[Editor’s note:  This is a follow-up to a question just posted a couple of days ago.  I asked the questioner to send specific examples from a rather long article by an atheist who claims that Jesus did not even live at all.  The material in italics is the material he asked me to comment on and the unitalicized material is my response]

It is clear that the gospels of Matthew and Luke could not possibly have been written by an eye-witness of the tales they tell. Both writers plagiarize (largely word-for-word) up to 90% of the gospel of Mark, to which they add sayings of Jesus and would-be historical details. Ignoring the fact that Matthew and Luke contradict each other in such critical details as the genealogy of Jesus – and thus cannot both be correct – we must ask why real eye-witnesses would have to plagiarize the entire ham-hocks-and-potatoes of the story, contenting themselves with adding merely a little gravy, salt, and pepper. A real eye-witness would have begun with a verse reading, “Now, boys and girls, I’m gonna tell you the story of Jesus the Messiah the way it really happened…” The story would be a unique creation. It is significant that it is only these two gospels that purport to tell anything of Jesus’ birth, childhood, or ancestry. Both can be dismissed as unreliable without further cause. We can know nothing of Jesus’ childhood or origin!

Response:  “It is clear.”  It is not clear at all.   This is mere rhetoric, coming from a person who apparently does not know how authorship worked in the ancient Near East.  It is well known that there was a fluid but generally consistent oral tradition in the early church which was in place years before any of the gospels were written.  Then, two eye-witnesses, specifically Matthew and Mark, chose to produce written works but beginning with the oral tradition.  This explains the similarities.  Mark’s is probably, but not definitely the first recorded gospel, probably in the 50’s but perhaps in the 60’s.  The fact that much of Mark is found in Matthew is mainly due to the fact that both were relying not only on their own recollection, but also on the accepted oral traditions about the life of Jesus.  Either way, this person is claiming that Jesus did not exist at all, so what does the fact that there is parallel material in these two gospels do to prove or even support his conclusion?  By ancient Near East standards, the fact that Matthew had much material in common does not imply plagiarism, and this accusation is really an anachronism (defining plagiarism by 21st century standards).  Besides, although much of Mark is in Matthew, there is a LOT in Matthew which is not in Mark–like 50% of the book.  Matthew’s account is more complete, which makes sense for a second gospel account.

The genealogy in Luke does not contradict the genealogy in Matthew, which any competent scholar would know (this person, apparently, is not competent in this area), because the genealogy in Luke is that of Mary, whereas the genealogy in Matthew is that of Joseph.  Different genealogies–through father for a Jew and through mother for a Greek is normal in these two cultures.  There is no contradiction here, which this author ought to know.

This person wants to have his cake and eat it too.  Because Mark and Matthew include eye-witness material, the two accounts are not identical.  But he wants to claim that differences are contradiction, when they are evidence of independence, not of contradiction.  Unless he can give an example of actual incontrovertible contradiction (which he cannot!) then this is a red herring argument.  He wants to claim that similarity proves Jesus did not exist and that (non-contradictory) differences also prove Jesus did not exist.  Differences are evidence of separate eye-witness accounts, not of plagiarism.   Luke was not an eye-witness, but there is evidence of his doing much more research than the other two, which makes sense, since he was not an eye-witness.  Again, the claim is that Jesus did not even exist.  How is any of this supporting his thesis?  It is not.   Then he points out differences in choice of material–Luke doing more with the birth and including material from when he was 12, Mark skipping the birth–and uses this as evidence that they are unreliable.  This is not even an argument.  Three different biographers chose different things to focus in on.  In what universe is that evidence that they are inaccurate or unreliable?  This does not even make sense.

Then he resorts to pure, unadulterated rhetoric by saying, “We can know nothing of Jesus’ childhood or origin!”  What is this statement based on?   What about the fact that Luke did careful research, including talking to those who knew Jesus from the time he was a child, and reporting what they said.  What is the basis for his claim that these accounts are simple lies and fabrication?  He has literally no argument here–it is pure rhetoric which can be dismissed “without further cause.”

Here are a few of the points he made about John:
The gospel of John was compiled around the year 110 CE. If its author had been 10 years old at the time of Jesus’ crucifiction in the year 30 CE, he would have been 80 years old at the time of writing. Not only is it improbable that he would have lived so long, it is dangerous to pay much attention to the colorful “memories” recounted by a man in his “anecdotage.” Many of us who are far younger than this have had the unpleasant experience of discovering incontrovertible proof that what we thought were clear memories of some event were wildly incorrect. We also might wonder why an eye-witness of all the wonders claimed in a gospel would wait so long to write about them!  More importantly, there is evidence that the Gospel of John, like Matthew and Luke, also is a composite document, incorporating an earlier “Signs Gospel” of uncertain antiquity. Again, we ask, if “John” had been an eye-witness to Jesus, why would he need to plagiarize a list of miracles made up by someone else? Nor is there anything in the Signs Gospel that would lead one to suppose that it was an eye-witness account. It could just as easily have been referring to the wonders of Dionysus turning water into wine, or to the healings of Asclepius.   The inauthenticity of the Gospel of John would seem to be established beyond cavil by the discovery that the very chapter that asserts the author of the book to have been “the disciple whom Jesus loved” [John 21:20] was a late addition to the gospel. Scholars have shown that the gospel originally ended at verses 30-31 of Chapter 20. Chapter 21 – in which verse 24 asserts that “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true” – is not the work of an eye-witness. Like so many other things in the Bible, it is a fraud. The testimony is not true.   None bible sources   

