May 18, 2024

Is History Silent?

Lined Notebook Header

The next argument is an appeal to secular history.  For the Atheist, the supposed lack of external sources to this event should present a problem to the believer.  If something that was that important appeared in a person’s lifetime, it had to have been noticed.

I mean, wouldn’t the resurrection of a person from the dead hit CSPAN?  Fox News would probably be covering it wall to wall, while CNN would relegate it to the religion section.

The truth of the matter is that we have much documentation.  Atheists need to stop looking at the Bible as “a book” when it comes to this question.  You have multiple different authors—many eyewitnesses and secondary witnesses to the events—that documented the occurence.

If that’s not enough, you have the few that the Atheists will agree to1, but you also have many other mentions of Christians originating from that time period:

  • Pontius Pilate makes record in Acts of Pontious Pilate by Justin Martyr, First Apolgy 35 and 48 that Christ performed amazing miracles and died on a cross with hands and feet pierced with nails.
  • Lucian of Samosata wrote that there were Christians worshipping Christ.  They lived by faith and they believed Christ’s teachings.  He wrote in D 120.
  • Around AD 73, Mara Bar-Serapion writes about the Jews murdering their king—one that lived on in His teachings (British Museum, Syriac Manuscript, Additional 14,658)
  • Phlegon, a historian born aboue AD 80, records not only that Jesus died, but that he had knowledge of the future, predicted things to come, that the Sun was darkened during Christ’s death, and that there was a great earthquake.
  • Thallus, writing about AD 52, states that there was darkness about the time of Christ’s death, agreeing Matthew’s account.  It could not be an eclipse, it had to be a miracle.
  • Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2nd BC to Fifth century AD, stated that people were using Jesus’ name in an attempt to heal.

The atheist throws around the idea that there are not external references in an attempt to discredit the wealth and veracity of the Gospels, and yet falls flat because there are many external examples of the name of Christ and what Christians believed.

Neither of these produces a good argument.

(Visited 20 times, 1 visits today)
  1. Flavius Josephus—though this is contested and Tacticus—which they will also dispute []

11 thoughts on “Is History Silent?

  1. While these are interesting, they certainly don’t provide proof of a physical resurrection from the dead even if they represented what you claim they do.

    The “record” of Pilate’s statements is written a hundred or so years later by someone intent on convincing people to believe in the Christ myth. Lucian of Samosata was a satirist so he might have been poking fun, but if not all that statement proves it that some people were following Jesus’ teachings – which is more than you can say for most present-day Christians. The “wise king” mentioned by Mara Bar-Serapion is never identified so assuming it is Jesus (who was never a king nor claimed to be one) is a stretch. If Phlegon was a believer, then he was simply recounting the standard myths. Thallus said he was describing an eclipse of the sun, so why doubt him here?

    If the magical events described in the gospels actually happened (virgin birth, multiple miraculous healings, resurrection from the dead, ascension, etc.) then they would have been so incredibly unusual and notable that we would no doubt have numerous texts describing them in detail.

    1. @Charles: I don’t believe that the original source claimed anything about resurrection from the dead– nor was that what I was trying to proved. Indeed, the original source claimed that there was not a lot of historical mentions of Jesus outside of the Scriptures. I was attempting to say that his comments were woefully inadequate– and while studying I found even more.

      Proof of the Resurrection is entirely different than proving there was a Jesus in antiquity. Perhaps we can take up that subject some other time.

      As for the eclipse reference, science has stated that there was no eclipse at that time. So, it was another skeptic hypothesizing what might have happened naturally to explain a supernatural occurrence.

      And again, you put yourself and your logic in a position of judgment without taking heed to what was happening at the time period. The New Testament has the most existing copies (MSS) in antiquity. There’s the documentation of the miracles, etc. Why would there be secular accounts of these events? For the most part, the religious authorities of the day were treating these occurrences as fiction. They were downplaying them as much as I would downplay the “image of Jesus on a slice of toast”. They were invested in having Jesus not be the Messiah, and so the official word that would come out would be “nothing to see here, move along.”

      And yet, despite this, Christianity spread– they were burned at the stake, sawed in half, drawn and quartered, guillotined and fed to lions. They believed what they believed to the point of death when, a simple “I don’t believe that anymore” would have saved him– and we’re talking the original disciples on. How many people would die for a lie?

      And how about producing the body? That certainly would have worked to silence the believers.

      Lastly, the amount of copies of the Iliad are scant in comparison with the New Testament– so there are numerous text describing the miracles, not so all of the rest of antiquity.

