Why people get Biblical and Catholic history all wrong


Very interesting article by Prof. Tim O’Neill, a historian (and who is himself a skeptical atheist) on why those who have an ax to grind with Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular make mistakes when discussing issues on religious history, such as the historicity of Jesus, the Inquisition, and the Galileo affair, and the problems that arise when one confuses the study of science with the study of history:



I found his comments about the supposed development of Jesus as Jewish prophet into Jesus as God very telling. He writes that history is not science, well history isn’t theology, either. It’s apparent the man knows nothing about Christian theology, ergo as an historian he should stick to his own subject and leave theology to the theologians.


Obviously, I don’t agree with his beliefs on the divinity of Jesus. The man is an atheist, after all, but at least he is an intellectually honest one. His article about the use of Josephus as a historical reference is one of the best things on the subject I’ve read.


Yes, considering his audience, he did better than most. However, he’s not as open-minded as he thinks he is. Nor does he know enough about the development of theology to speak on the subject. Still, he got some flack from those die-hards who cannot see part their own biases. Just that little bit of suffering for the sake of Christ won’t go unrewarded. I’d like to see the expression on the good man’s face when he sees Jesus. :hmmm: :slight_smile: But, all those encounters are personal, and no doubt for good reason. :yup: At least he’s a voice of reason amongst all the know-nothing hotheads.


Erm… he might be an atheist, but he is telling the truth here. He states simply that “regarding the existence of Jesus, it is far more parsimonious to conclude that Christianity’s figure of ‘Jesus Christ’ evolved out of the ideas of the followers of a historical Jewish preacher, since all of our earliest information tells us that this ‘Jesus Christ’ was a historical Jewish preacher who had been executed circa 30 CE.”

And that’s precisely true. The early Christians didn’t have a theological understanding of Jesus that was as complex and well-developed as the Church of the time of the great councils. The Gospel of John has a theology of Christ that’s more nuanced and complex than that of the synoptic Gospels, and even here we’re only talking about the time frame of the early second century A.D. So, what O’Neill is saying is factually correct: the Church’s understanding of who Jesus is and what implications flow from that understanding did develop over time, and that understanding is based on the data of Jesus’ ministry in early 1st century Palestine!

(Now… he might not believe the ideas of Jesus’ divinity, but what he states here – that the ‘historical Jesus’ gave rise to the ‘Jesus of the Gospels’ – is eminently reasonable, even for a Christian!) :wink:

One other thing that’s interesting to note: O’Neill doesn’t make the claim of movement from ‘Jewish prophet’ to ‘God-man’; that seems to be your interpretation of what he’s written. Rather, O’Neill is asking “from whence did the Christian theology of Jesus develop?” in the context of the ‘Jesus myth’ proposition, which answers the question “out of thin air, without any historical person as its basis.” O’Neill simply asserts that this answer is inaccurate: Christianity sprang forth from the historical experience of the life of a Jewish prophet named Jesus.


Georgias, I hope your analysis is right–it would mean there is hope for the man coming to see the truth of God’s existence. But another atheist reading his article might not come away with the idea that the Church came to a more fuller understanding of who Jesus is, but rather that a mythos sprang up after Jesus life (take note he says nothing about the resurrection), that he is divine as well as human. Simply because the divinity of Jesus was not the central theme of St. Paul’s writings, for instance, doesn’t signify that Paul didn’t believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Nor was that the intention of the synoptic Gospel writers. Neither did the rising of Arianism prove that the Church didn’t believe in Jesus’ divinity, either. Rather, it merely means that what was taken for granted now had to be defined so that the teaching would be upheld against all dissent–as is the case with all such issues councils have ruled on from the first on in Jerusalem on down. If the author had the proper understanding of how dogma is defined, I don’t think he’d be trying to make a case for a later emerging of the divinity of Christ. But, that’s my take on what he wrote.


That’s exactly my point: your takeaway, and your anonymous atheist’s, might be completely different. But, both would be an imposition of ya’lls’ own thoughts on something that O’Neill didn’t at all write. Don’t get me wrong – my impression is that he wrote that sentence deliberately and very carefully in order to skirt the issue of the reasonableness of the belief in Christ’s divinity, in order to avoid precisely these kind of tangential arguments. Yet, his main point is simply that the argument against Jesus’ historicity – the so-called ‘Jesus myth’ notion – fails miserably when viewed from the perspective of a professional historian; therefore, the question of his divinity in the context of the Christian Church is not part of that particular discussion… :wink:


Great conversing between Della and Gorgias!


By skirting the issue, he doesn’t really do either atheist or believer much of a service, IMHO. I realize he’s keeping his parameters limited, and there’s just so much he can say in one article, but although his remarks are much more reasonable than the average atheist, still, it left me unsatisfied and asking more questions than his article answered. I suppose that’s my fault, not his. I can only hope he will delve deeper, and come to a better theological understanding of Jesus’ divinity at some point in his life. Let us pray for him. :crossrc:

Thanks. :tiphat: Please jump into the fray. :smiley:


Here’s another (and much longer article) by Prof. O’Neill, where he weighs in further on his response to the “Jesus was a myth” proponents. Interesting reading (there is some harsh language).


This was in response to his review of a book by a prominent “Jesus Myth” advocate, David Fitzgerald, which raised the ire of the author. If you think discussions can occasionally get heated here on a Catholic forum, you should check what happens on secularist forums.


Again, as a Christian I would disagree with Prof. O’Neill on his views re the divinity of Christ, but he deserves respect for showing why there is such strong historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. This might seem obvious to Catholics, but to many secularists, it is literally an article of faith that Jesus never existed. The second article (which you should probably read first) gives good reasons on why Josephus is a reliable source, and why claims about supposed interpolations are far less impressive than they first appear.

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