False Testament

Number 4 of a series

This is the fourth and last of my reviews of the video series, “Is the Bible Reliable?” The series is produced by Focus on the Family and features creationist Stephen C. Meyer. The video is marketed as a DVD containing ten episodes. The first six episodes cover the Old Testament, hitting on some high points that Meyer believes will make a case for the reliability of the Bible. As noted (see the above link) Meyer skips a large body of biblical  text that would sink any other publication.

The final four episodes deal with the New Testament, the contribution by Christians, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his trial and execution, and his return from the dead. Meyer wants to assure viewers all those doubts about the validity of the New Testament are groundless.

He wants to demonstrate the New Testament is reliable as a source of information due to several  characteristics:

  • A documentary style rather than a piece of satire (for example)
  • A reliable transmission—not a bunch of stuff mangled in retelling
  • Contemporaneous or as nearly contemporaneous with the events described
  • Corroboration  from  other sources
  • Reputable character of those telling the story

He demonstrates that Luke comes off as a historical work.

From BibleGateway.com:

Luke 1:1-4 King James Version (KJV)

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

He offers up early manuscripts to demonstrate the New Testament is truly an ancient work.

He references:

  • Codex Alexandrinus, 5th century A.D.
  • Complete Manuscript of the New (and Old) Testament in Greek

From Wikipedia:

The Codex Alexandrinus (London, British Library, MS Royal 1. D. V-VIII; Gregory-Aland no. A or 02Soden δ 4) is a fifth-century manuscript of the Greek Bible, containing the majority of the Septuagint and the New Testament. It is one of the four Great uncial codices. Along with the Codex Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus, it is one of the earliest and most complete manuscripts of the BibleBrian Walton assigned Alexandrinus the capital Latin letter A in the Polyglot Bible of 1657. This designation was maintained when the system was standardized by Wettstein in 1751. Thus, Alexandrinus held the first position in the manuscript list.

The Magdalen Papyrus, Gospel of Mathew (P64)

The “Magdalen” papyrus was purchased in Luxor, Egypt in 1901 by Reverend Charles Bousfield Huleatt (1863–1908), who identified the Greek fragments as portions of the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 26:23 and 31) and presented them to Magdalen College, Oxford, where they are cataloged as P. Magdalen Greek 17 (Gregory-Aland {\displaystyle {\mathfrak {P}}}{\mathfrak {P}}64) and whence they have their name. When the fragments were finally published by Colin H. Roberts in 1953, illustrated with a photograph, the hand was characterized as “an early predecessor of the so-called ‘Biblical Uncial'” which began to emerge towards the end of the 2nd century. The uncial style is epitomised by the later biblical Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. Comparative paleographical analysis has remained the methodological key for dating the manuscript: the consensus is ca AD 200.

And possibly the earliest, the John Rylands (P52) Fragment.

The Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St. John’s fragment and with an accession reference of Papyrus Rylands Greek 457, is a fragment from a papyrus codex, measuring only 3.5 by 2.5 inches (8.9 by 6 cm) at its widest; and conserved with the Rylands Papyri at the John Rylands University Library ManchesterUK. The front (recto) contains parts of seven lines from the Gospel of John 18:31–33, in Greek, and the back (verso) contains parts of seven lines from verses 37–38.[3] Since 2007, the papyrus has been on permanent display in the library’s Deansgate building.

Meyer wants to compare the meager New Testament holdings with those of other famous works.

A favorable Comparison

  • Gallic Wars by Caesar, written  in 55 B.C., earliest manuscript from 850 A.D. 10 mss extant.
  • Histories by Tacitus, written in 100 A.D., earliest manuscript from 900 A.D., 2 mss extant.
  • History by Thucydides, written in 430 B.c., earliest manuscript from  900 A.D., 8 mss extant.

This last part echoes from a few years back when Michael Shermer debated Douglas Geivett at the University of Texas at Arlington.

