Jesus: The Cold Case

apologetics Theology / Biblical Studies

Like a number of others tonight I have just watched Jesus: The Cold Case on TV One, presented by Bryan Bruce. Here are my thoughts on what I have seen. First off, who is Bryan Bruce?

Bryan Bruce is an award winning producer, writer & director who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. He has a MA in Sociology, Psychology & philosophy from Canterbury University. A former musician and schoolteacher, he began his television career in 1984 as front person and writer for a TVNZ arts show. Since then has won awards for Best Director and Best Factual Writer and his work has made the finals of several international festivals, including the New York Television Festival and the prestigious Banff Awards.

The overarching message that Bryan Bruce is gravitating towards in this documentary is that the biblical and subsequent Christian message on who killed Jesus, namely, “the Jews” in some broad sense, is false, and what’s more it is responsible for centuries of great evil.

Something that strikes the viewer quite early on is that Bruce quite simply doesn’t believe that the Gospels accounts are true in general terms. “Many,” he says, “now believe that the Gospels contain more fiction than fact.” Throughout the documentary we hear from a number of academics who lend their credibility to the various claims Bruce makes.

One of the immediate worries about the presentation is that although we’re led to believe that the presenter is applying rigorous criminal investigation methods to the case, to those familiar with the world of biblical scholarship, his list of authorities suggests otherwise:

  • Emeritus Prof. Geza Vermes (Oxford)
  • Emeritus Prof John Dominic Crossan ( St Pauls)
  • Prof. Elaine Paigels (Princeton)
  • Bishop John Shelby Spong (USA)
  • Prof. Lloyd Geering (New Zealand)
  • Dr Helen Bond ( Edinburgh)
  • Prof . Israel Hershkovitz (Tel Aviv)
  • Dr Shimon Gibson (London)

Does this read like the list a careful investigator consults if he wants a decent shot at getting to the unvarnished truth, rather than a somewhat partisan perspective?

According to Vermes, Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of his followers, but not literally from the dead.
Crossan claims that Jesus’ followers had a kind of spiritual visionary experience.
Paigels writes that early Christians didn’t believe in physical resurrection at all, seeking instead a state of spiritual knowledge and enlightenment.
Spong says that Jesus’ resurrection had nothing to do with him coming back to life, but with the subjective – but real – experiences in the hearts of his followers.
Lloyd Geering, who himself does not believe in any such being as God, claims that the body of Jesus remained buried and that the story of his resurrection was a later story concocted on the basis of a re-reading of the Old Testament

Now of course this isn’t a documentary on the resurrection, but the pattern is somewhat striking. It looks fairly clearly as though the presenter has intentionally stacked the witness stand with those hostile to the Christian story. It will hardly come as a surprise that, given such a uniform and narrow sample, the testimony will (rather gleefully!) point away from the traditional version of events surrounding the death of Christ. We might just as easily consult the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary and claim that using rigorous scrutiny, we have reached the conclusion that the biblical portrait of Jesus’ death is, well, inerrant! Given that those consulted would be placed at one extreme of the spectrum on whether or not we can generally trust the Gospel accounts or the teaching of the early Christian movement, the interests of balance would surely call for less radical voices, the likes of Craig Evans, James Dunn, Luke Timothy Johnson or N. T Wright. One example – Lloyd Geering is quoted as assuring viewers – completely unchallenged – that the details of the crucifixion was no more than what people “imagined” had probably taken place. When it comes to the story of the resurrection, Geering is explicit – Jesus was probably buried by the Romans and that was that. No tomb, no stone rolled away, and no angels. Geering laughs, “the very fact that you’ve got angels [in the story] shows that we’re dealing with myth, not history.” There was not a single challenge raised. Not even an innuendo that Geering’s view isn’t the scholarly consensus. This was said just minutes after the narrator told us that the Gospel was more fiction than fact.

This type of concern rears its head among a more sceptical audience when the evangelical likes of Lee Strobel seeks to do just what Bryan Bruce is doing: Apply critical scrutiny to the facts concerning the life of Christ. And yet we frequently hear the complaint that Strobel consults only committed and usually conservative Christians, people who are unlikely to disagree strongly with each other – or with Strobel. I would hope, then, that this same type of sceptical, professedly critical audience will likewise regard Bruce’s offering as a biased, selective survey of a very thin slice of the scholarly community. For example, says Bruce, the author of Mark says that the land was covered in darkness when Jesus was crucified. But how does he know this, Bruce asks, since he wasn’t there? He must be relying on hearsay, and we are therefore not reading eyewitness testimony. What then does Bruce make of the work of Richard Bauckham, who, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses makes the case that in fact we have much that is eyewitness testimony in the Gospels? Well, we don’t know. As a scholar who reaches the wrong sort of conclusion, Bauckham does not appear to have been on Bruce’s reading list.

Herein lies the flaw in so much of what is passed of as a fresh, new, surprising, maybe even scandalous new look at the evidence to get at the real facts of New testament events. There is nothing fresh, new or surprising about it. Material like this seems to gain some traction from the rather popular but simply false assumption that any enquiry concluding that mainstream Christianity has fundamentally gotten things wrong must be fresh, honest and critical. The assumption itself, of course, is about as uncritical as assumptions get, because it is already committed to the belief – or perhaps the hope – that whatever the truth is, it’s certainly not whatever “the church” thinks. That’s what makes this project interesting to many. It’s not that there’s a surge of interest in why Jesus was crucified. Rather, there’s a sense of delight in hearing that stuffy, old, doctrinaire, cherished but uninformed Christian belief is wrong.

On to the documentary…

Strolling through the life of Jesus, Bruce starts with the birth, and with John Shelby Spong. Spong – like Geering on the resurrection – quite bluntly tells the audience that the birth story is simply made up. Since Jesus is called Jesus “of Nazareth,” and apparently for no other reasons, Spong says that “if we want to be historically accurate” we should be singing “O little town of Nazareth.” After all, Spong says, as though it will be obvious, given the number of generations between Joseph and the number of wives King David had, David would have had about ten billion descendants at the time of Jesus, and it would be absurd to believe that ten billion people would have returned to their ancestral town of Bethlehem for the census.

“In other words,” Bruce immediately says, “the Gospel writers made up stories about Jesus’ birth, just as they did about his death.” It’s quite clear what has just happened. Spong’s claim has been presented as the scholarly one that we should have no problem with. But how much evidence have we really seen? If Jesus grew up in Nazareth, then the epithet “Jesus of Nazareth” would be perfectly understandable with no special need to deny the Gospel claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But hey, we’ve got a well known figure saying that the biblical writers are wrong, and that’s, well, a little bit naughty and fun.

