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12 Painful Facts About Christianity


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After reading the 12 Painful Facts, I enjoyed "The Fall of Man - In a Nutshell". goodjob.gif

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There's a lot wrong with these "facts" from a historical point of view:

 

Fact 1. "The earliest gospel, Mark .... fails the historical test of contemporaneity."

 

Fails the what?  Sorry, but no historian would have a clue what this so-called "test of contemporaneity" even is.  When it comes to ancient sources, contemporary sources are often (though not always) more reliable than later ones.  For example, Socrates Scholasticus gives us a detailed and fairly dispassionate account of the assassination of the philosopher Hypatia, partially because he was her near contemporary.  Whereas John of Nikiu was writing about 250 years later and gives us an account based on that of Socrates but embellished with later embroidery.  But when it comes to ancient history, its rare for us to get contemporary sources (let alone eyewitness testimony).  So we usually have to make do with later accounts.  And later doesn't always mean worse.  Our main source of information for the campaigns of Alexander is Arrian's Anabasis - written over 600 years after the fact.  That puts the mere 40 year gap between gMark and the time of Jesus in the shade.   But Arrian was drawing on source material that is completely lost to us now and was much closer to the events, including works by eye-witnesses and some of Alexander's generals.  We don't know what sources of information the author of gMark was drawing from (and he wasn't actually writing history anyway, but that's another topic), though there is good evidence in his text that he was working from at least one source that was in Aramaic - the language of Jesus and his first followers.  That alone puts at least some of what he says pretty close to the time in question, though probably at one remove.

 

So there is no such thing as "the historical test of contemporaneity", which seems to be a term that this guy Michael Sherlock just made up.  Contemporary sources can be very useful, but they are rare in ancient history - if there was a "historical test of contemporaneity", most ancient sources would fail it as well.  As ancient sources go, one that is a mere 40 years after the fact is pretty good.  What Sherlock seems to be trying to say is that there was enough of a gap between the time of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel for the story to grow in the telling, which is absolutely clear.  But making up something called the "historical test of contemporaneity" to make this fairly elementary point is silly and it also cements this pseudo historical nonsense that unless a source is contemporary it can be dismissed.  That's total garbage.

 

"Fact 6: There are no first century witnesses outside of the corrupt and biased gospels that attest to the earthly existence of Jesus Christ, but for a forged passage in the work of the Jewish Historian, Josephus (Testamoniam Flavium), and a second reference in that work, which is also suspect and in no way represents a specific reference to the Jesus of the gospels."

 

This one is riddled with problems.  Firstly, the gospels may be biased and even, in some senses of the word at least, "corrupt".  But to pretend they are no indication of the historicity of Jesus at all is wilfully ignorant.  Pretty much any ancient source is going to be biased in some way (almost all historical sources are), so to pretend that their biases somehow make them unusable by historians is naive nonsense.  Historians in general and ancient historians in particular deal with biased source material all the time - it's part of the job.  Despite their obvious polemic intentions, the biases of the gospels actually help us to detect historical elements in them.  For example, the baptism of Jesus by John is one of the few elements in the stories that occurs in all four gospels.  By comparing the four different ways this story is treated by each of the gospels, something very interesting can be detected: this story is clearly a very awkward one for the gospel writers.  Jesus, after all, is supposed to be God's Messiah (or, later, God himself in some sense) and therefore John's spiritual superior.  Yet here he is submitting to a ritual where he is acknowledging John as his spiritual superior.  Each gospel deals with this awkward fact in different ways - gMatt inserts an objection by John and a reassurance by Jesus, while gJohn takes out the actual baptism altogether.  But the key fact here is that all four gospels felt the need to put some form of the John/Jesus encounter in the story.  Why?  Because it seems to have happened.  The gospels' biased need to depict Jesus in a particular way here exposes something which seems to have been historical.  We see this in other places where the gospels' biases show them shoehorning a historical Jesus into an idealised Messiah narrative.

