Thursday, April 30, 2009

Importance of the Historicity of Jesus (Quote)

"...despite numerous attempts in this century to turn Christianity into a philosophy of life, it is and has always been a historical religion - one that depends on certain foundational events, particularly the death and resurrection of Jesus, as having happened in space and time.

A faith that does not ground the Christ of personal experience in the Jesus of history is a form of docetic or gnostic heresy, for it implies that what actually happened in and during Jesus' life is inconsequential to Christian faith."

Ben Witherington III, 'The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth' p.11

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First Thoughts on Barbara Thiering and 'Jesus the Man'

I will base this review on simply examining the unsound suppositions on which Thiering relies on building her fantastical thesis found on one single page of her book Jesus the Man. By no means will I attempt to deconstruct her entire thesis or delve into her gritty use and abuse of 'pesher'/'pesharim'[1].

The page to be examined is p.136 (which in actual fact is half a page of text as the chapter title takes up most of it). Page 136 is the first page of Chapter 30: 'Saul the Indignant Student'.[2]

1: In late AD 37, a young member of the order of Benjamin, by the name of Saul, was spending part of his prenovitiate year at Qumran.
2: Born in September, AD 17, he was just twenty years old.
Thiering makes a bold assertion. She adamantly claims that Saul (Paul of Tarsus) was spending time in Qumran near the Dead Sea. No footnote is provided and within the Pauline corpus of texts or the Dead Sea Scrolls (where Thiering's eisegetical approach is not employed) there is no evidence to backup this claim. She is using her own conjectural history as the starting point for the rest of her thesis on Paul.

We jump a head a few lines.

9. But it was not before Saul had taken part in the composition of a pesher on the prophet Habakkuk, a work that survived and has come to us in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here, we find that Paul was not just at Qumran according to Thiering, but he also took part in composing the pesher of Habakkuk.[3] This assertion of Thiering is important in the framework of here thesis - however, does it stand up to scrutiny?

At the peripheral level, it is improbable that a man (whom by using Thiering's date was in their teens/early twenties at the time of composition) would be that "to whom God made known all mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets" (1QpHab 7:4-5; Vermes) and charged as the inspired interpreter of a couple of hundred year old community. One would also be left wondering why Paul would identify himself as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5) while showing such contempt and distaste for the Pharisees in the pesher branding them defilers of the temple, seekers of smooth things, etc.

However, and more importantly, is the dating of the text 1QpHab that Thiering claims that Paul had a hand in composing. If we turn to the palaeographical findings as well as the AMS/C14 dating of the scrolls - there is no evidence to suggest a date as late as that which Thiering places the text.

If we turn to Geza Vermes in The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English:

[T]he Habakkuk Commentary, chief source of the history of the Qumran sect, is definitely put in the pre-Christian era between 120 and 5 BCE. (p.13)

The palaeographical dating of the manuscript (30-1 BCE) has been confirmed by radiocarbon tests (120-5 BCE...) (p.509)

Timothy H. Lim in Pesharim (2002) explains the results of an Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) test that took place in Arizona:

The results showed that 1QpHab has a calibrated age of 104-43 BCE in the one standard deviation range of confidence and of 120-125BCE (97%) in the two sigma range. These radiocarbon dates match the palaeographical date of 30-31 BCE of the early Herodian hand.(p. 21)

We find that the the bedrock for Thiering's hypothesis in regard to Paul, which can be tested, does not stand up to scrutiny. At the very least, there is a 60 year gap between the the dating of the text and when Thiering claims Paul composed it.

1. Pesher/Pesharim is a method used by the Sectarian community of Qumran in exegeting and contemporising biblical texts. Although the scholarly consensus (as indicated by all evidence found within the Dead Sea Scroll corpus) on this sort of Midrash is just that - Thiering claims that these communities also constructed cryptic histories that she, using her own method of pesher, can uncover. Ironically enough, she claims these communities constructed the New Testament. For a discussion of Pesher see my post here.

3. The pesher of Habakkuk is a Qumran Sectarian commentary on the minor prophetic book of Habakkuk found within the Hebrew Bible.

For a deeper look at the idea of Pesher and its use in the Dead Sea Scrolls see a fuller treatment in: Pesher and the Dead Sea Sectarians

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Christos Anesti! Alithos anesti!

Today is the day I, and the (majority of) Eastern Churches, celebrate Easter. Easter is the celebration of Christ conquering death and antoning for our sins. One of the earliest creeds we have, received by Paul no later than 37AD from the Apostles of Jerusalem the historicity of the crucifixion and resurrection is established. It states:

For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,
and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive,though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also.