  2. Why would there be secular accounts of miracles, virgin births, resurrections from the dead? Because all these events were never before experienced in all of human history and if they happened in a Roman province at the empire’s height, they would have been the subject of every history of the time. At the time the synoptic gospels were written, persecution of Christians had not reached major proportions, and there would be no particular reason why accounts of such powerfully supernatural events would have been suppressed.

    There have been numerous religious groups oppressed, suppressed and persecuted throughout human history and in every case, people have died for a lie. There is no reason to think Christianity would be different.

    Personally, I believe Jesus existed, was born, lived, taught and died in Palestine. Christ however, is a mythological image based on the person Jesus. Initially it was probably a natural outgrowth of reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ life and death within the context of first century Judaism. Paul elaborated that concept with popular ideas from Greek philosophy to create a form of monotheism that would appeal to a wider gentile audience.

    While neither you nor I can prove the historicity of our concepts beyond shadow of doubt, mine does not rest on a belief in numerous powerful supernatural events never seen on earth before or since. Therefore, it is certainly a more rational belief. In addition, by viewing Jesus as a human and a great moral teacher, the power of his teachings and parables can be heard without the distraction of a large body of associated irrational beliefs.

    The New Testament writers used figurative and mythic language to express the emotion and power and importance of Jesus’ life and teaching to them. By insisting on the literal truth of their symbolic language, Christians end up focusing on everything but what Jesus taught. Paul for example, barely mentions Jesus’ teaching at all and the Nicene Creed is silent on the subject as well.

    1. @Charles: So, how would information be spread in that day? I suppose they could fire up the Internet or turn on the government run television and the information could spread that way?

      The reality is, the Romans and the Greeks were skeptical of miracles, etc– as evidenced by Paul and his conversation on Mars Hill. They were willing to entertain the conversation, to some degree, but many would not hear it. We do have documentation of things that were witnessed outside of Israel– like the the eclipse– and there is much recorded about the fact that the Christians believed Christ died and rose again. But these people would not have had access to first hand accounts, other than the gospels, and would have been skeptical as well.

      Even taking that into consideration, we don’t know the extent of the conversation because we don’t have enough documentation to know what was or wasn’t said. If you look at the amount of MSS available at the time, the New Testament puts them all to shame as far as number of copies, and the other documents pale in comparison. The truth is, we don’t know how much it spread or how much was lost, other than the impact the belief had on the time– mainly, one of the world’s great empires tried to squish it out, but was thwarted and then later co-opted it for its primary religion.

      Though the Muslims truly believe in their faith enough to martyr themselves, few of them have ever been asked to endure what Christians endured. Produce for me those that have been burnt alive, etc. and then you can make the statement you did.

      If He died, and did not rise, where’s the body, and why the elaborate cover up?

      You’re wrong again. From the Creation of time to the current day God is at work doing supernatural things in this world. It didn’t just happen when Jesus was alive, but all throughout recorded history. It may be more subtle now, but lives are changed every day.

      Whether it is rational or irrational is based on your worldview. You’ve already made up your mind as to where you stand before the investigation of the evidence, and then pat yourself on the back when you find what you already believed. Then you look down your nose at me, claiming that that is all I’ve done. It’s all very amusing, to say the least.

      This whole concept of Paul being silent on the things Jesus taught is a bunch of baloney. Paul puts into practice and answers questions according to the faith. The Gospels give a testimony of what Christ said. These are not supposed to be taken apart and made to war with each other, but they are complimentary works, written contemporaneously without seeing the need for overlap.

      It’s like having to listen to Obi Wan Kenobi tell Luke all this stuff about the force in Star Wars IV (what they now call IV anyway) that they never would have put there if they had written the movie in sequence. We already know all of that, so get on with the action!

      Paul’s audience had and was well versed in the Gospels, but they had questions and wanted clarity. So Paul wrote and answered questions and helped laid out how to follow Christ. Why do you miss that?

  3. As you point out, the New Testament is the primary document we have from that period, but that doesn’t mean it is a reliable historical source. The authors of the various books in the canon were not trying to write an accurate historical record, they were trying to encourage others to believe as they did. They recorded miracles not because they happened but because they were commonly used in the stories of gods and heroes of the time.

    To respond to some of your specific points:
    1.The fact that the body of one of the thousands of people crucified by the Romans in Palestine 2000 years ago has not been found seems to be proof of nothing.

    2. Your claim that “God is at work doing supernatural things in this world” cannot be substantiated by any rational means. It is a belief, not a fact.

    3.I use the same criteria for determining the truth of religious claims that I use for any other claim. I don’t make up my mind before investigation of the evidence and I have not in this case. I have spent a lot of time examining Christian beliefs and the rationales behind them and I have concluded they are largely mythological.