Next, Bruce goes on to tell us about two Greek copies of the New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, and breaks the news to the public: They’re different! This is where it becomes clear that Bruce’s audience is essentially the same as that of the popular level work of Bart Ehrman: It’s the masses who don’t know anything – anything at all – about biblical scholarship. Yes, it’s true that we don’t have the original copies of the Gospels. Shock horror, they were written in the first century! Yes, over time there are going to be differences between copies as more and more copies are made. This is not news. But it does enable Bruce to add in the suggestion that really, the church was “changing” what the Bible said. What’s more, noted Bruce, there are differences between the Gospel accounts of the same events. Again, this is surprising as an attempt to stir up doubt about what we read in the Gospels, but an understandable way to prime an audience that might be quite unaware, even of the basics.

John Dominic Crossan, clearly the favourite source of the documentary maker given the number of times he appears on screen, is asked to comment on the historicity of the crucifixion account at this point, and he tells us: When Jesus says “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” “I don’t think Jesus ever said that.” Why not? Well, that doesn’t seem to matter. Crossan just doesn’t think so. In immediate response, Bruce says that “clearly we have to be careful” when taking such Gospel accounts as historical. After all, Crossan doesn’t believe it. Just… because he doesn’t. This is a surprising pattern that begins to reappear throughout this documentary. A person in an armchair appears on-screen, declares that they don’t personally think that something in the Gospels really happened, and the narrator, in effect, strokes his beard (OK he doesn’t really have one) and says “Well, fascinating, there you have it.” But what do other scholars say? What are the reasons for agreeing with the talking head we’ve just seen? And what reasons do others bring to the discussion table for another view? None of that matters. Crossan says it. Bruce believes it. That settles it.

There are times where even the scholars that Bruce hand picked to reinforce his stance on Jesus don’t seem quite negative enough about the traditional portrait of Jesus. Remember that in the Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as reading to the congregation in the synagogue. As Geza Vermes explains to Bruce, early Jewish sources like Philo of Alexandria indicate that Jewish boys were taught to read and write – given a basic education. But Bruce suddenly decides that it’s best to get a second opinion (just this once!), because “just when a matter seems certain,” another scholar comes along and tells you something different. He goes back to old faithful, John Dominic Crossan, who says, apparently citing no particular source, that Jesus was probably illiterate. For no obvious reason, this seems to be Bruce’s preferred option. What’s interesting is that for some reason when the opinion being expressed is the most far left, least orthodox and least compatible with historic Christianity, Bruce never seems to see a need for a second opinion, or even evidence. Some guy in an armchair saying “I just don’t believe it” seems to settle the matter forever. At least one end is served: The Gospel portrait of Jesus is denied. Evidence? Let’s not bother about that, it only gets in the way!

Next Bruce says a few words about the political backdrop of Jesus’ life. Herod the great, who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, was rich and powerful. He had grand buildings and vast wealth. This, says Bruce, suggests that the account of Herod ordering the death of babies in Bethlehem “is a lie.” He was nasty, yes, admits Bruce, and he even killed family members, but there’s nothing in the literature saying that he ever killed any babies. Of course, even the Gospels don’t say that just as Herod himself killed family members, Herod also killed babies. The former was done by Herod, the latter was done by soldiers, according to the Gospels. But perhaps more importantly is this: As historians like Josephus note, Herod was a brutish man, responsible for a lot of bloodshed. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Herod’s order was to kill male children, under two years of age in Bethlehem and the immediate surroundings. As even fairly liberal sources like the BBC are willing to point out:

In fact, demographic clues from first century Palestine reveal that Bethlehem was a small village, with a population between three hundred and a thousand. Experts estimate that, at any given time, the number of babies under the age of two would be only between seven and twenty. So numbers alone may be the reason why Josephus does not mention the murders.

SOURCE

This was not an enormous slaughter of dozens, even hundreds of babies, as portrayed in films like Jesus of Nazareth or in artwork. That no such massive scale killing is recorded then, is to be expected.

John the Baptist’s message, says Bruce, was politically important. “Things wouldn’t come right for the Jews until they put things right with God and repented.” You see, says Bruce, John believed that the world was about to end and only the pure – the baptised – would be saved. But where exactly is his evidence? None is actually cited, but it is likely that Bruce is thinking of the biblical claim that John preached that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Presumably Bruce thinks that this is a reference to the end of the world, but if this is so then he has simply got to expand his reading before embarking on further works like this. The idea that first century Judaism was looking forward to some sort of end of the world is simply false. But as this does not play any major role in the remainder of the documentary, there’s no need to embark on a correction of this falsehood here. But he is right about one thing, that John was indeed calling Israel to repentance, just as the Old Testament prophets had done many times before.

According to Elaine Paigels, since John baptised Jesus, John must have been Jesus’ teacher. Jesus therefore got his message from John, and that’s why some might have thought Jesus was a political worry, since John’s message was so political. What is revealing about short comments like this from Paigels is that it offers an insight into the slender basis that the more radical wing of biblical scholarship actually has for so many of their interesting sounding claims. John the Baptist was really Jesus’ mentor? How do we know? Well, John baptised him! But was he the teacher and mentor of everyone he baptised? Well no, but gosh it does sound interesting doesn’t it? John Dominic Crossan adds here that John the Baptist thought that once enough people were baptised, once the movement had reached critical mass, God would show up and effectively consummate history. And how does he know this? Sadly, Crossan chose not to share that gem.

But if Jesus is “of Nazareth,” asks Bruce, why did he go to Capernaum to begin his ministry and not stay in Nazareth? “It seems to me,” Bruce says, that “those closest to Jesus didn’t believe that he was the son of God, so he left.” I don’t know why Bruce thinks he needs to rely on his own intuitions, since the Gospels themselves tell us precisely that. In Luke 4, Jesus did visit Nazareth, where he declared that “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” Bruce could have quoted this, but here as elsewhere, he prefers the glasses-adjusting chin stroking method of saying “it just seems to me that…” and banking on the credulity of the audience. They don’t need evidence, they’ve got a detective like Bryan Bruce!

Next the subject moves on to the death of John the Baptist, as the death of Jesus draws nearer. Vermes rejects the biblical reason for John the Baptist’s death, namely that he had rebuked Herod for taking his brother’s wife. He was not killed for that reason, “but because he was a potential troublemaker. His eloquence might have led a revolution.” What revolution did he threaten? Well, we’re not told, but John was a wild kinda guy, so hey, let’s just throw the possibility out there.

