Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Who cares if there was a guy called "Jesus Christ"?

Bloggers on both the left and right are going nuts over the notion that an Italian court is about to decide whether Jesus was an actual historical person or not thanks to a lawsuit claiming that the Church is committing fraud against the Italian people by claiming there was an actual person named Jesus Christ. This lawsuit is as ridiculous as one against Stephen King claiming that a historical person named Carrie never existed. It sort of misses the author's intent in the whole affair.

There is significant evidence that there was a large number of wanna-be prophets named "Joshua" ("Jesus" is Greek for "Joshua") during the first two centuries AD. Judaea was undergoing rebellions and turmoil during this time, resulting in the destruction of the Temple, destruction of the Temple culture, and ultimately in the ethnic cleansing of Judaea as a whole with its population scattered to the winds by the Romans. Given the variety of internal and external evidence, it seems apparent that the Gospels were written after the post-135AD destruction of what remained of Jewish Israel, over 100 years after the supposed death of Jesus Christ, by people who never saw Jesus in real life, based upon oral traditions that had been passed down over the years. So it’s not as if they are themselves viable history texts. Indeed, there is significant evidence that the Biblical Jesus never existed as an actual human being. The Gospels are, at best, a documentary of a philosophy that developed over the course of decades amongst an offshoot sect of the Jews (the Nazarenes, an offshoot of the Essenes) that eventually broke away from Judaism to be the largest religion in the world after Paul had his revelation that “Hey, we could convert everybody, not just Jews!”. It's historically viable to consider them to be multiple parables starring a composite Messiah character.

But in the end it does not matter whether there was an actual physical Jesus and an actual physical resurrection. It’s sort of like that whole evolution thingy. Evolution is science. The fact that evolution occurs and appears to be the most plausible scientific explanation for the existence of life on Earth is a matter of science, not of faith, and of supreme disinterest to those who read the Bible as a guide to faith, not as a guide to science. The fact that historians no longer believe there was an actual person named Jesus Christ is similarly of supreme disinterest for someone interested in the Bible as a guide to faith rather than as a history book. If more people were interested in the Gospels as a guide to faith—as a guide to a religious philosophy as to how to live one’s life—the world would be a much better place.

Your beliefs in the physical existance of Jesus Christ have little to do with whether you philosophically accept the teachings of the Gospels, as the numb-nuts at Westboro Baptist Church (of “God Hates Fags” fame) go to show (Jesus taught “Love thy neighbor”, He didn’t teach “Go parade outside your neighbor’s house with offensive signs while hurling curses at them”). The sad and simple fact is that even the majority of those who believe there was an actual historical Jesus and profess to be Christians don’t follow His teachings. That, not any bogus history issues, should be the biggest cause of concern amongst true Christians.

- Badtux the Christian Penguin

Posted by: BadTux / 1/05/2006 08:36:00 AM  


Right on and well said.
# posted by Debra : 5/1/06 9:13 AM  

Well said, but the Christians feel that they are being slighted.
# posted by Ole Blue The Heretic : 5/1/06 11:26 AM  

But Christians believe you have to more than believe in the philosophical teachings of this person's who may or may not have existed. Christians believe you have believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I think the existence of Jesus is pretty secure, I just hope they don't have activists judges in Italy. Here's my analysis of the whole thing:

Could Jesus Suffer his Father's Fate?
# posted by Jeff : 5/1/06 12:35 PM  

Err, JR, who are you to say what Christians must or must not believe? Are you God? How *DARE* you stand in God's place and tell Christians what they must or must not believe?!

- Badtux the Christian Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 5/1/06 12:53 PM  

"This lawsuit is as ridiculous as one against Stephen King claiming that a historical person named Carrie never existed. It sort of misses the author's intent in the whole affair."

Badtux, I love penguins. I believe that most of the time, they are quite lucid, honest creatures, with good, objective minds. But here you seem to have a blindspot. Atheists always seem to make the mistake of assuming that all religions are equally based in myth and metaphor, and that no matter whether all of the seemingly ridiculous superstition is factually true, "the *real* point, people, is that you should be a good person."
Jesus Christ (who did, in fact, exist) is not strikingly different from many of the great moral teachers of the ancient world in terms of actual teachings; what is extraordinary, according to Christians, is WHO he was and why he died. The whole Christian religion is based not only on the fact that Jesus existed, but on faith in his divine character and mission. If anything, attack the faith part. That's your best shot. Oh, and I'm sorry if I sound a bit testy, I really like you and respect your opinions, but I truly believe that you grossly mischaracterized the situation. As a Christian, I know what I'm supposed to believe.
# posted by Screwt@pe : 5/1/06 2:59 PM  

I would say that JR could say who Christians should believe in because everyone else and their idiot brother thinks God talks to them. Of course, Christians don't have to listen to JR.
# posted by oldwhitelady : 5/1/06 3:02 PM  


My views toward religion are best described as agnostic. It seems the more I look into matters of faith, the more I just don't know. Either God hasn't said a word to me in all this time, or He's communicating to me in a method I can't recognize. I'm so agnostic at this point, I can't even tell which of those two alternatives is more plausible.

