement of the actual evidence.

Now, when someone first told me this, that Josh McDowell’s claim was an “overstatement,” I got angry. After all, I trusted Josh McDowell. He was defending the Christian faith in his books. So, if someone was attacking these books, with the charge of “overstatement of the actual evidence,” then clearly such a charge was an attack from Satan, and I should resist it with all of my “righteous indignation.”

That’s right. I was angry. And I justified myself as being in the right. I mean, I was defending Jesus, was I not?

But then when I began to hear the same charge from fellow Christians, it really caused me to stop and think: What is really going on here?

As it turns out, a few years ago, Sean McDowell, Josh McDowell’s son, began to wonder about the same thing. Josh encouraged his son, Sean, to go figure it out. So, Sean McDowell did his own PhD dissertation on the topic of which of the early apostles actually died for their faith.

Sean McDowell’s research concluded that, yes, indeed, his father’s claim in More Than a Carpenter was an overstatement of the actual evidence (though it is hard to pin the blame specifically on Josh McDowell, as he got his information from others before him). Nevertheless, there is still good reason to believe that at least a few of the original apostles did die deaths as martyrs, and that even if the others did not die as persecuted martyrs, they never recanted from their belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, and they were at least willing to die for their faith. This does not necessarily prove the truth of the Resurrection, but it is still an important data point, as part of a larger argument to support the claim of the Risen Jesus.

Sean’s work is summarized in this linked article for the Christian Research Institute. Sean shows that much of what Christians often believe about martyrdom in the early church goes back to church tradition, and stories that originated several centuries after the events took place. Nevertheless, Sean notes that historically speaking, we can look at the available evidence and conclude, that while most of the original apostles may not have died gruesome deaths as martyrs, a few of them most probably did. Here is Sean in his own words:

…I examine the historical evidence for each apostle and rate the likelihood of his martyrdom on a ten-point probability scale that ranges from not possibly true (0–1) to highest possible probability (9–10). Historical research deals with probability and not certainty. And so my estimates are based on a careful assessment of the quantity and quality of the available evidence for each apostle. The common narrative is that all the apostles except John died as martyrs for their faith. While this may be true, it cannot be demonstrated historically.

In fact, here is what I believe the historical record reveals:

Highest possible probability (9–10): Peter, Paul, James son of Zebedee, James brother of Jesus

More probable than not (7): Thomas

More plausible than not (6): Andrew

As plausible as not (5): Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Matthias

Improbable (3): John

So, a more modest approach to the evidence indicates a high degree of confidence that folks like Peter, Paul, and those first two James did die as martyrs for their faith. But when it comes to the rest of the others, the evidence is murkier. The only clear exception is concerning John, whom all agree did die a natural death.

For example, consider the death of Andrew, that Sean McDowell puts at a probability of 6, of being killed for his faith. Our primary source for this is an apocryphal work, The Acts of Andrew. The ancient church historian, Eusebius, dismissed The Acts of Andrew as a spurious work, and even heretical in its teachings. Could there still be good evidence for Andrew’s martyrdom, in The Acts of Andrew? Possibly, yes. But considering the disputable nature of the source, Christians should be cautious when appealing to it as some kind of authoritative statement.

Here is another example: There is a claim that Bartholomew was skinned alive. But the only available source for this claim comes from around 500 A.D., over 4 centuries after the event would have taken place. While this does not rule out martyrdom for Bartholomew completely, it makes the story that I had been sharing with non-believers for decades less than compelling.

Does this new conclusion from Sean McDowell harm the case for the Resurrection? Not really, but it does help us to properly frame the argument. Rather, it is yet one more data point, along with the claim of the empty tomb, and the unlikelihood of mass hallucination among the early witnesses to the Resurrection, that supports the central truth claim of the Christian faith. As Sean puts it, “This may come as a disappointment to some, but for the sake of the resurrection argument, it is not critical that we demonstrate that all of them died as martyrs. What is critical is their willingness to suffer for their belief that Jesus had risen from the grave and the lack of a contrary account that any of them recanted.”

