Sacred v Secular Ancient Historical Evidence

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Sacred v Secular Ancient Historical Evidence

Post #1

Post by McCulloch »

Is the Resurrection and Miracle Ministry of Jesus is more probable and is better supported than the events of Nero's reign?

This debate will consist of no more than the eighteen posts as outlined. There is no time limit, but we both agree to only post in the agreed upon sequence. Comments, queries, requests for clarification etc go here.

Round 1A: Establish and Verify the Miracle Ministry and Actions of Jesus
-Post 1: WinePusher Presents Evidence and Arguments
-Post 2: McCulloch's rebuttal
-Post 3: WinePusher' response to the rebuttal
-Post 4: McCulloch's final rebuttal

Round 1B: Establish and Verify the Life and Actions of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Roman Emperor from 54 to 68.
-Post 1: McCulloch's Presents Evidence and Arguments
-Post 2: WinePusher's rebuttal
-Post 3: McCulloch's response to the rebuttal
-Post 4: WinePusher's final rebuttal

Round 2A: Establish and Verify the Resurrection of Jesus
-Post 1: WinePusher's Presents Evidence and Arguments
-Post 2: McCulloch's rebuttal
-Post 3: WinePusher' response to the rebuttal
-Post 4: McCulloch's final rebuttal

Round 2: Establish and Verify the Death and Aftermath of Nero.
-Post 1: McCulloch's Presents Evidence and Arguments
-Post 2: WinePusher's rebuttal
-Post 3: McCulloch's response to the rebuttal
-Post 4: WinePusher's final rebuttal

Round 3: WinePusher's case as to why the Resurrection and Miracle Ministry of Jesus is more probable and is better supported than the events of Nero's reign. (1 Post)

Round 4: McCulloch's case as to why Nero's emperorship is better supported and more probable then Jesus' resurrection and miracles. (1 Post)

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Round 1B: Post 3: McCulloch's response to the rebuttal

Post #11

Post by McCulloch »

Forgive me for not addressing the concerns of Americans. In the USA, it is the established practice of putting the image of a dead president on the money. In most of the rest of the world, and certainly in the ancient world, money was issued by and had an image of the current head of state. Thus, the coins I referred to are direct evidence from people alive at the time, that Nero existed and that he performed the office of Roman Emperor. I make no claims that the images presented are any more accurate than the images on modern coins. I doubt that the sculpture presented by WinePusher of Virgil's Aeneas was produced during Aeneas' lifetime. On the other hand, many of the busts and images I presented are dated from the very period.

Evidence of Nero, produced during his own lifetime, attesting to his reign as Emperor -- lots. Evidence of Jesus, produced during his own lifetime, attesting to anything -- none.

WinePusher asks, rhetorically, "Why should we expect busts and sculptures of Jesus, a little messiah figure in the back waters of the Roman Empire who was eventually crucified, to be produced during his lifetime? " Of course the answer is that we should not expect such things. Hence the gross unfairness of the question selected for this debate.

All written material is biased. All legitimate historians and scholars recognize this. They try to assess what the bias might be and as much as it is possible, account for it. If the subject of the writing is being deified by the writer, whether a Cesar or a Messiah, then legitimate historians and scholars will discount claims of miraculous events.

Josephus, lived during the time of Nero and wrote a fair bit about him. Certainly, he had good reason to be afraid of Roman authority and undoubtedly tried not to piss them off too much. So, yes, he would have had a bias about Nero. Josephus was born after Jesus was dead. The few words attributed to him which were about Jesus are rejected by most scholars as being a later Christian interpolation. However, at best, they witness not to Jesus' himself, but to the existence and beliefs of a small band of his followers extant in the late first century.

I asked, "How many major references to Jesus are there by historians in his own lifetime?" and the answer comes back that three of the four historians from Nero's lifetime attest to Jesus. Jesus, according to the New Testament, was a major disruptor of the peace and security of his time. He gained the enmity of the Jewish and the Roman authorities. He had huge crowds of followers and admirers. He performed miracles. His death brought about mass resurrections, earthquakes, darkness at midday and ruined at least one curtain. His birth involved foreign powers and massive human rights violations, to say nothing of a very odd star. So, I suppose that it is no great mystery that no contemporary historian noticed him.

My point with the genealogies is simple. On one hand we have a relatively complete genealogy, with names of people who have stories and history. On the other, we have only two genealogical lines, which conflict, with many characters where the only thing known about them is their name, written several decades after the fact. The question being debated is which is the better attestation of facts.

I might ask WinePusher what evidence there is that supports the notion that Jesus' movement was large in his lifetime and within two decades of his death. Historians call the period before 325, Early Christianity. Most of what is known about Early Christianity is not from before the fall of Jerusalem in 70. I can find references to over 40 established church communities, by the year 100. Historically, the really rapid growth came later.

I saw a magician perform a card trick the other day. He made a card vanish and then he pulled it out of someone's ear. What are the alternatives to explaining my story.
  1. I could have made it up.
  2. The magician could have fooled me into believing what was not so. A trick.
  3. Or perhaps he really did do as he claimed and there is magic.
In evaluating these three alternatives, explanations 1 and 2 are historically invalid because they assume far to much. The only assumption within explanation 3 is that magic is possible. So, if we approach this with an open mind, then explanation 3 becomes the best choice, in WinePusher's opinion. Personally, I have a bit more skepticism and imagination than that. I find no difficulty understanding that the promoters of a new religion writing in the late first century, might include a whole bunch of miraculous events associated with their early first century messiah. Theirs would not be the first, nor the last, recounting of miracles associated with various religions.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

WinePusher

Re: Round 1B: Post 3: McCulloch's response to the rebuttal

Post #12

Post by WinePusher »

McCulloch wrote:Forgive me for not addressing the concerns of Americans. In the USA, it is the established practice of putting the image of a dead president on the money. In most of the rest of the world, and certainly in the ancient world, money was issued by and had an image of the current head of state. Thus, the coins I referred to are direct evidence from people alive at the time, that Nero existed and that he performed the office of Roman Emperor. I make no claims that the images presented are any more accurate than the images on modern coins. I doubt that the sculpture presented by WinePusher of Virgil's Aeneas was produced during Aeneas' lifetime. On the other hand, many of the busts and images I presented are dated from the very period.
Yes, McCulloch is basically right. But the existence of coins and busts prove generalities, not specifics. Nero being a Roman Emperor is an equivalent claim to Jesus having existed in Palestine, both claims have a high probability of being true by their nature. The problems with the evidence provided for Nero is that they prove nothing specific about Nero, only that he existed and was a Roman Emperor.

