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Earl Doherty

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CHALLENGING THE VERDICT
A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ
[Excerpts from the book by Earl Doherty]

PART ONE: Is the Gospel Record Reliable?

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Note: In these excerpts, Endnotes have not been included. Quotes from The Case for Christ are enclosed in quotation marks, and are followed by the number(s) of the pages [in square brackets] where they appear in Strobel's text. These page numbers are those of the hardcover and larger paperback edition. Very occasionally I insert clarifications in square brackets into the quotations. All but very minor lacunae (deleted words) within the quotations are marked.

Excerpt from
The Introduction to Part One
(Opening Remarks)

    Your Honor, I call Mr. Lee Strobel to the stand.
The author of The Case for Christ has compared his investigation of the Gospel figure of Jesus of Nazareth to a judicial setting, and there is no doubt that it deserves the closest examination such as we might give it in a genuine courtroom. Just what is the "case" for Christ? How trustworthy is the evidence? How reliable are the conclusions Mr. Strobel draws from it? Have his witnesses avoided bringing personal biases or confessional interests to their testimony? Is there indeed no reasonable doubt, as Mr. Strobel claims?
    Today we are embarking on a cross-examination of the "Case for Christ" as presented by Mr. Strobel and the scholars he interviews, including an examination of the documentary exhibits they have tabled in evidence. Before proceeding to that cross-examination, I will offer some opening remarks to those who will judge the case.

Opening Remarks

    Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. At the heart of their strategy, Mr. Strobel and his witnesses have sought to convince you of a set of basic presumptions necessary to your acceptance of their case. Since the early record shows an almost immediate elevation of Jesus to the status of divinity, they claim, and since such an elevation of a human man is unlikely to have developed so soon after his death, especially in a Jewish milieu, their conclusion is that something dramatic must have happened to cause it, namely the resurrection of Jesus from his tomb. They have claimed that since the evidence shows that a belief in the resurrection arose almost immediately, there was not enough time for this to have been a legendary development overlying a less dramatic historical truth. Part of the evidence they have appealed to is the Gospel story which they allege goes back to traditions, perhaps even written material, formulated within a few years of the events themselves.
    We, on the other hand, will demonstrate that the latter claim, that Gospel traditions go back to within a few years of Jesus’ supposed death, is unfounded. We will not seek to disprove that there existed very early beliefs in a Jesus who was divine and who had been resurrected, but we will show that the standard interpretation of such beliefs has been erroneous, and that the Gospel rendition of such beliefs is a later development, largely if not entirely fiction.
    We will also demonstrate that the presentation of Mr. Strobel’s overall case has been marked by shallow argument and deficient reasoning; by special pleading (meaning a selective adoption and interpretation of evidence); and by techniques that can be said to be fundamentally misleading, in that a particular conclusion has been established ahead of time, and evidence and argumentation is often selected and applied in the light of this desired conclusion.
    Mr. Strobel’s case has been presented partly through his own commentary and partly through interviews he conducts with witnesses, whom he refers to as experts in their fields. The latter may be the case; nevertheless those witnesses have given testimony to personal beliefs and dispositions which can be said to have prejudiced and determined their ‘expert’ reading of the evidence and the conclusions they come to. In cross-examining such witnesses, these biases will become evident, as will the deficient nature of their reasoning and conclusions.
    I have asked in each case that the court allow Mr. Strobel and his witness to be cross-examined together, as they have jointly presented their case in the interviews. Each of those interviews focused upon an aspect of the evidence and the conclusions that may be drawn from it: first concerning the general nature of the Gospel and other records, and the reliability of those accounts; then the question of Jesus’ claims about himself and their appropriateness; and finally a close examination of the resurrection itself. These three areas formed the three parts of Mr. Strobel’s book, and will correspond to the three parts of this cross-examination.
    I would like to begin by pointing out that Mr. Strobel has appealed to alleged parallels in the judicial system to demonstrate the legitimacy and reliability of his handling of the evidence. Perhaps he hopes that the commendable procedures of our justice system will be seen to cast his own procedures in a favorable light. But there are critical differences between the two which render these comparisons compromised.
For example, Mr. Strobel’s comparison of the Gospel evangelists with a witness in a murder case testifying to what he saw is patently invalid. We cannot question, let alone cross-examine, those who wrote the Gospels. We have nothing going back to an original text, and so we cannot tell what changes have been made to the original, allegedly eyewitness accounts. In fact, our courts disallow such second or third hand reporting of words and actions as ‘hearsay.’ We don’t know who the evangelists were, where they wrote, nor when they wrote. We know that they belonged to a religious movement, that they believed in and anticipated the occurrence of supernatural happenings and an imminent apocalyptic transformation of the world, that they were in competition with rival religions and beliefs they regarded as heretical. We also know, as I shall demonstrate, that they made wholesale changes to their source material in creating their own accounts. All these factors mitigate against the likelihood of such evidence being truthful, scientific or reliable.
    Mr. Strobel in introducing his testimony has asked the court to "confront your preconceptions," [14] but I suggest that Mr. Strobel’s own preconceptions and biases, in addition to those of his witnesses, have skewed his case to an irreparable degree.