1 Corinthians 15:2-9 (NET)

I have attached an article by William Lane Craig on the historicity of the resurrection:

Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence
for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

William Lane Craig

After an appraisal of recent scholarship on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Professor William Craig contends that "the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith - all point unavoidably to one conclusion: the resurrection of Jesus".

Source: "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95.

"Man," writes Loren Eisley, "is the Cosmic Orphan." He is the only creature in the universe who asks, Why? Other animals have instincts to guide them, but man has learned to ask questions. "Who am I?" he asks. "Why am I here? Where am I going?"

Ever since the Enlightenment, when modern man threw off the shackles of religion, he has tried to answer these questions without reference to God. But the answers that came back were not exhilarating, but dark and terrible. "You are an accidental by-product of nature, the result of matter plus time plus chance. There is no reason for your existence. All you face is death. Your life is but a spark in the infinite darkness, a spark that appears, flickers, and dies forever."

Modern man thought that in divesting himself of God, he had freed himself from all that stifled and repressed him. Instead, he discovered that in killing God, he had also killed himself.

Against this background of the modern predicament, the traditional Christian hope of the resurrection takes on an even greater brightness and significance. It tells man that he is no orphan after all, but the personal image of the Creator God of the universe; nor is his life doomed in death, for through the eschatological resurrection he may live in the presence of God forever.


See also:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to everyone!
Christos Anesti!

When our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die--then at last the Scriptures will come true: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
1 Corinthians 15:54

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ehrman, Interrupted - A resource on Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted

  1. Ehrman on The Colbert Report
  2. Ehrman on the divinity of Christ?
  3. Dr James White's video response to Jesus, Interrupted
  4. Professor Ben Witherington's Detailed Analysis of Jesus, Interrupted
  5. Professor Darrell L. Bock's brief response and thoughts
  6. Dr Michael J. Kruger of RTS review

1. Ehrman on The Colbert Report

Ehrman recently released a new book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them). An amazing title. I have made this post to document some of the informed responses to the book. For search engine sake, "response to Jesus interrupted".

To start off with something a little lighter - Ehrman appears on The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert to promote the book:

The Colbert Report
Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman

Colbert Report Full Episodes
Political Humor
NASA Name Contest

2. Ehrman on the Divinity?

Having read a lot of Ehrman's work, I find it odd that he is now arguing that the early traditions of Jesus did not believe him to be divine. In the interview he states, "Jesus who is portrayed as a human Messiah in the earliest parts of Christianity" For example, the earliest writings we have on Jesus portray him as divine. We have the creed in Philippians 2 which scholars believe pre-dates any other preserved Christian text. In fact, Ehrman argues this point in his 2003 book Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code.

For Paul—and presumably for the Philippians to whom he wrote—Christ was “in the form” of God and was, in some sense, equal with God, even though he became human.
Similar teachings can be found in other writings of the New Testament. One of Jesus’ common designations throughout these writings is “Son of God.” This is scarcely an epithet that came to be applied to Jesus on the basis of a close vote at the Council of Nicea hundreds of years later! Our earliest Gospel, that of Mark, begins by announcing its subject matter: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God” (Mark 1:1).
But wait, there is more:

"...the Gospels of the New Testament portray him as human as much as they portray him as divine;"

"This view of Jesus as divine is not restricted to Paul and the Gospels, however. It is the common view held among Christian writers of the early centuries."
This interview and what Ehrman has previously stated are difficult to reconcile.

In regard to the claim that the synoptic gospels do not present a divine Jesus, Dr James White has recommended the book Lord of Glory - A Study of the Designations of our Lord in the New Testament with Especial Reference to His Deity by Benjamin B. Warfield. The book may be purchased here, or freely (and legally) downloaded here.

3. Dr James White video response to Jesus, Interrupted

Dr James White addresses Ehrman's claims in Jesus, Interrupted including the issue raised by Ehrman with Colbert:

Dr James R. White - Ehrman vs. Luke and Mark

4. Professor Ben Witherington's Analysis of Jesus, Interrupted

Ben Witherington III is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is author of a number of good books on the historical Jesus (and Paul) among others.

His two part analysis may be found on his blog:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 (Coda)

5. Professor Darrell L. Bock's short Analysis

Darrell L. Bock is the Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Bock is the author of a number of great books - his most famous among laymen being his Breaking the Da Vinci Code.

His short analysis can be found here

6. Dr Michael J. Kruger Reviews Jesus Interrupted

Michael J. Kruger is Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary.
 His review of Jesus Interrupted may be found here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The 'New' Atheist's Questionable History

A video by Dr John Dickson regarding the 'New Atheist's' use and abuse of historical evidence:

Dr John Dickson's article of a similar nature can be found here.