Evidence of Nero, produced during his own lifetime, attesting to his reign as Emperor -- lots. Evidence of Jesus, produced during his own lifetime, attesting to anything -- none.

WinePusher asks, rhetorically, "Why should we expect busts and sculptures of Jesus, a little messiah figure in the back waters of the Roman Empire who was eventually crucified, to be produced during his lifetime? " Of course the answer is that we should not expect such things. Hence the gross unfairness of the question selected for this debate.

All written material is biased. All legitimate historians and scholars recognize this. They try to assess what the bias might be and as much as it is possible, account for it. If the subject of the writing is being deified by the writer, whether a Cesar or a Messiah, then legitimate historians and scholars will discount claims of miraculous events.

Josephus, lived during the time of Nero and wrote a fair bit about him. Certainly, he had good reason to be afraid of Roman authority and undoubtedly tried not to piss them off too much. So, yes, he would have had a bias about Nero. Josephus was born after Jesus was dead. The few words attributed to him which were about Jesus are rejected by most scholars as being a later Christian interpolation. However, at best, they witness not to Jesus' himself, but to the existence and beliefs of a small band of his followers extant in the late first century.

I asked, "How many major references to Jesus are there by historians in his own lifetime?" and the answer comes back that three of the four historians from Nero's lifetime attest to Jesus. Jesus, according to the New Testament, was a major disruptor of the peace and security of his time. He gained the enmity of the Jewish and the Roman authorities. He had huge crowds of followers and admirers. He performed miracles. His death brought about mass resurrections, earthquakes, darkness at midday and ruined at least one curtain. His birth involved foreign powers and massive human rights violations, to say nothing of a very odd star. So, I suppose that it is no great mystery that no contemporary historian noticed him.

My point with the genealogies is simple. On one hand we have a relatively complete genealogy, with names of people who have stories and history. On the other, we have only two genealogical lines, which conflict, with many characters where the only thing known about them is their name, written several decades after the fact. The question being debated is which is the better attestation of facts.

I might ask WinePusher what evidence there is that supports the notion that Jesus' movement was large in his lifetime and within two decades of his death. Historians call the period before 325, Early Christianity. Most of what is known about Early Christianity is not from before the fall of Jerusalem in 70. I can find references to over 40 established church communities, by the year 100. Historically, the really rapid growth came later.

I saw a magician perform a card trick the other day. He made a card vanish and then he pulled it out of someone's ear. What are the alternatives to explaining my story.
  1. I could have made it up.
  2. The magician could have fooled me into believing what was not so. A trick.
  3. Or perhaps he really did do as he claimed and there is magic.
In evaluating these three alternatives, explanations 1 and 2 are historically invalid because they assume far to much. The only assumption within explanation 3 is that magic is possible. So, if we approach this with an open mind, then explanation 3 becomes the best choice, in WinePusher's opinion. Personally, I have a bit more skepticism and imagination than that. I find no difficulty understanding that the promoters of a new religion writing in the late first century, might include a whole bunch of miraculous events associated with their early first century messiah. Theirs would not be the first, nor the last, recounting of miracles associated with various religions.[/quote]

WinePusher

Post #13

Post by WinePusher »

McCulloch wrote:Forgive me for not addressing the concerns of Americans. In the USA, it is the established practice of putting the image of a dead president on the money. In most of the rest of the world, and certainly in the ancient world, money was issued by and had an image of the current head of state. Thus, the coins I referred to are direct evidence from people alive at the time, that Nero existed and that he performed the office of Roman Emperor. I make no claims that the images presented are any more accurate than the images on modern coins. I doubt that the sculpture presented by WinePusher of Virgil's Aeneas was produced during Aeneas' lifetime. On the other hand, many of the busts and images I presented are dated from the very period.
Yes, McCulloch is basically right. But the existence of coins and busts prove generalities, not specifics. Nero being a Roman Emperor is an equivalent claim to Jesus having existed in Palestine, both claims have a high probability of being true by their nature. The problems with the evidence provided for Nero is that they prove nothing specific about Nero, only that he existed and was a Roman Emperor. A historian wishing to learn about the administration and policies about President Washington does not go to coins and statues made of him because they do not prove anything specific about Washingtons career as a President. That's the problem with the evidence provided by McCulloch.
McCulloch wrote:Evidence of Nero, produced during his own lifetime, attesting to his reign as Emperor -- lots. Evidence of Jesus, produced during his own lifetime, attesting to anything -- none.
I didn't realize that there was a requirement that the evidence must be produced during the persons lifetime. That may be a subjective criteria of McCulloch, but it does not have much bearing on actual historical scholarship. I would submit that an evidentiary source produced after the death of person A just as good as a source produced during the lifetime of person B. There's no reason to think otherwise.
McCulloch wrote:WinePusher asks, rhetorically, "Why should we expect busts and sculptures of Jesus, a little messiah figure in the back waters of the Roman Empire who was eventually crucified, to be produced during his lifetime? " Of course the answer is that we should not expect such things. Hence the gross unfairness of the question selected for this debate.
Not so. If there was reasonable expectation for sculptures and busts to be made of Jesus during his lifetime, and there weren't any, then you would be right. But as I pointed out and as you conceded, there is no reasonable expectation for such things. However, since Jesus engaged the populous directly and spent much of his time with average people, we have works attesting to his life in greater detail than Nero. This is an area where you are lacking.
McCulloch wrote:All written material is biased. All legitimate historians and scholars recognize this. They try to assess what the bias might be and as much as it is possible, account for it. If the subject of the writing is being deified by the writer, whether a Cesar or a Messiah, then legitimate historians and scholars will discount claims of miraculous events.
Then the question is why we should automatically discount them just because the subject of their writings have been deified. What if they are reporting actual truth, if we automatically were to discount that it would be detrimental to us. Rather then discounting claims of miraculous events, we should evaluate them in the same manner we do any other normal event. McCulloch admits all written material is bias, I would ask him if the supposed bias of the Gospel Writers exist to such a high degree that the reliability of their works should be called into question.