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Excerpt from
Chapter One: The Gospels and Their Authors
A Cross-Examination of Dr. Craig Blomberg and "The Eyewitness Evidence"

    I will call Dr. Craig Blomberg to join Mr. Strobel on the stand.
    Now, Mr. Strobel, in your interview with Dr. Blomberg you were concerned with establishing the traditional authorship and early dates of the Gospels as part of "The Eyewitness Evidence." To this you have added claims that the Gospels are in essential agreement and have not been subjected to embellishment, reinterpretation, legend or distortion. Let’s examine your case on these points a little more closely.
    Dr. Blomberg, Mr. Strobel started off by asking you: "[I]s it really possible to be an intelligent, critically thinking person and still believe that the four Gospels were written by the people whose names have been attached to them?" [22] You answered "yes" and claimed that belief was uniform in the early church that these were the authors. Is that correct?
    "There are no known competitors for these three gospels [Matthew, Mark and Luke]. Apparently, it was just not in dispute." [23]
    But isn’t it true, Dr. Blomberg, that no one in the surviving Christian record outside the Gospels makes specific reference to written Gospels before well into the second century, so we cannot tell if their authors were in dispute or not, or whether the early Christians who wrote the epistles and works like Revelation were even familiar with such documents at all. And when we get to the first clear quotations from the Gospels, by Justin Martyr in the very middle of the second century, he refers to them simply as "memoirs of the apostles," giving no specific authors at all.
    It is only with Irenaeus of Lyons, writing around 180, that a Christian commentator lists the four canonical Gospels by name, presenting them as a set to be regarded as dependable and authoritative, and as written by people who were reputed to be followers of Jesus or in close contact with those who were. You yourself have pointed to Irenaeus’ testimony, but without acknowledging that this is a very long time to wait—a century and a half—before finding some opinion or confirmation that the Gospels were written by the men whose names are now attached to them. . . . I see you shaking your head.
    "The oldest and probably most significant testimony comes from Papias who in about A.D. 125 specifically affirmed that Mark had carefully and accurately recorded Peter’s eyewitness observations. In fact, he said Mark ‘made no mistake’ and did not include ‘any false statement.’ And Papias said Matthew had preserved the teachings of Jesus as well." [24]
    Ah yes, Papias. But I suspect you haven’t quite given a full enough picture of Papias’ so-called testimony. First of all, you fail to point out that we have no surviving writings of Papias. We rely for what he said on Eusebius, a fourth century historian of the Church. Perhaps Eusebius is quoting Papias correctly, but even so, what can we glean from that quotation? It’s pretty clear that Papias is himself passing on secondhand reports about these documents and their reputed authors. He says that his information about "Mark" comes from "the elder" who, as you acknowledge, may or may not be identifiable with the apostle John. And although Papias is not explicit, the same is likely true for the document he says was compiled by "Matthew," that he got his information about this one, too, from the elder. The fact that Papias said nothing himself to confirm what the elder told him about the nature of these documents, tells us that he probably didn’t possess copies of them. In fact, we can be quite certain of this, since Eusebius and other later commentators who quote from his writings are silent about him discussing anything from the "Mark" and "Matthew" he mentions.
    I ask you this, Dr. Blomberg. Do you not find it peculiar that a Christian bishop in Asia Minor, concerned with collecting and analyzing the sayings and deeds of the Lord (his lost writing was entitled The Sayings of the Lord Interpreted), would not possess a copy of any Gospel by the year 125? If the Gospels were written as early as you and Mr. Strobel claim they were—and we’ll get to that in a moment—why would he have to rely on a report by some "elder" that such documents even existed, let alone who had written them? He does not even say they were called "Gospels." I would also suggest that this report didn’t make too authoritative an impression on him, since he is quoted as having said that he continues to rely on oral traditions about what Jesus said and did, rather than written documents, which he disparages.
    You also speak as though there is no doubt that the "Mark" and "Matthew" Papias speaks of are to be equated with our canonical Gospels of the same names. But is this really a legitimate interpretation of what Papias says? Let’s read his reference to "Mark" for the court, as quoted by Eusebius:

