Zeitgeist Debunked

Article: Zeitgeist Debunked: Jesus Is Not A Copy Of Pagan Gods by Steven Bancarz – original article here.

It’s often claimed that the story of Jesus was plagiarized or adopted from pagan deities. That the ideas of his virgin birth, his baptism, his gathering of disciples, his miracle working, his title as the son of god, his death and his resurrection are ideas that were taken from pre-Christ pagan myths and mishmashed together to give us the unoriginal and recycled story of another dying and rising saviour-figure: Jesus Christ.

Zeitgeist, Religulous, and other such films and books have popularized this idea, which has since then become a favourite talking point of skeptics in the blogosphere. I personally have seen this point brought up so many times it is hard to keep track, with the same sensationalist memes being recycled around the internet:

We are told Jesus is just one of many dying and rising gods present in history, and that every culture has their own saviour figure with stories that are exactly the same as the story of Jesus in every way. Since we apparently have stories of gods that predate Jesus who have the exact same outline and ministry as he did, it’s suggested that the story of Jesus is a knock-off of pagan stories that come before him.

This idea could not be farther from the truth. As Bart Ehrman, atheist professor of Religious Studies at UNC, has said:

“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).”

While this idea may stop is in our tracks at first glance, when we dig deeper we find that these “parallels” are made up to such an extent as to be simply embarrassing. Jesus is not a knock-off of pagan god stories, and this is a basic fact of history. Let’s take a quick look at Mithra, Dionysus, and Horus, all of whom are claimed to have born of a virgin, killed, buried, and resurrected from the dead.

Mithra

Virgin birth?

Mithra had absolutely no virgin birth. In fact, Mithra was not born in a literal sense, he emerged out of a rock.(1)(2) Mirtha was only born metaphorically, not literally. Mithra even emerged out of this rock as an adult, not as a baby. Mithra has no real mother, no virgin birth, no manger.

Crucified? Resurrected?

Mithra was never killed, let alone crucified. As Mithraic scholar Gordon Richard says there “Is no death of Mithras” (3). If he didn’t die, that means there was no “last supper” he wasn’t crucified, buried, or raised on the third day. If he didn’t die, he wasn’t resurrected. Continue reading

Three Days and Three Nights

Article by TurretinFan: Three Days and Three Nights – Hebrew Idiom for Three Consecutive Calendar Days (original source here)

Jonah’s use of “three days and three nights” repeated by Jesus in prophesying his own death, burial, and resurrection has led to some confusion. As you may recall, in Jonah, it is written:

Jonah 1:15-17
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Similarly, Jesus states:

Matthew 12:38-41
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Some people have taken this expression as expressing emphasis on both daylight and and dark periods, instead of understanding the expression as simply meaning three consecutive calendar days.

Interestingly enough, the same expression is found in one other place, where it is fairly clear that three calendar days is meant:

1 Samuel 30:1 & 11-14
And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the south, and Ziklag, and smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire; … And they found an Egyptian in the field, and brought him to David, and gave him bread, and he did eat; and they made him drink water; and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights. And David said unto him, To whom belongest thou? and whence art thou? And he said, I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite; and my master left me, because three days agone I fell sick. We made an invasion upon the south of the Cherethites, and upon the coast which belongeth to Judah, and upon the south of Caleb; and we burned Ziklag with fire.

The point of “three days and three nights” is just that the Egyptian had been continuously without food and water for three calendar days. The point is not the day and light portions, but the continuity. We see that from the fact that David returned “on the third day” (vs. 1) and from the fact that the Egyptian had only fallen sick “three days agone.”

The way that “on the third day” worked for the Hebrew way of counting days can be seen from Jesus’ own use:

Luke 13:32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.

Similarly, in Leviticus:

Leviticus 19:6 It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire.

Even in 1 Samuel, we see the same way of counting:

1 Samuel 20:5 And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even. Continue reading

10 Historical Facts About Jesus From Non-Christian Sources

Article: 10 Historical Facts About Jesus From Non-Christian Sources by Alisa Childers (original source here)

If you have ever been involved in religious discussion on Facebook or Twitter, you have probably come across some version of the comment below:

“I just think it’s interesting that the only book that even talks about Jesus is the Bible! I’m not even sure we can prove he actually existed.”

Although this assertion is largely rejected by scholars in all spheres of historical and biblical studies, it tends to pop back up on social media like a never-ending game of digital whack-a-mole. The truth is that Jesus is not only documented in the eye-witness testimony compiled in the New Testament, but He is mentioned as a historical person by several non-Christian sources within 150 years of His life. From those sources, we can learn 10 things about Jesus without even opening a Bible:

1. He was known to be wise and virtuous.

This fact was reported by Jewish Historian Josephus, who was born around AD 37. In his Antiquities of the Jews, he reports:

At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. (1)

2. He had a brother named James.

In recounting the stoning of James, Josephus records:

So he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned. (2)

3. He was known to perform miracles.

Celsus was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and a fierce opponent of Christianity. In what is known to be the first comprehensive intellectual attack on Christianity, he tried to resolve why Jesus was able to perform miracles. The story is wild—but the main point is that by trying to explain away the miracles of Jesus, he is actually affirming that they happened:

Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god. (3) Continue reading

4 Reasons to Believe in the Empty Tomb

Article by Paul Rezkalla (original source here)

Was the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth found empty after his crucifixion? If not, then Christianity is the greatest lie in history. The apostle Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). While the historicity of the empty tomb does not by itself prove the resurrection, it plays an important role.

Where does the evidence point?