Still, skeptics and critics have pounced on this admission as evidence that Christians have been lying, when they have advanced the “would they die for a lie” argument. I certainly got that sense when I read reviews for Candida Moss’ book on The Myth of Persecution. But such claims of Christians “lying” are over-reactive overstatements themselves.

A more fair way of putting it is that sometimes Christians tend to trust too much in what we hear, and do not do the harder work of discerning if what is being said is actually true or not. The path of least resistance is always simply holding onto what we think is true, just because we were always taught that way, or because we have developed a deep conviction about something, despite the existence of evidence to the contrary. We tend to latch onto those things that reinforce our presuppositions and intuitions, and ignore evidence that might overturn such presuppositions and intuitions (this was my big take-away from Jonathan Haidt’s insightfully excellent book, The Righteous Mind).

This principle holds true for believer AND non-believer alike. If we really want our non-believing friends to consider changing their minds about the truth claims of the Christian faith, we need to be willing to re-examine our own presuppositions and intuitions, that blind us from the truth.

The fact that Josh McDowell’s story about the  “eleven martyrs deaths” has been in print since 1977, without a serious inquiry, among evangelical scholars, as to its evidential support, until his son, Sean, started to do his own research, within the last decade or so, is indeed embarrassing. But to suggest that this delay in setting the record straight is due to some purposeful, ethical misconduct, is simply an over-reach, in the opposite direction, by critics of the Christian faith.

A First Century Fragment from the Gospel of Mark?

Another good example of this is the whole debacle over the supposed “first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark.”  Back in 2012, conservative biblical scholar Daniel Wallace, a favorite of ours, here at Veracity, made the provocative statement in a debate with skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman, that he knew of the discovery of a first-century fragment, from the Gospel of Mark. Were this discovery to be true, it would have been a landmark triumph, as we currently have no first-century remnants of New Testament documents, though we do have some New Testament fragments that date back to the mid-2nd century, or so.

Wallace was reasonably confident of the first-century Mark claim, due to assurances from other trusted scholars, that the discovery was, in fact, legit. Wallace did caution that he was waiting for a peer-reviewed study to confirm this claim. Josh and Sean McDowell included a statement from Wallace, to this effect, in a recent edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, published in 2017. The McDowells did so despite the fact that some had grown increasingly skeptical of the claim, in the intervening years.

Subsequent research, and developments in the story, have revealed a tangled web of convoluted stories and scandal, and even a criminal investigation, as reported by The Atlantic magazine. Participants in the debacle include Hobby Lobby, the Museum of the Bible, and an Oxford scholar. Finally, in 2018, many learned that the supposed “first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark,” officially known as P137, actually dates to either the late-second or early-third century, according to that long awaited peer-reviewed study. A much chagrined Wallace, offered an appropriate apology, for his part, and rightly noted, that while there is quite a bit of disappointment in not having a first-century fragment, nevertheless, having a late-second or earth-third century fragment of Mark is newsworthy on its own merit.

As Elijah Hixson, co-author of Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism(p.161-163), put it, this fragment of Mark is currently the earliest archaeological evidence for the antiquity of the Gospel of Mark. That is nothing to dismiss lightly. The discovery is still a remarkable piece of evidence, that furthers the case for the substantial integrity of the New Testament.

Sadly, the actual news of the discovery of the earliest known fragment of Mark has been overshadowed by the scandal surrounding it…. and this is the type of stuff that demonstrates why it is dangerous to overstate apologetic claims for the Christian faith. Critics will latch onto these missteps, and use it as further leverage, in their argument that Christians are not to be trusted. Doing our homework, to verify certain apologetic claims, is worth the effort. The integrity of the apologetics enterprise is at stake.

 

One clarification here: I have great respect and admiration for the apologists and scholars mentioned above. Yes, mistakes were made, but I do not believe that any of these Christians intentionally sought to deceive anyone. In fact, I respect their efforts to acknowledge their own shortcomings, and in their work to set the record straight. But in other respects, there have been other players in the mix, who have used fraud and deception, and duping other Christians in the process.

I could highlight several other examples, where Christians have repeated overstated claims, in hopes of defending the Christian Faith. Hopefully, these two examples are sufficient to drive home the point. While voicing such claims, is often driven by good intentions, there is a downside.