But when it comes to Jesus, I'm almost certain he never existed. You'd think a guy like him would show up in more ancient records. Pontius Pilate has an extrabiblical record. So does Herod. Even John the Baptist has one. But Jesus is virtually nonexistent outside of the Bible. Paul's experience of him derives from a single vision -- and it's anyone's guess as to what really prompted that vision in the first place. Hell, you can't even get a brief physical description of Jesus out of the New Testament.

Granted, this has little to do with how you conduct your own life or how much it corresponds to what Jesus is made to teach. But how did it manage to come this far? It's approaching the 2,000-year mark. There's a story for the ages in there somewhere...
# posted by Mimus Pauly : 5/1/06 3:17 PM  

Screwt@pe: Does He know that you're talking for him? How *DARE* you say that I'm not a Christian simply because I view the Bible as a religious text, not as a history book or science book! Unless He has been talking out of a burning bush to you lately, you have no -- *NO* -- right to speak for Him.

And if your faith is so weak that it requires a physical corporal Jesus Christ and would disappear if Jesus were instead a character of metaphor or parable, it seems to me that your faith is weak and you should perhaps go off and pray for a while, instead of telling Christians that they're not Christians because they don't view the Bible as a history text.

- Badtux the Christian Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 5/1/06 3:56 PM  

I believe peole with the "@" in their screen names are sinners and will go to hell.
# posted by NewsBlog 5000 : 5/1/06 5:15 PM  

I have no problem with the idea that, roughly 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, there appeared a guy named Jeshua ben Josef, who talked a good enough game that he convinced a large portion of the local Jewish population that he was a lineal descendant of King David, and thus, their Messiah ("Messiah" meaning "King," with no supernatural connotations.)

This Jeshua fellow also happened to preach a political doctrine that was far in advance of its time and appealed greatly to the poor and oppressed, who had suffered greatly at the hands of the Romans. I have no problem believing that his teachings and following made the Romans consider him a definite political threat to their power, so they executed him.

None of this do I have a problem believing.

But someone asks me to believe that this political and religious leader was also a supernatural being sent down to earth in human form, who had a virgin for a mother, cured the blind by throwing dirt in their eyes, and came back from the dead three days after his execution...

Yeah, that's where I jump off. Sorry.
# posted by Aaron : 5/1/06 6:22 PM  

The Bible doesn't have to be *either* a history text or a religious text.
It's a religious text whose main religious message in the New Testament comes from historical occurences. That's what distinguishes systems of belief like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. from pure pantheistic speculation like the ancient Greeks had - the belief stems from the experiences of real people. It would be perfectly fine if Jesus was nothing more than some mythical conglomeration of many different Jewish Joshuas and Christ's life was merely a well crafted parable meant to paralell basic theological truths. The message would be the same, and I would still be a Christian. But what I'm saying is that that's not how it started. Christians, from the evidence we have, believe in a real live person who was inhabited by God in a Father-to-Son relationship and then sacrificially died for our sins.

And you don't have to talk to me like I'm some inflexible fundy asshole, I'm really not. I know what faith is, and I know real faith needs no physical evidence. I'm just saying that mine has physical evidence - is that too pretentious?
It wouldn't dissolve if none were there.

BTW, something you should know about me that might explain my views: I believe in a living God, a person who thinks and (gasp) intervenes in His Creation from time to time. I find it perfectly plausible that He
does miracles and speaks to people.
Notice I say plausible, not certain.
If He never did, and all that we learn about Him comes in the form of
introspection and the metaphors that arise from the curiosity that He put in us, fine. And if ever I researched and found that Jesus never existed but Muhammad had really talked to God, I would become a Muslim. I just think that you shouldn't operate under the assumption that miracles can't really happen (for real).

I still believe Penguins can to heaven, just so you know :)
# posted by Screwt@pe : 5/1/06 6:59 PM  

I still believe that penguins can *go* to heaven. Left a word out, sorry.
# posted by Screwt@pe : 5/1/06 7:02 PM  

I'm not getting it. First you say it matters whether there was an actual living breathing physical Jesus Christ or not, then you say it doesn't matter? If the latter, you're making my point for me -- that the Bible is a document of faith, not a history textbook or a science textbook, and that the historical or scientific accuracy of prose therein is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the message of faith contained therein. If this is so, then the existence (or not) of a historical dude named Jesus or Jeshua or Joshua is irrelevant. It affects the validity of the faith therein about as much as the price of gas in New York City... i.e., not at all.