    Can you find one verse in the writings of Paul where he quotes a saying or teaching of Jesus? Paul certainly was answering questions “according to the faith”, but that was the faith he was teaching. Paul explains that he has decided to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” – in other words, Jesus as the mythic Christ and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. That is not the focus of Jesus’ teaching as described in the synoptic gospels.

    There is also no reason to believe Paul’s audience was particularly well versed in the gospels. For one thing, some of Paul’s letters pre-date the earliest gospel, and Paul wrote primarily to Gentile groups outside Palestine while the early gospels were directed primarily at Jewish readers and we can assume their authors were Palestinian Jews as well. The early Christians in Ephesus and Corinth could not “fire up the Internet or turn on the government run television”. Any knowledge they had about Jesus probably came from Paul or from others who traveled with him.

    As for the gospels, they were written within a 60 year period beginning about 30 years after Jesus’ death and there is evidence that some of them shared earlier source material, but to suggest they “are not supposed to be taken apart and made to war with each other” implies that they were written as some kind of unit or that critical analysis of the books is somehow wrong. Why would it be wrong to find the differences and distinctions between the stories in the 4 books?

    We have 4 books each of which was written by a different author with a unique perspective and each of which was intended for a somewhat different audience and each of which presents a somewhat different understanding of Jesus and the meaning of his life and death. If we are ever to understand who Jesus really was and what it is most likely he really said, then we need to analyze the differences between these books and separate the wheat from the chaff.

    1. @Charles: If the document that has the widest set of copies available, which had the most number of people who have read it and have the highest level of agreement compared to all of antiquity is not trustworthy as to what happened, what document of that time period can be trusted and said to be free from bias?

      The book of Luke has been proven to be one of the most historically accurate works in all of antiquity. Why should we expect the same author not to take the same care with his gospel?

      Your points:
      1. I’m not saying that the body should be findable today, I’m saying that, with the time between the death of Christ and the writing of the Gospels, Epistles, etc. no one could produce the body. True, it could have been moved, hid, burned, etc. But without a body you cannot prove that He did not rise from the dead. You can speculate, you can assume, you can say “it never happened before, so why should it happen then” but you have no proof.

      2. Certainly I can claim that God is at work doing supernatural things. I can appeal to history– the Creation of the World, the parting of the Red Sea, and prophecy that came to pass. I can also cite supernatural occurrences that are happening today– missionaries protected from harm by angels, events that are orchestrated such that it could not be coincidence, etc. Simply because an event is not natural does not rule out that the event can and does occur.

      3. Though you claim to approach the investigation of religious claims apart from a bias, the terminology that you speak as well as the worldview you use while approaching the subject manner are already biased against the Christian faith.

      The fact that you are hung up on this “can you find one verse in the writings of Paul where he quotes a saying or teaching of Jesus” shows that you have not read the Gospels– especially the end of Matthew or the beginning of Acts– without attempting to understand what was being said. Jesus said that His ministry was to be replaced by the Holy Spirit. Further revelation, etc., would come from him. Again, why would Paul appeal to Jesus teachings when (1) the Gospels were being written contemporaneously and (2) having the sayings of Jesus come from someone that was not His constant companion would not have the effect of coming from his disciples or a person that was accompanying his disciples.

      If Paul had made reference, as you suggest, then you would have a different argument: “Why is Paul, who never walked with Jesus, making comments about what Jesus said? He’s not a first hand witness, nor did he have the time to relate to them!”

      Paul knew the Scriptures. Matthew knew the Jews. Luke knew history and medicine. Mark knew Peter. John was the disciple that Jesus loved. They each served a purpose.

      Tacticus statements in the second century imply that many knew of the Gospels and their contents. There’s no reason to believe they were not versed in the Gospels.

      Why would we believe that Paul would not have carried copies of the works of the Gospels? (He asked at different times while in prison to have his books brought to him for study.) Can you find any argument in the New Testament in Paul’s writing that would be stronger had he referenced Jesus?

      In the Jewish mind, what arguments would be treated with more strength, arguments from the Old Testament, or sayings of Jesus? In the Gentile mind, how would the parables of Jesus, rather than their application to specific circumstances, benefit the readers?

      Your hung up on something you think is pretty clever when it reality it shows the void you have when approaching this issue.

      The Gospels were written to testify of the events that happened. They are strongest in that regard because they were written by first hand eye-witnesses or contemporaries of Christ. The Acts of the Apostles documents what happened to the early church. The Epistles are written to answer questions directly to the churches. The Revelation tells of things to come. Each of these things are complimentary– authored by the Holy Ghost through the saints to instruct us in godly living.