As far as I know, no reputable scholar puts John as late as 110 AD, yet this person does.  Ignatius quoted from John 3:8 in the years 117 AD, using it as authoritative and canonical.  This implies that the letter was already widely circulated and accepted as canonical, making the date of authorship of AD 110 impossible.  John was probably written by the 80s, but may just possibly have been written as late as the 90s.  Yet this author assumes a date of 110 AD.  What is the basis for this assumption, which appears to be in conflict with the evidence?  Then he makes an entire argument based on this unsupported date of 110 AD.  The argument is simply bogus.  Then he disrespects old people in general by implying that anything said by a person over 80 is in their “dotage” and unreliable.  How arrogant is this!  I am sure that when I am 80 years old I will be able to remember if a person who totally changed my life ever lived or not.  I will be imprecise about some details, but not about who was my best friend when I was 20 years old.  This argument is preposterous.

He then tries to prove that the book is unreliable because, “Why would an eye witness wait so long?”  This is an argument that what he wrote is a complete fabrication?  Really?  I just read a biography of US Grant.  He wrote his biography on his death bed.  Why did he wait so long?  Because he did.  Then he argues that John is unreliable because he uses material from the oral history of Jesus.  He calls this the “signs gospel,” providing, of course, no evidence that such a document existed.  But if John was a very close friend of Jesus, which he certainly was, how does this prove that he lied or completely made things up out of thin air, which is his thesis?  Again, this is virtually not even an argument at all.   Then he says that the “signs gospel” is not an eye-witness document.  But there is no evidence that this document even existed, so how can he know if its accounts were unreliable?  This is pure, unadulterated rhetoric.  He says that this was taken from Dionysus.  What?  So the church was willing to believe as true an utter fabrication, when hundreds of eye-witnesses to the events were still alive?  How gullible does he think that the people living in Jerusalem and Judea were? Is this a credible claim?  Simple answer: NO!  This is utter nonsense.

What is his evidence that John 21 was a late addition?  Again, this is a claim without evidence.  Please, if we are going to make statements, let us at least have evidence to support such a statement.  Some suggest that John 21 is an epilogue, which is probably true, but the fact that it is an epilogue does not mean it was inserted later.  Lots of books have epilogues, and we never assume that they were inserted many years later.  Evidence, please….

The fact that Josephus was not convinced by this or any other Christian claim is clear from the statement of the church father Origen (ca. 185-ca. 154 CE) – who dealt extensively with Josephus – that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, i.e., as “the Christ.” Moreover, the disputed passage was never cited by early Christian apologists such as Clement of Alexandria (ca.150-ca. 215 CE), who certainly would have made use of such ammunition had he had it!   The first person to make mention of this obviously forged interpolation into the text of Josephus’ history was the church father Eusebius, in 324 CE. It is quite likely that Eusebius himself did some of the forging. As late as 891, Photius in his Bibliotheca, which devoted three “Codices” to the works of Josephus, shows no awareness of the passage whatsoever even though he reviews the sections of the Antiquities in which one would expect the disputed passage to be found. Clearly, the testimonial was absent from his copy of Antiquities of the Jews.Citation 13 The question can probably be laid to rest by noting that as late as the sixteenth century, according to Rylands,Citation 14 a scholar named Vossius had a manuscript of Josephus from which the passage was wanting.   Is the Josephus statements written by him or did people add to it?

Yes, it is true that Josephus was not a Christian.  Is this proof that Jesus never lived?  I am not a Buddhist but I believe that Guatama Siddhartha (Buddha) lived.  I am not a Muslim, but I believe that Muhammad lived.  Is this part of his argument that Jesus did not live?  Now, it is true that Josephus mentioned Jesus, and it is also true (unfortunately) that a later Christian added an interpolation to what Josephus legitimately did say about Jesus.  Even if Josephus never mentioned Jesus (he did), is this evidence that Jesus never lived?   I cover this in my book Reasons for Belief, available at www.ipibooks.com.

Also another point that atheists bring up is that they say that if Jesus was doing all these great miracles how come more people didn’t record or write about them?

Actually, a lot of people wrote about the miracles of Jesus.  One was Matthew, another was Mark, a third was John, a fourth was Luke, a fifth was Josephus, and even the Jewish Talmud mentions Jesus, claiming that his miracles were from Satan, but at least agreeing that he worked wonders.  So did many in the early second century, some of whom knew the apostle John and other eye-witnesses.  The hypocricy of these atheists is that any Christian is automatically assumed to be a complete liar and fraud, simply because they are Christians.  They do not apply this standard to any other writers in the ancient world.  The fact is that we know rather little of what happened in the ancient world.  The miracles of Jesus occurred in a region of the Roman empire on its outer fringes in a relatively unimportant province of the empire.  Yet, because of the miracles and because of the resurrection of Jesus, a religion began which eventually overwhelmed the entire Roman Empire.  The incredible rise of this religion is evidence itself that these miracles actually happened, or at the absolute least, that tens of thousands of people who lived in the area were sufficiently convinced that these miracles happened to give up everything they had to follow this man.  This is very strong evidence that these miracles were common knowledge among the people at that time.

John Oakes

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