BTW, I am simply adapting the already-existing attitude of the Catholic Church regarding matters of science to matters of history. The Catholic Church has no official statement upon evolution, other than to state that evolution is science, not a matter of faith, and thus of supreme disinterest to the Church. The Church does not, BTW, teach creationism in its own science classrooms in the Catholic schools. According to the Church, what gets taught in science classrooms should be science, i.e., what scientists do. Creationism is not science, thus doesn't get taught in science classrooms in the Catholic schools. It certainly isn't any stretch to extend this basic philosophy to matters of history too. (Probably why the fundys out there are all convinced that us Catholic are all going to Hell, especially those of us who were Jesuit-educated :-).

- Badtux the Catholic Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 5/1/06 7:11 PM  

Brother Robertson's not going to like this, damnit....
# posted by Michael Hawkins : 5/1/06 7:24 PM  

"Jesus Christ (who did, in fact, exist) is not strikingly different from many of the great moral teachers of the ancient world in terms of actual teachings; what is extraordinary, according to Christians, is WHO he was and why he died. The whole Christian religion is based not only on the fact that Jesus existed, but on faith in his divine character and mission."

This is what I said in my first post. Notice that I do not at all imply whether it *matters* that Christians do or do not believe in a historical Jesus, but simply that they do. The fervor of a Christian's belief comes from a knowledge that not only is the story of Jesus truthful in the metaphorical sense (which is all that is required for faith) but that it probably really happened (ties in with the belief in a living, acting God). This was a counter to your statement that JR was "dictating" what Christians "must" believe.

In my second post, I explain in a manner consistent with my first post that although it doesn't *matter* if Jesus was real or not,(it doesn't affect Jesus' moral teachings or the belief in God's existence)it does matter to Christians when they try to figure out God's level of activity in Creation. Did He really
do what we say He did? Doesn't matter to our faith if He didn't, but we think that if He had to, He would.
OK, as you can see, we both agree that it's the faith that counts. Where I differ is when I say that
miracles actually happen, to real people like Jesus, as a *logical* part of God's involvement in the physical, scientific realm of His Creation. I know how you cringe when I say that, and the idea used to make me uncomfortable, too. But it's what my experiences have taught me. Y'know, I need to make a book recommendation. Read C.S. Lewis' "Miracles". He can get kind of rambly and his metaphors can be awful ("Horrid Red things? Gimme a break!) but he makes logical arguments and you should just give him a chance and read the whole thing through. It's a very interesting read, even if you come out thinking he's full of crap. Peace be with you, Penguin brother.
# posted by Screwt@pe : 5/1/06 7:55 PM  

"The whole Christian religion is based not only on the fact that Jesus existed..."

OK, sorry, I guess I did imply that Christians must believe he actually existed. Are takebacks allowed? Faith is an ongoing process and you need to admit your mistakes.
# posted by Screwt@pe : 5/1/06 8:00 PM  

Yes, takebacks are allowed...

I'm not sure that we're as far apart as you think. But I think I've said enough already on the subject.

- Badtux the Catholic Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 5/1/06 10:25 PM  

Ho-kay, since I'm very likely the dumb-ass who instigated this discussion...


You say that Jesus did in fact exist. I'm almost certain that he didn't, I said so, and I still say so. But I'm willing to admit that I could be flat out wrong -- I've been flat out wrong about tons of things over the years, and I'm still kickin'. So, if you have some evidence that supports your claim, then I'd like to see it.

Your move...
# posted by Mimus Pauly : 6/1/06 1:23 AM  

What is this, a chess game?

All I know is that I've seen your evidence and it still doesn't definitively prove that Jesus never existed. I have to admit, there's a lot there, and I'm too lazy to dredge up all of the counter-evidence that exists. I guess we'll just have to see what the Italian court decides.
# posted by Screwt@pe : 6/1/06 4:56 AM  

What is this, a chess game?

It is now, my Christian friend.

I know I can't prove Jesus never existed. Proving a negative is impossible. All I said was I'm almost certain Jesus never existed, all I asked for was some evidence on your part that he did, and all I got was a lame excuse. What the hell is that?
# posted by Mimus Pauly : 6/1/06 1:36 PM  

Just wanted to say, badtux, that I loved your second response to jr on his blog. It echoed a point you made here, but was better stated. The Bible is a work of religious ideas, a document of faith, a rich collection of images, themes, principles, and lessons to help human beings live richer, more spiritual lives. It is not a work of history, it is not indisputable fact, and it is certainly not science.
# posted by Red Bull : 7/1/06 11:57 AM  

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