This was our first encounter with Douglas Geivett, but a number of the more erudite have studied his writings and arguments. Richard Carrier has reviewed In Defense of Miracles. In “Geivett’s Exercise in Hyperbole” Carrier takes issue with Geivett’s lack of understanding of history:

He then issues a comparison, in the voice of a mock critic, asserting that the resurrection of Jesus is as historically evidenced as Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C. 3

Geivett’s over the top comparison of the resurrection with this well-established historical event severely blunts the credibility of any other arguments he might make, and it takes some of the shine off his professed piety. Whether he will continue to be an effective proponent of the reality of God will depend on how well he controls his handling of the truth. His standing as a creationist, however, is looking brighter all the time.

That footnote reference links to this:

It should be clear that we have a huge number of reasons to believe that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, all of which are lacking in the case of the resurrection. In fact, when we compare all five points, we see that in four of the five evidences of an event’s historicity, the resurrection has no evidence at all, and for the one kind of evidence it does have, it has not the best, but the very worst kind of evidence–a handful of biased, uncritical, unscholarly, unknown, second-hand witnesses.

In Episode 8 Meyer addresses the early composition of Luke and Acts. He argues there is evidence they are (nearly) contemporaneous.

People, Positions and Places

And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:

Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.

The biblical quotes are from BibleGateway.com.

Roman Rule of Cyprus

  • Up to 22 BC, Imperial Province. Legate.
  • 21 BC and after, Senatorial Province According to Luke.
  • Paul and Barnabas meet the proconsul Sergius Paulus in Cyprus.

The point here is that differing Roman territories were ruled either by Caesar, and the local ruler was call a legate, or they were ruled by the Senate, and the local ruler was called a proconsul. Paul got it right when referring to the ruler as a proconsul for the date of his supposed visit.

There is the Temple Warning Inscription.

The Temple Warning inscription, also known as the Temple Balustrade inscription or the Soreg inscription, is an inscription from the Second Temple in Jerusalem, discovered in 1871 by Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau and published by the Palestine Exploration Fund. Following the discovery of the inscription it was taken by the Ottoman authorities, and it is currently in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

From BibleGateway.com:

Acts 21:27-28 King James Version (KJV)

27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

Luke, writing for Acts, got this right.

In Episode 9 Meyer takes up external corroboration.

There is the Miracle of Cana:

The transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of JohnIn the Gospel account, Jesus, his mother and his disciples are invited to a wedding, and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers a sign of his glory by turning water into wine.

The location of Cana has been subject to debate among biblical scholars and archeologists; several villages in Galilee are possible candidates.

 

Miracle at Cana

“Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification …”

– John 2:6

Meyer observes John 2:6 got that right. This was the time stone water pots were used, rather than clay ones.

I was amazed Meyer brought up the James Ossuary:

The James Ossuary is a 1st-century chalk box that was used for containing the bones of the dead. The Aramaic inscription: Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua (English translation: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”) is cut into one side of the box. The inscription is considered significant because, if genuine, it might provide archaeological evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. However, the authenticity of the inscription has been challenged.

Meyer apparently made this video in  2010, seven years after this artifact was demonstrated to be a fake:

In 2003, The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) determined that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date. In December 2004, Oded Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception, including forgery of the Ossuary inscription. The trial lasted seven years before Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict. On March 14, 2012, Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. The judge said this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago”. The ossuary was returned to Golan, who put it on public display.

Meyer notes some key facts.

Some Key Facts

  1. Paleographical analysis of the inscription dates the ossuary between 20 B.C. and 70 A.D.
  2. Reburial by ossuary was done primarily in the city of Jerusalem between the late 1st century B.c. and 70 A.D.
  3. Only wealthy and prominent people had their bones placed in ossuaries. Inscriptions incurred further expense and expertise.

Episode 10 concludes the video series with the trial of Jesus.

I  will mention some artifacts and some quotes that Meyer asserts attest to the reliability of the scriptural account of Jesus. First there is the authenticity of Herod Antipas.