      I have found nothing in the Gospels that contradicts the other, nor have I found anything to state that they contain “chaff.”

  4. 1. Scores of bodies people who perished in the recent Air France accident have not been found, so would you conclude that they were raised from the dead? Hardly. In every other case save one, you would assume that a missing body is merely a missing body, not evidence of a resurrection. The fact that you treat the Jesus story differently is a matter of faith, not of rational thought.

    2. Supernatural events? You seem to think that because something is described somewhere in the Bible, that it is a historical fact. There is no evidence that the supernatural events in history you cite ever happened, and certainly not that they were miraculous. As for the present time, you come up with something as bizarre and fantastic as “missionaries protected by angels”. In other words, you see something you think is unusual and positive and conclude that it is a miracle of God. I see nothing in your response that would lead me to believe that there were or are supernatural events.

    3. You have lots of assertions about Paul, but they are simply assertions. Your speculation about why Paul didn’t quote Jesus and his knowledge of the gospels is nonsense. If you were writing a book convincing people that someone who recently died was a unique voice of God, you would obviously quote him to prove your point.

    4. I think you can find plenty of web sites and books that point out the many contradictions between the gospels. If you have “found nothing” contradictory, then you have decided not to look or found some convoluted rationale to explain away those contradictions.

    The real difference here is that I see the Bible as a collection of books by different human authors, none of which was intended to be an accurate historical account. You see it as the inerrant Word of God. Your view is one of faith, mine is one of reason. You treat the Bible differently from all other books and I treat it like any other text of its period. You claim to study the Bible, but you made up your mind what it is and what it says before you begin. That’s not study, it is devotion.

    1. @Charles: Your points:

      1. Actually, I believe the count is 3: Enoch, Elijah, Jesus. All of these are because of documentation. Obviously, the Air France passengers bodies were found (some of them) and so there’s no reason to assume anything but what is natural occurred. However, within this story there was someone who did not board the plane and thus was not killed. Many people saw her alive (albeit she died in an unrelated accident later), but her name was on the list of those that were supposed to be on the plane. Should I accept the testimony of those people that saw her, and the woman herself (that I only saw on the news and through second or third hand sources), or should I assume that because the documentation says that she was on the plane, she died?

      Same thing here. Hundreds of witnesses saw Jesus alive after he was dead. There was a cover-up to try to explain the missing body, even though the cover-up blamed Roman guards who should not have “fallen asleep” like their cover story suggested. The reason that there is skepticism isn’t the fact that it’s a rare occurrence, but that there is distrust in the documentation.

      Either the account (and the witnesses) were false, or the skepticism is false.

      2. The Bible presents itself as a series of books that document history, do they not? So either they are history, or they are not. In this case, records state that the people and places of the Bible hold to archeological research. There are also instances, like the attack by the Assyrians on the Israelites, that have been documented to have occurred that were miraculous. Again, it goes back to your worldview and having an open, non-biased opinion when coming to the Bible. If you think about it, the miracles that were documented in the Bible only occurred in the Palestine area in given points of time. There were multiple people that did not see them first hand, or even heard about them. What kinds of expectations do you place on the supernatural?

      3. Paul did not believe that Jesus had died, but that He was still living. He wasn’t the unique voice of God, because there had been prophets before as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. His audience needed practical tips rather than rehearsing of what they could read elsewhere, and most of the time he was writing letters.

      But regardless of this, I don’t need to have the “right” explanation of why he did or did not use citations from Jesus. For all I know it could be because he didn’t have the written work in front of him, and wanted to avoid making quotes that would contradict the Gospels. All it takes is a reasonable guess to state that there’s not a problem with the absence.

      4. I have seen many sites and questions that people have had with the Gospels, and yet everything I’ve seen– including some I addressed in this series– have had reasonable resolutions when taken in context. You had four different individuals (two eyewitnesses, one second hand and one historian) who have different purposes and different perspectives. I have yet to see a contradiction that jumped off the page to say “wow, the Bible really is wrong here. There’s no way I can explain that one!”

      Our views are both based on worldviews, and both out of faith. We each color the same document with our preconceptions (like your insistence that without you witnessing something supernatural you won’t believe that it exists) and that’s not being open minded to the facts as they present themselves either.

      I have no problem stating that I believe the Bible to be true, and the weight is on the skeptic to prove (in this case, to me) that it is not. You come from a different viewpoint and worldview, and I’m fine with that. When you recognize this, then we’ll be a whole lot further in our dialog.