 

The claim that Josephus' mention of Jesus in Antiquties XVIII.3.4 is "forged" is another commonplace that I keep coming across on atheist and ex-Christian fora.  People cite this as though it's a fact and enough to dismiss this clear reference to Jesus in exactly the historian (in fact, pretty much the only historian) of the time who would mention people like him.  But the consensus of Josephan scholars is actually not that it is "forged", but that it has simply been added to.  Several phrases in the passage are clearly later Christian additions - "he was the Messiah" or "he appeared to them alive on the third day" for example.  Others may also be additions or may be original to Josephus.  But the consensus of scholarship is that there was an original mention of Jesus of Nazareth by Josephus here and his execution by Pilate and that later Christian scribes simply touched it up to enhance its support for key Christian teachings.  So to dismiss the whole thing as a "forgery" is wrong - that's not what most scholars believe.  And the idea that there was an original, unredacted mention of Jesus here is not just speculation or wishful thinking, it's based on the careful analysis of the language used and on three textual variants that indicate which elements have been added or altered.  Sherlock doesn't understand the scholarship here.

 

The second reference to Jesus in Josphus, in Antiquities XX.9.1, is not "also suspect" as far as the overwhelming majority of scholars is concerned.  It is almost universally accepted as genuine, solid on good linguistic and textual grounds.  And Sherlock's claim that it's in "no way a specific mention of the Jesus of the gospels" is rather weaselly.  No, it isn't a mention of the Jesus who walked on water and rose from the dead.  But it is a clear reference to the Jesus who was "called Messiah" and who had a brother called James who was executed in 62 AD.  James was an older contemporary of Josephus and the young Josephus was living in Jerusalem when James was executed there.  The execution also triggered the depostion of the HIgh Priest - an event that a young man from a priestly family like Josephus was certianly going to remember very clearly.  So Josephus' testimony about the execution of James is about as close to first hand as we could expect.  Given that non-existent, mythic beings don't have flesh and blood brothers who historians can remember being executed, this makes "Jesus who was called Messiah" a historical person as well.   This means anyone who still wants to claim Jesus didn't exist has to jump through some contrived hoops to try and argue that this isn't Jesus of Nazareth, the guy who was called Messiah and had a brother called James, but some other Jesus who also just happened to be called Messiah and have a brother called James.  These attempts fail dismally for about three separate reasons.  The fact is that Antiquities XX.9.1 is further evidence that Jesus existed.

 

"Fact 7: Almost all of the myths and moral philosophies attributed to Jesus can be found in earlier mythologies, held by people that were proximate to the lands in which the gospels first arose."

 

This claim gets made all the time, though usually by kooky New Age writers like the woman who calls herself "Acharya S".  The problem with it is that when the parallels between these other myths and the stories get examined in detail, they turn out to not parallel the Jesus stories much at all.  So, somehow, Attis dying and turning into a tree becomes a "parallel" with Jesus being nailed to a cross.  How?  Who the hell knows.  Ditto for various myths where randy gods have sex with young women who give birth to demi-gods.  Given that the story of Jesus' conception was centred on the idea that there was no sex at all, it's also drawing a long bow to claim these are parallels as well (the real parallels for the Jesus story are, not surprisingly, in Jewish tradition, not pagan myths).  This is not to say there wasn't at least some influence of other stories on the Jesus traditions.  But the claim that they are so closely paralleled by other stories that they are derived from them doesn't stand up to scrutiny.  Which is why modern scholars abandoned that idea about a century ago.  Sherlock is about 100 years behind the times.

 

Fact 9: Christianity only rose to power due to its blatant disregard for its own Scripture, meaning, it aligned itself with a psychotic “pagan” emperor, Constantine, who boiled his wife in a hot tub, murdered his son and executed his co-emperor, and who, merely used Christianity to solidify his sole emperorship, evidenced by the fact that he continued to practice his pagan faith and mint his coins with Mithras (pagan sun-god), long after his alleged conversion.

 

It might suit Sherlock's polemical purposes to depict Constantine as a psychopath, but he was actually quite sane compared to many Roman emperors.  If you want a genuine psycho, try Elagabalus on for size.  Murdering members of your family isn't exactly acceptable behaviour these days, but it was fairly sensible in a period where, in the previous century, the average reign of a Roman emperor was at one point at around six months and the main cause of death was assassination.  Family members were often the only people who could get close enough to a late Roman emperor to be a genuine threat and the fact is that when the prize was being the ultimate ruler of the known world, families did turn against each other.

