Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Lack Of Evidence For Jesus Christ

A Dr. Price had rebutted an article by Jim Lippard, "The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah", in which Lippard was very critical of these alleged prophecies. Farrell Till responded to Price's rebuttal. Till's initial point in his response was that before one  can entertain the possibility that there were actual prophecies in the Old Testament of Jesus Christ, the alleged Messiah, it first must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt that this Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the New Testament, did in fact exist. From the Errancy discussion list, 8-12-96:

Farrell Till's reply:
Before I begin discussing specific arguments in Dr. Price's article, there is one other prelimary matter that I need to address. Later, I will list and discuss some widely recognized criteria of valid prophecy fulfillment, but to discuss this other preliminary matter, I must jump ahead and focus on one of those criteria. It is obviously true that before a valid prophecy fulfillment can be established, the person claiming prophecy fulfillment must first show that the event or events that fulfilled the prophecy did in fact happen.

This poses a special problem for Dr. Price, because the subject of Lippard's article that Price rebutted was Messianic prophecies. Obviously, then, no valid claim of Messianic prophecy fulfillment can be made until Price establishes beyond reasonable doubt that a Messiah actually existed, because no nonexistent person could possibly fulfill prophecies that were made about a specific person. If, for example, I should claim that Dudley P. Snizzlehoff living in 18th-century Boston, MA, fulfilled certain prophecies made by Michele de Nostredame in 1554, my fulfillment claim would be weak indeed if I couldn't even prove that a person by the name of Dudley P. Snizzlehoff had even lived in 18th-century Boston. This is the situation that Dr. Price finds himself in. He claims that several Old Testament prophecies of a coming Messiah were fulfilled in the person and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century of the common era, yet neither he nor anyone else can establish beyond reasonable doubt that this Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical person. This man Jesus of Nazareth was mentioned in New Testament documents, and he was mentioned in certain apocryphal writings.

However, none of these documents were contemporary to the time that Jesus allegedly lived; they were all written after the time that Christians believe that he had lived. The earliest of these documents, some of the epistles of the apostle Paul, were written about two decades after Jesus had presumably been crucified and resurrected, and their author never even claimed that he had seen Jesus while he was alive. His claim was that he had seen Jesus after his death and that this sighting was only in a "vision" (Acts 26:19), and even this was a hearsay claim that came to us through Luke. The other New Testament documents came later--much later--and there is no way to confirm that they were actually written by the people whom Christians claim were their authors. The apocryphal writings are so outrageously ridiculous in their content that even Christians reject their authenticity. When we put all of these facts into perspective, we have a very weak case for the historicity of Jesus.

The New Testament gospels present him as a man who attracted huge multitudes of people, who had heard of his fame in places as far away as Syria, Tyre, Sidon, and Idumea (Matt. 4:24-25; Mark 3:7; Luke 6:17), a man who went about healing the blind and the lame, walking on water, changing water into wine, raising the dead, a man who himself was allegedly crucified amidst remarkable signs and wonders, i.e., a mysterious midday darkness, an earthquake, and a general resurrection of many saints, and was then himself resurrected to life; yet not a single contemporary record makes any mention at all of this remarkable man or any of these wondrous signs. Dr. Price cannot quote a single contemporary secular writer who said that he/she ever saw the man, ever talked to him, ever heard him preach, or ever saw him perform a single miracle. The only references to him in any documents that even come close to being contemporary records were written by people who were flagrantly biased in their belief that a man named Jesus had lived and performed signs and wonders during the time of the Roman prefector Pontius Pilate. This is hardly convincing evidence for actual historical existence.

Dr. Price, of course, will argue that this is an argument from silence, but complete historical silence about some of the events presumably associated with Jesus are difficult, if not impossible, to imagine. King Herod allegedly killed all of the male children in and around Bethlehem, but there are no historical references to this massacre. Josephus, who treated Herod rather unkindly in his *Antiquities of the Jews* and told of many of Herod's heinous deeds, said nothing about the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem. Later, we will see Dr. Price actually arguing that Josephus probably didn't consider such a deed as this important enough to mention. Likewise, I presume Dr. Price thinks that Josephus didn't consider the three hours of darkness over all the land at midday when Jesus was crucified important enough to mention (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44).

Apparently no other contemporary writer considered it important either, because no indisputable records of it were left by anyone. This was described as a darkness that fell over "all the land," and Luke even translated the Greek word "ge" as earth, which was a possible meaning of the word, so the gospel writers could have been claiming that this midday darkness had fallen over "all the earth." If it was even a regional darkness, there would surely have been some mention of it in official and unofficial records, yet the best that biblicists can do is cite a disputed reference or two from second- and third-century writers like Julius Africanus and Phlegon, who claim that first century writers whose works are no longer extant had mentioned an "eclipse." Eclipses are measured in minutes, not hours, so such hearsay references as these can hardly be considered sterling evidence that an unnatural midday darkness of three hours' duration really happened.

