The reliability of the Gospels and the Brett Kavanaugh allegations


#1

Years ago I had ongoing communication with an atheist who was an extreme skeptic in regards to the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. He was one of these atheists that went as far as to doubt the very existence of Jesus (not just the miracles or divinity ascribed to him). He was well familiar with standard apologetic arguments and did not find them persuasive. This would include, among many other examples, Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus . Lee Strobel was an atheist- turned-Christian, due to his quest, despite it being originally motivated by his intention to debunk Christianity/show that it was based on a myth.

In one of the many back and forths that me and my atheist acquaintance had, he said the following:

“Look at the jesus stories evidence now.
Zero archaeology of jesus or anyone else close in the story except for pilate and thats up for debate if its jesus’s pilate.
No originals of the bible.
Authors unknown.
Zero contemporary corroborating documents to back up the gospels.”

I was so frustrated at him that I decided to contact multiple professors (and I mean LOTS) in relevant fields from different universities concerning the objections that he had raised. I literally went onto college and university websites, to the faculty pages, looking through history and religious studies departments, in search of anyone who’s listed area of specialization or competence sounded relevant to the questions about the “historical Jesus”.

Fields such as New Testament studies, Greco-Roman history, early Church history, biblical manuscripts/textual criticism, etc. While I did not exclude Christian professors, I made it a point to primarily seek after secular/non-religious professors via secular schools because I figured that the atheist I was debating would be more open to them than to those who have an ‘apologetic axe to grind’.

Here is a small sampling of excerpts (quoted verbatim) from some of the responses of different scholars to the skeptical statements found above.

  • “It is correct that there is no archaeological evidence for Jesus himself or most of the people close to him in the story. But you could say the same for Socrates or Moses or any number of other figures from the ancient world. And some of them might indeed have never existed. That doesn’t mean much as a historical argument by itself.”

  • “Of course there is no ‘archaeological’ evidence. He was not an elite person and so left behind no inscription (Pilate was an equestrian and a Roman; jesus was essentially a nobody in social and economic terms.). 99.9% of the population of Galilee left behind no ‘archaeological’ remains.”

  • “The historicity of the Pilate inscription, found in Caesarea Maritima [Caesarea ‘By the Sea’], in present day Israel, is not doubted”

  • “Pilate was governor of Judea at the time of Jesus? No question. All the sources (including Josephus and the later Roman historian Tacitus) agree that this same Pilate is the one who ordered the execution of Jesus. And that at least affirms that Jesus really lived. Otherwise, there’s not much point in killing him.”


#2

Continued…

  • “I don’t find the observations of the person debating you particularly helpful– what evidence do we have from archaeology for numerous figures from antiquity? And for what ancient documents do we have the originals!? Also would it not be more accurate to say that the authorship of the gospels is “debated”or “uncertain” rather than simply “unknown”?"

  • “Regarding archaeology, we have no graffiti or the like, mentioning Jesus dating back to his lifetime. The value of archaeological material lies elsewhere. One example: If we can establish via the texts that Jesus spent a lot of time in a town called Capernaum, and we find this site and excavate it, we can say quite a lot about whom he chose to interact with, the type of house(s) he must have lived in etc. This will tell us something about who he was and what he wanted to accomplish. This is crucial to any historical reconstruction.”

  • “The gospels are THE best attested texts from Greek antiquity, as they began to be copied and re-coipied (with therefore minor errors) by large numbers of fairly ordinary people very soon after their composition: this was not the usual fate of books written by and for a small social elite.”

  • “The four eventually canonical gopsles were all composed anonymously drawing on oral and written traditions: anonymously in order to emphasis the content rather than the author of the book”

  • “Actually, at the moment there is not much disagreement among serious scholars about the bare bones of Jesus’ last few years: he did exist, was active in Galilee, had some disciples, was crucified in Jerusalem… Among experts the disagreements are at the level of interpretation and fleshing out of these bones.”

In reading about and discussing with people the allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh, I was reminded of the countless discussions I used to have with people regarding standards of evidence and the historical method in the context of talking about the reliability of the Gospel accounts.

In particular, since the Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Ford situation is a case of “he said/she said”, it is my understanding that credibility assessments will suffice in the evaluation of the allegations absent sufficient evidence.


#3

I found something that I think may qualify as “corroborative evidence”, or at least, consistent with, the allegation by Christine Ford.

According to an article published by The New Yorker, an ex girlfriend of Mark Judge (the other guy that Christine Ford said was in the bedroom when Kavanaugh assaulted her)

Rasor stressed that “under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t reveal information that was told in confidence,” but, she said, “I can’t stand by and watch him lie.” …“Mark told me a very different story.” Rasor recalled that Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman. Rasor said that Judge seemed to regard it as fully consensual. She said that Judge did not name others involved in the incident, and she has no knowledge that Kavanaugh participated."