"This, too, the elder used to say: Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of his followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter’s. Peter used to adapt his teaching to the occasion without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord’s sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only—to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it."
    Now why would a narrative Gospel, with a carefully constructed story line from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to a culmination in his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, be considered "not in order" or not having "a systematic arrangement"? Doesn’t this kind of description suggest that it was merely a collection of sayings and anecdotes, the latter being probably miracle stories? We know that collections of such things were common at that time. How do we know to whom such words and deeds were originally attributed? How can we know who collected them? When we get to Papias’ second reference he says, according to Eusebius, "Matthew compiled the Sayings in the Aramaic language and everyone translated them as well as he could." Papias plainly says that this was a compilation of sayings, and that it was in Aramaic. How can you simply equate this with the narrative Gospel of Matthew, which scholarship has long established was written in Greek based on the Greek Gospel of Mark?
    Doesn’t the fact that neither of these documents were in Papias’ possession, but only known to him secondhand, suggest either that they had not in fact been circulating for several decades, or else if they had, they were not originally attributed to Jesus? I am going to suggest that the situation in regard to Papias can tell us only this: that certain collections of sayings, probably of the prophetic variety, and deeds of miracle working—both of which were common in this period of apocalyptic expectation—were circulating, and some people were beginning to attribute their content to the Jesus figure. How reliable that attribution was we can’t say, nor how reliable the identification of those who had made such collections. Perhaps they were simply guesses, pious inventions. Considering that a great amount of time had passed since the time of Jesus, and that no corroboration of Papias’ report exists in any early Christian commentators about the Gospels or their authors—and this includes Ignatius, 1 Clement, Revelation and every single epistle of the New Testament—I think you would have to agree that the period before Justin and Irenaeus is a wasteland as far as outside evidence for the Gospels or their authors is concerned.
    Mr. Strobel has spoken of you, Dr. Blomberg, as someone who "speaks with the precision of a mathematician," who would not "tread even one nuance beyond where the evidence warrants," [22] but I would suggest to the jury that the tread of your conclusions has wandered far from the meager confines of the evidence itself. For Mr. Strobel to accept those conclusions on such little basis suggests that his long years of experience in the halls of the judiciary, and the standards he used to apply there, have not been brought to his evaluation of this particular case.
    Sorry, Your Honor, I will try to limit my remarks to the facts of the case.
    Now, Dr. Blomberg, you have likened the Gospels to ancient biographies, but you have said this, and I quote: "The only purpose for which (the ancients) thought that history was worth recording was because there were some lessons to be learned from the characters described." [25] Right there, I would say that you have very much undercut the historical reliability of the Gospels. How can we be sure the evangelists did not change the record to further the lesson? Aren’t lessons more efficiently conveyed by fiction and even fictional characters? Wouldn’t strict history offer less scope for teaching lessons than artificially constructed stories in which the writers could embody all the points they wanted to make?
    "Christians believe that as wonderful as Jesus’ life and teachings and miracles were, they were meaningless if it were not historically factual that Christ died and was raised from the dead." [26]
    That may be the way people came to think, and think today, but it is not necessarily the way the earliest Christians thought. In fact, declaring an "historically factual" death and resurrection may have served just such a psychological need as you express, when it eventually developed.

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Excerpt from
Chapter Two: Under the Spotlight
A Cross-Examination of Dr. Craig Blomberg and "Testing the Eyewitness Evidence"

    Now, Mr. Strobel, you conducted the second part of your interview with Dr. Blomberg by subjecting the "Eyewitness Evidence" to eight tests, which you have modeled on our court practice in which cross-examination seeks to undermine the credibility of a witness’s testimony. Let’s see how well that comparison holds, and whether your ‘cross-examination’ is as objective and efficient as that of a defense or prosecuting attorney.

1. The Intention Test

    Perhaps I could repeat some of Mr. Strobel’s questions to you, Dr. Blomberg. Were the first-century writers—though I might suggest that Luke was actually an early second century writer—interested in recording what actually happened? [39]
    "Yes, they were. You can see that in the preface to the Gospel of Luke, which reads very much like prefaces to other generally trusted historical and biographical works of antiquity:

‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’ [1:1-4]
    "As you can see, Luke is clearly saying he intended to write accurately about the things he investigated and found to be well supported by witnesses." [39-40]
    Well, Dr. Blomberg, I can see a number of problems in accepting the statement of such worthy intentions at face value. For one thing, the idea of things "handed down to us" does not sound like only a few years after the events themselves. Also, if Luke was writing early, or even later in the first century, the only "account of the things that have been fulfilled among us" which he would have known—as far as we can tell—was the Gospel of Mark. (We might add Q, although as a collection of sayings it was not really an "account.") This hardly fits the "many" precedents he says he has to draw from. If you claim he might also have known the Gospel of Matthew, consider this: does Luke’s Gospel suggest that he took pains to record things accurately, and only those things which were supported by witnesses? If so, how could he have known Matthew and yet drawn nothing from Matthew’s scene of the Magi, Herod’s murder of the Innocents and the flight into Egypt, while substituting a completely different birth story of his own—how could his nativity scene be the result of careful research when it is totally different from Matthew’s? What about the fact that the teaching of Jesus as presented in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—supposedly by an eyewitness—ends up in pieces and spread all over Luke’s map? Is that accuracy of detail, and if so, what does that say for Matthew? What about the hearing of Jesus before Herod, splitting up the trial scene before Pilate? Is this carefully ascertained history, something no other evangelist knew about? Luke’s Road to Emmaus scene, in which the risen Jesus first appears to two obscure disciples: is this the straight goods, in contradiction to all the other evangelists’ versions of the post-resurrection appearances?
    It doesn’t look to me as though Luke’s Gospel bears out the high-sounding sentiments of its preface, and in fact I would suggest that this little preface is simply a later piece of  editing, probably toward the middle of the second century, when the Gospel was recast and the Acts of the Apostles was added to it. The preface was a device to convey reliability, and in view of the many Gospels—not just the canonical ones—that were beginning to circulate by this time, the reference to the "many" who have drawn up accounts of Jesus’ life fits much better the anti-Marcion period and the first stirrings of Roman ecclesiastical hegemony in the mid second century.
    I might also venture another observation. If the Gospel of Luke were indeed written by Luke, Paul’s companion, why does the writer of the preface not say so? Why wouldn’t Luke, intruding these personal remarks at the beginning of his work, not identify himself, or his link to the apostle Paul? Wouldn’t a natural part of the appeal he makes to tradition and his own reliability include the connection he is supposed to have enjoyed with the followers of Jesus, or those who had known them? I suggest to you again that this preface is a later addition, and that it was inserted by a writer who had no knowledge of who had written the Gospel, or else he would have made some identification. Whenever this preface was added, it shows pretty conclusively that even at that later time no one knew who the writer was, making those "undisputed" authors you mentioned in our morning session later inventions by the Church. In view of such practices, we are hardly justified in regarding the Gospels as a record of actual fact, let alone eyewitness fact.
    "Consider the way the Gospels are written—in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude. You don’t find the outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that you see in a lot of other ancient writings…It seems quite apparent that the goal of the Gospel writers was to attempt to record what had actually occurred." [40]
    One man’s exactitude is another man’s fantasy. If exactitude was their goal, why are there so many contradictory features to the Gospels, some a result of deliberate alteration of earlier sources? As for "sober and responsible," how sober are the exorcisms, with Jesus admonishing demons and sending them into pigs, or the raising of dead people, or the Temptation Story, with Jesus carried from place to place by Satan? Is the darkness over the earth and the rending of the Temple veil at the crucifixion, followed by corpses emerging from their graves, any less outlandish than other ancient tall tales? Is the rising of Jesus from his tomb and appearing to all and sundry not blatant mythologizing?

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Excerpt from
Chapter Three: Manuscripts and the Canon
A Cross-Examination of Dr. Bruce Metzger and "The Documentary Evidence"