Staying with the death of John the Baptist a little longer, Bruce notes that Matthew and Mark include an account where the daughter of Herodias danced for Herod at a party, and it pleased him so much that Herod promised to give her what she asked for. Prompted by the request of her mother, the woman Herod had married (the woman John said he ought not to have taken), she asks for the head of John the baptist. However, the story of this dance isn’t mentioned in Josephus, so, Bruce says, it didn’t happen. It’s another example, he says, of Christians making stuff up. Again, here’s a good example of how what passes for “critical” scholarship is done. Without anything by way of evidence, just declare that an account in two of the Gospels is pure fabrication – after all, Josephus doesn’t tell the story, and unless it’s mentioned by Josephus then it’s not true. Don’t worry that the argument lacks any clear basis. As long as you’re discrediting a Gospel account you’ll get a pat on the back from some people.

So now John the Baptist was dead, and we’re greeted again with the face of John Dominic Crossan. This time, he’s on screen to tell us again that John had predicted the end of the world (I think we’re supposed to have believed this claim previously so that we won’t raise an eyebrow at it now). When John died and this cataclysmic event had not happened, Jesus had a crisis. God didn’t arrive! Jesus now had to totally re-think his approach.

Bruce observes that the Gospels talk about crowds following Jesus, “but I suspect that having seen what happened to John, Jesus took a low key approach.” As for what the Gospels say about the ministry of Jesus, Bruce opines, “We don’t know if these stories have any truth to them.” Where does this come from? What led to it? Nothing that we’re told about. No particular evidence, no considerations, Bruce is just sharing his thoughts. What does it contribute? Little, other than a general air of “we’re above believing this stuff.” On the healing of Lazarus at Bethany, Bruce says, “I find it suspicious that only John’s Gospel has the story of Lazarus, so I think he made it up.” That was it – the whole argument verbatim. And this is the way so many things are dismissed in this documentary. If anyone doubts that a biblical event took place, then that’s the end of it. It didn’t happen.

On to Passover and the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Bruce wonders if this was Jesus’ first time in Jerusalem, “as three of the Gospels say that it was.” This had me checking the Gospels to see whether even one of the Gospels said this, let alone three. I came back empty handed. Matthew does not say this, and neither do Mark, Luke or John. Where does Bruce find this? Will he share? Apparently not, he simply tells us that this is so and that is that, as with so many of his quips.

Crossan is back, telling us that in a politically tense Jerusalem, Jesus started a demonstration. He did this by riding a donkey, which amounted to a Messianic claim – since the prophets referred to the king riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9). This was dangerous – given that the Jews were celebrating deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Given that the Jews were under Roman bondage, this environment was a fragile one and any Messianic claims during passover were potentially volatile. Incidentally, Bruce offers his wisdom here again, saying that the next time that Jesus entered the city (the next day), the crowds that hailed Jesus were no longer there, so Bruce says that the crowds of Palm Sunday simply never existed. Naturally. Perhaps Bruce thinks that the next day the streets were empty!

Shimon Gibson chimes in here, saying that while Jesus’ triumphal entry was a “very important event” for the Jesus group – those who knew or followed Jesus, as far as the geography goes and the huge number of pilgrims who travelling that route anyway, the event probably didn’t have much significance. It took place in the midst of a crowd and would not have dominated the scene. This would have been an ideal moment for Bruce to retract his comment about the whole affair being invented – but why bother?

On the cleansing of the Temple while in Jerusalem for the Passover, Bruce says “This may have been a much smaller event than the New Testament suggests.” After all, the Temple court was huge, and this could have been a small skirmish. However, he acknowledges that most theologians and NT scholars agree that this is actually what got Jesus into trouble with the Jews that week, trouble that led to his arrest. At the very least, as Helen Bond says at this point, the Jewish authorities saw that Jesus is doing something out of the ordinary in the Temple at Passover. They wanted the feast to run smoothly, and any suggestion that Jesus might have disrupted that could have prompted them to alert the Romans.

Crossan seems to support the Gospel accounts here, saying that Jesus was protected by the crowd and that is why he was not arrested sooner. Bruce however doesn’t buy it – not the Gospel accounts, nor even his hand-picked scholars. After all, when Jesus was killed, there was no outcry. This too then, has to be fabrication. Unsurprisingly, Bruce also doubts the whole account of Jesus’ betrayal. “Some scholars” have called the biblical account into question. And who is Bruce referring to? John Shelby Spong. Spong says that Judas just means “Judah.” What’s more, the Apostle Paul didn’t mention the betrayal by Judas specifically. Betrayal with a kiss, pieces of silver – these are all elements found in either the Old Testament or Jewish literature, and they are used as Midrash, fictional embellishments.

Bruce adds: If people re-wrote history (his way of summing up the practice of using Midrash) in this way in those times, then we need to ask if the Christians did this as well to place the blame on the Jews. The first clue that the Gospel writers “made it all up” when recounting the betrayal of Jesus is the fact that the version of events in each Gospel is not quite the same as the other. The naivete of this sort of judgement is just staggering, and it is instructive to bear in mind that the man has absolutely no background in either history or biblical studies. That events are recounted differently by different authors does not contribute in the least to the conclusion that the events in question never happened.

Elaine Paigels, author of The Gnostic Gospels, says the trial probably never happened at all. The Sanhedrin did not meet at night. And, she says, we don’t even know that they had the jurisdiction to sentence a man to death. Crossan adds that it couldn’t have been an official “trial,” just a decision. But none of this is useful in the least. The Gospels never claim that the Sanhedrin passed judicial sentence on Jesus, so the fact that they would not have had jurisdiction to do so is just not relevant.

Elaine Paigels says that there’s evidence that Pilate was a hard man, brutal in killing people and quite happy to insult the Jews, so the Gospel account of this man who did not want to get on ther wrong side of the people by having Jesus killed (or not) must be false. Crossan adds, “I can’t even imagine any Roman Governer allowing a crowd to scream at him.” Helen Bond too says that Pilate had a military background. Jesus was a peasant, and Pilate wouldn’t have had a second thought about sending him to the cross. The argument is basically that while this indeed the way the Gospels portray the actions of Pilate on that day: as wanting to appease the crowd, this doesn’t sit well with what we know about Pilate’s personality. I don’t think it’s a particularly compelling argument on its own, but I’ll say that this is as close to a sensible argument as anything that the documentary contains.

But then observe how Bruce immediately pours on the rhetoric saying that “It’s clear that much of the passion story was made up by the Christian writers,” when no such thing is “clear,” even if Bruce believes that there are reasons for doubting some of what is purported to have happened. He only makes it worse by asking, “Why would the early Christians tell stories that they clearly knew to be untrue?” That they knew to be untrue now? The strength of the rhetoric is very obviously out of proportion to any evidence based arguments, but the rhetoric is there for a reason. Bruce is whipping up his audience to make them credulous for what is about to be said. He has got to get them hearing words like “lie,” “untrue,” “why would they,” “what could motivate them,” “they knew to be untrue.” In order for his accusations that follow to fall upon receptive ears, he needs to build up a picture of a Christian community that was strongly motivated to tell deliberate lies to exonerate Pilate and blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. Evidence or not, this is what he’s got to convey.

Now that he has set the scene and basically asked why the Christians were such a pack of liars, his selected scholars come in to offer answers. Paigels suggests that Mark blamed the Jews – rather than Pilate – for the death of Jesus because he was writing in wartime and wanted to stress that Jesus did not lead a revolt against the Romans, and that the Jews tricked Pilate into having Jesus crucified. This is what Bruce was looking for, so he adds his own two cents: The Christians were keen to separate themselves from the Jews after AD 70. So they re-wrote history. They made Pilate into a nicer guy and made the Jews nastier. The Gospel writers “pulled off the greatest PR spin in history.”

This anti-semitic theme, says Bruce, was then wired into the Christian writings, until John’s “Gospel of hate” that blamed the Jewish people as a whole, where the ugly and plainly anti-Jewish message was laid out clearly. Christians turned the “spotlight of hate onto Judaism.”

Bruce sees further evidence of the spread of this anti-Jewish message in AD 144 when Marcion proposed a canon of the Bible and preached a clearly anti-Semitic theology. He portrayed the Jewish God as mean spirited and dark, while the Christian Saviour was good and loving. He wanted to strip the Scripture of its traces of Jewish sympathy. The trouble with this example is that Marcion was promptly and resoundingly condemned by the orthodox Christian community. Even in AD 144 this message that Bruce says had become dominant could not find a foothold. How strange!

From here, the version of history that the viewer is exposed to descends into madness of The Da Vinci Code proportions. We are told that the controversy at the council of Nicea was settled – not by the assembled bishops, but by Emperor Constantine, who was the “head of the church,” and Arius, the man whose views were rejected, died “mysteriously” afterwards. A conspiracy is born. Again.

From here we leap into the twentieth Century, into the life of Jules Isaac, the Jewish author of Jesus and Israel. This book was Isaac’s own account of his life during World War II, while he was asking why Christian nations took such a dim view of the Jews. His wife and daughter had been murdered by the Nazis. “What was it that the Jews were supposed to have done that could possibly warrant such hatred,” asks Bruce. Hitler played on Christian contempt of the Jews to bolster his agenda. “The impact of those lies told by the early Christians” on Jews living in Europe was massive, says Bruce. Isaac’s wife and daughter were sent to Aushwitz. What they suffered, “we can only guess.” But we can’t just blame Hitler. Martin Luther railed against the Jews, calling on the Jews to be driven out like dogs. “How he came to this vile conclusion isn’t clear,” says Bruce, but the Nazis appealed to him. But wait a moment, that was important. How he came to his conclusions isn’t clear? But the clarity of the line of reasoning here is what is carrying Bruce’s thesis: Christians hate and kill Jews because the first Christians lied and said that Jews got Jesus killed!

Things get stranger still as we hear Spong at this point say that he was taught to hate other religions because “we have the only true faith” and he was given the message that “I will kill you if you don’t agree with me.” What? How could this possibly be true? What church did Spong attend where he was given the message that it’s alright to kill people who don’t agree with us?

So now we have lies – well, alleged lies, we still haven’t quite seen the evidence that the early Christians made this stuff up, but Bruce calls them lies, that encourage Christians to actually murder Jews, and which justify the Holocaust? Not to mention churches that tell people like Spong that murder’s fine if others disagree with you. The Holocaust reminds Bruce “how dangerous it is to repeat the lies” that the New Testament tells about the Jews. Apparently, even if the people who advocated that Jesus die were actually Jewish, then simply reporting that fact would be wrong!

But wait, suddenly a new bombshell is dropped. Bruce now silently retracts the entire argument, and says that even if further documents were unearthed that did show that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, “How could that justify what happened here,” at Aushwitz?

Take a moment to appreciate the importance of that. Previously Bruce had been begging us to believe that the “lies” of the New Testament are dangerous because they result in things like the Holocaust. Now he’s telling us that even if they weren’t lies at all – even if the Gospels are absolutely correct, and Jewish people really did call for the death of Jesus, that would not justify anti-semitic persecution after all.

Ding, the penny should be dropping right now. That’s the point. The New Testament accounts don’t justify anti-semitism. If some Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus then that’s what they did, but none of this offers support for the persecution of Jewish people now or at any other time. Once Bruce has acknowledged this, what, exactly, is he accusing the New Testament of? Oh that’s right, being a pack of lies. But the support for this contention has always been a bit murky, leaving only one thing clear throughout: This stuff in the Gospels is definitely made up!

But forgetting that again, Bruce is back in action, saying that if you need any proof of how unfair the Gospel account is to the Jews, “all you need to do is remind yourself of what happened here, at Auschwitz.”

Bruce closes by telling us: “The Jews did not kill Jesus. Pilate killed Jesus.” What Bruce might be enlightened to know is that the person responsible for Jesus’ death is named, and has been named for many centuries now (from probably as early as the fourth or fifth century) in the Apostles’ Creed, in which the Jews are never even mentioned. Instead, we read of Jesus, the son of God, who became man for our sake and for our salvation, and who was “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” And we certainly didn’t need this documentary to tell us that.

So what have we actually seen? Well, we finally got to a true statement at the end – one that Christians have taught for centuries no less – but just look at what we had to endure to get there! An almost unbelievably partisan selection of scholars, supposedly representing a consensus, along with a generous scattering of proclamations about the reliability of New Testament accounts that Bryan Bruce appears to have simply pulled out of thin air.

What’s worse is the knowledge of the way that wide eyed, impressed viewers will see this. Here’s a person who’s willing to ask “hard questions.” What a breath of fresh air! Never mind that it’s the same stale air that has been circulating on sceptical websites and religious studies departments for years. Look, he’s got scholars backing him up! Never mind any of the published responses to those scholars, Bruce can rest easy in the knowledge that his audience won’t even have read them.

For a somewhat more informed read, even if only for the sake of providing balance to this documentary, see Craig Evans and N. T. Wright, Jesus: The Final Days.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 37 comments… add one }

  • Ciaron July 25, 2011, 9:19 am

    I was disgusted by the last segment. Having seen hs programs on Robin Bain and Mark Lundy, I had thought his programs to be quite probing and balanced. But after last nights display, well, I’m speachless…

  • Snt DB July 25, 2011, 12:08 pm

    Bryan Bruce ia obviuosly not a Christain, but a writer, producer and teacher. He expose history and writers and turn the truth into a lie. He is playing with fire to turn the Holy Bible into a lie.

    The following scriptures are evident of this:

    Mat 24:10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets/teachings will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

    1 Timothy 4 1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

    2 Peter 2 False Teachers and Their Destruction
    1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves

    Hebrews 13:9-25 ‘Concluding Exhortations. So do not be led astray by false ideas, trends, or other things just because they are new. Rather, receive and build your strength in Christ’s true Truth.”

    2 Thessalonians 2:3Satan is the arch-counterfeiter. The Devil is now busy at work in the same field in which the Lord sowed the good seed. He is seeking to prevent the growth of the wheat by another plant, the tares, which closely resembles the wheat in appearance…

    Matthew 10:33 King James Version (KJV)
    33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    Matthew 26:69-75
    Peter was Jesus’ most faithful disciple–but even he denied Jesus when Jesus was arrested and put on trial. Jesus later forgave him, but this passage remains a heartbreaking story.

    GODLESSNESS IN THE LAST DAYS
    II Timothy 3:1-5,7 “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of god; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    I hope Bryan Bruce will find the truth as sson as possible,” for the end is nay.”

    Greetings,
    Snt DB

  • superunknown July 25, 2011, 2:58 pm

    Clearly an interesting conspiracy theory but he used the beauty of editing and using one sided experts. I too was taken back when one expert claimed Jesus would have have an education and because he didn’t say what Bryan wanted he asked another guy. But Luke tells us in Luke 4:16-22 that Jesus went to the synagogue and read out of the Torah.

    In short Bryan gives a lawyers version of one sided events and assumptions therefore this is not a balanced, honest investigation of one of the most influential men in history.

  • Shem Banbury July 25, 2011, 3:14 pm

    Totally agree Ciaron. I had watched previous docos from him and been impressed but now I have ask myself were they as unbalanced and biased as last night’s serving.

    Thanks for the post Glenn. After 30 inutes I could watch any more of the show I was getting that angry.

  • Lucia Maria July 25, 2011, 3:20 pm

    Brilliant post.

    That connection Auschwitz that Bruce tries to tie to the NT, along with Constantine being the “head of the Church” is very reminicent of an argument I had recently with a follower of Dave Hunt.

    I didn’t watch the programme, but then your summary and counterpoints was enough for me.

  • r July 25, 2011, 5:12 pm

    What’s worse is the knowledge of the way that wide eye, impressed viewers will see this. Here’s a person who’s willing to ask “hard questions.” What a breath of fresh air! Never mind that it’s the same stale air that has been circulating on sceptical websites and religious studies departments for years. Look, he’s got scholars backing him up! Never mind any of the published responses to those scholars, Bruce can rest easy in the knowledge that his audience won’t even have read them.

    Sort of like how priests preach to congregations, with full knowledge that the vast majority will never encounter the most serious or challenging responses to his claims?

  • Glenn July 25, 2011, 5:15 pm

    r – that comment would have some force if priests stood up each Sunday in front of their congregation and pretended to be using critical investigating skills to challenge all sides and see where the facts lie in their homily. As it stands, they have decided on a position and in the context of their preaching to their congregation they are assuming that everyone else has taken the same stance. They are preaching to believers.

    The comparison more or less reinforces my point: Bruce is indeed preaching, not investigating. Why then, you should ask, does he pretend to be doing a genuinely searching documentary, and investigating the facts? Thanks for the apt comparison!

  • Alison July 25, 2011, 6:58 pm

    I tried to keep an open mind as I watched this documentary but in became increasingly hard to do so as more claims were brought up but never proven. But what really got me was the last segment. It took all of today to get over my anger and the feeling of being attacked.
    I still can not get over who someone can get up and say Christians are the reason for the Holocaust. Think of how many Christians risked their own lives during this time to rescue Jews from certain death.
    The sad thing is that many people who don’t know any better will listen to all these lies and believe them without question.

  • Nathan July 25, 2011, 9:15 pm

    Thanks for writing that explanation of the ‘doco’. What an irresponsible piece of journalism. Reeks of someone who went investigating and didnt like the answers, so had nothing to say. Instead he made up a shallow flimsy angle that is so far off the mark. Poor form Bruce – a career ender!

  • kelcope July 25, 2011, 9:18 pm

    Reasonable doubt?? Was that Bryan’s agenda? I thought it was meant to be an investigative documentary but instead Bryan acted as a lawyer trying to convince the jury that his client (supposedly Hitler was innocent) and that in actual fact it was the Christians of the first century who were responsible for the Holocaust. Wow! In the last fifty years I have heard much about the Holocaust, but never such a quirky twist. Hilter hated also Gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled. Were they also to blame for Jesus death?? Yes, i know crazy thinking. I also enjoyed Bryan’s investigation of the Bain murders and felt he was a clever man but as others above I now have to doubt his integrity in investigating anything. Were you biased with this as well?? Really Bryan, why would you put your professional credibility on the line for such a badly researched piece of rubbish.

  • Mike July 25, 2011, 9:54 pm

    I watched last nights doco and found it absolutely incredible from the get go to the ridiculous conclusion that the early christians and the gospels were somehow the catylyst / cause of the holocaust. This was not a debate, but rather a theory, with the support of experts who agreed with that theory. No real evidence – just assumptions and more theories. One of the first claims was that the gospels were written by people who were not eyewitnesses and were written some time after the events. My understanding is that most scholars contend that Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus, Mark is a close associate of the disciple Peter and Luke an associate of Paul. Paul would not have been an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and death but certainly would’ve been familiar with the disciples who were. As for the dating of the gospels – this has been up for debate and to assert that the gospel of Mark was written at 70AD and then to tie this in to some motive for embellishing the facts for personal gain is completely incredible. Even if the gospels were written 60 years after the events, historically this is accepted as being free from legend. There are plenty of historical records, that are written hundreds to a thousand years after the event have been accepted as accurate, without question. I hope most christians see this documentary and book for what it is and are not shaken by it. I hope non christians seek to make comment on the documentary to christian associates and thus receive an opposing opinion on the matter.

  • Eric Sawyer July 25, 2011, 10:17 pm

    Glenn:
    ‘Emeritus Prof. Geza Vermes (Oxford)
    Emeritus Prof John Dominic Crossan ( St Pauls)
    Prof. Elaine Paigels (Princeton)
    Bishop John Shelby Spong (USA)
    Prof. Lloyd Geering (New Zealand)
    Dr Helen Bond ( Edinburgh)
    Prof . Israel Hershkovitz (Tel Aviv)
    Dr Shimon Gibson (London)

    Does this read like the list a careful investigator consults if he wants a decent shot at getting to the unvarnished truth, rather than a somewhat partisan perspective?’