Great harm is done when Christians are tempted to overstate certain apologetic claims for the faith, that turn out to be overreaches at best, or even duds, at worst, upon closer examination. Sadly, when such overstatements are made, they can create barriers for further conversation, that only further alienates skeptics and critics of the faith.

We see this all of the time now, when it comes to the decline of civility of political discourse, that marks a crisis in our current culture. Having this spill over into spiritual and theological matters can be devastating. Unfortunately, we live in an era, dominated by the proliferation of Internet-based media, that makes it very difficult to properly distinguish between good, solid, evidence-based reasoning and “fake news.”

Christians, above all people, should be advocates for the truth.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
(Prov. 22:1 ESV)

 

 

If you really want to geek out on all of this, here are just a few of videos that address, first, the martyrdom of the apostles issue, with a discussion between Sean McDowell, and an Internet atheist critic, Paulogia, and secondly, a panel discussion covering issues pertaining to textual criticism, led off by a question posed to Daniel Wallace, about the Gospel of Mark fragment. Then, finally, here is a brief video by Ariel Sabar, of The Atlantic, who told the tale of the “first-century Gospel of Mark” scandal, but who in this older video, uncovers the incredibly crazy story about the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” that led to a debunking about it, back in 2016, much to the chagrin of certain skeptics of Christianity:

 

 

 

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

18 responses to “On the Danger of Overstating Apologetic Claims for the Christian Faith

  • Jane Hanson

    Thank you for all your scholarship, Clarke! It helps those of us who read this column become stronger in our faith. Truth truly does matter!

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  • Clarke Morledge

    Paulogia, the atheist interlocutor of Sean McDowell, offers his post discussion critique:

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  • Clarke Morledge

    When my wife and I visited Rome in 2018, we were not able to visit the remains of Nero’s home, Domus Aurea. That is one thing we sadly missed. The story of Nero in this Smithsonian article paints a more positive portrait of Nero, but methinks it is slightly too kind.

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/new-nicer-nero-history-roman-emperor-180975776/

    I’d like to see the source used to demonstrate that Peter was never in Rome. 1Peter 5:13 is not definitive, but the indication is that Peter’s letter was written in “Babylon,” which elsewhere in the New Testament, is acknowledged to be a figurative expression for Rome. As there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Peter was indeed the author of 1 Peter, placing Peter in Rome makes sense.

    Furthermore, we have no counter-evidence that Peter never in Rome, as all accounts of his death place him as being martyred in Rome, and no testimony exists that he died anywhere else.

    My faith does not hinge on Peter being in Rome, there is at least some evidence that Peter was in Rome:

    https://www.catholic.com/tract/was-peter-in-rome

    So, while there is a degree of plausibility to say that Peter was never in Rome, it is more probable to say that the idea that Peter was NEVER in Rome owes more to certain Protestant polemics against Romand Catholicism than anything else.

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  • Boris

    None of the apostles ever existed. None of them are mentioned by any historians at any time. Of course Jesus never existed either.

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  • Boris

    Bart makes a lot of money selling books about about Jesus so he has an agenda. The earliest extra-biblical source is Josephus who wasn’t even alive when Jesus supposedly existed. This demonstrates the sheer desperation of his opinion. Also Bart is lying about scholarship and he knows it. He doesn’t mention that all of these scholars and historians have written that Jesus never existed: M. M. Mangasarian, Bruno Bauer, Edward Carperter, Albert Kaltoff, Ryner Couchoud, Charles Virolleaud, Thomas Thompson, G.R.S. Mead, Tom Harpur, Georg Brandes, Raymond O. Faulkner,John M. Robertson, Thomas Paine, Emil Felden, J.C. Stendel, Emilio Bossi, Arthur Drews, Theodor Gaster, Kersey Graves, W.B. Smith, Robert Price, Gerald Massey, Gerard Bolland, Samuel Lublinski, Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Edwin Johnson, Timothy Freke, Raymond Martin, Raphael Lataster, Richard Carrier, Godfrey Higgins, Joseph Leidner, Earl Doherty, James George Frazier, Thomas William Doane, David Fideler
    Jesuneverexisted.com

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Hi, Boris. How much confidence do you place in your view that Jesus never existed? On a scale from 1 to 10, whereby 10 means “absolutely confident,” and 1 means “not so much…. I am kind of ambivalent on this”. Do you mind sharing your level of confidence?

