Discrepancies vs.
Flawed Subject Matter

One issue, among many, stands out in our correspondence, this issue of "errors, discrepancies, and contradictions" in the Bible and these "eliminat[ing] the claims of those books from the realm of serious consideration." As I have read your correspondence, I have found misspelled words, words missing, and grammatical errors as well. You have a modern computer, probably a spell-check, maybe even a grammar-check, yet you made these errors.

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 04:31:21 -0700

Thank you for your thought-provoking letter. I will expound on the "Jesus Myth" argument -- for the sake of the readers, not because I hold this viewpoint strictly. Though I do think this argument has some merit, I personally prefer the "Jesus as Jewish Messiah" model described by Hyam Maccoby.

While nobody can prove the historical nonexistence of Jesus, neither can we establish the fact of his existence. With many historical figures, you can establish historicity (the fact that they existed) to a point very near to certainty. Jesus of the Christian religion is not one of those figures.

Christianity nevertheless depends upon the existence of a historical Jesus for its validity (and much more, of course, but the fact must be established first). If we can cast considerable doubt on the historicity of Jesus, Christianity's validity crumbles to nothing. The same can be said about Islam's relation to the historicity of Mohammad (which many historians of Islam doubt) and Judaism's relation to the historicity of Moses or, at minimum, the Exodus (which almost no historians of Egypt concede).

The New Testament Gospels were not in circulation before A.D. 70 -- forty years after Jesus is alleged to have lived. Some of the Gospels were definitely in circulation by A.D. 90. The extra-biblical writings are either very suspect (Josephus) or mention events that were described by the gospels after they had been in wide circulation.

Paul's works (those that are indisputably Paul's) predate the gospels, but do not contain any clues about when Jesus lived. There is no mention of Pontius Pilate or any particular emperor with which to establish dating for Jesus' life. As far as Paul is concerned, Jesus lived in Palestine sometime in the past. When he lived cannot be established from Paul's works.

Pliny the Younger, writing around A.D. 112, wrote about "Christians" who worship "Christ. Seutonius, secretary to Trajan (117-138) also mentions a "Christ." Tacitus, writing about the same time as Pliny, states that "Christ" was executed under Pilate. None of this information predates any Gospels, and none of it contains anything unique.

We cannot disregard the likelihood that these writers used existing Gospel accounts for their sources. They demonstrate only that "Christians" existed in the early second century. None of these writers mention "Jesus," only the title "Christ." When recounting incidents about "Christians," these second-century writers may very well have consulted the then-existing Gospel accounts to provide details for their readers.

The "Testimonium Flavianum" of Josephus contains such glowing praise of his "Jesus" as to make it doubtful that an orthodox Jew would write them. Even so, if did write them, he cannot have believed them, else he would not have restricted his account of Jesus to such a brief passage. A very good case can be made that this is a later forgery, made at the hands of Christians scrambling to deal with the pronounced lack of evidence for a historical Jesus.

An ancient table of contents omits mention of this passage. Justin Martyr defended Christianity against the charge that Christians had "invented some sort of Christ for themselves: and had accepted "a futile rumor." Justin, though aware of Josephus, did not point to the "Testimonium" to make his case, though one would expect such a passage to be the first one used in such a defense.

Two apologists from the second century, seven from the third, and two from the early fourth knew Josephus' works but do not refer to this passage. Eusebius is the first, but even after Eusebius, three fourth-century writers and five fifth-century writers (including Augustine) cite Josephus, but do not cite this passage.

One excellent reason for thinking that this paragraph is a forgery is that it breaks the thread of the narrative. It is out of place within the context of the rest of this section. When removed, the surrounding text flows as a single, unbroken series of thoughts. Unlike other digressions in Josephus, this digression is neither introduced as a digression, nor is the main narrative (itself a digression) reintroduced after the digression is concluded.

The Arabic version of Josephus contains a radically different version of the Testimonium. The statements are in a different order, and the Arabic version stops at calling Jesus a man, and does not unequivocally assert Jesus as Messiah. It says nothing of miracles and says that his resurrection was only alleged by his disciples. Obviously both versions cannot be authentic.

The Arabic version has one telltale sign of tampering: it says Jesus was sentenced to be crucified "and to die." According Islam, Jesus did not die. Countering this notion would be important to Christians living in an Islamic environment; thus, it makes sense that the phrase "and to die" would be added to an Arabic version.

So, all that we know about Jesus comes from the New Testament documents. These documents are biased and contain very fantastic claims about supernatural feats. They were not written until at least forty years after the alleged events they describe.

Both "Jesus" and "Christ" existed in the mythology of the Jews for at least a hundred years before Pilate lived. The dying and resurrecting gods, born of virgins, were common among the Greeks of Paul's day. Gnosticism taught that this world was evil and needed divine intervention. Buddhism, which had not a small following in the Middle East at the time, taught many of the same morals that were eventually placed into the mouth of the biblical Jesus. It is possible to explain the existence of Christianity without there having been a historical Jesus.

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.