    It seems the way to make a fast buck these days is to write a book which does not engage all the available information on particular subject.

    The Fiddler on the Roof.

  • Kelvin July 26, 2011, 12:54 am

    Email sent to Bryan Bruce:

    Dear Bryan,

    I have watched and enjoyed many of your ‘Cold Cases’ and with a background in business analysis, appreciate your commonsense, analytical thinking and straight talking.

    For these reasons, I was interested in watching ‘Jesus The Cold Case’ on Sunday night. However, I was disappointed by the lack of these usual characteristics and was also surprised by the weakness of the arguments presented and lack of any real evidence. We all have our own personal beliefs and values and it appears these may have compromised your own investigation and independence. This was exaggerated further by the choice of so called ‘experts’, since every one of them shared the same negative view point as your own and resulted in a totally one sided argument and a doco devoid of any balance. A real shame.

    Of course ‘experts’ from the catholic church are going to cast doubt on the bible account since it was the same Catholic church who banned the bible for over a thousand years and executed many who simply wanted to read it and make it available to others. Jewish authorities also reject the bible (especially the new testament) so it’s not a surprise they too cast doubt on the gospel. Other ‘experts’ used on your doco also openly express their unbelief and therefore can’t be trusted to be fair or independent in their findings. Where were the independent experts and others of a different view point?

    It certainly made no sense to tell us that since the 4 gospels were written a few decades after the death of Jesus they should not be relied upon, however we are encouraged to believe your account and the view point of other so called ‘experts’ living almost 2000 years after his death. Does this not contradict your own argument?

    If the gospel account is not true, it is strange that the 12 signs of the zodiac and their 36 decans (3 additional star groupings for each zodiac star sign) tell the exact same story as the bible account but in pictorial form. For example, we can start at Virgo (the virgin) accompanied by the decan called ‘Coma’ (mother with child)… followed by Libra (scales symbolising justice and judgment for sin) accompanied by the decans called ‘Southern Cross’ (Jesus died on a cross) and ‘Victim’ (pierced at the side as Jesus was) etc. I would encourage you to get the your own star charts which detail these star signs known by all and study them for yourself. Even the names of the stars have meanings in line with the gospel message!

    This pictorial story which matches the bible account can be continued through all star signs. Star signs which have existed since ancient times and go back as far as any historical records go. It is certainly accepted that the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans understood the star signs as we still know them today. Up to a thousand years or more before Jesus was born! And yet no one knows where the star signs originated or why. Could this be what the statement “let them be for signs” in the bible meant? That they were a witness to the truth of the bible. Of course, many use these star signs to tell their own futures, however they actually tell the history and future of mankind.

    What about the bible itself. Have you heard of bible numerics? You may not know that mathematics runs throughout the bible and many decades ago it was discovered that this same theme also runs beneath the texts. This results from the fact all Hebrew and Greeks letters of the alphabet also represent a number and these numbers within words and texts always appear in a consistent and uniform manner. This is most striking when remembering the bible was written by 40 authors, over a long period of time and in two different languages. Lets look at Gen 1:1 as an example.

    This verse contains exactly 7 Hebrew words. They have 28 (4×7) letters. There are 3 nouns with a total numeric value of 777. There is 1 verb ‘created’ with a numeric value of 203 (29×7).The first 3 words contain the subject and have exactly 14 (2×7) letters. The other 4 words contain the objects with 14 (2×7) letters. The 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th words have 7 letters. The value of the first, middle and last letters equal 133 (19×7). The value of the first and last letters of each word is 1393 (199×7). The value of the first and last letters of the first and last words is 497 (71×7). The value of the first and last letters of each of the words between is 896 (128×7). The Hebrew article ‘eth’ used twice equals 406 (58×7). The last letters of the first and last words equal 490 (70×7). Putting aside the fact there are at least 15 more similar instances of 7 occurring in the above text, the calculated chance of the above listed 15 instances occurring in 1 text is 1 in 33 trillion! Some of the world’s foremost mathematicians after studying this text have concluded that even the most clever man who ever lived could not have devised such a sublime mathematical problem and then hide it under such a simple statement which actually makes complete sense.

    Let’s look at the genealogy of Jesus Himself (Matt 1:1-17) and look at the number 7 which itself represents perfection. The genealogy itself can be divided into three sets of 14 (2×7). There are 2 natural sections with both containing multiple numeric features, but for the sake of space I will detail the first section (Matt 1:1-11). There are 49 words (7×7); 28 (4×7) start with a vowel the the remaining 21 (3×7) start with a consonant. These words have 266 letters (38×7), 140 vowels and 126 consonants. Of the 49 words, 7 occur in more than one form; 42 (6×7) in form only; 14 (2×7) once and 35 (5×7) more than once. Of the 42 (6×7) nouns , 35 (5×7) are proper nouns and the other 7 are not. Further occurrences of 7 will not be listed for sake of time and space. According to the law of chance, the chance of choosing the correct words/names which meet these same number facts is 600 billion to one. Remember this repeats throughout the scriptures!

    Surely, the scriptures have the seal of God since no man could have written the scriptures while unknowingly following deep mathematical rules by chance? Let alone 40 authors over a long period of time following the same rules by chance!

    We could also look at the hundreds of prophecies contained in scriptures and then view history for their exact fulfillment for yet further proof. I am happy to provide these for your analysis.

    Please don’t accept or reject anything I have written before investigating it for yourself with an open mind.

    Kind regards
    Kelvin

  • Damian July 26, 2011, 8:39 am

    Tell me, what other Christians here would be willing to stand behind Kelvin’s comments here about star signs and numerology? Do you feel he’s put forward a compelling case that Bryan should sit up and take notice of?

  • superunknown July 26, 2011, 9:04 am

    @ Damian.
    Firstly, a good question.

    I think their are more obvious errors in Bryan’s case that need to be counter investigated. I think what Kelvin has expressed are his own views which is fine. I would choose not to pursue them but if he finds something intriguing then all the best to him.

  • Jason July 26, 2011, 12:14 pm

    @Damian
    No, I think Kelvin is young and heavily influenced by what may be considered pop Christianity. He has enthusiasm, but not knowledge. However that will be corrected with time.

    @Glenn
    Congratulations on making it through the program. I obviously lack your patience with idiots. Someone should point out to Bryan that if Jesus really rose from the dead then it wouldn’t be appropriate to hold the crucifixion against the Jews. After all, no harm, no foul.

