Part One – Setting the Record Straight
Well, Lee has quite a challenge here since the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, and therefore Christmas, is certainly quite a mess. We have two gospels that just ignore it, two that have the details everyone knows but are contradictory and Paul who has seems to have no idea what the gospels said about JC, except for a few bits about resurrection.
Lee says he thought he’d find that the claims about the nativity were going to be “flimsy”. Well, if the following isn’t flimsy, I’d hate to see what he would consider that.
The first claim is that his sources are too “immediate” to be considered legend. He also claims that “legends” can have “contaminated” the “actual account of what really took place.” So, which is it? Add to this that the bible is supposedly inspired/written by a perfect omnipotent, omniscient being, and it doesn’t look too good for its validity.
First on the block of not being “quite right” is the manger scene. Lee claims that it would be “unthinkable” for anyone to turn away a “pregnant Jewish woman seeking shelter.” Nothing seems to support that at all, despite the claim of a “scholar”(Kenneth Bailey, a ThD whose entire experience relevant to this seems to be being a missionary in Egypt) saying it. He also claims that the “inn” wasn’t part of the story, but again, nothing to show this in the bible which is ostensibly from a perfect being. Is it lying or is Lee? Rewriting the denial of shelter denies a bit of theology that insists that how martyred Christians are. Lee also goes on to claim that there is a special word for “inn” in Greek rather than “kataluma” which is used in the NT to describe a rentable or guest room. He never says what that other word is. We also have Lee saying that a translation of the bible nearly 1400 years later goes from “guest room” to “inn”. Amazing how mangled this perfect god allows its one and only set of words to humans to get.
Lee also tries to claim that somehow Jews and people in the middle east would allow their farm animals into the living area. Noting how paranoid these people are about being ritually clean, it’s hard to imagine that would be allowed, to the point of having a manger in the living room from the animals to eat from? I grew up on a dairy farm and often found myself in the milking parlor where the cows would poop whenever they wanted to and sometimes to ah, “explosive”, results. I also mucked out the area were they lived, especially during the winter.
Lee also claims that the Protoevangelion of James is the source of Mary being really really pregnant and that it is mostly legendary. One wonders which parts Lee considers true, Mary being fed by angels? Mary’s hymen being examined? It’s no less or more silly than the other versions of the story. (now, if you want a really bizarre one, try the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, written around the same time.
Lee tries to claim that the author of the Gospel of Luke (AGoL) was writing much closer to the events. Not really, the GoL was written between 5 and 8 decades after per most scholars. And the author claims of having “investigated” things is meaningless. No reason to believe this at all, considering how the gospels vary all over the place in claims of detail. In the GoL, it says that the time came for Mary to give birth. Now exactly how long are they staying there for this census that never happened, away from family and work? Lee wants to claim that it could have been quite a long time. But he forgets that the author of the Gospel of Matthew shows that this is all nonsense, no census, no need to invent a “guest room”. And no need to make up a cave, though Lee is stuck with saying a prominent Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, was just making nonsense up in the same time period that the AGOL was writing. The cave appears in the Protoevangelion mentioned above.
“Probably” and “surely” figure in most of Lee’s claims. He claims that Joseph and Mary just went to the house of a friend or family member and stayed with them being seen by the shepherds who wandered in after the angel tells them what’s up, having no idea where to look among a supposedly huge throng for one woman who had a child. Then they wandered off. It’s great to see a Christian making nonsense up wholesale.
However, this is a moot subject, since there is no evidence at all for any such ridiculous census taking place. This assumes that all of David’s descendants return to a village (there was never a “City of David” there). *all* of them, at least a thousand years’ worth. First, there needs to be some way of the Romans knowing who should be where to make the census valid. There isn’t. There is also the fact that travel takes days in this era with at best a donkey and at worst feet. How far do we think a donkey burdened by a pregnant woman can travel? How far do we think a pregnant woman at the last couple of weeks of her term can travel, period? Of course, one can invoke magic, but that isn’t what Lee wants. He wants to pretend that reality where this story takes place.
So, we have the author of GOL (AGOL) claiming this census, and then the author of the Gospel of Matthew (AGOMt) says that nothing like this happened, Joseph had a dream, they lived in their house and then ran off to Egypt, after the magi showed up.
So much for Lee’s claim that all of the gospels are to be taken as biographical history. That doesn’t work very well when they directly contradict each other, mentioning drastic events like the massacre of the innocents or never mentioning them at all. As opposed to the majority of biblical scholars, Lee has to pretend that the gospels were written far close to the supposed events than we have any evidence for at all. Nothing shows that AGoL was a physician (and at that time a physician wasn’t the assumed well informed person we know now), or a friend of Paul’s. We also have no reason to expect that the AGOL would mention Paul in the gospels (if they are indeed biographical histories) nor that he would have mentioned the baseless claims of martyrdom of any other supposed apostle. Acts does end unfinished and this signifies nothing, especially that the GoL is somehow true and written early. There is also no reason to mention the destruction of the temple since the need for the temple in the story is done. I will mention that GoL is inconvenient for Christians since it has the apostles wandering right back into Jerusalem and celebrating at the temple. Rather silly considering what supposedly happened earlier and still didn’t see those dead wandering around like the AGOMt claims.
The scholar that Lee claims as one of the “greatest historians who ever lived” (??) AN Sherwin-White, seems to only be worthy of such a ridiculous claim because he thought that the NT was history. This is no more than an appeal to authority, and an attempt to pretend that this person’s opinion, that two generations is not enough to have a legend to wipe out a “solid core of historical fact”, is somehow immutable fact. Just by looking back 60 years, we know that all sorts of nonsense overtakes reality, from JFK, to the moon landing. It is stretch to claim that the GoL was written in the same generation of the supposed Jesus’s appearance.