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    • Boris

      On a scale of 1-10 I’d say 11. When the gospels present John and Jesus as apocalyptic prophets, they are not talking about contemporary ideas about the real world or the end of the world. They are part of Elijah and Elisha’s fictional narrative world and make their own effort to reconcile the generations, Samaria and Jerusalem, that death’s judgment might be transformed to life.
      Understanding the figure of Jesus as historical, distorts the reading of the texts. In the imaginary world of speculation Jesus is a failed prophet. In the real historical world of texts and ancient literature, a prophet who speaks of a cosmic judgment that inaugurates God’s kingdom is neither mistaken nor failed, but is a figure in a literary world. The prophet remains a metaphor of myth and literature, where he has a meaningful place.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Hi, Boris. A confidence level of 11 is most definitely strong. I would be interested to know what type of evidence would you need to see, that might cause you to lower your level of confidence, in your belief that Jesus did not exist. Thanks for interacting with me.

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    • Boris

      Nothing short of a personal appearance could convince me that Jesus existed. Christians have been expecting the return of Jesus any day now for almost 2000 years. We know the book of Daniel was written during the time of Antiochus, around 167 BC and completed before 164 BC. However Daniel is crafted as if it had been written centuries earlier. But to Christians Daniel had accurately predicted the rise of Antiochus centuries earlier so his prophecy about the Son of Man was sure to be fulfilled soon. This misunderstanding led to and to this day still leads to false expectations. Belief in Jesus comes from not understanding the Bible.

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    • Boris

      Much of the Old Testament attacks pagan religions, traditions and beliefs precisely because the Jewish people were very prone to adopting pagan practices and pagan gods like Tammuz, Baal, Ashtoreth, Marduk, Chemosh, Dagon the fish god, which is where the Pope’s fish head hat comes from.

      “Behind the figure of the dying demigod there looms the greater figure of a very God that dies for different worlds under diverse names – for a Minoan world as Dionysus, for a Sumeric world as Tammuz, for a Hittite world as Attis, for a Syriac world as Adonis, for a Christian world as Christ. Who is this God of many epiphanies but only one passion?” – Arnold Toynbee

      All these dying and resurrecting solar deities are interchangeable. Mark’s Gospel looks a lot like what a Jewish mystery drama, a play looks like and in fact that is what I think it is. The verbs in Mark are mostly present active indicative which gives the story a real sense of urgency. This is lost in English translations. So Jesus is just Dionysus, Attis, Adonis recast to appeal to a Jewish audience.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Boris: To say that “Nothing short of a personal appearance could convince me that Jesus existed” is a pretty high bar to meet. I am not aware of any Christian who thinks that Jesus is still doing “personal appearances” these days. On the other hand, there are reports of dreams and visions, and the like,

      More interesting issues are raised by your other comments and observations. Granted, most evangelical Christians believe that Daniel was written in the 6th century. But not all. It depends on how someone understands the context for apocalyptic literature, of which Daniel is a prime example.

      Some Christian scholars do opt for a 2nd century date for Daniel, but still find a case to be made that the coming of the Son of Man was still yet future. There is a lot of interesting activity going on in Second Temple Judaism that would indicate that such a reading of Daniel was also quite possible among the Jews of Jesus’ day, and in the few centuries leading up to the time of Jesus. If so, then the claims made by Jesus would make a lot of sense,

      If you remove an historical Jesus from the picture, you are left then with trying to explain how the Christian narrative formed, in such a cohesive manner, without him. Any thoughts on that?