   Now, Dr. Metzger, Mr. Strobel asked you how we can have any confidence that the New Testament we have today bears any resemblance whatsoever to what was originally written? [59]
   "[W]hat the New Testament has in its favor, especially when compared with other ancient writings, is the unprecedented multiplicity of copies that have survived." [59]
   Well, multiplicity may be an asset, but it’s also understandable. Christianity was a new and vital movement that continued to grow, whereas the ancient culture which it supplanted and even actively sought to destroy was on its way out. Considering that the survival of ancient manuscripts was dependent upon Christian copyists, and that many ancient works were deliberately burned by the Christians, that disparity hardly proves anything. It is not surprising that the textual witness of many ancient works of literature survives by the merest thread. But I will suggest that it is not multiplicity per se which is the important factor here, or even any comparison at all with other ancient writings, it is how closely we can arrive at the original text of these Christian documents. After all, for Western culture and its religious beliefs, the importance of the dependability of writings like Homer’s Iliad or Caesar’s Gallic Wars hardly ranks with that of the Christian documentary record.
    "We have copies commencing within a couple of generations from the writing of the originals…In addition to Greek manuscripts, we also have translations of the Gospels into other languages at a relatively early time…Even if we lost all the Greek manuscripts and early translations, we could still reproduce the contents of the New Testament from the multiplicity of quotations, in commentaries, sermons, letters, and so forth of the early church fathers." [59]
    I would like to stop you there, Dr. Metzger, because I am going to have to take exception to some of these claims. First, let me summarize the data you relayed to Mr. Strobel on the state of surviving texts. Manuscripts which contain the bulk of the New Testament, such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, are datable no earlier than the 300s CE. This is quite a distance beyond "a couple of generations from the writing of the originals." The fragmentary pieces of texts, such as the Chester Beatty papyri or the Bodmer papryri, containing portions of the four Gospels and Acts, as well as some of the Pauline epistles, Hebrews and Revelation, are datable only to the third century, a few pieces no earlier than the year 200. [60-2] Again, far more than a couple of  generations, and a gap which is hardly "extremely small" [61] as Mr. Strobel puts it.
    Now, I know what you were referring to in regard to that time span: the fragment of John known as P52. But the dating of this tiny piece of papyrus, which contains a few verses that now appear in chapter 18 of the Gospel of John, is by no means as precise as you might like. Pushing it to as early as 100 is a stretch, and most date this fragment to the period 125 to 160. If it was written toward the middle or end of that time span, there is nothing unusual to be gleaned from its existence, nor its presence in Egypt. The miniscule amount of text to be found on it is of no value in determining how much of the Gospel at this stage agreed with either our canonical version or with any earlier phase. And it certainly doesn’t tell us who was regarded as the author.
    But let’s consider your broader claims about closeness to the original versions, Dr. Metzger. Even if we had more extensive copies of the Gospels from within a couple of generations of their writing, this would not establish the state of the originals, nor how much evolution they had undergone within those first two or three generations. It is precisely at the earliest phase of a sect’s development that the greatest mutation of ideas takes place, and with it the state of the writings which reflect that mutation. During formative periods, changes in theology as well as traditions about events which lay at the inception of the movement may be very significant. We have nothing in the Gospels which casts a clear light on that early evolution or provides us with a guarantee that the surviving texts are a reliable picture of the beginnings of the faith.
    In fact, the one indicator we do have points precisely in the opposite direction. The later Gospels dependent on the earlier Mark show many instances of change, alteration and evolution of ideas. I’ve already touched on the ways the various evangelists have altered the tradition about Jesus’ baptism, or their elimination of Mark’s negative depiction of the disciples, or his "messianic secret" motif. The theology of John and his picture of Jesus is vastly different from that of the synoptics. The figure of Jesus in the Gospels as a whole almost seems to belong to another world from the one we see in Paul and the other early epistles—especially in the all-important matter of the resurrection. Does not all of this point to a very significant evolution in the Christian traditions within the first few generations of the faith?
    In fact, the distinctive view of Jesus found in the early epistles—casting him almost exclusively as a divine entity in heaven, with no reference to an earthly career as teacher and miracle worker—points to another uncertainty. How can we tell what was the initial understanding of the earliest versions of the Gospels? Their portrayal of events may have been basically the same as the later canonical versions, but did the original writers and their audiences understand them as representing actual history, or was it all allegory and symbolic storytelling? I will show later in my cross-examination that much of the Gospel passion tale is derived from scriptural culling and splicing of verses together. Other studies have suggested that much of Mark resembles motifs from the Homeric epics. And so on. Would Mark himself have tried to fob this off as historical reporting, or did he have some other, quite legitimate purpose in mind which later came to be misunderstood?
    If our surviving texts and the understanding of them come only from a point when the faith had evolved to a literal interpretation of the Gospel picture, it’s quite possible that they become almost meaningless for an understanding of the foundations of the Christian faith. And as I said before, the pre-Gospel record in the epistles suggests that this earlier understanding was indeed something quite different.

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Excerpt from
Chapter Four: Jesus Outside the Gospels
A Cross-Examination of Dr. Edwin Yamauchi and "The Corroborating Evidence"

