Hi you guys,
I downloaded a programme that looked interesting, about a ‘gnostic’ text that said that Jesus married Mary and that the gospels in the bible were all corrupted by the church. Is it possible that ‘Da Vinci Code ‘ , fiction though it is, could be right after all? MY grandpa said that they couldn’t even read and write in those days so it is all just made up stories and a game of chinese-whispers, getting worse with every generation. Is this what it is based on?
Sorry about the propaganmda war against the early bible etxcts, Max, it is confusing. There is a lot at stake here, since Christians maintain that their religion is a more or less a matter of history, so emphasis is on living it on the planet in the here and now. Take that away and all you have is ideas.
Anyway I have amazing good news for you, and gathered in a zone of evidence that will stretch your mind for its sheer breathtaking scope. The bible texts are better known and more reliable now than they were within a generation of being written. Scholarly study over centuries has worked out , starting from a very multi-lingual and literary culture I should point out (where did your grandpa get that one?) , how the copiers made their mistakes. By working backwards, we can now work out the original with remarkable precision. But I digress.
ZONE 1 PREGNANT WITH HIS-STORY
When I was a teenager, a Christian woman showed me a National Geographic magazine with photos of the places where Jesus had walked. It included a write-up of some biblical archaeology. I can still picture the impact it had. I realized that Jesus actually happened. Christianity was not just a religious thought-world, like the gods of Olympus. The story is real in human history. The fact is that Jesus happened. And just as it is not possible to be half pregnant ( you either are or you aren’t) the world is now pregnant with his identity.
What are the historical evidences? Some people find just that question to be difficult. Others are just not interested, which is fair enough.
My challenge from history is- if you don’t believe the meaning that I attach to the events, what is your explanation for them? There are always other reasonably valid interpretations of history. But it has to be adequate and not just a cynical or anti-intellectual throw-away line.
In the history zone I look for three kinds of general evidence:
1. Humble Authors and Varied Viewpoints. The persons who wrote the twenty three New Testament books, and maybe a dozen associated texts, are reliable witnesses, and there are a lot of them. Any personal bias in one writer can be compared with others. The gospels are so basic that they are conspicuously NOT emotionally manipulative, but provide raw stories for a measured reading. The writers are not self-promoters, and do not paint themselves up to be super heroes but are brutally honest with their mistakes . This was extremely unusual in their time.
2. The Audit Trail. Their texts have come to us in hundreds of forms and many languages. They were hand copied and of course mistakes entered the textual tradition. However, again, cross reference is possible. It is NOT like ‘Chinese whispers’. Today, our critical version of the gospels is closer to the original text than at any period in history since the ink was wet. Awesome thought. By comparison with other similar texts, like the existence of Julius Caesar, it is literally five thousand times more attested. The paper trail is simply enormous.
3. Neutral Sources. It is still being repeated that there are no historical sources of that time that support the New Testament. It is quite simply not true. No historian says this. The general evidence from non-Christian writers of the time (Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny, Tacitus), and the archaeology of the Bible, supports the general conditions and some of the particulars of the New Testament story. To be more accurate, not all of these authors are strictly neutral, some are even hostile, and all of them have their own interests to protect too. However, bearing those debates in mind, the picture they paint of their times is consistent with that of the Old and New Testaments. It is one of the reasons I encourage you to study, and to visit the Holy Land yourself.
The history says that this famous ‘wonder-worker’ was executed for sedition by the Roman governor. Jesus is a fact that continues to this day. What’s your explanation for these events? It is not enough to just sit sceptical or even cynical – what is your alternative explanation for the three kinds of evidence I have assembled so far?
Note that I am not simply arguing for how big Christianity is, or how much cultural influence it has had. I am not asking for any more privilege to be given to this information than any other form of knowledge. I am not asserting that the church is always right about anything it talks about. Jesus is public property, so this is an open dialogue on available evidence.