  • mark clare July 26, 2011, 2:50 pm

    I watched the end of it when I came home from church what a load of rubbish!!! Just the Idear it it makes me sick!

  • Glenn July 26, 2011, 7:06 pm

    Damian, no I don’t think much of the whole “star sign” thing, any more than I do about Bible numerology in general.

    Damian – I wonder if you and any other atheists reading this could let us know if they’d be willing to stand up for Bryan Bruce’s fairness in terms of balance, and the general scholarly integrity of his presentation.

  • Blair Donkin July 26, 2011, 8:32 pm

    Hi Glenn, I saw the promotion of the program and new straight away where it was going to go. I have yet to watch it and have yet to read in full your entire post. Do you think there are grounds for a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority? After all would such a dismissal of Islam be permitted or go unchallenged? I doubt any one would anyone be brave enough of foolish enough to broadcast such a documentary. I have no problem with people espousing their own views but it needs to be honest and with integrity and it ought to be open to critique. This reads as if Bruce has done his own version of a Dan Brown novel and promoted it as historical fact. Who has committed the greater ‘historical crime’ here? What do you think?

  • Glenn July 26, 2011, 10:07 pm

    Blair, rather than complain to the BSA and risk giving the impression of simply not wanting other people to have their say out of fear, I would much rather see someone who is an established biblical scholar and who is somewhat less extreme have a public discussion with Mr Bruce.

  • Trudy Carle July 27, 2011, 12:33 am

    Hi Glen, great blog and you have said everything i wanted to say but much much better than i ever could have so good work! I watched the doco all the way through which was painful on so many levels but mainly because it was so incredibly annoying and i wanted to throw the tele out the window. BB used such naughty methods to make his point and it was in no way an “investigation”. I have challenged him on the use of that term on his facebook page here:

    http://www.facebook.com/JesusTheColdCase

    and that’s been kinda interesting. I think christians, those of us who have chosen to love and follow Christ can relax. BB is saying nothing new under the sun and his meanderings are not to be feared and some of them are just plain silly. Our God is an awesome God, tried and tested over generations and in our own lives for years and years. millions of people just can be that wrong or stupid about who Christ is and this is a really hard thing for a skeptic to accept.

    cheers
    Trudy

  • Eugene July 27, 2011, 5:46 am

    I didn’t see the show since I’m in the U.S. But it sounds like Bruce didn’t mention 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15.

    For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men…

    Given Bruce’s agenda, though, I’m not surprised.

  • Damian July 27, 2011, 7:58 am

    Glenn, I’m pleased to learn that this nonsense about astrology and numerology isn’t widely supported amongst the Christians here.

    Regarding the doco; while I can’t speak for other atheists I personally wasn’t all that impressed. But I do think that it is perfectly reasonable to approach any text that claims events at odds with how we understand the world to work (i.e. claims of supernatural events) with a high degree of scepticism rather than blanket acceptance. So if I were performing the same ‘investigation’ (pffft) I would also start with the attitude that these accounts have more likely than not been contaminated by the agendas of whoever compiled them due to their inclusion of seemingly supernatural events — among other things — and so take everything with a very large pinch of salt. I believe this approach would be far less likely to err than that of “oh, ok, born of a virgin, walked on water, rose from the dead, that works for me now let’s strive to explain away the inconsistencies”. I believe the average Christian’s pre-commitment to the special status of the Bible leads them down a rabbit hole of falsity.

  • Grayson July 27, 2011, 11:20 am

    Glenn, just as a suggestion for something in the future that you may want to do a podcast or blog entry on, I think quite a few people would be interested in hearing more about the claim that Jesus’ followers expected the world to end during the course of their lives.

  • Glenn July 27, 2011, 5:38 pm

    Damian, for what it’s worth I am quite convinced that for a great many people, debunking traditional Christianity is enjoyable and ideologically important. So it’s quite wrong to suggest that the only people bringing baggage to this investigation are the religious conservatives.

  • Jason July 27, 2011, 6:40 pm

    @Damian

    You mean that by starting with the assumption that miracles cannot happen (because there is no God to make them happen) you will achieve a more accurate conclusion than someone who allows the minimum possibility that there may be a God and miracles may happen? Question begging ahoy.

    What you will end up with is a Procrustean bed, where only those answers you already agree with will be allowed.

  • Damian July 28, 2011, 8:24 am

    Glenn, it would be quite wrong to suggest that the only people bringing baggage are the religious conservatives. I didn’t say that. We all have our lifetime of experience by which to influence our outlook on the world.

    Jason, I didn’t suggest that you should start with that assumption. All we can do is approach questions like this with the benefit of our own experiences. I’ve never experienced anything supernatural that I know of therefore it’s “perfectly reasonable to approach any text that claims events at odds with how we understand the world to work (i.e. claims of supernatural events) with a high degree of scepticism rather than blanket acceptance”.

    If you have experienced something supernatural then, sure, go ahead and jump in with both feet. But be aware that many people first make the leap of faith and then retrospectively pick and choose ‘supernatural’ events (and add an enormous cache of anecdotal evidence to their list) to match their beliefs. In fact if you’ve been raised in a religious household you’re likely to have made that jump at an early age without any evidence (because that’s how children, understandably, operate).

    I can also testify to having believed in a ‘miracle’ only to have years later and on reflection realised that there was a completely mundane explanation and that I’d blown it out of proportion in my own mind because I really *wanted* a miracle. So it’s good to be aware of deception and especially self-deception before accepting what you at first think of as a supernatural experience.

    So, until I have good evidence that supernatural event such as those described in the Bible are plausible I’ve got no choice but to approach any such literature with a great deal of scepticism. This is a reasonable approach. If you’ve made a leap of faith without such evidence then I believe you’re wildly prone to error. (Before you ask, yes, I’d be prepared to be convinced by a demonstration: witnessing the regrowth of an amputated leg or arm would probably do the trick [and, no, stories of such events won't suffice])

  • Fred July 28, 2011, 9:35 pm

    I suspect that this documentary was a piece of political propaganda. I am not religious at all, but I don’t like the idea that we paid for that. And I think Bryan Bruce *must* know what he is wading in to, regarding the politics.

    Just the previous week, on the 7 Days show, we were presented with “topical” images about high house prices in Israel (so we can relate), followed by a Palestinian boy in the sand on the “warm” West Bank beach. That was pure propaganda, ideas inserted into your brain courtesy of the programme’s makers. Did someone pay them off? That’s not the first time 7 Days has shown us pictures of ‘good’ Israel. Who in production there wants to push those messages?