    Now, Dr. Yamauchi, let’s get to the crux of the matter immediately and table your star witness: the historian Flavius Josephus. To give the court a bit of background, Josephus was a Jew, born around 37 CE in Palestine. He served in the Jewish War of 66-70 and was captured by the Romans. He then threw his support behind the enemy, declaring that the General Vespasian would become emperor—a prophecy which came true within a year. As a consequence, he was adopted as a client by Vespasian and spent the rest of his life in Rome, where he wrote histories of the Jewish War and of the Jewish people.
   In manuscripts of the latter work, called Antiquities of the Jews, published about 93 CE, there appear two references to Jesus. They have been in contention among scholars for a very long time. The most important of the two, about half a dozen sentences long (in English), is called the "Testimonium Flavianum," meaning the Flavian testimony to Jesus. (Because Josephus was adopted by the Flavian family—that of Vespasian—he took their name.)
    Why is it called a "testimony"? Because the passage as we have it declares Jesus to be the Messiah, and Christians from Eusebius on naïvely considered this declaration to be authentic—that this Jewish historian, writing under Roman patronage, believed and declared Jesus to be the Messiah. That naïvete persisted for some 13 centuries, and was probably the main reason why the works of Josephus survived the Middle Ages—thanks to the good will of Christian copyists.
    Once the bubble burst, scholars generally rejected the entire Testimonium as a Christian interpolation, forged sometime prior to the writings of the Church historian Eusebius in the early fourth century—or perhaps it was even inserted by Eusebius himself, as some have suggested. About half a century ago, that tendency changed to one which tried to see a certain amount of Josephan authenticity in it, while rejecting other phrases and sentences as Christian additions. Perhaps we could take a closer look at this question, Dr. Yamauchi. Could I ask you to read the passage in question for the court?

" ‘About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ [Messiah]. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.’ " [79]
    Thank-you, Dr. Yamauchi. Quite clearly, the statement that Jesus was the Messiah, or more than a man, or that he had risen from death on the third day, can hardly be attributed to Josephus. But I understand that you subscribe to the current opinion that we should not reject the entire Testimonium as spurious, is that correct?
    "[T]oday there’s a remarkable consensus among both Jewish and Christian scholars that the passage as a whole is authentic, although there may be some interpolations." [79]
    Yes, well, bandwagon effects do tend to create the impression of consensus. I will suggest to the court that this bandwagon tendency is a result of perceiving that without some Josephan witness, the reliable non-Christian evidence for Jesus’ very existence, let alone for the historicity of Gospel details, is extremely threadbare. It is tantamount to a consensus of necessity. But let’s take this passage apart, Dr. Yamauchi. Tell us which parts of it you regard as authentic and which inauthentic.
    "For instance, the first line says, ‘About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man.’ That phrase is not normally used of Jesus by Christians, so it seems authentic for Josephus. But the next phrase says, ‘if indeed one ought to call him a man.’ This implies Jesus was more than human, which appears to be an interpolation." [79-80]
    I would certainly agree with you on that latter phrase, Dr. Yamauchi. But I think it’s also unrealistic to believe that Josephus could have called Jesus "a wise man"—whether this term were used in a positive or even a neutral sense. Are you familiar with Josephus’ opinion about other would-be ‘messiahs’ of the first century? There were a number of them during that period, leading up to the disastrous Jewish War. Judas the Galilean, Theudas the magician, an unnamed Egyptian, were some of the most prominent. All were popular agitators who thought to lead the people either in open revolt against the Roman authorities or to a belief that God, through miracles they would work, was due to bring about the downfall of the Jewish state’s overlords.
    Because agitators like these were part of the anti-Roman movement which led to the destruction of the state, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple itself, and because Josephus was now a supporter of that overlordship, he condemns such popular figures—some of whom were executed by the Romans—in no uncertain terms as the bane of his time, responsible for this catastrophic destruction. And yet Jesus, who with his reputed miracles and prophecies and popular following—even if somewhat less radical—would have fallen into a similar category, is called "a wise man," with absolutely nothing condemnatory said about him in the entire Testimonium. I suggest that this is a most unlikely situation, and makes it difficult to believe that Josephus could have said this about Jesus.
    If I may beg the court’s indulgence to enlarge on this point a little further. Unlike other scholars in the field, Mr. Strobel and his witnesses are at a decided disadvantage on this question, since they regard the Gospels as essentially reliable in all their details. This, for example, would include the traditional description in all four Gospels that Jesus had caused an uproar in the Temple by driving out the money-changers. Well, if such an incident had happened—and it would have been on a similar footing to several revolutionary incidents by agitators he mentions elsewhere—it would not likely have escaped Josephus’ attention, or his mention. Not only does he not mention it, this kind of activity, to which one could add the prophecies of the Temple’s destruction and the impeding end to the world, would have placed Jesus firmly in Josephus’ undesirable category, making the judgment of "wise man" virtually impossible.
    For more liberal scholars the task might seem easier. They regard the ‘authentic’ Jesus as only a charismatic sage, a Galilean preacher who probably didn’t say anything apocalyptic, didn’t claim to perform miracles, and certainly didn’t engage in activities like the cleansing of the Temple. But they face rather similar difficulties. It is highly unlikely that Josephus could have possessed some inside information about such a Jesus, enabling him to strip away all the traditions that would have been circulating about him by the time he was writing—the ones we find in the Gospels. And any Roman or Jewish source would hardly have preserved some laudatory teachings of Jesus which might have produced Josephus’ "wise man" evaluation. In fact, even within Jesus’ teachings—including ones which critical scholars such as the Jesus Seminar regard as authentic—there were ‘counter-culture’ sentiments which would have struck Josephus and his patrons as subversive, things like the poor inheriting the earth (which implies the overthrow of established authority), or pronouncements that openly condemned the Jewish leaders who cooperated with Roman rule.
    No, the idea that Josephus would have been able to tap into some 'pure' view of Jesus the teacher which he would have regarded as entirely praiseworthy can simply be dismissed.
    Other elements in the Testimonium which scholars like yourself, Dr. Yamauchi, regard as authentic to Josephus, are also surprisingly neutral, if not positive in their sentiment, such as the fact that Jesus’ believers have remained true to him. On that score, it is difficult to believe that for two centuries after such an original was supposedly penned by the renowned Jewish historian not a single Christian commentator prior to Eusebius would have pointed to it, not even one such as Origen who occasionally refers to Josephus on other matters and would have seized on the opportunity to appeal to the favorable sentiments alleged to be original to the Testimonium.
    Nor does Josephus show any knowledge of the Pauline side of Christianity, which had supposedly turned Jesus into a divine Son of God in a manner which would have been blasphemous to any Jew. That, too, would hardly have escaped his notice in Rome, since Pauline types of communities existed there, as we can tell from Paul himself and the epistle 1 Clement. This elevation of a man to a part of the very Godhead itself would have been something Josephus would hardly have approved of.
    Considering, also, that the Testimonium intrudes itself into a passage which flows much better from the end of the preceding paragraph to the beginning of the following one, I submit, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that there is, in sum, no justification for allotting any authenticity to any part of the Testimonium Flavianum.  This also has consequences for the other alleged reference to Jesus in Josephus: two books later in the Antiquities of the Jews 20.
    "I know of no scholar who has successfully disputed this passage." [78]
    Well, let’s take a fresh run at it, Dr. Yamauchi. . . .