Herod Antipater (GreekἩρῴδης ἈντίπατροςHērǭdēs Antipatros; born before 20 BC – died after 39 AD), known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”) and is referred to as both “Herod the Tetrarch” and “King Herod” in the New Testament although he never held the title of king. He is widely known today for accounts in the New Testament of his role in events that led to the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

There is the finding of Peter’s House in Capernaum:

Capernaum (/kəˈpɜːrniəm/ kə-PUR-nee-əmHebrewכְּפַר נַחוּם‎, Kfar NahumArabic: كفر ناحوم, meaning “Nahum’s village” in both languages) was a fishing village established during the time of the Hasmoneans, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It had a population of about 1,500. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. A house turned into a church by the Byzantines is said to be the home of Saint Peter.

Peter’s House

  • 4th century A.D. writings of the Pilgrim Egeria, say, “And in Capernaum, what is more, the house of the prince of the apostles [Peter] has been turned into a church, leaving its original walls however quite unchanged.”

Josephus is one person who is presumed to have spoken with people who knew Jesus:

The works of Josephus include material about individuals, groups, customs, and geographical places. Some of these, such as the city of Seron, receive no mention in the surviving texts of any other ancient authority. His writings provide a significant, extra-Biblical account of the post-Exilic period of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean dynasty, and the rise of Herod the Great. He refers to the Sadducees, Jewish High Priests of the time, Phariseesand Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius‘ census and the Zealots, and to such figures as Pontius PilateHerod the GreatAgrippa I and Agrippa IIJohn the BaptistJames the brother of Jesus, and to Jesus (for more see Josephus on Jesus). Josephus represents an important source for studies of immediate post-Temple Judaism and the context of early Christianity.

From Tufts University:

[63] Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Finally, there are historians mentioning Jesus.

Historians Mentioning Jesus

  • Titus Flavius Josephus, Yosef Ben Matityahu (ca. 37-100 A.D.)
  • Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-117 A.D.)
  • Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st century A.D.)
  • Flavius Lustinus, Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.)
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 9230 A.D.)
  • Pliny the Younger, ca 61-113 A.D.)

Taking them in turn.

Titus Flavius Josephus, already noted.

Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus.

A survey of the literature indicates that this citation by Tacitus has not been given enough regard, having often been overshadowed by the citations in Josephus (see next entry). Respected Christian scholar R. T. France, for example, does not believe that the Tacitus passage provides sufficient independent testimony for the existence of Jesus [Franc.EvJ, 23] and agrees with G. A. Wells that the citation is of little value.

It is unfortunate that France so readily agreed with Wells’ assessment. An investigation into the methods and background of Tacitus, as reported by Tacitean scholars (whose works, incidentally, France does not consult), tells us that this is an extremely reliable reference to Jesus and for early Christianity.

Mara Bar-Serapion:

The letter has been claimed to include no Christian themes[2][4] and many scholars consider Mara a pagan, although some suggest he may have been a monotheist.[3] Some scholars see the reference to the execution of the “wise king” of the Jews as an early non-Christian reference to Jesus. Criteria that support the non-Christian origin of the letter include the observation that “king of the Jews” was not a Christian title, and that the letter’s premise that Jesus lives on in his teachings he enacted is in contrast to the Christian concept that Jesus continues to live through his resurrection. Another viewpoint is that he could be referring to the resurrection recorded in Jesus’s teachings which say he lived on, that would mean we don’t know if he believed the resurrection happened or not and leaves it up to speculation whether he was a Christian or a non-Christian who agreed with Christians as regarding Jesus as a “wise king” according to the Gospels.

Flavius Lustinus:

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia notes that scholars have differed on whether Justin’s writings on the nature of God were meant to express his firm opinion on points of doctrine, or to speculate on these matters. Specific points Justin addressed include that the Logos is “numerically distinct from the Father” though “born of the very substance of the Father,” and that “through the Word, God has made everything.” Justin used the metaphor of fire to describe the Logos as spreading like a flame, rather than “dividing” the substance of the Father. He also defended the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity, as well as the birth of Jesus to Mary when she was a virgin. The Encyclopedia states that Justin places the genesis of the Logos as a voluntary act of the Father at the beginning of creation, noting that this is an “unfortunate” conflict with later Christian teachings.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus:

The Roman historian Suetonius (c. AD 69 – c. AD 122) mentions early Christians and may refer to Jesus Christ in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

One passage in the biography of the Emperor Claudius Divus Claudius 25, refers to agitations in the Roman Jewish community and the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius during his reign (AD 41 to AD 54), which may be the expulsion mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (18:2). In this context “Chresto” is mentioned. Some scholars see this as a likely reference to Jesus, while others see it as referring to an otherwise unknown person living in Rome.