P1) All written material is bias
P2) Source A proves Event A, however Source B does not prove Event B
P3) Source B does not prove Event B due to its bias
Conclusion: Therefore Source A also does not prove Event A

So if the standards McCulloch applies to the Bible were applied to other historical texts, we would have to disregard much of what we claim to know about the ancient world.
McCulloch wrote:Josephus, lived during the time of Nero and wrote a fair bit about him. Certainly, he had good reason to be afraid of Roman authority and undoubtedly tried not to piss them off too much. So, yes, he would have had a bias about Nero. Josephus was born after Jesus was dead. The few words attributed to him which were about Jesus are rejected by most scholars as being a later Christian interpolation. However, at best, they witness not to Jesus' himself, but to the existence and beliefs of a small band of his followers extant in the late first century.
The work that McCulloch is attempting to dispute is the Testimonium Flavianum. In it, Josephus references Jesus performance of "wonderful works." The problem is that any reference to Jesus' divine nature is called into question, whether it be the Bible, Josephus or other early Christian writers so I challenge McCulloch to produce an argument against the authenticity of Testimonium Flavianum based on a concern other than the deification of Jesus. For example, in the Shakespearean Play Macbeth, the scene with the Goddess Hecate is considered interpolation because of literary and historical concerns. Can the same be said about Josephus?
McCulloch wrote:I asked, "How many major references to Jesus are there by historians in his own lifetime?" and the answer comes back that three of the four historians from Nero's lifetime attest to Jesus. Jesus, according to the New Testament, was a major disruptor of the peace and security of his time. He gained the enmity of the Jewish and the Roman authorities. He had huge crowds of followers and admirers. He performed miracles. His death brought about mass resurrections, earthquakes, darkness at midday and ruined at least one curtain. His birth involved foreign powers and massive human rights violations, to say nothing of a very odd star. So, I suppose that it is no great mystery that no contemporary historian noticed him.
In fact, every single one of these events is attested to in great detail by the Gospel writers, the primary biographers of Jesus. If I were to do what McCulloch is doing here, I would request attestation from historians of Nero other than the four primary ones (Josephus, Tacitus, Plutarch and Suetonious).
McCulloch wrote:I might ask WinePusher what evidence there is that supports the notion that Jesus' movement was large in his lifetime and within two decades of his death. Historians call the period before 325, Early Christianity. Most of what is known about Early Christianity is not from before the fall of Jerusalem in 70. I can find references to over 40 established church communities, by the year 100. Historically, the really rapid growth came later.
There is, of course, a book called the Acts of the Apostles that documents the Church prior to AD 70 along with Paul's letters to different Church communities (which are the earliest writings of the Christian Scriptures. Galatians, written ca. 48, is an authentic writing of Paul (says Bart Ehrman of all people) and it indicates that the Christian church had spread all the way towards the region which we now call Turkey. There were also strong persecutions by the Jews in palestine prior to AD70 under Agrippa 1.
McCulloch wrote:I saw a magician perform a card trick the other day. He made a card vanish and then he pulled it out of someone's ear. What are the alternatives to explaining my story.
  1. I could have made it up.
  2. The magician could have fooled me into believing what was not so. A trick.
  3. Or perhaps he really did do as he claimed and there is magic.
In evaluating these three alternatives, explanations 1 and 2 are historically invalid because they assume far to much. The only assumption within explanation 3 is that magic is possible. So, if we approach this with an open mind, then explanation 3 becomes the best choice, in WinePusher's opinion. Personally, I have a bit more skepticism and imagination than that. I find no difficulty understanding that the promoters of a new religion writing in the late first century, might include a whole bunch of miraculous events associated with their early first century messiah. Theirs would not be the first, nor the last, recounting of miracles associated with various religions.
McCulloch has committed a historians fallacy. He's looking at this from the wrong perspective. If we look at this from the perspective of an ancient historian, we would realize that it was not in the interest of the Disciples to lie and fabricate stories about their savior because it subsequently lead to their deaths. When speaking to the resurrection, natural explanations like Hallucination and Apparent Death have historical problems that I will go into more detail in the next round.

Round 1B is concluded. McCulloch is welcome to carry over these discussions into the next round if he wants.

WinePusher

Post #14

Post by WinePusher »

Round 2A: Establish and Verify the Resurrection of Jesus

Evidence and Arguments:

The Authenticity of the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels
The criterion of dissimilarity states that the probability of an alleged event increases if the written content is dissimilar to the authors agenda. As in to say, I would not write down something that harms my credibility unless it actually happened. Within the Gospel narratives, we have two things that meet this criterion: the initial discovery of the tomb by women and the tomb being provided by a member of the Sanhedrin, the council that condemned Jesus to death.

The Empty Tomb
Before we talk about the implications of the empty tomb, let's first establish that the tomb was actually empty cause I've seen some atheists deny this. Evidence that the tomb was empty includes: the impossibility of the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in the region of Judea had the tomb not actually been empty and the presupposition of the empty tomb by Jewish Polemic. The tomb being empty implies that Jesus body was not there, which is consistent with the claim that he rose from the dead.

The Genuine Claim of the Disciples to have seen Jesus risen from the dead
After Jesus' death and burial something sparked a strong conviction in the disciples that lead to their strong evangelism despite persecution by both Jews and Romans. The persecution and marginalization of Christians confirms the genuiness and sincerity of their claim, and apart from the resurrection, it remains a mystery as to why the disciples decided to preach and spread their message in the face of persecution.

The Conversion of Paul to Christianity
First, let's present the facts. It's a fact that Paul was a persecutor of Christians, it's also a fact that Paul later became a strong advocate for Christianity. Paul explains that he converted due to a personal experience with the risen Jesus. Again, apart from the resurrection Pauls conversion to Christianity remains a mystery.

My questions for McCulloch are fairly simple:

1) Explain what happened to the physical body of Jesus
2) Explain the cause of early christianity
3) Explain the cause of the conversion of Paul to Christianity

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Post #15

Post by McCulloch »

I thank WinePusher for his challenge and for his patience.
WinePusher wrote: The Authenticity of the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels
The criterion of dissimilarity states that the probability of an alleged event increases if the written content is dissimilar to the authors agenda. As in to say, I would not write down something that harms my credibility unless it actually happened. Within the Gospel narratives, we have two things that meet this criterion: the initial discovery of the tomb by women and the tomb being provided by a member of the Sanhedrin, the council that condemned Jesus to death.
The Jesus of the Gospels seems to have given an importance to women that was subsequently suppressed by the emerging misogynist Christian movement. That the women found the empty tomb could simply be an artifact of the earlier pattern of the Jesus tradition.