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Excerpt from
Chapter Five: Evaluating the Gospel Historians
A Cross-Examination of Dr. John McRay and "The Scientific Evidence"

    There is much in the New Testament account of Jesus’ life which has produced no echo in the record of the time by non-Christian historians, but probably none is more dramatic than the grisly scene of Herod slaughtering all the male infants in the town of Bethlehem in order to eliminate the prophesied child who would supplant him.
    Now, Mr. Strobel, you stated the problem to Dr. McRay, and I quote: "[T]here is no independent confirmation that this mass murder ever took place. There’s nothing in the writings of Josephus or other historians. There’s no archaeological support. There are no records or documents." [104] I might add a further point you failed to bring up. Such an event is not even recorded by Luke, who has instead given us a nativity story of his own. I would therefore ask the same question of Dr. McRay that you asked: Isn’t it logical to conclude that this slaughter never occurred?
    "But you have to put yourself back in the first century and keep a few things in mind. First, Bethlehem was probably no bigger than Nazareth, so how many babies of that age would there be in a village of five hundred or six hundred people?…Second, Herod the Great was a bloodthirsty king: he killed members of his own family; he executed lots of people who he thought might challenge him. So the fact that he killed some babies in Bethlehem is not going to captivate the attention of people in the Roman world. And third…it would have taken a long time for word of this to get out, especially from such a minor village way in the back hills of nowhere." [104-5]
    But Bethlehem, Dr. McRay, was scarcely five or six miles from Jerusalem. That is hardly in the back hills of nowhere. And even if this slaughter were of only a dozen or two male children, the senselessness of such an act would surely have captured someone’s attention. Killing suspected adult conspirators or rival claimants for the throne among your own relatives is one thing; singling out a whole village and slaughtering its innocent newborns is quite another. Josephus chronicles Herod’s bloodthirsty reign, and the thought that he didn’t notice or didn’t care about an event like this is preposterous. I must disagree with Mr. Strobel’s conclusion that your explanation seems reasonable.
    You also overlook a very revealing factor here. This motif of a child being born who presents a threat to a cruel ruler, who then seeks unsuccessfully to have that child killed or neutralized, often by slaughtering other children, is rampant throughout ancient world mythology and even biographies of famous historical men. It appears attached to figures like Abraham, Jason, Sargon the Great, Augustus—and of course, Moses himself, whose birth story in Exodus, you will remember, shows precisely the same feature of a slaughter of Hebrew babies by Pharaoh. How likely is it that Matthew’s tale, which shows direct echoes of such stories found in the Jewish scriptures, is not simply an invention modeled on these many precedents, in order to give his character the type of birth circumstances that were associated with great figures?
 