The claim that archaeology has supported the bible’s claims is simply a deliberate false claim from Lee. The AGoL has not been called a “first rate historian” by many scholars. The only people who claim this are those who need the New Testament, and AGoL’s version to be true. It’s notable that Lee does not mention the supposed scholars who supposedly think that the AGoL is a “first-rate historian”.
The instance that Lee tries to claim that was thought wrong and then was found right is the claim that JC lived in Bethlehem and then went to live in Nazareth some time later. At one point we had no evidence for a Nazareth as claimed in the bible. Now we do, since archaeology is always going on, and no, that doesn’t mean that Jesus exists since a town’s name was mentioned. As repeatedly told to Christians, the fact that some myth mentions a real place or person, doesn’t make it true. IF you want it to make it true, then every Greek god, every Egyptian god, Spider-Man, etc are as real as your god. I’ve asked many of them if they are good with that. Unsurprisingly, most never comment again. The few who don’t run end up digging themselves deeper with further attempts to invent evidence for their god’s existence. Of course, believers being believers, they had to declare that the one house found in what they want to call Nazareth (found by a group who went in with the presupposition that they would find Nazareth, and darned if they didn’t find something they named), under a convent called Sisters of Nazareth, of a correct time period “could be Jesus’ house”. What they found was a Jewish house, nothing more, nothing less, in an area where Jews had lived for thousands of years. Not exactly a shocking find. This does not show that AGoL was right at all. If we are to believe that, we should be sure that Horus and Isis exist since surprise, we’ve found houses of Egyptians in Karnak. We should believe in Spidey since there is a Greenwich Village.
Finally, Lee tries to claim that there is no problem at all with the author of the Gospel of Mark (AGoMk) and the author of the Gospel of John (AGoJ) not mentioning one thing about the birth of JC. He also simply doesn’t mention the discrepancies by the AGoMt. He wants to claim it is an “argument from silence” which is drawing a conclusion from the silence of an opponent. And he would have a point if that were the only evidence that is present. We have the lack of mention of these magical events in two of the gospels, AND what stories we have contradict each other AND we have no corroborating evidence for either of those stories. What we do have is that no one noticed any of the events of JC’s supposed birth, life or death and things went on as normal in Roman-occupied Palestine, no magical nonsense happening. So we have an absence of evidence and evidence of absence.
We also have the excuse that the gospels didn’t contain everything since “everyone” knew the other parts. Which doesn’t work with the other Christian excuse, that every gospel author was writing to a different audience. Why not mention such wonderous events to those who evidently didn’t know them if they didn’t know the rest of the story? Again, Lee’s baseless assumptions destroy his claims. There is no evidence of Ignatius being mentored by anyone special (other than “tradition” which we know how well that works especially when it comes to who wrote the gospels) nor that the author “must” believe in the claim of the virgin birth. We don’t’ even have Paul mentioning that rather special claim to prove JC’s bona fides to pagans. Paul seems to know nothing about it at all. There is no reason to assume that Ignatius was completely ignorant of the other nonsense being claimed about Christianity 70 years after the supposed events. All of these various Christians seem to know about each other, if for no better reason than to attack them.
Strobel is right, the AGoMk wasn’t interested in the birth of JC nor was he interested in the death or supposed resurrection. The oldest copies of that story end with nothing more than women running away and telling no one anything about the supposed empty tomb. He does try mightily to claim that AGoMk “really” mentions the odd nature of JC’s birth, but all the verse he cites says is this “2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
Not one mention of magic in birth, but some real world acknowledgement that charlatans can’t fool their neighbors and that everyone was in on the secret that Joseph was cuckholded.
Lee notes a common problem for Christians, that Paul has no idea who Jesus is or anything about him or his life. Lee’s excuse is that the details weren’t pertinent, but that is rather silly when even Christians now cite what JC said, the parables, etc. When Paul chides his followers why does he not once mention Jesus and his words and at times directly contradicts Jesus?
Lee tries to claim that lack is because everyone knew the gospels, but we know that is likely not the case since the gospels are usually dated after the epistles *and* those far flung churches he establishes have no evidence of knowing anything about the gospels. Paul is the first to find his new audience there since the supposed messiah never returned when promised. He had to invent a new version of Christianity. Are we to presume that since Paul didn’t mention things in the gospels, they didn’t exist? Nope, but neither are we to presume that he ever knew about them in the first place. For complaining about “arguments from silence” Lee uses them constantly. Since we have no evidence of a magical man, a virgin birth, etc there is
no reason to think that they *ever* existed and were not just stories.
“What have we learned so far?”
- That there is no historical record of Christ’s birth as claimed in GoL or GoMt.
- That those stories contradict each other.
- Historical people and places mentioned in a story doesn’t mean the story is true.
- That the gospels are not the best source of evidence we have for what happened 2000+ years ago. They are the *only* source of badly contradictory myths about a birth of a man/god.
- They mention events that there is no evidence for e.g. census, massacre, etc. and we have evidence that nothing strange happened during that time.
- That, like stories about St. Nicholas, and Santa Claus, there is no practical implications for our lives in these stories. Virgin births and claims of descending from gods was nothing new.
- The stories of the birth of Jesus cannot be shown as true and thus can be ignored. In the end, there was no magical child and it does not deserve our allegiance or worship.
Strobel finishes with declaring how “humble” JC was in his birth. How? This is the plan that he/his father came up with, evidently as the ONLY way for this god to not damn all of humanity for this god’s failure in Eden. Christians can’t even agree on when JC became the salvation sacrifice, before he was born, after he was born, after he was baptized, etc.
A week or so until Part 2.