According to historians, Aramathea was almost certainly a fictional place. Accordingly the character of Joseph of Aramathea lacks degree of historic credibility. For such an influential Jewish leader, he seems to have escaped notice by his peers. But assuming that this fellow, did exist, is it plausible that he did provide a tomb for Jesus or that the Romans would have allowed him to bury Jesus?
WinePusher wrote: The Empty Tomb
Before we talk about the implications of the empty tomb, let's first establish that the tomb was actually empty cause I've seen some atheists deny this. Evidence that the tomb was empty includes: the impossibility of the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in the region of Judea had the tomb not actually been empty and the presupposition of the empty tomb by Jewish Polemic. The tomb being empty implies that Jesus body was not there, which is consistent with the claim that he rose from the dead.
What empty tomb? Does anyone know where it is? Is there any discussion of its existence prior to 80 CE, a half century after the event? Explain the empty tomb!

The empty tomb is part of the story, like the world-wide census that directed everyone to his ancestral home, or the dove descending from heaven or the raising of Lazarus. There is no evidence that there ever was an empty tomb, apart from the writings of those trying to promote the Christian cult. Did Paul appeal to the empty tomb? Paul rather non-specifically refers to Christ having been buried, but never to a tomb, specifically never to a tomb occupied solely by Jesus and not to an empty one. Could it be that the tomb part of the story was a late addition?

Romans typically denied burial to victims of crucifixion. It was actually non-burial that made being crucified alive one of the three supreme penalties of Roman punishment. Of course, such a practice was not absolute; independently of Jesus' burial and the New Testament, there are documented exceptions to this practice. The sources from antiquity that document instances of Roman crucifixion victims being buried suggest two scenarios in which a victim of crucifixion might be allowed burial: the approach of a Roman holiday, and a request from a friend of the Roman governor. Thus, the prior probability that Jesus was given a burial of any sort is low.

Furthermore, Rabbinic law specifies that criminals may not be buried in tombs; rather, it instructs Jews to bury criminals in a common grave. The Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. So the prior probability that Jesus was permanently buried alone in a new tomb is even lower still. Given the low prior probability of a buried crucifixion victim, the claim that Jesus was buried alone in a new tomb should be rejected until a convincing argument can be made specifically for Jesus' burial.

Let's look at the story for plausibility. If Joseph's only motivation for burying Jesus were compliance with Jewish law, surely Joseph would have also complied with the Jewish regulation that criminals must be buried in a common grave. Paul provides no details whatsoever about the burial: he says nothing about Joseph of Arimathea, when the burial happened, the nature or location of the burial site, whether anyone guarded it, or what the Jews had to say or do in the matter. The word Paul used for buried in Greek is just as compatible with burial in a tomb as it is with burial in a common grave. If the Jews were motivated to bury Jesus because of Jewish regulations concerning crucified criminals and because of the upcoming Sabbath, it is probable that they would have been just as eager to bury the two criminals crucified alongside him.

There is no evidence that the Jewish authorities even cared to refute Christian claims.
WinePusher wrote: The Genuine Claim of the Disciples to have seen Jesus risen from the dead
After Jesus' death and burial something sparked a strong conviction in the disciples that lead to their strong evangelism despite persecution by both Jews and Romans. The persecution and marginalization of Christians confirms the genuineness and sincerity of their claim, and apart from the resurrection, it remains a mystery as to why the disciples decided to preach and spread their message in the face of persecution.
What persecution? Where is there any evidence of the persecution of the Christians within a decade of Jesus' death? The first documented case of imperially supervised persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire was in 64 AD, and it had nothing to do with their claims to a resurrected Christ. It was a mere scapegoating by Nero. Were the Christians persecuted in the 30's, 40's, or 50's. There is no evidence that they were persecuted, opposed, refuted, oppressed or even noticed by their societies at during those decades.

How effective was the spread of Christianity during the Apostolic period? If we believe the writer of Luke and Acts, Jesus had multitudes of followers and the church immediately after his death, grew in leaps and bounds, spread throughout the known world, gaining followers and generating controversy everywhere it went. If we look at the actual historical evidence, it appears as if by the year 100, there were on the order of 40 Christian communities that were established. Until the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE), Christianity was not fully differentiated as a religion distinct from Judaism.
WinePusher wrote: The Conversion of Paul to Christianity
First, let's present the facts. It's a fact that Paul was a persecutor of Christians, it's also a fact that Paul later became a strong advocate for Christianity. Paul explains that he converted due to a personal experience with the risen Jesus. Again, apart from the resurrection Paul's conversion to Christianity remains a mystery.
That Paul was a persecutor of Christians is only borne out in Paul's own post-conversion writings. Some guy sees a ghost and it scares him into religion, therefore the religion must be true. OK.

Some historians don't see that Paul's conversion to Christianity is the relevant question. What is more relevant is Christianity's conversion to Paul's theology. Before Paul got a hold of it, Christianity was a small radical Jewish messianic movement. After Paul, it was a universal salvation cult, with a Jewish mythic backstory and essentially Greek theology.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

WinePusher

Post #16

Post by WinePusher »

Sorry for the delay McCulloch, thank you, as always, for a great response.
WinePusher wrote:The Authenticity of the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels
The criterion of dissimilarity states that the probability of an alleged event increases if the written content is dissimilar to the authors agenda. As in to say, I would not write down something that harms my credibility unless it actually happened. Within the Gospel narratives, we have two things that meet this criterion: the initial discovery of the tomb by women and the tomb being provided by a member of the Sanhedrin, the council that condemned Jesus to death.
McCulloch wrote:The Jesus of the Gospels seems to have given an importance to women that was subsequently suppressed by the emerging misogynist Christian movement. That the women found the empty tomb could simply be an artifact of the earlier pattern of the Jesus tradition.