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Excerpt from
Chapter Six: Placing Jesus in Context
A Cross-Examination of Dr. Gregory Boyd and "The Rebuttal Evidence"

    Now, Dr. Boyd, you and Mr. Strobel have both claimed that the Jesus Seminar does not represent ‘mainstream’ New Testament scholarship. Since there are only something over a hundred official members of the Seminar, that may be technically true, although there are many outside their ranks who would support their conclusions in varying degrees. But polls don’t determine correct views, as I’m sure we would all admit, and in a field where mainstream scholarship has traditionally been devoted to finding support or at least an accommodation for religious faith, your criticism of the Seminar is not applicable.
But I want to assure the court that I am not here to defend the methods or reliability of the Jesus Seminar. They may even be vulnerable to the charge of having their own agenda, though it might in many ways be considered a commendable one—
    "The participants of the Jesus Seminar are at least as biased as evangelicals—and I would say more so. They bring a whole set of assumptions to their scholarship, which of course we all do to some degree. Their major assumption—which, incidentally, is not the product of unbiased scholarly research—is that the gospels are not even generally reliable. They conclude this at the outset because the gospels include things that seem historically unlikely, like miracles, walking on water, raising the dead. These things, they say, just don’t happen. That’s naturalism, which says that for every effect in the natural or physical world, there is a natural cause…[T]hey rule out the possibility of the supernatural from the beginning, and then they say, ‘Now bring on the evidence about Jesus.’ No wonder they get the results they do!" [115-16]
    Well, Dr. Boyd, I just wish we were all as biased as the Seminar in rejecting the supernatural as authentic in the Gospels any more than it is authentic today. Considering that in our own lifetimes one would be hard pressed to point to any verified miracle or supernatural occurrence, and that science has increasingly uncovered a picture of a miracle-free and naturalistic universe, I suggest to the court that this is a very good presupposition to bring to the question of whether Western society in the 21st century should continue to govern itself by a set of writings that came out of far more primitive times and modes of thinking than our own. Do you govern your own life by a belief in the supernatural around you, Dr. Boyd?
    "I would grant that you shouldn’t appeal to the supernatural until you have to. Yes, first look for a natural explanation. A tree falls—OK, maybe there were termites. Now, could an angel have pushed it over? Well, I wouldn’t go to that conclusion until there was definite evidence for it." [116]
    But I daresay, Dr. Boyd, that you have never had reason to believe a tree was pushed over by an angel. I would suggest that in your life you have never had "definite evidence" for a supernatural happening, that no phenomenon has ever lacked a possible or clearly naturalistic explanation, and that is probably true of all of us. Why would you presume the existence or rationality of something which has never had sound backing in our own personal experiences, let alone in scientific observation?
    "[W]hat I can’t grant is the tremendous presumption that we know enough about the universe to say that God—if there is a God—can never break into our world in a supernatural way. That’s a very presumptuous assumption." [116]
    Why is it presumptuous if it’s a natural conclusion from our own experience and our acquired knowledge of the universe? You admitted you wouldn’t go to a supernatural conclusion until there was definite evidence for it. But where do you find such evidence? In a set of 2000-year-old writings that were determined by faith, penned under dubious circumstances by men who knew nothing of science and rationality? Writings which passed through an uncertain evolution before reaching later generations who have ever since based their own faith upon them? You ask if God can never break into our world in a supernatural way. But if he doesn’t do it today in any verifiable manner, where is the evidence that he once did? In the New Testament? But we have been looking at some of the reports of supernatural intervention in those writings, and what do we find? Claims such as a darkness over the earth at midday which are not borne out in the non-Christian record. Claims that a man called Lazarus was raised after four days in his tomb which no other Christian writer records. Miracle stories which are based point by point on similar stories in the Old Testament. And so on. I can assure the court that we will uncover similar difficulties in literally believing the Gospel accounts of the resurrection.
    The point is, Dr. Boyd, if the supernatural is not borne out in our modern experience, and yet you resist the type of scholarly research and reasoning which would cast light on the unreliability of the bible’s witness to the supernatural, you are locking us into a circular dependency. You seem to advocate that we should continue to believe in the unscientific today simply because you want to accept reports of it in the New Testament, but you will not allow those reports to be countered by bringing modern scientific methods and critical skepticism to bear upon them. This is far more closed-minded and potentially misleading than anything the Jesus Seminar has done. And far more destructive to intellectual progress. As I said, I will not specifically defend the "criteria" the Seminar scholars have adopted to determine the authenticity of Jesus’ sayings and deeds, but Mr. Strobel’s accusation that they have applied "loaded criteria, like weighted dice" [118] to bring desired results is a little like the pot calling the kettle black, as the old saying goes.

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To: Part Two: What Was the Nature of Jesus?


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