  5. 1. All the examples you give come from the Bible and are mythological. If someone avoided being on a doomed plane at the last minute they were lucky. It doesn’t mean there was divine intervention. All the “facts” you give about Jesus alleged resurrection come from the same source – a religious document, not a historical document.
    2. Simply because a book claims to be historical does not mean it is historical or accurate. You can’t prove the Bible is true because it says it’s true – circular logic. If you had an open unbiased view of the bible you would not assume that it was all true and historical, you would investigate for yourself.
    3. A reasonable guess could be made either that Paul did know what Jesus taught and it wasn’t important to him, or that he did not know, or that he knew and said nothing about it because those contemporaneous books had been hand copied numerous times and delivered to Christian groups all over the Near East within a year or so of their origin. What Paul taught is not what Jesus taught, it is a doctrine of Jesus as a mythological Messiah figure.
    4. Yes, we have different worldviews, but the weight of the argument we are having is on the believer not the skeptic. The skeptic is treating the bible like any other book. The skeptic is beginning with the assumption that the laws of physics and biology operated the same way in biblical times that they do now. It is the believer that is assuming facts not in evidence and making claims that are supernatural. It is the believer that must prove his claims, not the skeptic.

    Most apologists for Christianity make the same claim you do – that it is up to the sane and rational person to prove that the events described in the Bible did not happen. That is entirely bogus. Christians cannot prove that the Bible is true or that Jesus was God (born of a virgin, rose from the dead, etc.) and skeptics cannot prove the opposite. The question is – should an intelligent educated modern person assume that stories about talking snakes, 900 year old men, walls falling down due to trumpet music, people rising from the dead, and men being born to intact virgins — that such stories are true without strong evidence to support them? No.

    1. @Charles: 1. You believe the examples are mythological, and I don’t. Your beliefs about the Bible do not effect their veracity in any way. I never implied that the person that the person was the benefit of diving intervention, you missed the entire point. And you’re wrong. I referred to at least 5 documents, if you don’t count any of the epistles, which give the best history for the time period– Luke is proven to be one of the best historians in antiquity. The fact that you don’t believe the resurrection and therefore all documents that support it must be wrong is your own decision.

      2. Aristotle stated that you should start with a document and accept its claims until they are proven otherwise. Obviously you believe you know better than he. I did not attempt to “prove the Bible is true because it says it is true” but even if I had, the document is not one book, but 66. True, I believe it’s author is God, but there are multiple human authors making statements about others. I’ve read the Bible multiple times, read documents on biblical criticism, etc. How about you?

      3. I attend church regularly. The pastor is preaching through the book of Romans, one of Paul’s books. He rarely talks about what Jesus said in the Gospels. There’s no issue with this, because there is no need. Paul was a contemporary of the events that happened in the Gospels. He lived at the same time as people who lived with Jesus. He could build on this teaching and the law. This is the weakest one of your arguments, and I’m (frankly) surprised you still try to make such a big deal of it.

      4. Actually, because of human tradition, the burden of proof lies not with the believer, but with the skeptic. The skeptic is the one laying the charge “that God does not exist” because most of humanity, and indeed going back, believes that He does. The Biblical worldview has been around longer than the skeptics. Though the skeptic believes that he does not have the burden, he considers the argument to have begun “now”, not something that has precedent going back thousands of years. Indeed, even Darwin was searching for a way to prove that something could have happened other than Creation to explain the beginning of the world.

      Your skeptic, because I don’t believe yours speaks for all, is a uniformalist, even though there’s no evidence that things are as they always were. I would go so far as to say that most uniformalists are anti-biblicists, choosing not to accept a reasonable argument because it comes from the Bible– i.e., it’s ok to have a global flood on Mars, or have a catastrophe on Earth kill the dinosaurs, but in no way can we say there was a global flood on Earth. There’s no way for you to prove that the miracles didn’t happen, and the burden does not rest on the believer.

      And the whole point of this series hasn’t been “what should a skeptic believe?” I haven’t even attempted to talk to that question. I specifically set out to explain to a believer why there is no “9 most convincing arguments” of why he should forsake his belief. To construct a different premise is a neat strawman.

  6. I think we have pretty much exhausted the arguments on this topic and will have to agree to disagree. I would like to point out that I am not an anti-biblicist, according to the definition you give. I have no trouble accepting a reasonable argument simply because it is in the Bible, the qualifier being “reasonable”.

    I would also caution against generalizing about skeptics – there are many of us and there is no organization of skeptics that purports to be the authority on what skeptics believe. I try to avoid generalizing about Christians since it would hard to find much common ground between say the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka and the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I generally call someone a biblicist if they take the position that the bible is inerrant, because that seems to me to be worshipping the bible rather than its subject matter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge