Posts Tagged ‘Herod’

The Historical Accuracy of the New Testament: A Reply to Atomic Mutant

July 10, 2013

I had this comment from an atheist blogger, Atomic Mutant:

‘It’s pretty hard to someone in Israel getting the layout of Jerusalem wrong, but that doesn’t mean, that the events described have really happened. The four gospels are NOT independent accounts, please do some research about how they are based on Mark and the Q source. And of course, the people then did NOT often live to become 50, 60 or older, so no, most eye witnesses were long dead when even the first gospel was written. And it’s stil just a text by a religious fanatic, nothing more. The fact that noone else seems to have noticed these important events (and details like the murdering of thousands of children) sheds more than a little doubt on this story…’

Let’s deal with criticisms, point by point.

Point 1:
The four gospels are NOT independent accounts, please do some research about how they are based on Mark and the Q source.

Actually, I’m well aware of the issues surrounding ‘Q’ and the supposed primacy of Mark’s Gospel. In fact, the issue of ‘Q’ has been debated since it was first suggested way back in the 18th century. Despite this and the loud noises made by the Jesus Seminar, the Q document has never been found. Some of the people I’ve spoken to have suggested that it may never have physically existed, but been a piece of oral tradition. As for Mark, it’s believed to be based on the preaching of St. Peter. In the Patristic period, however, it was regarded as a condensed version of Matthew, and there are still some scholars, who defend Matthew as the first Gospel. N.T. Wright, the former Anglican Bishop of Durham and New Testament scholar, deals with these issues and that of form criticism in general in his book, The New Testament and the People of God. So yes, I have done my research.

As for the Evangelists drawing on ‘Q’ or ‘Mark’ invalidating the statement that they are independent Gospel accounts, each Gospel writer deals with the material in a slightly different way to produce four slightly different, but complementary, views of the Lord’s life and ministry. There was an article I believe in one of the Biblical studies journals that took the line that the form of Gospels suggests that they are indeed memorates, people’s memories committed to writing.

Now let’s deal with point 2:

And of course, the people then did NOT often live to become 50, 60 or older, so no, most eye witnesses were long dead when even the first gospel was written.

This is simply wrong. The average life expectancy was low – perhaps about 30. It certainly does not mean that nobody lived well-beyond that age. People certainly could life to 70 or more. If you want an example from the Middle Ages, there’s William the Marshal. Most people in the Middle Ages also had short lives. The average was possibly 30, though in the later Middle Ages it could rise to about 40 or so. Nevertheless, William the Marshal fought off a French attack on Lincoln in the early thirteenth century when he was in his 70s. It also does not mean that the Gospel writers did not take their accounts directly from the eyewitnesses. John’s Gospel opens with the statement that it was taken from the disciple, who stood at the foot of the Cross. So that falls as well.

Point 3:

And it’s stil just a text by a religious fanatic, nothing more.

This is a bit of temporal chauvinism, nothing more. It assumes that because he describes religious event, he must automatically be wrong. Most people in the Graeco-Roman world lived in a conceptual world filled with the supernatural. You can find omens and other supernatural events in pagan Graeco-Roman histories, such as Josephus. The idea that the Greeks were all highly rational, sceptics has long ago been attacked. See for example the book, The Greeks and the Irrational. You’ve just taken the assumptions of our own time, and decided that because the Gospels don’t fit contemporary received opinion about how the Cosmos works, they must be wrong.

Point 4:

The fact that noone else seems to have noticed these important events (and details like the murdering of thousands of children) sheds more than a little doubt on this story…’

There’s little historical material surviving from ancient Palestine, full stop. Just about the only source we had for a very long time, outside of the Bible and Talmud, is Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. And many Romans or Greeks simply wouldn’t have been interested in what a wandering Jewish rabbi taught or was believed about Him. As for Herod killing thousands, nowhere in the Bible does it state how many he killed in Bathlehem. It needn’t have been very large. Most villages in the ancient world had populations of about 200. In such a number, how many would actually have been small boys? Probably very few. Now Josephus states that Herod was autocratic, murderous and cruel. He had three of his sons executed. He also states that the old tyrant committed many more atrocities, which he does not describe. Then you have to take into account the class biases of ancient historiography. Ancient and medieval histories concentrated on the actions of great princes, statesmen and members of the ruling classes. By and large they were not interested in what happened to the lower orders. Josephus may well have not written about the Massacre of the innocents, simply because that, as they were members of the peasant and artisan classes, they simply didn’t matter as much as what he did to his family.

So, I really don’t see these criticism as being valid.

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