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On the historicity of Jesus

Monday, March 28th, 2016

I have all respect in the world for historians and what they do. It’s not my cup of tea, but I appreciate that someone is willing and able to dig through mounds and mounds of archeological data and obscure texts to determine whether Napoleon was truly short or who won the War of the Roses and how.

That being said, I want to say something that’s apparently controversial to some: historians are not qualified to adjudicate the question of Jesus’ historicity in its entirety. Yes, historians might tell us whether there was actually some real person or even persons on which the myth was based, but historians cannot declare as true what we have ample independent reasons to know as false.

So if a historian wants to convince me that there was indeed a Palestinian Jew called Yeshua, son of Yosef, who started a little personality cult loosely based on Judaism some 2000 years ago, sure. That’s all well and good. However, it falls far outside the purview of historical research to settle questions of whether said Jew was born of a virgin, walked on water, broke the laws of thermodynamics by creating fish from nothing and turning water into wine, literally rose from the dead etc.

These are not open questions for historians to dig into. The question of whether these things happened is well and thoroughly closed with a resounding “no” and maybe even a slightly concerned “don’t be silly.”

There might or might not be a historical Jesus on which Jesus-as-told was based, but we know for a fact that Jesus-as-told is mythical on the same grounds that we know Hercules or Superman is. If someone is said to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or cure leprosy by magic touch, it’s ok to dismiss said person-as-told’s existence without ever bothering to check eyewitness testimonies or artefacts dug out from ancient ruins.

I promise.

Happy Easter!

On bridges, lifebelts, and being wrong

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

“There was once an atheist man,” a colleague of mine told me after someone outed my atheism to her. “Who fell into the ocean. And then he called out for Jesus.” She was a nice woman in her mid-life who had probably never met an atheist before. I could tell it shocked her profoundly that such a thing even existed – as if I had suddenly turned into a feral leprechaun before her very eyes. So I hurriedly ended my shift while politely informing her that, in the man’s stead, I would rather have called for a lifebelt.

LifebeltMaybe it’s just because I’m from the Faroe Islands but, in my experience, Christians seem obsessed with falling into the ocean. Another frequently used canard is the good old “If you saw someone falling into the ocean and you knew they couldn’t swim, wouldn’t you do anything to save them?” This is usually the go-to excuse for the “tough love” of the unpleasant and dishonest kind of proselytism and of the forcible injection of religion into education and politics. A variation is the oft-repeated bridge-gambit; “If someone were about to walk onto a bridge, you knew to be unstable, wouldn’t you be justified in saving them from danger by any means?”

The danger is Hell, the rickety bridge is (more…)