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    • Boris

      That’s like saying we need an historical Attis, Apollo, Mithras, Dionysus to explain the narratives about them. We need to look at Jesus in context of the ancient Near Eastern story world of the gods. I’ll just focus on the most important part of the narrative because I’ve written about this before. The passion narrative is retelling of the myth of Dionysus, with its motifs of wine and fertility borne by a dying and rising divine figure. Similar Roman traditions and festivals of Bacchus place a greater emphasis on the seasonal cycle of cereals. In the more complex Hellenistic world, where festivals of Dionysus are the most popular in antiquity, this divine-human figure plays different roles. Among variations, the most popular themes are the drinking of wine as blood, the dying and rising of one who is half god and half man, the transformation of tears of mourning into gladness and singing, suffering transformed into the intoxication of new wine, the ecstatic meal, the fertility of spring and a new creation.
      These themes are clearly present in biblical literature and reflect similar patterns and purpose. The figure of a god-man who is destroyed, who relinquishes his life and who is born again is as fundamental to mythic reflection of the natural cycle of grain agriculture as it is central to the theme of resurrection. Freely overcoming death through suffering marks the self-sacrifice of the hero, leading to expressions of joy through wine and food. This theme is basic to the figure that Plutarch uses to describe Dionysus. He is a symbol for the divine, the everlasting quality of life. The ebb and flow of Dionysus’ life force is an inevitable reflection the struggle in antiquity between famine and fertility. The figure of Dionysus has as much in common with the gospel figure of Jesus as it has with Isaiah’s Israel. This figure is exploited in the wide range of songs and stories of the savior-king and is echoed throughout the Bible’s contrasting repertoire of metaphors for fertility and barrenness.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Boris: Thank you for your reply.

      Please correct me if I am wrong here, but it seems like your argument is contingent on the idea that the original Jewish Christians were willing to completely give up their Jewish anti-Pagan/polytheist critique — lock, stock, and barrel — and jump right in and embrace a whole slew of theological ideas, that their fellow Jews thought were anathema.

      Is that what you are saying you believe about early Christianity?

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  • Clarke Morledge

    Boris: Not sure if you are still following the comment thread, but Inspiring Philosophy has a thoughtful video comparing Jesus to Dionysus. He lists his research sources in the YouTube video description header. What particular elements do you see in this that are unpersuasive to you?

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    • Boris

      I don’t pay any attention to writers who don’t name their sources when historicity is the concern. I doubt the writers this video criticizes or the maker of the video can cite any reliable sources from antiquity. What I posted about Dionysus is from a college assignment. So I had to name and evaluate my sources which all came from antiquity, not modern writers, or my essays would have not been acceptable. I focused on the similarities in the passion narratives because that was my assignment and it’s all we have good evidence for when it comes to comparing Jesus and Dionysus.

      The stories about Jesus and Moses are not based on any other particular sun gods or godmen but are instead the result of religious syncretism. The life of Moses is comparable to stories about King Sargon but not entirely. The figure of David in the stories of 1-2 Samuel finds its earliest parallels in Syria and Mesopotamia in the stories of Esarhaddon of Assyria and Idrimi of Alalakh as well as the Greek myths of Hercules. Idrimi was the youngest of his brothers, fled to the desert to escape a threat, struggled for his kingdom with his band of followers. He supervised the building of a house and the regulation of the proper cult in the city and entrusted it to his son.

      So, as I said, history writers name and evaluate their sources and also they identify themselves. This is how we know the gospel writers were not history writers. The gospel writers never identify themselves or their qualifications. They never name or evaluate their sources nor do they ever discuss or reveal their methodology. Their earliest readers and hearers were sophisticated enough to understand the symbolism in the gospels and knew not to take these stories literally. It was only after the Christian Church became rich and powerful and rotten to the core that it burned whatever pagan literature it could find, closed libraries and schools so that the masses were dumbed down to the point they could no longer understand the gospels as allegory. That was when the Church was forced to recast Jesus as an actual historical personage. Ever since they’ve been trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. It has never fit and it never will no matter how many videos intellectually lazy Christian apologists make or books they crank out.

      “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” – John Dominic Crossan, Who Is Jesus?

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Boris: Thank you for taking the time to respond.

      I do have a few followup questions for you, as I am interested in learning how you have arrived at your conclusions:

      (1) This first one is minor. You close your last comment with a quote from John Dominic Crossan. I am pretty sure Crossan, who is not an historically orthodoxy Christian, is also not a Jesus-Mythicist, and does not accept your conclusion about the non-existence of an historical Jesus. Why would you enlist him as an advocate for your view?

