It’s Easter time, and like clockwork, as surely as those who attend church twice a year show up (and we’re glad you do, we miss you the rest of the year,) the skeptics pop up with their attacks on Christian beliefs. In this case in point, we have a post titled “Evidence Jesus Existed Weaker Than We Might Think” published at Rawstory.com.
The author, Valerie Tarico, credits the “enlightenment” as furnishing grounds for doubting the content of the Gospels. She only mentions the rise of particular scientific disciplines (conveniently overlooking the fact that the modern scientific revolution was grounded in the Christian worldview.) What did the “enlightenment” bring us? Rationalism. Rationalism is the idea that only that which can be arrived at by human reasoning ought to be considered rational. It was the birth of the “fact/value” split. The idea was that the only facts that can be known were those scientifically testable or true by definition. (Never mind that the view itself is not true by definition, nor can it be tested scientifically.) So, from the start, the argument is “The Gospels claim things that are not true by definition, and cannot be tested scientifically, therefore they can’t be evidence that Jesus existed.”
Next, after citing the work of world-renown biblical scholar Thomas Jefferson for his redaction of all things miraculous from the Bible (a product of his enlightenment,) she cites the failure of the various “quest(s) for the historical Jesus” as casting doubt on the record of the Gospels. These quests were done with enlightenment thinking, so once you dismiss much of the record in advance, then yes, it is very hard to get at who Jesus was. “I’m going to ignore all the biographies of Lincoln that mention his concern for America. Now, I can’t find any evidence from the early 19th century that Lincoln existed.”
Following this, she raises the “We don’t know who wrote the Gospels, but they weren’t eyewitnesses” objection. Anybody see a problem there? Anyone? Bueller?… People who lived within living memory of the events affirm the traditional authorship. Paul even quotes from Luke’s Gospel. Notice, by the way, the “bait and switch” that has happened here. She leads off questioning the evidence for Jesus’ existence, and then just casts doubt about the accuracy of the Gospel accounts. From this, we are to infer Jesus never existed? That kind of “all-or-nothing” thinking is common among fundamentalists (in the negative sense) both of the Christian variety as well as the skeptic variety.
Her next target is the works of Josephus and Tacitus, historians who wrote in the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries, under the heading “The Gospels are not corroborated by outside historians.” First, let me observe that “historical event X was not written about by people who didn’t care” is not evidence that event X didn’t happen. Second, this is a continuation of the bait and switch. There is lots more evidence for Jesus in Paul’s writings, which are even earlier than some of the Gospels (or at least he records things that predate the Gospels, such as the creed in 1 Corinthians 15.) Secondly, Tacitus’ writing IS evidence Jesus existed, even if you doubt Christianity. Finally, Tarico is correct that the version of what is called the Testimonium Flavium, which is the most well-known passage that describes Jesus is considered at least a partial interpolation, there have been discoveries of manuscripts with the part of the passage many scholars agree contain the original.
One thing I can say for Tarico is that she is thorough. She has cited every PhD level scholar who is a Jesus mythicist. Both of them. Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier is considered an embarrassment to people like Bart Ehrman (whom Tarico quotes,) and Price is no better.
Tarico has shown a common flaw in her thinking (in addition to the self-refuting rationalism) in thinking that a large portion of the Roman Empire would convert to a religion that is entirely made up, even leaving the stability of the community that came from not converting.
Tarico goes on to say that scholars must admit that it is possible that Jesus never existed to maintain “academic respectability.” I think they should do that as soon as these mythiscists are willing to genuinely admit that it is possible that the Gospels record the events essentially the way they happened.