This does not prove that (a) Christine Ford was sexually assaulted or that (b) if she was, that it was by Brett Kavanaugh, but what it does show is continuity between Ford’s portrayal of Mark Judge and the portrayal by his ex girfriend and also Julie Swetnick.

This detail matters insofar as it relates to the question of Christine Ford’s credibility and memory.

I brought the Gospels into it because I think it is interesting to compare the efforts of trying to confirm events that happened 2,000 years ago with the attempt to confirm an incident that happened 36 years ago.

I’m not talking about the controversy over whether what happened 36 years ago is reflective of who Kavanaugh is now, or whether it should matter in deciding his fitness for the Supreme Court, I’m talking about the evidence/investigation aspect of this comparison.

What bare bone facts (not opinions) can we establish about the alleged assault given the testimonies, statements, etc, that have been thus far offered in the Senate hearing or in other venues?


#4

I would stop arguing and start praying. Our Lord - God Incarnate - could not convince stubborn hearts. Are we better evangelizers than our Lord?

Pray.


#5

One of the literary style of the Gospels is biography. No other ancient person has so many biographies and in so much detail. Think about it: there are four independent sources (two if one considers the synoptics as a single one).

Furthermore, there are dozens of witnesses in the beginning of the Church who met the Apostles and their direct disciples and wrote about it.

Also, there are not only the written accounts, but also relics directly related to Our Lord. The most important nowdays is the Shroud, however there were so many more in the past that were as revered, such as pieces of the cross, pieces of the crown fo thorns, the nails the pierced Jesus Christ, the spear that opened His heart…

My point is that there are many proofs that He was on earth during that time. More proof than most kings and philosophers of those times. But, unfortunately, some tend to doubt the proofs themselves for no good reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if these people are not the same who doubt reality itself…


#6

This claim really stretches the idea of “anonymity”. All of the extent Gospel manuscripts that include the beginning of the Gospel have the name of the author. The ECFs all discuss the apostolic origins of the Gospels. What could “anonymously” possibly mean in this case, then? That there weren’t dust jackets on the Gospels with the evangelists’ photos and biographies?

Here’s the problem, though: this isn’t about justice, or closure, or even revenge. Ford herself said that the only reason she came forward was in order to prevent Kavanaugh from being confirmed. So, this is about politics, pure and simple. And, as it turns out, all the Democrats are coming out on the side of “she said”, while all the Republicans rally behind “he said.”

So, this isn’t about “credibility”; it’s politics.

When I first saw the title of your thread, I scratched my head and thought, “what could @Ana_v be getting at?” I thought that, for sure, you were going to be drawing a parallel between the gap between Jesus’ life and the writing of the Synoptic Gospels, and the gap between the alleged assault and Ford’s appearance. That would seem to be the comparison, not “2000 years.”

I would assert that the difference is that the Gospels were already being communicated – on a regular basis, at the liturgies of the Church! – from Pentecost day onward. So, in the case of the Church, the stories of the experiences of Jesus were not only public but also being told on a regular basis. The span of time between event and testimony was on the order of 50 days, not 40 years (or 2000 years)!


#7

To me, the best proof is that so many people were executed for being Christian, up to 300 years after Christ’s death and resurrection. Martyrdom as the seed of Christianity. Would they be willing to die for a nonexisting Jesus? Idon’t think so.


#8

This really is not a credible claim. Every early manuscript we have attributes the gospels to their tradition author. We have no, zero, manuscripts that are unattributed.
Even more importantly, you rightly claim they were immediately copied, and they spread throughout the Roman empire and beyond, from Gual to Egypt, to Armenia. We are to believe, somehow in ancient times, everyone across this vast domain decided to suddenly, or graduall, attribute the Gospels to Mather Mark, Luke, and John. And we have no record of this happening, no communications directing local Churches to do so, nothing.
Finally, there are no writings of the Father’s who refer to the Gospels in any way except as the authorship we have.

It is simply impossible. How modern scholarship came up with this is what we should be questioning.


#9

Because, once they presumed late authorship of the Gospels, there was no possible way that they could have been penned by an apostle. Therefore, the manuscripts – despite the titles they bear – must be ‘anonymous’ (or, more to the point, pseudonymous!)

It’s a logical conclusion – if, that is, you accept the premise. Once you show the premise to be false, the conclusion falls away, too. The problem is, everyone these days remembers the conclusion, but forgets what its grounds are. (On the other hand, if you’re invested in the conclusion because it, itself, is a premise of an argument to which you subscribe, then you’re stuck arguing for late authorship!) Either way… :man_facepalming:


#10

Yea, late authorship is the premise, and that defies logic. Look at the ending of the Acts of the Apostles and you know that the synoptic gospels were written before the death of Paul, around 66AD.


#11

@Ana_v I fail to see how the historical reliability of the Gospels has anything to do at all with Brett Kavanaugh. Apples and bowling balls.


#12

I agree @KJW5551 .

Also Catholicism and party politics do not make for a good mix .

Party politics are messy affairs and the Church should give them a wide berth .


#13

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