      (2) You state that Christian apologists have not been successful in their efforts to “recast Jesus as an actual historical personage.” But would you not agree that the vast number of non-believing scholars, who might describe themselves as either agnostic or atheist (such as Bart Ehrman or Tim O’Neill), or as liberal Christians, do not subscribe to Jesus Mythicism? For the sake of the argument, let us accept your claim that historically orthodox Christians have been tempted to “recast Jesus”. What then do you make of these agnostics and atheists who do not subscribe to your view? What are they failing to see, if they have no vested interest in trying to defend an historical Jesus, even if such a Jesus they portray is not accurately described in the New Testament as a miracle worker, resurrected from the dead, etc.?

      (3) I have to come back to my previous question: Why would the Jewish proponents behind the Jesus movement be so welcoming to the type of syncretism you are describing, a lock-stock-and-barrel rejection of many core elements distinctively associated with the Jewish faith, when we have so much in the historical record that indicates just the opposite?

      What are your thoughts here?

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  • Boris

    (1) Crossan advocates for the view that the stories in the Bible are symbolic and should not be taken literally. I don’t know why he doesn’t follow that to it’s logical conclusion.

    (2) I definitely do not agree that the vast number of non-believing scholars do not subscribe to Jesus Mythicism. In a previous post I listed about forty scholars who have written that Jesus never existed. I’ll close this post by listing about eighty more opposed to the two you have listed. Both Ehrman and O’Neil are arrogant, narrow-minded bigots and I have no respect for either of them. Their argument is basically, “Our Western religion may be false but unlike the religions of those brown-skinned Muslims and Hindus and those Asian Shintos and Buddhists at least our religion is based on real people and real events.” No it isn’t. Christianity hasn’t got anymore evidence for its “real people” and “real events” than does any other religion. Ehrman and O’Neil and this other member of their Tin Foil Hat Society, Hoffman, are what I would call Western Supremacists. or maybe even White Supremacists.

    (3) The mythic language New Testament scholars describe as “apocalyptic” is very old. This is Old Testament judgment language and it has its roots in the Hebrew Bible. This language dominates much of Jewish literature of the second and first centuries BCE. The myth of the kingdom of God is part of a long tradition of literature. These both embody a well known tradition of discussion that formed the Judaism to which the gospels belong. That they might create expectations among readers of the tradition does not define their intended function.

    Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Baron d’Holbach (‘Boulanger’) Count Constantine, Volney Edward Evanson, Charles François Dupuis Robert Taylor, David Friedrich Strauss, Logan Mitchell, Ferdinand Christian Baur, Charles Bradlaugh Sytze Hoekstra, Robert Ingersoll, Walter Cassels, Allard Pierson, Bronson C. Keeler, Abraham Dirk Loman, Samuel Adrianus Naber, Edwin Johnson, Rudolf Steck, Franz Hartman, Willem Christiaan van Manen, Wilhelm Wrede, Thomas Whittaker, William Benjamin Smith, Prosper Alfaric, Peter Jensen, Karl Kautsky, Edouard Dujardin, Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga, Alexander Hislop, Marshall J. Gauvin, Joseph Wheless, Henri Delafosse, L. Gordon Rylands, Herbert Cutner, Georges Las Vergnas, Georges Ory, Guy Fau, John Allegro, George Albert Wells, Phyllis Graham, Jean Magne, Samuel Max Rieser, Abelard Reuchlin, Nikos Vergidis, Karlheinz Deschner, Hermann Detering, Gary Courtney, Michael Kalopoulos, Gerd Lüdemann, Alvar Ellegard, D. Murdock, Peter Gandy, Harold Liedner, Hal Childs, Michael Hoffman, Dennis MacDonald, Burton Mack, Luigi Cascioli, Israel Finkelstein, Neil Silbermann, Frank R. Zindler, Daniel Unterbrink, Francesco Carotta, Joseph Atwill, Michel Onfray, Kenneth Humphreys, Jay Raskin, Jan Irvin, Andrew Rutajit, Lena Einhorn, Roger Viklund, René Salm, David Fitzgerald, Thomas Brodie, Michael Paulkovich, Sid Martin, Minas Papageorgiou have all written that Jesus Christ never existed.

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