Pliny the Younger:

In any event, the value of the Pliny letter as “evidence” of Christ’s existence is worthless, as it makes no mention of “Jesus of Nazareth,” nor does it refer to any event in his purported life. There is not even a clue in it that such a man existed. As Taylor remarks, “We have the name of Christ, and nothing else but the name, where the name of Apollo or Bacchus would have filled up the sense quite as well.” Taylor then casts doubt on the authenticity of the letter as a whole, recounting the work of German critics, who “have maintained that this celebrated letter is another instance to be added to the long list of Christian forgeries…” One of these German luminaries, Dr. Semler of Leipsic provided “nine arguments against its authenticity…” He also notes that the Pliny epistle is quite similar to that allegedly written by “Tiberianus, Governor of Syria” to Trajan, which has been universally denounced as a forgery.

Despite Meyer’s enthusiasm for his list of historical reference to Jesus, these seem paltry at times. However, in religion enthusiasm counts for a lot.

Suppose…

Suppose we grant Meyer all his points about when the texts were written and how these place names and these people are as told in the Bible (including the New Testament). There is one thing he cannot get past. The details can be demonstrated to have been fabricated. Some examples are in called for. Refer to previous posts for examples I am not repeating here. These are new.

A talking donkey:

Numbers 22:26-30 King James Version (KJV)

26 And the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.

27 And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.

28 And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?

29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay.

Nay, indeed. Here is another:

Luke 22:41-44 King James Version (KJV)

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

You may have noticed Jesus was by himself, with nobody around to hear him. So, who is writing down what he’s saying?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Really? Why? Mary and Joseph were required to travel to Bethlehem (from Nazareth) for a census (for tax purposes). Really? Since when did the Romans, or any other government require this? From all appearances this is made up in order for Jesus to fulfill the prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The nativity of Jesus or birth of Jesus is described in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The two accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the time of Herod the Great to a betrothed virgin whose name was Mary. There are, however, major differences. Matthew has no censusannunciation to the shepherds or presentation in the Temple, implies that Jesus’s parents’ home is Bethlehem, and has him born in a house there, and has an unnamed angel appear to Joseph to announce the birth. In Luke there are no Magi, no flight into Egypt, or Massacre of the Innocents, Joseph is a resident of Nazareth, the birth appears to take place in an inn instead of the family home, and the angel (named as Gabriel) announces the coming birth to Mary.[1] While it is possible that Matthew’s account might be based on Luke, or Luke’s on Matthew, the majority of scholars conclude that the two are independent of each other.[1]

From where I observe, Meyer is clawing at the air to validate the Bible to a bunch of Christian youth. His aim is to ensure they (and viewers) retain their faith in the Bible and thereby retain their faith in Christianity. Were I a cynic among them this sort of hoax would only put me off the message of The Lord. Which is pretty much what happened with me, about 60+ years ago.

I watched to  the end of Episode 10 streaming on Amazon Prime Video (where I obtained these screen shots), and when that finished another episode started up, featuring not Stephen C. Meyer, but Del Tackett, former president of Focus on the Family. It’s Episode 1 of Season 3, with Season 3 having the title, “Who is Jesus?” Season 3 does not appear on Amazon’s Prime Video menu. You may have to do a search to find it. I make no promises I will watch and review Season 3, except.. Except that Amazon may have this available for a limited time, and I  would hate to let slip the opportunity to watch it without having to  pay the $25+ to purchase a DVD.

Keep reading. God may grant your wish.

4 thoughts on “False Testament

  1. Pingback: Stronger Than Dirt | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: Darwin’s Doubt | Skeptical Analysis

  3. Pingback: Darwin’s Doubt | Skeptical Analysis

  4. Pingback: Abusing Science | Skeptical Analysis

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