According to historians, Aramathea was almost certainly a fictional place. Accordingly the character of Joseph of Aramathea lacks degree of historic credibility. For such an influential Jewish leader, he seems to have escaped notice by his peers. But assuming that this fellow, did exist, is it plausible that he did provide a tomb for Jesus or that the Romans would have allowed him to bury Jesus?
I find the line of debate McCulloch has chosen to take interesting. I will attempt to answer his concerns, however, I will point out that they are all irrelevant. First, Jospeh of Aramathea does not lack historical credibility, his actual existence is very well attested to by the fact that all four Gospels mention him and that the Gospel Writers would never have invented a fictional character that belonged to the group of people that condemned their Lord to death. As for your claim that the subsequent christian movement which followed the death of Jesus being misogynistic, I have to disagree. There is no indication, either in the Pauline or General writings of the New Testament, that the early christians were misogynists. You are repeating a populist fallacy based on a misreading of New Testament verses. Specifically, Paul clearly states in his epistles that there are no distinctions between male or female, jew or gentile, slave or freeman and that men are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.
WinePusher wrote:The Empty Tomb
Before we talk about the implications of the empty tomb, let's first establish that the tomb was actually empty cause I've seen some atheists deny this. Evidence that the tomb was empty includes: the impossibility of the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in the region of Judea had the tomb not actually been empty and the presupposition of the empty tomb by Jewish Polemic. The tomb being empty implies that Jesus body was not there, which is consistent with the claim that he rose from the dead.
McCulloch wrote:What empty tomb? Does anyone know where it is? Is there any discussion of its existence prior to 80 CE, a half century after the event? Explain the empty tomb!
The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is a historical fact even liberal scholars like Robert Funk accept. Are you going to claim here and now, that Jesus' body was not taken down from the cross and not put in a tomb?
McCulloch wrote:The empty tomb is part of the story, like the world-wide census that directed everyone to his ancestral home, or the dove descending from heaven or the raising of Lazarus. There is no evidence that there ever was an empty tomb, apart from the writings of those trying to promote the Christian cult. Did Paul appeal to the empty tomb? Paul rather non-specifically refers to Christ having been buried, but never to a tomb, specifically never to a tomb occupied solely by Jesus and not to an empty one. Could it be that the tomb part of the story was a late addition?
You say all this in absense of any response or recognition of the two pieces of evidence I offered. Had there been no tomb and had the tomb not been empty it would have been impossible for the early christian church to come into existence. In simplified terms, if the Christians were claiming that Jesus rose from the dead, which they did, and the tomb was not empty than the body of Jesus could have easily been produced for all to see and the claim of the disciples would be proven false. Also, Jewish polemic against early Christians emphasized the stolen-body hypothesis, that the disciples stole the body. This automatically assumes that the body of Jesus Christ was absent from the tomb.
McCulloch wrote:Romans typically denied burial to victims of crucifixion. It was actually non-burial that made being crucified alive one of the three supreme penalties of Roman punishment. Of course, such a practice was not absolute; independently of Jesus' burial and the New Testament, there are documented exceptions to this practice. The sources from antiquity that document instances of Roman crucifixion victims being buried suggest two scenarios in which a victim of crucifixion might be allowed burial: the approach of a Roman holiday, and a request from a friend of the Roman governor. Thus, the prior probability that Jesus was given a burial of any sort is low. Furthermore, Rabbinic law specifies that criminals may not be buried in tombs; rather, it instructs Jews to bury criminals in a common grave. The Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. So the prior probability that Jesus was permanently buried alone in a new tomb is even lower still. Given the low prior probability of a buried crucifixion victim, the claim that Jesus was buried alone in a new tomb should be rejected until a convincing argument can be made specifically for Jesus' burial.


Yes, all this is true and you did a good job putting up this argument, but the refutation to this lies in an exception. As you stated, none of this was not absolute. The Sanhedrin was that sentenced Jesus to death, Pilate was the person who sentenced Jesus to death by Crucifixion. It is very clear that Pilate held sympathy towards Jesus and was reluctant to have him killed. Being of Roman affiliation, and having an attitude of sympathy towards Jesus (demonstrated in the Gospels and his own confessions in his report to the Roman Emperor Claudius) it is reasonable to believe he would have allowed Jesus to be buried at the request of a noble Jewish figure.
McCulloch wrote:Let's look at the story for plausibility. If Joseph's only motivation for burying Jesus were compliance with Jewish law, surely Joseph would have also complied with the Jewish regulation that criminals must be buried in a common grave.
Yet this was not Jospeh's only motivation. His movtivation is clearly stated, that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ.
McCulloch wrote:There is no evidence that the Jewish authorities even cared to refute Christian claims.
Are you making these contentions in the absense of what the New Testament has to say? Matthew 27: 62-64 states otherwise.
WinePusher wrote:The Genuine Claim of the Disciples to have seen Jesus risen from the dead
After Jesus' death and burial something sparked a strong conviction in the disciples that lead to their strong evangelism despite persecution by both Jews and Romans. The persecution and marginalization of Christians confirms the genuineness and sincerity of their claim, and apart from the resurrection, it remains a mystery as to why the disciples decided to preach and spread their message in the face of persecution.
McCulloch wrote:What persecution? Where is there any evidence of the persecution of the Christians within a decade of Jesus' death? The first documented case of imperially supervised persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire was in 64 AD, and it had nothing to do with their claims to a resurrected Christ. It was a mere scapegoating by Nero. Were the Christians persecuted in the 30's, 40's, or 50's. There is no evidence that they were persecuted, opposed, refuted, oppressed or even noticed by their societies at during those decades.
In my last post, I pointed out that there were persecutions within a decade of Jesus' death under the King Agrippa 1.

How effective was the spread of Christianity during the Apostolic period? If we believe the writer of Luke and Acts, Jesus had multitudes of followers and the church immediately after his death, grew in leaps and bounds, spread throughout the known world, gaining followers and generating controversy everywhere it went. If we look at the actual historical evidence, it appears as if by the year 100, there were on the order of 40 Christian communities that were established. Until the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE), Christianity was not fully differentiated as a religion distinct from Judaism.
WinePusher wrote: The Conversion of Paul to Christianity
First, let's present the facts. It's a fact that Paul was a persecutor of Christians, it's also a fact that Paul later became a strong advocate for Christianity. Paul explains that he converted due to a personal experience with the risen Jesus. Again, apart from the resurrection Paul's conversion to Christianity remains a mystery.
That Paul was a persecutor of Christians is only borne out in Paul's own post-conversion writings. Some guy sees a ghost and it scares him into religion, therefore the religion must be true. OK.

Some historians don't see that Paul's conversion to Christianity is the relevant question. What is more relevant is Christianity's conversion to Paul's theology. Before Paul got a hold of it, Christianity was a small radical Jewish messianic movement. After Paul, it was a universal salvation cult, with a Jewish mythic backstory and essentially Greek theology.[/quote]

WinePusher

Post #17

Post by WinePusher »

Round 2A, Post 3.

Sorry for the delay McCulloch, thank you, as always, for a great response.
WinePusher wrote:The Authenticity of the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels
The criterion of dissimilarity states that the probability of an alleged event increases if the written content is dissimilar to the authors agenda. As in to say, I would not write down something that harms my credibility unless it actually happened. Within the Gospel narratives, we have two things that meet this criterion: the initial discovery of the tomb by women and the tomb being provided by a member of the Sanhedrin, the council that condemned Jesus to death.
McCulloch wrote:The Jesus of the Gospels seems to have given an importance to women that was subsequently suppressed by the emerging misogynist Christian movement. That the women found the empty tomb could simply be an artifact of the earlier pattern of the Jesus tradition.

According to historians, Aramathea was almost certainly a fictional place. Accordingly the character of Joseph of Aramathea lacks degree of historic credibility. For such an influential Jewish leader, he seems to have escaped notice by his peers. But assuming that this fellow, did exist, is it plausible that he did provide a tomb for Jesus or that the Romans would have allowed him to bury Jesus?
I find the line of debate McCulloch has chosen to take interesting. I will attempt to answer his concerns, however, I will point out that they are all irrelevant. First, Jospeh of Aramathea does not lack historical credibility, his actual existence is very well attested to by the fact that all four Gospels mention him and that the Gospel Writers would never have invented a fictional character that belonged to the group of people that condemned their Lord to death. As for your claim that the subsequent christian movement which followed the death of Jesus being misogynistic, I have to disagree. There is no indication, either in the Pauline or General writings of the New Testament, that the early christians were misogynists. You are repeating a populist fallacy based on a misreading of New Testament verses. Specifically, Paul clearly states in his epistles that there are no distinctions between male or female, jew or gentile, slave or freeman and that men are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.
WinePusher wrote:The Empty Tomb
Before we talk about the implications of the empty tomb, let's first establish that the tomb was actually empty cause I've seen some atheists deny this. Evidence that the tomb was empty includes: the impossibility of the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in the region of Judea had the tomb not actually been empty and the presupposition of the empty tomb by Jewish Polemic. The tomb being empty implies that Jesus body was not there, which is consistent with the claim that he rose from the dead.
McCulloch wrote:What empty tomb? Does anyone know where it is? Is there any discussion of its existence prior to 80 CE, a half century after the event? Explain the empty tomb!
The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is a historical fact even liberal scholars like Robert Funk accept. Are you going to claim here and now, that Jesus' body was not taken down from the cross and not put in a tomb?
McCulloch wrote:The empty tomb is part of the story, like the world-wide census that directed everyone to his ancestral home, or the dove descending from heaven or the raising of Lazarus. There is no evidence that there ever was an empty tomb, apart from the writings of those trying to promote the Christian cult. Did Paul appeal to the empty tomb? Paul rather non-specifically refers to Christ having been buried, but never to a tomb, specifically never to a tomb occupied solely by Jesus and not to an empty one. Could it be that the tomb part of the story was a late addition?
You say all this in absense of any response or recognition of the two pieces of evidence I offered. Had there been no tomb and had the tomb not been empty it would have been impossible for the early christian church to come into existence. In simplified terms, if the Christians were claiming that Jesus rose from the dead, which they did, and the tomb was not empty than the body of Jesus could have easily been produced for all to see and the claim of the disciples would be proven false. Also, Jewish polemic against early Christians emphasized the stolen-body hypothesis, that the disciples stole the body. This automatically assumes that the body of Jesus Christ was absent from the tomb.
McCulloch wrote:Romans typically denied burial to victims of crucifixion. It was actually non-burial that made being crucified alive one of the three supreme penalties of Roman punishment. Of course, such a practice was not absolute; independently of Jesus' burial and the New Testament, there are documented exceptions to this practice. The sources from antiquity that document instances of Roman crucifixion victims being buried suggest two scenarios in which a victim of crucifixion might be allowed burial: the approach of a Roman holiday, and a request from a friend of the Roman governor. Thus, the prior probability that Jesus was given a burial of any sort is low. Furthermore, Rabbinic law specifies that criminals may not be buried in tombs; rather, it instructs Jews to bury criminals in a common grave. The Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. So the prior probability that Jesus was permanently buried alone in a new tomb is even lower still. Given the low prior probability of a buried crucifixion victim, the claim that Jesus was buried alone in a new tomb should be rejected until a convincing argument can be made specifically for Jesus' burial.


Yes, all this is true and you did a good job putting up this argument, but the refutation to this lies in an exception. As you stated, none of this was not absolute. The Sanhedrin was that sentenced Jesus to death, Pilate was the person who sentenced Jesus to death by Crucifixion. It is very clear that Pilate held sympathy towards Jesus and was reluctant to have him killed. Being of Roman affiliation, and having an attitude of sympathy towards Jesus (demonstrated in the Gospels and his own confessions in his report to the Roman Emperor Claudius) it is reasonable to believe he would have allowed Jesus to be buried at the request of a noble Jewish figure.
McCulloch wrote:Let's look at the story for plausibility. If Joseph's only motivation for burying Jesus were compliance with Jewish law, surely Joseph would have also complied with the Jewish regulation that criminals must be buried in a common grave.
Yet this was not Jospeh's only motivation. His movtivation is clearly stated, that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ.
McCulloch wrote:There is no evidence that the Jewish authorities even cared to refute Christian claims.
Are you making these contentions in the absense of what the New Testament has to say? Matthew 27: 62-64 states otherwise.
WinePusher wrote:The Genuine Claim of the Disciples to have seen Jesus risen from the dead
After Jesus' death and burial something sparked a strong conviction in the disciples that lead to their strong evangelism despite persecution by both Jews and Romans. The persecution and marginalization of Christians confirms the genuineness and sincerity of their claim, and apart from the resurrection, it remains a mystery as to why the disciples decided to preach and spread their message in the face of persecution.
McCulloch wrote:What persecution? Where is there any evidence of the persecution of the Christians within a decade of Jesus' death? The first documented case of imperially supervised persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire was in 64 AD, and it had nothing to do with their claims to a resurrected Christ. It was a mere scapegoating by Nero. Were the Christians persecuted in the 30's, 40's, or 50's. There is no evidence that they were persecuted, opposed, refuted, oppressed or even noticed by their societies at during those decades.
In my last post, I pointed out that there were persecutions within a decade of Jesus' death under the King, Agrippa 1.
McCulloch wrote:How effective was the spread of Christianity during the Apostolic period? If we believe the writer of Luke and Acts, Jesus had multitudes of followers and the church immediately after his death, grew in leaps and bounds, spread throughout the known world, gaining followers and generating controversy everywhere it went. If we look at the actual historical evidence, it appears as if by the year 100, there were on the order of 40 Christian communities that were established. Until the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE), Christianity was not fully differentiated as a religion distinct from Judaism.
First, the spread of Christianity was widespread as indicated by Paul's letters. I realize you, being an atheist, probably don't believe Paul wrote any or most of these letters. However, there are seven letters in total that all scholars believe are genuine examples of Pauline writings:

