Studying, Learning, Teaching
JML Cassian: You have stated the core of this discussion eloquently. You are a believer. You read books by believers. You listen to sermons by believers. You are comforted by your beliefs. There is nothing wrong with that if it serves you well. I am a researcher. I read books by historians and archaeologists. I keep my mind open to the possibility that what I believed to be true yesterday could be disproven today. There is nothing wrong with that. It serves my mind and my soul well to continually learn.
Where we both get into trouble is when we make statements outside our areas of expertise, crossing into the other's realm. I honor your belief system and only criticize you when you step out of it and make statements about history, science, literature, archaeology and other fact-based areas of research that contradict your beliefs. My study began with an advanced degree in Theology and moved into the other fact-based areas so I come at your criticisms of facts from both directions.
You accept that the four Gospels were written by eyewitnesses and that helps to support your belief that Jesus existed. You need to keep believing that and to read only books by other believers, the only remaining "scholars" who claim to have debunked the evidence that they were written later.
You reject scripture scholars who are not believers because they reject Orthodox Christian beliefs. So you limit yourself to learning from writers who adjust their findings to fit their beliefs, ignoring the vast majority who present convincing evidence to the contrary. For example, out of the 15 or more versions of the meaning of the Jesus stories, one was chosen by Constantine in the 4th Century to help him prop up his claim to the throne. He flooded the leaders of that version with money and they used it to build places of worship and to burn the books of the other 14 or so alternate Christian sects. If this method of determine God's message to humankind is acceptable to you, if it feeds your soul, then you should stick to your guns and ignore historical facts that upset you.
The world changed in the 1940's when the ancient libraries were discovered at Qumran and at Nag Hammadi. We know so much more now about the centuries just before and after the time of Christ that we have to accept that our ancestors might have been mistaken.
Remember that believers like you once thought God sent lightning and targeted it for specific reasons, that the sun moved around the Earth, and that women did not contribute genetic material to a child but were merely a repository for a human being that came 100% intact from the male. Every time science makes a discovery, religion gets pushed back a little further into its proper role. Every time believers have tried to burst out of their proper role and argue that scientists were wrong, they have ultimately lost.
Today's borderline between belief and science is Historical Criticism and Literary Criticism of scriptural texts. Scholars use the oldest available manuscripts in the original languages, compare one to the other when copies are different, study the secular writings of the time, and debate their findings with each other, free from the limitations of religious biases. These are legitimate scientific pursuits and believers have no more business interfering here than they do in the debate about whether the Earth or the sun is the body in motion.
So, while I honor the strength of your beliefs, I have to suggest that you admit that that is all they are. Stay in your churches and do not talk about "proof." Proof is not your appropriate arena, and it is not a tool that will ultimately do you any good.
To Name Withheld (posted by Wendy DeVelde):
I appreciate your eloquence. I will, in fact, print this and keep it handy by my front door, waiting for the bell to ring.
Cassian: you do not serve your cause well by citing Isaiah, especially when you display such a strong misunderstanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the same time. "Also known as...?" No one would put it like that. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a library. Among the inventories of Temple treasures and rules for living in the community, some copies of the 5th-Century Before the Common Era (BCE) book known as Isaiah were also found there. These handmade copies have been dated to somewhere in the first Century BCE or the first Century of the Common Era (CE), not the original book itself, and certainly not as far back as 200 BCE.
Having clarified that, let's turn to what modern Scripture scholarship now knows about Hebrew prophet predictions fulfilled by Jesus. The four Gospels were all written after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE; perhaps at least one of them at the very end of the 1st Century or beginning of the 2nd. In other words, 50-75 years after the events they describe. What is more, there are no copies in existence older than the late 2nd Century and many existing copies of each Gospel vary greatly from each other, indicating active revision work was going on over 150 years. It was in the late 2nd Century that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were first attached to the four books.
The Christian communities of believers that developed these writings needed to make the point that Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah (actually two Messiah's in one: the kingly Messiah descended from David through his father and the priestly Messiah descended through his mother's tribe). So they researched Isaiah and Micah and Zechariah and Amos and other prophets and constructed their stories in such a way that things those prophets said "came true."
The reason scholars know this is true is because some of the authors were pretty sloppy researchers. "Matthew" misquotes Isaiah in some places or sometimes "quotes" phrases that cannot be found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. "Luke" gets his geography of the Palestinian countryside all wrong, indicating the author of that book never visited there. Those two books present genealogies and birth narratives of Jesus that are completely different from each other and cannot both be true.
If your point is to prove that an itinerant preacher and miracle-worker named Y'shua lived in Nazareth (a town archaeologists have discovered did not exist until at least after the year 150 CE), attracted massive crowds, and died at the hands of the Romans in the first half of the first Century without any secular historian noticing him, you need something much stronger than circular "evidence" that he was predicted by the same Jewish prophets upon whom his biographers based their writings.
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