1. The belief in the empty tomb predates the Gospels and even the writings of Paul.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Paul lays down the earliest-known creed of the Christian church:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles

The language of “received” and “passed” indicates Paul was relaying an oral tradition. He wrote this letter in the mid-50s. Therefore, this creed had to date earlier. If Jesus died around 30, this creed can be dated to, at most, 25 years after Jesus’s death.

Furthermore, there are good evidences to show that Paul received this creed from the church leaders in Jerusalem in the 30s, and this exchange is recorded in Galatians 1:18-20. Many prominent New Testament historians such as Bart Ehrman, James Dunn, and Gerd Ludemann date this creed to between two and five years of Jesus’s death. Gerd Ludemann says, “[T]he elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus . . . not later than three years . . . the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.”

Within three years of Jesus’s death, the early church was circulating a creed that affirmed Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the dead. And you can’t have a bodily resurrection without an empty tomb.

2. Jesus’s body was buried in Jerusalem.

So what? How does that point help us? Think about where Christianity started: Jerusalem.

The disciples went out and preached the message of the risen Jesus in the same city where Jesus was publicly crucified and buried. It would have been easy to crush this movement of unruly fishermen by simply going to Jesus’s tomb, pulling out the body, and exposing the followers of Jesus as liars. Both the Romans and the Jews were fed up with this new group of Jesus followers, and they could have easily produced the remains of Jesus’s body to quench the Christian movement had the tomb not been empty.

But this never happened. The body of Jesus was never produced from the tomb in an attempt to undermine the movement of Jesus followers, nor were there any counter-narratives arguing that the tomb was still occupied.

3. Jesus’s tomb was first discovered empty by women.

In order to fully appreciate this fact, let’s look at how women were viewed in first-century Palestine.

But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment. — Josephus

Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman. — Talmud (Rosh Hashannah)

Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women. — Talmud (Sotah)

Harsh words. They were not celebrating International Women’s Day in first-century Palestine.

Women were not considered credible witnesses. They were seen as being intellectually and morally deficient. Why, then, did the Gospel writers designate women as the first witnesses to the empty tomb and the risen Jesus? If the Gospel writers wanted to substantiate their message, they could have listed Peter and John or some other prominent disciples as the first witness. Surely any of the disciples would have been a better pick than these women! Why did they choose to include women as being the first witnesses? Because they were intent on recounting the story as truthfully as possible.

Embarrassment is one standard that historians use to gauge the historicity of a recorded event. If an author chooses to include an embarrassing fact that may hurt his/her case, then it is unlikely that he is making up his story. The fact that the Gospel writers included the “embarrassing” details of the women being the witnesses to the empty tomb shows the unlikelihood of the empty tomb narratives being fabricated.

4. The Jews were claiming that the disciples had stolen the body.

Matthew 28:11-15 says:

[S]ome of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Why would the Jews circulate the story of Jesus’s body being stolen by the disciples if the tomb was not empty? Why would the author of the Gospel of Matthew say that this lie was circulating if he knew that Jesus’s tomb was not empty?

In the second century, Justin Martyr recorded that this story was still being circulated in his day: “His disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (Diaolgue with Trypho). Tertullian, in 200, also corroborated this idea: “This is he whom his disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said he had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants!” (De Spectaculis).

Thus, there would be no need to propagate the idea that the disciples stole Jesus’s body from the tomb if the tomb were not empty!

It is clear from the evidence that we can establish, with relative certainty, that Jesus’s tomb was found empty three days after his crucifixion, by a group of his women followers. Again, this is not an argument for the truth of the resurrection, but it is in important link in the chain of evidences that can best be explained by the resurrection. And it should give us pause. If the Gospel writers are faithful in the details surrounding the empty tomb, maybe we should take them seriously about other matters, as well.

Jesus Rose from the Dead – Eight Reasons

john-piperArticle: Eight Reasons Why I Believe That Jesus Rose from the Dead by Dr. John Piper (Website: www.desiringGod.org)

1. Jesus himself testified to his coming resurrection from the dead.
Jesus spoke openly about what would happen to him: crucifixion and then resurrection from the dead. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31; see also Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). Those who consider the resurrection of Christ unbelievable will probably say that Jesus was deluded or (more likely) that the early church put these statements in his mouth to make him teach the falsehood that they themselves conceived. But those who read the Gospels and come to the considered conviction that the one who speaks so compellingly through these witnesses is not the figment of foolish imagination will be unsatisfied with this effort to explain away Jesus’ own testimony to his resurrection from the dead.

This is especially true in view of the fact that the words which predict the resurrection are not only the simple straightforward words quoted above, but also the very oblique and indirect words which are far less likely to be the simple invention of deluded disciples. For example, two separate witnesses testify in two very different ways to Jesus’ statement during his lifetime that if his enemies destroyed the temple (of his body), he would build it again in three days (John 2:19; Mark 14:58; cf. Matthew 26:61). He also spoke illusively of the “sign of Jonah” — three days in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4). And he hinted at it again in Matthew 21:42 — “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” On top of his own witness to the coming resurrection, his accusers said that this was part of Jesus’ claim: “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise'” (Matthew 27:63).

Our first evidence of the resurrection, therefore, is that Jesus himself spoke of it. The breadth and nature of the sayings make it unlikely that a deluded church made these up. And the character of Jesus himself, revealed in these witnesses, has not been judged by most people to be a lunatic or a deceiver.

2. The tomb was empty on Easter.
The earliest documents claim this: “When they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:3). And the enemies of Jesus confirmed it by claiming that the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:13). The dead body of Jesus could not be found. There are four possible ways to account for this. Continue reading