 

The claim that he "merely used Christianity to solidfy his ... emperorship" appeals to modern ideas about Machiavellian politicians, but it doesn't actually fit the evidence. Christianity was a small, marginalised and generally poor sect favoured by the lower classes and slaves.  If Constantine wanted to chose a faith to solidify his emperorship, Christianity was about the very worst candidate.  The people he relied on to maintain his power were the officers in the army and the equestrian and senatorial classes.  Almost all of whom were pagan and most of whom were vehemently anti-Christian.  Constantine secured power because he had full support from the Army and because he was good at killing people who might be a threat to him.  He did this despite his conversion to Christianity, which seems to have been entirely genuine and which was based on his highly superstitious belief that Christ had granted the victory which won him the throne.  Roman soldiers kept their promises to the gods that gave them victory and Constantine was as superstitious as any Roman soldier.

 

The claim that he "continued to practice his pagan faith" is total fantasy and not supported by a scap of evidence.  None of his coins have any depiction of Mithras on them, so that is fantasy as well.  Some of his coins did continue to carry traditional pagan symbols, but that's just the conservative nature of numismatics.  Queen Elizabeth II's coins still carry an inscription declaring the British monarchs to be "Defenders of the Catholic Faith", dating to before the Remformation, but that doesn't mean she is a Catholic.  Sherlock seems to have done his research by reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code on this stuff.

 

I know as an ex-Christian myself that it can be very appealing to find things that seem legitimate making historical claims about Christianity.  Unfortunately, several decades of researching the history of religion means I also know that a lot of the claims out there are junk.  Moral of the story?  Don't just accept things because they are appealling - check your facts.

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Tim, I have been spending the day reading a lot of your work, whether it be here, or at Quora. I really enjoyed your answer to the question: was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher? http://www.quora.com/Jesus/Was-Jesus-an-apocalyptic-Preacher/answer/Tim-ONeill-1

 

Before I left christianity, I had already given up on the end times, rapture, dispensational stuff; however, I still needed those aspects of the NT (the apocalypse) to make sense, as I was still a christian. The verses where Jesus is telling his peeps that, "this generation will not pass away..." led me to preterism; as it is quite obvious who Jesus was talking to in those verses. At that time, I dunno roughly 8-10 years ago, there was a bit of a preterist/partial preterist movement led by the likes of Gary DeMar, and the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraffee that helped me move away from dispensationalism. Anyway, your answer in regards to Jesus' apocolyptic mission helps put a new reasoned light on those passages.

 

I've been going through some mental distress, and the good old faith has been reaching its tentacles back into my mind, and really causing a lot of anguish. So in order to cope with it, I have been slidding down that path of mythicism; however, your analysis of the man Jesus, has much more clarity. I appreciate your adherence to rational reasoning.

 

I do have a question(s). Somewhere you mentioned - - not sure on this site or another - - there are better cases to make for Jesus being just a man than a purely mythic figure. So, knowing that a man named Jesus existed, what evidence can we use to support the claim that he was just a man? Did he think of himself as divine?

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Tim, I have been spending the day reading a lot of your work, whether it be here, or at Quora. I really enjoyed your answer to the question: was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher? http://www.quora.com/Jesus/Was-Jesus-an-apocalyptic-Preacher/answer/Tim-ONeill-1

 

Before I left christianity, I had already given up on the end times, rapture, dispensational stuff; however, I still needed those aspects of the NT (the apocalypse) to make sense, as I was still a christian. The verses where Jesus is telling his peeps that, "this generation will not pass away..." led me to preterism; as it is quite obvious who Jesus was talking to in those verses. At that time, I dunno roughly 8-10 years ago, there was a bit of a preterist/partial preterist movement led by the likes of Gary DeMar, and the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraffee that helped me move away from dispensationalism. Anyway, your answer in regards to Jesus' apocolyptic mission helps put a new reasoned light on those passages.

 

I've been going through some mental distress, and the good old faith has been reaching its tentacles back into my mind, and really causing a lot of anguish. So in order to cope with it, I have been slidding down that path of mythicism; however, your analysis of the man Jesus, has much more clarity. I appreciate your adherence to rational reasoning.

