So, some folk are arguing about whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical person. Leaving aside whether or not there is evidence enough to conclude that Jesus was real… it seems to me that if the argument is important to you and you want to win the argument, you really aughtta argue rationally and honestly. Take, for example this article by trying-to-sell-a-book author Bart Ehrman:

Did Jesus Exist?

Where the guy arguing that the evidence says “yes” says this:

The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).

Ummm. Anybody catch the logical weakness there? Here’s a hint: he’s claiming that we should reject the claims made about supposed savior-gods because those claims are apparently just made up without any evidence.

Ummm…

Regardless of whether that’s a valid point (and I think it is), it should be noted that what’s right for “proposed god A” is right for “proposed god B.”

Additionally:

You may not trust Rush Limbaugh’s views of Sandra Fluke, but he certainly provides evidence that she exists.

True. But then, it would a hardly be a new thing for, say,  a journalist or an author or whatever to simply make stuff up and be believed. And this is today, in an era when every claim can be checked, sooner or later. Thousands of years ago, a claim could go unchallenged for *years,* and when challenged, the hunt to find the evidence might require a month on a boat and a season on a camel.

On a purely rational level, a claim that “Mr. X” existed, no matter how widely believed, bears the burden of proof, not the counter claim that “Mr. X” did not exist. Often the burden of proof is an easy burden: while there are no living eyewitnesses to Abe Lincoln, there are a *vast* number of eye witness accounts, as well as photos and even a death mask. For Julius Caesar there are a number of eyewitness reports, and sculptures and coins and such made while he was supposedly alive. But for Jesus Christ, there are four contradictory books written, apparently, by eye witnesses a few years after his putative death. And that’s it: everything else is hearsay.

How reliable are those four books as historical records? Well… they describe a superhero with magic powers. Consider a modern UFO sighting: which is more reliable…a  report that reads, in effect, “I saw a strange light in the sky,” or the one that reads “I saw an Arcturan battlecruiser hovering on anti-gravity powered by dark matter kittens?” Even though the reports may describe a witness account of the exact same event, by adding very unlikely details, the more interesting report becomes less believable.

If you want to believe in historiocity and divinity of Jesus, hey, great. But flawed logic and overblown rhetoric is not a rational way to convert non-believers…. though it may well be a *successful* way. I’ve talked to more than a few people who have tried to convince me to convert because “if you don’t believe, you’ll go to Hell.” The problem with that line (beyond the fact that it makes God look like a petulant psychotic dick) is that it will only work if you already believe. If someone does not believe in Hell, threatening them with Hell shouldn’t make them believe… just as someone who doesn’t believe that that bar of soap in your hand *isn’t* a death ray won’t be converted to the belief that it’s a death ray just because you threaten to blast them with it.

Use it to zap a crater in the sidewalk, and maybe you’ll get some converts.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OKXVICMRM5G5NOOVWIV2VEFNAA F. Leem

    Thousands of years ago, a claim could go unchallenged for *years,* and when challenged, the hunt to find the evidence might require a month on a boat and a season on a camel.

    It took much longer than that, at least in one case:

    Prester John.

  • BScCollateral

    To be honest, I’m not sure that was Ehrman’s point: the quote seems to say that while there are similarities between (say) the stories told about Jesus and the stories told about Krishna, these similarities are superficial.

    Incidentally, it’s not even clear to me that Ehrman accepts the divinity of Jesus; his Wikipedia bio states he’s agnostic. He certainly doesn’t consider the New Testament inerrant. I’ve read his book “Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are” and it’s exactly like the title reads.

  • Cambias

    The idea that a major world religion could be created around an imaginary founder is more improbable to me than anything. One can deny Jesus’s divinity without denying his existence.

    • Anonymous

      Why is that improbable? Two fairly successful religions sprang up in the US in recent times (early 19th century in one case, mid 20th century in the other) based on claims that to outsiders appear patently ludicrous. And, again, this is an era where communications are *far* more efficient and far reaching than in prior times.

      • Cambias

        Yes, but neither Joseph Smith nor L. Ron Hubbard were fictional characters. Which is what I said.

        • Anonymous

          Well, to pick the former: Smith claimed to have based the Book of Mormon on a book made out of gold. A book like this, unlike a human, can survive perfectly well for millenia. And yet, there’s no evidence of it other than his say-so… much like the say-so of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.

          Further: a secondary holy book in the LDS church is the “Pearl of Great Price” containing the “Book of Abraham” which Smith said was a translation from an ancient Egyptian papyrus. The problem is that the papyrus *does* exist, and when translated by those who can read the ancient Egyptian, it doesn’t say what Smith said it does. Now, here’s a case not of a lack of evidence to back up the formational story of a religion; here’s evidence clearly *refuting* the story. And yet the LDS church seems to be cruising along just fine.

          And I have a hard time seeing Xenu as being anything other than a fictional character straight out of bad space opera.

          That being the case, I have *zero* difficulty in believing that an ancient religion could be wrapped around a character that someone just made up.Was Zeus a real person?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OKXVICMRM5G5NOOVWIV2VEFNAA F. Leem

      The idea that a major world religion could be created around an imaginary founder is more improbable to me than anything.

      I don’t think Saul of Tarsus was imaginary.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OKXVICMRM5G5NOOVWIV2VEFNAA F. Leem

      The idea that a major world religion could be created around an imaginary founder is more improbable to me than anything.

      And yet, something that you consider improbable occurred at least twice in the 20th Century. (Note: I don’t know what — other than a few centuries and a boatload of True Believers — distinguishes a “major world religion” from a “minor religion” or a “cult” or a “bunch of whackos.”)

      One focus of a religion who doesn’t seem to have existed, other than as a joke or a tragic misunderstanding: John Frum.

      One founder and self-proclaimed divinity who apparently was someone other than who he claimed to be: Wallace Fard Muhammad, AKA Wallace Dodd Ford and a half-dozen other names.

      There are extra-biblical references to “Jesus”, but they are all still circumstantial.

      How can we tell that this wasn’t someone else with the same name? I mean, it’s not like there was one and only one person in Judea named Yeshua.

  • http://twitter.com/midnitetease Ben

    There are extra-biblical references to “Jesus”, but they are all still circumstantial.

  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    I can think of a few truly useful historical matters to discuss. This topic will never result in any general agreement.

    Everyone knows dark matter kittens are not from Arcturus.

    • Anonymous

      >This topic will never result in any general agreement.

      Nothing related to religion will ever attain universal agreement. But that was not really the point of the post. Instead, my point was that lame-ass rhetorical techniques and logical fallacies piss me off.

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