First Thessalonians
First and Second Corinthians
Romans
Phillipians
Galatians
Philemon

These all were written within two decades of Jesus death, and the locations mentioned (besides Philemon) show that the Church had spread upward into Asia Minor and west into Rome and Macedonia. So, in conclusion, within a short period of Jesus death the early church had grown extensively throughout what was much of the known world at that time.
WinePusher wrote:The Conversion of Paul to Christianity
First, let's present the facts. It's a fact that Paul was a persecutor of Christians, it's also a fact that Paul later became a strong advocate for Christianity. Paul explains that he converted due to a personal experience with the risen Jesus. Again, apart from the resurrection Paul's conversion to Christianity remains a mystery.
McCulloch wrote:That Paul was a persecutor of Christians is only borne out in Paul's own post-conversion writings. Some guy sees a ghost and it scares him into religion, therefore the religion must be true. OK.
So you do not believe Paul was a persecutor of Christians? My argument is what caused Paul to convert to a religion he so vehemently despised. You have provided no alternative to the explanation I have presented.
McCulloch wrote:Some historians don't see that Paul's conversion to Christianity is the relevant question. What is more relevant is Christianity's conversion to Paul's theology. Before Paul got a hold of it, Christianity was a small radical Jewish messianic movement. After Paul, it was a universal salvation cult, with a Jewish mythic backstory and essentially Greek theology.
Christianity is firmly based in what Jesus taught and did, what Paul did was universalize this message to a larger audience known as Gentiles. Paul simply reiterated the message of Jesus and Paul's theology does not conflict with the message of Jesus in any way, shape or form.

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Post #18

Post by McCulloch »

Round 2A, Post 4
WinePusher wrote: First, Jospeh of Aramathea does not lack historical credibility, his actual existence is very well attested to by the fact that all four Gospels mention him and that the Gospel Writers would never have invented a fictional character that belonged to the group of people that condemned their Lord to death.
This I think highlights the difference of opinion between WinePusher and myself. He accepts the four Gospels as historically reliable documents. I see them as documents written with the express purpose of promoting a new religion in the later part of the first century. WinePusher asserts without support that the invention of a fictional character by the gospel writers belonging to an antagonistic religious group would never have been done. Why not? It certainly would have served the purpose of the narrative. It provides a credible way of getting the corpse into a grave while faced with the Roman authorities.
WinePusher wrote: There is no indication, either in the Pauline or General writings of the New Testament, that the early christians were misogynists. You are repeating a populist fallacy based on a misreading of New Testament verses. Specifically, Paul clearly states in his epistles that there are no distinctions between male or female, jew or gentile, slave or freeman and that men are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.
Paul also clearly states that, "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman." Did I misread that?
WinePusher wrote: Had there been no tomb and had the tomb not been empty it would have been impossible for the early christian church to come into existence. In simplified terms, if the Christians were claiming that Jesus rose from the dead, which they did, and the tomb was not empty than the body of Jesus could have easily been produced for all to see and the claim of the disciples would be proven false.
Oh really? How the heck were those who were going to refute the early Christians supposed to produce the body, even one decade after his death? If he died as a criminal against the Roman Empire, his body would have been dumped in an unmarked grave. Even after a few weeks, such a body would be unidentifiable. The lack of a body back then would have been as much non-evidence as it is now. Why not challenge me to produce the body?
WinePusher wrote: Also, Jewish polemic against early Christians emphasized the stolen-body hypothesis, that the disciples stole the body. This automatically assumes that the body of Jesus Christ was absent from the tomb.
Which Jewish polemic? Did you mean the somewhat self-serving one recorded in Matthew 28:11-15 or is there any evidence from Jewish sources of this polemic? If I follow this argument correctly it seems to be
  1. The gospel writers claim that the Jewish authorities argued for the stolen body hypothesis.
  2. Therefore, the body must have been in the tomb.
McCulloch wrote:Romans typically denied burial to victims of crucifixion. It was actually non-burial that made being crucified alive one of the three supreme penalties of Roman punishment. Of course, such a practice was not absolute; independently of Jesus' burial and the New Testament, there are documented exceptions to this practice. The sources from antiquity that document instances of Roman crucifixion victims being buried suggest two scenarios in which a victim of crucifixion might be allowed burial: the approach of a Roman holiday, and a request from a friend of the Roman governor. Thus, the prior probability that Jesus was given a burial of any sort is low. Furthermore, Rabbinic law specifies that criminals may not be buried in tombs; rather, it instructs Jews to bury criminals in a common grave. The Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. So the prior probability that Jesus was permanently buried alone in a new tomb is even lower still. Given the low prior probability of a buried crucifixion victim, the claim that Jesus was buried alone in a new tomb should be rejected until a convincing argument can be made specifically for Jesus' burial.
WinePusher wrote: Yes, all this is true and you did a good job putting up this argument, but the refutation to this lies in an exception. As you stated, none of this was not absolute. The Sanhedrin was that sentenced Jesus to death, Pilate was the person who sentenced Jesus to death by Crucifixion. It is very clear that Pilate held sympathy towards Jesus and was reluctant to have him killed. Being of Roman affiliation, and having an attitude of sympathy towards Jesus (demonstrated in the Gospels and his own confessions in his report to the Roman Emperor Claudius) it is reasonable to believe he would have allowed Jesus to be buried at the request of a noble Jewish figure.
What is clear is that the writers of the Gospels wanted to shift the blame for Jesus' death from the Roman authorities onto the Jewish people. Whether Pilate was sympathetic towards Jesus cannot be determined with any level of certainty, given that the sources for this assertion come only from one, somewhat biased, source. The Jewish writers Philo and Josephus describe some of the other events and incidents that took place during Pilate's tenure. Both report that Pilate repeatedly caused near-insurrections among the Jews because of his insensitivity to Jewish customs. But neither hint at his alleged sympathy towards this allegedly popular and influential messianic claimant.
McCulloch wrote: Let's look at the story for plausibility. If Joseph's only motivation for burying Jesus were compliance with Jewish law, surely Joseph would have also complied with the Jewish regulation that criminals must be buried in a common grave.
WinePusher wrote: Yet this was not Joseph's only motivation. His motivation is clearly stated, that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Yes, a high profile Jewish leader, albeit entirely unknown to all Jewish records of the time, who became a disciple of Jesus during Jesus' life and then completely and entirely vanishes from the story as the church grows in leaps and bounds after the resurrection.
McCulloch wrote: There is no evidence that the Jewish authorities even cared to refute Christian claims.
WinePusher wrote: Are you making these contentions in the absence of what the New Testament has to say? Matthew 27: 62-64 states otherwise.
Yes. In assessing any writing ancient or modern, one has to assess whether the writer might have a bias. The gospel writers may just have wanted to exaggerate the importance and impact that their Messiah had on their society. The claim that the Jewish authorities cared to refute the Christian claims would have a whole lot more validity if there were some Jewish, Roman or Greek source validating it.
WinePusher wrote:The Genuine Claim of the Disciples to have seen Jesus risen from the dead
After Jesus' death and burial something sparked a strong conviction in the disciples that lead to their strong evangelism despite persecution by both Jews and Romans. The persecution and marginalization of Christians confirms the genuineness and sincerity of their claim, and apart from the resurrection, it remains a mystery as to why the disciples decided to preach and spread their message in the face of persecution.
McCulloch wrote:What persecution? Where is there any evidence of the persecution of the Christians within a decade of Jesus' death? The first documented case of imperially supervised persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire was in 64 AD, and it had nothing to do with their claims to a resurrected Christ. It was a mere scapegoating by Nero. Were the Christians persecuted in the 30's, 40's, or 50's. There is no evidence that they were persecuted, opposed, refuted, oppressed or even noticed by their societies at during those decades.
WinePusher wrote:In my last post, I pointed out that there were persecutions within a decade of Jesus' death under the King, Agrippa 1.
Any evidence of significant persecutions of Christianity prior to 70, like the evidence of phenomenal growth of Christianity prior to 70, is only attested to by Christian sources. And mighty few of them. The claim that this movement, coming from virtually nothing, swept the known world in its first few decades, provoked mass persecutions, yet escaped the notice of every contemporary chronicler stretches credibility.
McCulloch wrote: How effective was the spread of Christianity during the Apostolic period? If we believe the writer of Luke and Acts, Jesus had multitudes of followers and the church immediately after his death, grew in leaps and bounds, spread throughout the known world, gaining followers and generating controversy everywhere it went. If we look at the actual historical evidence, it appears as if by the year 100, there were on the order of 40 Christian communities that were established. Until the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE), Christianity was not fully differentiated as a religion distinct from Judaism.
The above repeated since the claims really have not been yet addressed.
WinePusher wrote: First, the spread of Christianity was widespread as indicated by Paul's letters. I realize you, being an atheist, probably don't believe Paul wrote any or most of these letters.