 

I do have a question(s). Somewhere you mentioned - - not sure on this site or another - - there are better cases to make for Jesus being just a man than a purely mythic figure. So, knowing that a man named Jesus existed, what evidence can we use to support the claim that he was just a man? Did he think of himself as divine?

 

I'm glad my writing has been of some use.  Occasionally people who look at my library and see shelves of books on Jesus wonder why the hell someone they know is an atheist spends so much time reading about the central figure of Christanity.  I usually try to explain the difference between the historical Jesus (who interests me) and "Jesus Christ" (who bores me), but only some of them really get that distinction.

 

The material on Jesus as an apocalypcist that you mention is directly relevant to your question about evidence that he was "just a man".  If Jesus was what Christianity claims, it's very strange that the Jesus of the earliest NT material is very much an Jewish end times preacher presenting a message about an apocalypse that is coming at any moment.  We can then see this element of Christianity get toned down in the later material.  Any Christian who is made aware of how well the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels fits the mold of a Jewish apocalyptic prophet always has a very hard time explaining this away.  It's also a problem for Mythicists, though one I've never seen any of them tackle.  If Jesus was a purely celestial being who got historicised as part of a process of euhemerisation, as Carrier claims for example, it's very strange that they historicised him as an apocalyptic preacher, put these slightly awkward predictions about the imminent end of the world in his mouth and then had to later tone element this down and then edit it out altogether, making him into an incarnation of a saviour deity instead.  Why wouldn't he just appear as the inscarnation of the saviour deity to begin with?

 

On the question of whether he believed he was God, I'd say the answer is definitely "No".  The process of his transformation from a prophet figure into the Jewish Messiah and then into a preexistent angelic figure come to earth and finally, though several stages, into God the Son and then God took centuries.  Bart Ehrman's latest book How Did Jesus Become God? traces it pretty well (though I disagree with some details).  But if you are on Quora, I deal with the same question in this answer:

 

http://www.quora.com/What-are-Tim-ONeills-specific-objections-to-the-Christian-belief-that-Jesus-is-God/answer/Tim-ONeill-1

 

I hope that helps.

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Tim, I normally do check facts, but I don't have the benefit of your historical knowledge to help me weed out the good stuff from the bad. Thanks for your input.

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We can then see this element of Christianity get toned down in the later material.  Any Christian who is made aware of how well the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels fits the mold of a Jewish apocalyptic prophet always has a very hard time explaining this away.  It's also a problem for Mythicists, though one I've never seen any of them tackle.  If Jesus was a purely celestial being who got historicised as part of a process of euhemerisation, as Carrier claims for example, it's very strange that they historicised him as an apocalyptic preacher, put these slightly awkward predictions about the imminent end of the world in his mouth and then had to later tone element this down and then edit it out altogether, making him into an incarnation of a saviour deity instead.  Why wouldn't he just appear as the inscarnation of the saviour deity to begin with?

 

Because the author of John wasn't the author of Mark and also wasn't St. Paul.  It makes sense to me that these authors had different goals.  The author of Mark wanted a Jewish preacher as his protagonist.  The authors of Luke and Matthew disagreed to a degree but they used Mark as a template anyway.  Then the story continued to grow in multiple directions with additional authors who each had their own agenda and flavor.

 

While you may not find that answer satisfying at least now you have seen somebody try to address it.

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We can then see this element of Christianity get toned down in the later material.  Any Christian who is made aware of how well the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels fits the mold of a Jewish apocalyptic prophet always has a very hard time explaining this away.  It's also a problem for Mythicists, though one I've never seen any of them tackle.  If Jesus was a purely celestial being who got historicised as part of a process of euhemerisation, as Carrier claims for example, it's very strange that they historicised him as an apocalyptic preacher, put these slightly awkward predictions about the imminent end of the world in his mouth and then had to later tone element this down and then edit it out altogether, making him into an incarnation of a saviour deity instead.  Why wouldn't he just appear as the inscarnation of the saviour deity to begin with?

 

Because the author of John wasn't the author of Mark and also wasn't St. Paul.  It makes sense to me that these authors had different goals.  The author of Mark wanted a Jewish preacher as his protagonist.  The authors of Luke and Matthew disagreed to a degree but they used Mark as a template anyway.  Then the story continued to grow in multiple directions with additional authors who each had their own agenda and flavor.