Contemporary records were also strangely silent about the earthquake at the time of Jesus's death, which allegedly shook open the graves of many saints who then went into the city and appeared unto many (Matt. 27:52-53). Like the supernatural darkness at midday, word of such a remarkable event as this would surely have been spread through the region, if not the known world, so that references to it would have been left in contemporary records, but none exist. The historian Seneca was born in 4 B.C., the same year that most New Testament scholars fix the time of Jesus's birth. He and Pliny the Elder, another contemporary of Jesus, wrote detailed accounts of all of the known natural disasters and phenomena, past and present, earthquakes, floods, meteors, comets, eclipses, etc., but neither one mentioned either a three-hour darkness at midday or an earthquake that shook open tombs and resurrected "many" dead people. In chapter 24 of *The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,* Edward Gibbon refers to the silence of Seneca and Pliny on the midday darkness and accepts this as reason to believe that no such event ever happened. The silence of Josephus about such remarkable events as these is also hard to imagine. His father, Matthias, was a priest in Jerusalem at the very time that Jesus was allegedly crucified and resurrected (*The Life of Flavius Josephus,* 2:7-12), so we can hardly imagine Josephus's father witnessing such phenomenal events as the midday darkness and the resurrection of "many" saints and not talking about them in the family circle as Josephus was growing up.

Likewise, we can't imagine Josephus not referring to these events if his father had indeed mentioned them. Josephus mentioned several minor Messianic claimants, whom history has now all but forgotten, but he made only two short, disputed references to a Messiah whose life was accompanied by truly amazing events. There is argument from silence; there is argument from unreasonable silence, and it is unreasonable to think that really remarkable events like these could have happened without any contemporary references to them having survived. My personal position is not that Jesus of Nazareth was merely a fictional or legendary character but that he very well could have been, because the evidence is simply insufficient to establish as historical fact that this man was an actual person.

The strange silence of contemporary records concerning the New Testament claims of amazing signs and wonders that accompanied the ministry of Jesus is certainly reason enough to believe that he was at best a quasihistorical person, whose life was later exaggerated and legendized to the point that it would be correct to say that the Jesus of the gospels simply did not exist. As I begin addressing Dr. Price's claims of prophecy fulfillment, we will see that most of his evidence consists only of what the New Testament says happened in the life of Jesus. In a word, we will see that practically all of Dr. Price's evidence assumes the historical accuracy of the New Testament documents. We will see him arguing that the New Testament says that Jesus was born of a virgin, and so this proves that he was born of a virgin. We will see him arguing that the New Testament claims that he was born in Bethlehem, and so this proves that he was born in Bethlehem, and so on.

Dr. Price's claim that Jesus of Nazareth existed and fulfilled many Messianic prophecies is a claim that is fraught with too many problems to be taken seriously by rational people. He is, in effect, claiming that a person who may not have existed fulfilled certain events that may not have happened, whose historicity depends entirely upon an assumption that everything the New Testament claims is historically accurate. At this point, I could simply stop and say that Dr. Price's prophecy fulfillment claims have been rebutted until he can remove the problems that I have identified in this posting. However, I will begin in my next posting to take his arguments one by one and show that even if we assume the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, Dr. Price's arguments are insufficient to establish undeniable prophecy fulfillment. I don't know if Dr. Price intends to respond to my rebuttals, but if he does, I invite him to begin with a major problem that arises from something he said in the following quotation excerpted from the conclusion of his article:


What is surprising is the prophecies that Lippard failed to discuss. He stated that he discussed the most important ones, but the most important ones relate to Jesus' resurrection. The Old Testament does foretell the resurrection of the Messiah, and God really did raise Jesus from the dead. This event validates the righteous character of Jesus, the truth of His Messianic claims, the truth of fulfilled Messianic prophecy, and the validity of Christianity.


Aside from the obvious fact that establishing beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth did literally die and then literally return to life poses immense problems for Dr. Price, I am going to lay an added burden on him. The New Testament does claim that the resurrection of Jesus was prophesied, but no one can identify any Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah's resurrection that was worded so clearly that no reasonable person can deny that this was what the prophecy meant. I know that the apostles Peter and Paul, according to Luke, claimed that Psalm 16:8ff was a prophecy of Jesus's resurrection, but only someone desperate to find a resurrection prophecy could read this text and find any reason to believe that it was predicting a Messiah's resurrection from the dead.

This prophecy will very likely come up later if Dr. Price decides to participate in a debate on prophecy fulfillment, but for now, I want to call his attention to what Luke alleged that Jesus told his disciples the night of his resurrection: "Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day" (Luke 24:47). The apostle Paul also alleged that the scriptures had spoken of the Messiah's resurrection on the third day: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried and he has been raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). So here are two New Testament statements, one of them allegedly made by Jesus himself, that the scriptures (which would have had to have been the Old Testament) had spoken of the Christ's resurrection ON THE THIRD DAY. I now issue a challenge to Dr. Price. I defy him to find any Old Testament passage that ever prophesied that the Messiah would be resurrected on the third day.

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