Atheism has nothing to do with belief in the Pauline authorship of the epistles. Nor is it relevant to this debate. How about for simplicity that I concede for purposes of this debate that Paul wrote all of the seven listed epistles?
WinePusher wrote: However, there are seven letters in total [...] the locations mentioned (besides Philemon) show that the Church had spread upward into Asia Minor and west into Rome and Macedonia. So, in conclusion, within a short period of Jesus death the early church had grown extensively throughout what was much of the known world at that time.
So by the late 50s, there were a dozen or so Christian communities spread in various pockets outside of Palestine that Paul could have written to. I'll accept that. So where is the evidence of extensive growth throughout what was much of the known world at the time.

Image'
The dark blue areas show the spread of Christianity by the year 325, not 100. Even by the end of the first century, there was a lot of the known world where Christianity had not spread. Presumably, the areas with established Christian communities was even smaller in 100. And even smaller in 50. In fact, those who study what is called early Christianity encompass the first three centuries. In fact, the evidence of the growth of Christianity in its first 50 years is embarrassingly lacking.

WinePusher wrote:The Conversion of Paul to Christianity
First, let's present the facts. It's a fact that Paul was a persecutor of Christians, it's also a fact that Paul later became a strong advocate for Christianity. Paul explains that he converted due to a personal experience with the risen Jesus. Again, apart from the resurrection Paul's conversion to Christianity remains a mystery.
McCulloch wrote: That Paul was a persecutor of Christians is only borne out in Paul's own post-conversion writings. Some guy sees a ghost and it scares him into religion, therefore the religion must be true. OK.
WinePusher wrote: So you do not believe Paul was a persecutor of Christians? My argument is what caused Paul to convert to a religion he so vehemently despised. You have provided no alternative to the explanation I have presented.
We have none of his pre-conversion writings or any evidence except his own say-so, that Paul persecuted the Christians. Maybe he did maybe he didn't. Paul successfully changed a Messianic Jewish movement into a universal Hellenized religion that would later prove useful to the Romans.

McCulloch wrote: Some historians don't see that Paul's conversion to Christianity is the relevant question. What is more relevant is Christianity's conversion to Paul's theology. Before Paul got a hold of it, Christianity was a small radical Jewish messianic movement. After Paul, it was a universal salvation cult, with a Jewish mythic backstory and essentially Greek theology.
WinePusher wrote: Christianity is firmly based in what Jesus taught and did, what Paul did was universalize this message to a larger audience known as Gentiles. Paul simply reiterated the message of Jesus and Paul's theology does not conflict with the message of Jesus in any way, shape or form.
If this were true, then if you were to imagine what Christianity without the theological contributions of Paul would not be significantly different from what eventually transpired. Few scholars minimize Paul's influence.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

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