 

While you may not find that answer satisfying at least now you have seen somebody try to address it.

 

Jesus is as much an apocalyptic preacher in gMatt and gLuke as he is in gMark. The only difference is that gLuke tones down one of the predictions about how soon the apocalypse was going to come. This is an indication of this text's slightly later date - clearly the "some of you standing here will not taste death before the Kingdom comes" saying was starting to get a bit awkward by that stage. And Paul's message is apocalyptic as well. So, as I said, all the earliest material has Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet and does not present him as any kind of deity. The later material tones down or removes the apocalyptic stuff altogether and begins to present Jesus as somehow divine and then as God in human form. The progression in time is clear. Mythicism doesn't sufficiently account for this. Neither does your response above.

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We can then see this element of Christianity get toned down in the later material.  Any Christian who is made aware of how well the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels fits the mold of a Jewish apocalyptic prophet always has a very hard time explaining this away.  It's also a problem for Mythicists, though one I've never seen any of them tackle.  If Jesus was a purely celestial being who got historicised as part of a process of euhemerisation, as Carrier claims for example, it's very strange that they historicised him as an apocalyptic preacher, put these slightly awkward predictions about the imminent end of the world in his mouth and then had to later tone element this down and then edit it out altogether, making him into an incarnation of a saviour deity instead.  Why wouldn't he just appear as the inscarnation of the saviour deity to begin with?

 

Because the author of John wasn't the author of Mark and also wasn't St. Paul.  It makes sense to me that these authors had different goals.  The author of Mark wanted a Jewish preacher as his protagonist.  The authors of Luke and Matthew disagreed to a degree but they used Mark as a template anyway.  Then the story continued to grow in multiple directions with additional authors who each had their own agenda and flavor.

 

While you may not find that answer satisfying at least now you have seen somebody try to address it.

 

Jesus is as much an apocalyptic preacher in gMatt and gLuke as he is in gMark. The only difference is that gLuke tones down one of the predictions about how soon the apocalypse was going to come. This is an indication of this text's slightly later date - clearly the "some of you standing here will not taste death before the Kingdom comes" saying was starting to get a bit awkward by that stage. And Paul's message is apocalyptic as well. So, as I said, all the earliest material has Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet and does not present him as any kind of deity. The later material tones down or removes the apocalyptic stuff altogether and begins to present Jesus as somehow divine and then as God in human form. The progression in time is clear. Mythicism doesn't sufficiently account for this. Neither does your response above.

 

 

Yes it does.  I guess we are going to have to agree to disagree.  The fact that Matthew and Luke copied from Mark doesn't make Jesus real.  I don't see how Rome's choice on Christ's divinity makes Jesus real either.  Jesus didn't have to be divine from the beginning in order to be fiction.  There are plenty of characters in fiction that are not divine.  

 

You are still left with only Paul's propaganda and the testimony of Josephus.  Perhaps Josephus and Paul were not altered and not misinformed about the brother.  That is the only thing that establishes that James had a brother who was a religious guru.  And yet in such a short time after his death Jesus is credited with using the best superpowers ever imagined.  It is possible but very unlikely.

 

But rebooting and expanding older stories is something humans do all the time so I find it to be a much more likely explanation.

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The fact that Matthew and Luke copied from Mark doesn't make Jesus real.

The fact that gMatt and gLuke accepted the depiction of Jesus as a wholly human apocalyptic prophet with miraculous powers rather than a divine being makes this the earlier form of the beliefs about him, with the divine stuff coming later. But this doesn't fit with the Mythcist thesis, which has Jesus starting out as a divine and purely mythic/celestial being and then getting "historicised" into a divine being on earth. Mythicism doesn't explain why the earlist strata of the evidence doesn't fit their model.

 

 

I don't see how Rome's choice on Christ's divinity makes Jesus real either.

 

I think you simply haven't understood my argument.

 

 

 

Jesus didn't have to be divine from the beginning in order to be fiction.

 

That is actually required by the Mythicist thesis. It goes "Celestial divine being" --> "Earthly divine being". But we don't find a divine being in the earliest Christian material at all - he only gets turned into one much, much later.

 

Got it now?

