Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

James Crossley compares Joseph Atwill’s Jesus conspiracy theory to Dan Brown fiction

J. Warner Wallace tweeted this article from the UK Daily Mail featuring comments by atheist historian James Crossley. The article responds to a sensational story that came out in the past week about an alleged conspiracy by ancient Romans to “invent” Jesus. Naturally, this was reported far and wide in the press. But this article by Dr. Crossley offers a more sober assessment.

Here’s the introduction:

An American scholar claims to have made a controversial discovery that proves the entire story of Jesus was made up by Roman aristocrats.

Joseph Atwill asserts that Christianity did not start as a religion, but was instead created as a sophisticated propaganda tool to pacify subjects of the Roman Empire.

He says he noticed a pattern forming when he was studying the only surviving account of first-century Judea, which he claims contains dozens of parallels between the life of a Roman emperor and that of Jesus in the New Testament.

Mr Atwill argues that these ancient ‘confessions’ provide ‘clear evidence’ that the biography of Jesus is ‘actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar’.

The theory itself seems to be based on finding parallels between the New Testament sources and other ancient sources:

[Atwill] says he stumbled upon his discovery while studying War of the Jews by Josephus – the only remain first-person account of first-century Judea – alongside the New Testament.

He said: ‘I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts.

‘Although it’s been recognised by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more.

‘What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus.’

[...]Atwill maintains he can demonstrate that ‘the Roman Caesars left us a kind of puzzle literature that was meant to be solved by future generations, and that the solution to that puzzle is “We invented Jesus Christ and we’re proud of it”.’

I’m not very optimistic about these Jesus-parallels approaches to history, but maybe there is something to it this time.

But Dr. Crossley doesn’t think that there is:

But bible academic Professor James Crossley, from the University of Sheffield, compared Mr Atwill’s theory to a Dan Brown fiction book.

He told Mail Online: ‘These types of theories are very common outside the academic world and are usually reserved for sensationalist literature.

‘They are virtually non-existent in the academic world.’

He also suggested the theories are not taken seriously by experts.

Mr Crossley said: ‘People do debate about how much we can know about Jesus, but the idea that Romans invented stories about Jesus is outside of the academic world.’

He added that this sort of theory can be ‘irritating’ to religion academics.

Dr. Crossley has debated against evangelical scholars, in particular Dr. Michael Bird and Dr. William Lane Craig. Although he is on the other side, he is aware of the reasons why people believe in a more traditional picture of the historical Jesus.  It’s good to see experts on the other side weighing in on these sensational stories.

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Why did the mainstream media ignore Jared Loughner’s Zeitgeist obsession?

First, a bit more about Loughner from the Arizona Republic. (H/T Robert Stacy McCain)

Excerpt:

At the end of Loughner’s junior year, in May 2006, the school nurse had him taken to the emergency room. “Extremely intoxicated,” the sheriff’s report would later say. It was 9 in the morning.

Loughner told a deputy that he stole a bottle of vodka from his parents because his father had yelled at him.

Loughner was changing. Drugs and alcohol blurred some days, but what friends remember most are the things he thought. Theories, ideas, strange questions.

In Loughner’s latter two years of high school, friend George Osler saw him drinking and smoking marijuana more and more.

He would go off on these tangents and then he would stop talking altogether,” Osler said. “He struck me as odd. It was an uncomfortable feeling.”

Loughner began fixating on a documentary: “Zeitgeist: The Movie.”

The movie is a bramble of conspiracy theories involving Sept. 11, the international monetary system, and Christianity.

“There are people guiding your life and you don’t even know it,” the trailer for the movie intones.

“He wanted to watch it all the time,” Osler said. “It was cool at first. But then it got weird. It was all he wanted to do.”

Loughner developed a seeming obsession with currency, grammar and literacy rates. They were becoming the objects of his rants and screeds. Those around him didn’t understand.

By the way, Mary wanted me to mention this refutation of Zeitgeist by New Zealand philosopher Glenn Peoples.

Robert McCain is happy about this new mainstream media coverage of the story he broke, but not happy with the rest of the mainstream media that is still silent.

He writes:

As of noon Sunday, there were 39 search results on Google News for “Loughner+Zeitgeist.” Most of those were passing mentions. Meanwhile, a Google News search for “Loughner+Palin” returned 10,395 results. There were 595 results for “Loughner+Limbaugh.”

By comparison, so far as I have been able to determine, by Sunday noon there had been exactly five substantial articles devoted specifically to the Loughner-Zeitgeist connection:

Thursday, the Washington Post published a 2,700-word profile of Jared Lee Loughner, and today the New York Times published a 5,000-word profile of the Tucson killer.

Neither story so much as mentioned Zeigeist.

Can you count on the Washington Post and New York Times to tell you the truth about the world? Or rather, will they tell you what they want you to think about the world so that you will vote “the right way” – for left-wing politicians?

Certainly there could be that element of wanting to make people vote for Democrats and wanting to demonize Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. But I think another reason why they didn’t report on it is because they don’t disagree with the ideas presented in the movie. They may be sympathetic that Christianity is a myth, that 9/11 is some sort of conspiracy to make poor, innocent Islamic theocrats look bad, and that global communism really would be much better than free market capitalism. Jared’s beliefs are the mainstream media’s beliefs. So why would they associate murder with their own beliefs?

And moreover, the mainstream media doesn’t DO detailed historical investigations of Christianity, so they would be more likely to fall for “Christianity is a myth” viewpoints. Even on the right-wing, you have ignorant journalists reducing Christianity to faith, who have never heard of William Lane Craig, the kalam argument, the fine-tuning argument, or specified complexity. All of these complicated arguments for theism are just beyond them – they only want to believe things that will make the right kinds of people like them, and provide them with maximum autonomy in their own lives. Their support for things like abortion and same-sex marriage isn’t something that they have carefully weighed by listening to academic debates… they take their position because they want to behave selfishly and do not want to be told about boundaries or consequences. And they embrace left-wing economic policies because it gives them the feeling of being enlightened, compassionate and generous… with other people’s money. They love the idea that people can act selfishly and stupidly and yet be rescued with someone else’s money.

So don’t expect the mainstream media to tell the truth about stories like this. They are Democrats, and they will never undermine the central pillars of the Democrat party, which are largely in agreement with the Zeitgeist movie. Those pillars are, of course, that Christianity is a myth, that Christian positions on social issues are therefore false, that American military action is necessarily imperialistic and evil, and that socialism would be much better at creating prosperity for the masses than free market capitalism. Most event reporting is going to be massaged so that it fits that narrative, to some degree or other. Not sports stories, but certainly sensational stories like this one.

Is the media biased to the left?

Here’s a UCLA study on media bias.

Excerpt:

Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS’ “Evening News,” The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

The most centrist outlet proved to be the “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.” CNN’s “NewsNight With Aaron Brown” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” were a close second and third.

[...]The fourth most centrist outlet was “Special Report With Brit Hume” on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. While this news program proved to be right of center, the study found ABC’s “World News Tonight” and NBC’s “Nightly News” to be left of center. All three outlets were approximately equidistant from the center, the report found.

From the Washington Examiner.

Excerpt:

Senior executives, on-air personalities, producers, reporters, editors, writers and other self-identifying employees of ABC, CBS and NBC contributed more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and campaign committees in 2008, according to an analysis by The Examiner of data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Democratic total of $1,020,816 was given by 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks, with an average contribution of $880.

By contrast, only 193 of the employees contributed to Republican candidates and campaign committees, for a total of $142,863. The average Republican contribution was $744.

Don’t count on them to tell you the truth… that’s not their job.

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