    I think if Bryan Bruce really, honestly cares about his message in the conclusion of his documentary, he should be prepared to address the crimes of modern day Israel, because Gaza is not the warm happy beach life the 7 Days/TV3 producers want you to think.

  • Fred July 28, 2011, 9:37 pm

    Just a correction: “West Bank” should read “Gaza” in my post.

  • Kristian July 29, 2011, 12:41 am

    “I’ve never experienced anything supernatural that I know of therefore it’s “perfectly reasonable to approach any text that claims events at odds with how we understand the world to work (i.e. claims of supernatural events) with a high degree of scepticism rather than blanket acceptance”.”

    I have never experienced a nuclear bomb exploding, does that give me any reason to doubt the account of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WW2?

  • Damian July 29, 2011, 7:50 am

    Hi Kristian and thanks for your response.
    I’m afraid that comparing my lack of experience of the supernatural with my lack of experience of nuclear bombs has a few issues.

    When I talk about the supernatural I’m talking about an entire category of things so if we were comparing apples with apples it would have been more accurate to ask about my experience of explosions in general. (Or, if we were to be totally accurate, natural events in general. But we’ll settle on the category of explosions to give you the benefit of the doubt)

    I have good reason believe in the existence of explosions in general and sufficient reason to believe in nuclear bombs but I don’t believe I have anywhere near sufficient reason to believe in the supernatural. Not only have I personally experienced other examples of explosions (smaller of course) but I have had the mechanisms of both chemical and nuclear explosions explained to me and those mechanisms concur with a large base of personal experience.

    What’s more is it is testable. If I wanted to I could build exploding devices of my own but I don’t seem to have the opportunity to even observe a convincing miracle. If anyone feels they can demonstrate one (i.e. the amputated leg example would be nice and unambiguous) I’d be willing to travel to witness it! Am I being unreasonable?

    So, when presented with a book that tells of historic explosions the fact that explosions are present doesn’t automatically ring my sceptical alarm bells (sure, it might still be fiction but the inclusion of explosions doesn’t make it so). But when a book tells of historic supernatural events I’ve got no choice but to approach it with scepticism right from the start. This isn’t an unreasonable approach for someone who does not have sufficient evidence of supernatural events and who has plenty of personal experience with human errors, deception and self-delusion.

  • Glenn July 29, 2011, 3:47 pm

    This is why some, like Bill Craig, start out with reasons to accept theism before moving on tot he resurrection. For someone who has – in practical terms at least – ruled out theological explanation, there will always be a naturalistic explanation for the circumstances of Jesus’ death, the empty tomb and the rise of Christianity that will be more plausible to them than any explanation requiring belief in God.

  • Redarts August 2, 2011, 10:18 pm

    Hey Glenn, regarding topics such as the resurrection and the overall truth of Christianity, what particular area, topic or thing gives you the most doubt about Christianity not being true or God (whether it be any god or the Christian God in particular) possibly not existing?

    Let’s see, for me, before I became aware of your apologets material, I thought that neuroscience was the most troubling issue.

    Other issues like the problem of evil, the multiverse, miracles, naturalistic explanations for the rise of Christianity apart from the resurrection and evolution have been more than answered by apologists and as far as I can currently see, I find their answers satisfying.

    But other than these things is there any other thing whether it be something that is in the works from atheists or something that you see yourself, apart from other Theist and atheist scholars as something that could disprove Christianity? And if so is there a way to answer even them?

    Thank you again Glenn for all you do, God bless.

  • Grayson August 23, 2011, 10:10 pm

    “The idea that first century Judaism was looking forward to some sort of end of the world is simply false.”

    This is interesting.

    Recently I came across the blog of ‘ex-apologist’ who said that this was one of the main reasons he left Christianity. He claims that the majority of scholars agree that Jesus preached the destruction of the world and that it would occur within the lifetime of the disciples.

    Now, after doing a tad bit of research into what “mainstream scholarship” appears to think these days, I think there’s a bit of confusion here. Now, correct if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the majority of scholars do hold that Jesus’ preaching was one built primarily upon prophecy and apocalyptic language. However (aside from Bart Ehrman and Dale Allison), it seems that most scholars have abandoned Albert Schweitzer’s theory that Jesus predicted the destruction of the universe and his return to the Jewish people within the lives of the disciples (including those listed by ‘ex-apologist’, such as Geza Vermes and EP Sanders).

    I couldn’t understand how so many scholars could agree on this anyway, since Jesus VERY clearly points out both directly and indirectly (through parables) that even he is ignorant of when he shall return.

    Am I missing something here?

  • Glenn August 23, 2011, 10:40 pm

    Grayson, even those Jews who might have hoped for the soon arrival of the Messiah certainly weren’t looking for the end of the world. They were simply looking for redemption from tyranny and the establishment of God’s kingdom in a fuller and greater sense, with Israel at the centre.

    I did a podcast episode on the Olivet discourse some time ago – actually it was a sermon I preached in church so it was a little different in style from my usual podcasts.

    Basically sceptics who would really prefer that Jesus was a failed prophet interpret Jesus to be saying that his visible return, the final judgement and all that would take place within his lifetime, and he was just wrong.

    Even some conservative Christians believed this for a while (old school dispensationalists) – That Jesus preached his return and the judgement in the first century, but whoops the Jews rejected him so he couldn’t fulfil his original mission, so he turned to the unforeseen plan of getting the church started through the Apostles.

    More sympathetic (and I think more careful readers) like N.T. Wright and plenty more besides do see that Jesus is using apocalyptic language, and that he was actually speaking of the impending judgement on Jerusalem, which certainly did take place in the war leading up to AD 70 when the temple was destroyed. That was the “coming” that he had in mind, not his return in judgement and putting all things right, but his coming in judgement on the plane of history (as God had done to nations including Israel in the past).

  • Grayson August 24, 2011, 2:15 pm

    Okay. Thank you.

    In case you’re interested, here is the link to ex-apologist’s blog entry on the subject. He makes more than a few comments that give rise to questions.

    http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2007/10/one-of-main-reasons-why-i-think.html

    It seems that I’m having a little bit of difficulty in distinguishing between some things:
    Was Albert Schweitzer’s controversial theory about Jesus and eschatology more along the lines of Jesus predicting the destruction of the universe, or was it more in line with the idea of him heavily implying that he would return within that generation?
    Also, it seems that you are saying that most scholars do not hold to the idea of Jesus predicting the destruction of the universe, but what do you think the majority’s position is on the claim of Jesus implying his return within the generation?

    Apologies for all of the questions. I want to make sure I understand what the proper history of these matters is. The subject has caused me to have more than a fair share of doubts and any help in figuring this out would be enormously helpful.

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