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But this doesn't fit with the Mythcist thesis, which has Jesus starting out as a divine and purely mythic/celestial being and then getting "historicised" into a divine being on earth. 

 

Ah there is the problem.  The Mythcist theory is that Jesus was always a fictional character.

 

 

Mythicism doesn't explain why the earlist strata of the evidence doesn't fit their model.

 

But the data does fit when you deal with the actual model rather than a distorted and absurd characterization of it that was designed to be easily defeated.  The Jesus of Nazareth we see in Mark makes perfect sense as a fictional character. The divinity assigned centuries later has no bearing on the fiction in Mark.  "Jesus is fiction" is a very simple idea.

 

 

Got it now? 

 

Yes, the straw man argument is a fallacy.

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Ah there is the problem.  The Mythcist theory is that Jesus was always a fictional character.

The most common form of Mythicism, at least amongst non-New Age loons, is the Dohertyite thesis about a celestial god becoming historicised. If you have some new thesis, perhaps you could outline it so we are on the same page.

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Ah there is the problem.  The Mythcist theory is that Jesus was always a fictional character.

The most common form of Mythicism, at least amongst non-New Age loons, is the Dohertyite thesis about a celestial god becoming historicised. If you have some new thesis, perhaps you could outline it so we are on the same page.

 

 

I've already done so in the other thread.  "Jesus is fiction and certain passages from Josephus and Paul were altered after the fact"

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Ah there is the problem.  The Mythcist theory is that Jesus was always a fictional character.

The most common form of Mythicism, at least amongst non-New Age loons, is the Dohertyite thesis about a celestial god becoming historicised. If you have some new thesis, perhaps you could outline it so we are on the same page.

 

 

I've already done so in the other thread.  "Jesus is fiction and certain passages from Josephus and Paul were altered after the fact"

 

Abnd the evidence that supports this assertion would be ... ?

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Hi Sextus, should we address you as Sextus or as Tim?

"Tim" is fine. I usually sign up to fora as "TimONeill" unless that name is already taken.

 

Anyway, do you accept Sherlock's other eight as facts?

More or less. The wording of several of them contain hints of more pseudo historical nonsense, but the ones I critique above are the most egregiously wrong. This Sherlock guy seems a classic case of a tiny bit of reading being a dangerous thing.

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I'm going to post this link to a debate where the pro was debating that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher and looses the debate. A few things raised is evidence that things ascribed to Jesus were likely not Jesus. He's not arguing for a mythical Jesus, but some interesting points arise as per Jesus as an amalgamation of various types and so on. I'll post this in both threads covering this same issue:

 

http://www.debate.org/debates/The-historical-Jesus-Christ-was-a-doomsday-cult-leader/2/

 

== Conclusion ==



I have proven in this debate that the gospel authors were willing to lie, borrow, and cheat to gain followers for Christianity. My opponent never disproves the Jewish claims about Jesus being a combination of false messiahs. Even if you believe the gospels, I have provided copious textual evidence that John the Baptist, not Jesus, was the apocalyptic ascetic (and two-thirds of Jesus scholars agree with my interpretation). And during this time period, asceticism and apocalypticism were completely intertwined (as seen by the Essenes). If Jesus was not an ascetic, he was not apocalyptic, and I've clearly won that he was not ascetic. For all these reasons, I urge a Con vote.

 

I've seen argument against Jesus as an apocalyptic cult leader so I'm aware of the fact that it may NOT be the best theory around. It's sort of a red flag now when I see people strike out against the myth theory and then take a pro position about Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher because that's likely not the real Jesus at the core of this onion. That appears to be one of many layers, a layer which seems to come from some other character contributing to this amalgam...... 

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I'm going to post this link to a debate where the pro was debating that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher and looses the debate. A few things raised is evidence that things ascribed to Jesus were likely not Jesus. He's not arguing for a mythical Jesus, but some interesting points arise as per Jesus as an amalgamation of various types and so on. I'll post this in both threads covering this same issue:

 

http://www.debate.org/debates/The-historical-Jesus-Christ-was-a-doomsday-cult-leader/2/

 

== Conclusion ==[/size]

Responded to here - http://www.ex-christian.net/topic/64855-why-the-gospels-are-myth/?p=999624

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