Comments: apocalypse when?

It is unlikely that Ms Ozanne's prognostications will come as any surprise to the members of the Archbishops' Council. It has been fairly clear to anyone who has cared to look during the last 20 years or so that holding within one organisation those whose cosmology is that of the second millenium BC and those who think we have no choice but to live with cosmology after Einstein is a losing battle.

On the one hand the mythological cosmology supports a theism defined as "a God existing outside and apart from the universe we experience (as it were, above the sky) who intervenes from time time time within that universe to achieve the Divine purpose." Cosmology after Einstein makes such a theistic understanding untenable.

This is the tension tearing at institutional Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It may be that, in the foreseeable future, non-denominational groups on either side of this debate will form outside the present religious institutions. On the one hand they will seek to bind themselves even more closely to the safety of traditional theism. On the other they will seek to explore the radical uncertainty outside theism.

This is a cause for hope, not a counsel of despair. If Christian institutions are to survive it is the journey into uncertainty that must be taken. They can not live in the past. Nobody has 'absolute truth' (whether it be in Scripture or the Magisterium) - all we have is our finite human understanding. Even if 'absolute truth' were to be revealed we could not comprehend it.

Posted by Rodney McInnes at Monday, 13 December 2004 at 1:31am GMT

"Zealously evangelical" Ms Ozanne may well deplore the erosion of authority in Holy Scripture and yearn for the power of the Holy Spirit but she must surely know that (ironically and against all expectation) the last century or so of pious Biblical scholarship has demolished virtually every cherished tenet of traditional belief. To pretend that Christianity has access to "absolute truth" or was founded by someone who could "raise the dead" is surely the sheerest naivete, or worse, abysmal ignorance of the evidence.
Sadly and inexcusably, such ignorance is almost universal as witness Gibson's utterly implausible "Passion" film, Dan brown's preposterous "Da Vinci code", British schools RE curriculum and the BBC and Melvynn bragg's unrelenting output of Sunday School stories masquerading as scholarship (e.g. Son of god, The Apostles, Virgin Mary, Moses, etc ad inf). Not one of these can withstand the slightest historical scrutiny.
In fact the situation is far worse for Ms Ozanne than even she can imagine because the historical evidence now available places Jesus' very existence in extreme doubt. With no substantive historical Jesus, Christianity collapses and will come to be regarded as mankind's most monumental misconception, which, of course, has grave implications for Islam also

Posted by David H Lewis at Monday, 13 December 2004 at 6:48pm GMT

Ah, Mr. Lewis, if only I too could revel in the golden plains of cynicism! Regrettably, I languish in my benighted condition because I hold fast to the experience of the power of the resurrection that has made a difference in my life. My prayer (no doubt through an imaginary person to a non-existent deity by means of a pretend spirit) is that your belief--whatever it is--leads you into compassion for your fellow humans. I cannot prove the historicity of Jesus just as you cannot disprove it--we lack the necessary scientific evidence. My belief may be founded on myth, but myth, like other forms of poetry, cuts to the heart of truth more directly than sheets of statistics. I think that the story of Jesus is historically rooted but what I know is that goodness is more powerful than evil, life is more powerful than death, and love is more powerful than hate; Jesus taught me these things.

Posted by Derek Olsen at Tuesday, 14 December 2004 at 8:06pm GMT

Thanks for your hope and prayer that I might be a nice person tho' the very fact of you offering it suggests you think it's unlikely!
As to the main point of this discussion, I'm afraid it IS now possible to show that on the overwhelming balance of probabilities Jesus simply did not exist and it is only populist wordplay to claim myth and poetry cut to the truth. We all know that they don't otherwise they wouldn't be myths!
Tho' it would be nice to agree with your poetic sentiments about the powers of goodness, life and love I'm afraid the evidence runs against you. Death always ultimately wins out over life, which, far from being a defeatist or cynical position is to me a positive imperative to appreciate, enjoy and make productive the only fleeting moments we have in "the vast deserts of eternity". Nor, as some Xt'ns seem to fear, do I take this to be a licence to rip off my fellows at every opportunity. Ethics and morals spring naturally from the demands of co operative
community living and owe nothing to any religion or threats of post mortem Hellfire.
Anyway "goodness" and "evil", what are they? I happen to think that the indiscriminate slaughter of defenceless Afghan and Iraqi women and children (and a whole alphabet of other nations from Japan to Vietnam) by hi tech American guns and bombs is pretty evil (and cowardly) but millions of Americans, including plenty of "Christians" seem to be quite happy and even pleased and proud of that situation!
As for love and hate, love is certainly nicer than hate, but more powerful....? Ask the Ruandans or the Jews or the Kurds etc etc.
Jesus supposedly said by their fruits shall ye know them. What have been the fruits of Xty but internal acrimony from its very inception and murderous cruelty and intolerance ever after?
That in itself is one of the many reasons to suspect Jesus never existed for if there really was an original definitive and absolutely authoritative Xty then it could not have immediately fractured into so many bitterly antagonistic sects. Paul, for instance, could have easily settled any of his many disputes by appealing to words of Jesus but they were simply not available to him.
Thanks again for the kind hopes Derek but I still think we'd all be far better off simply following the golden rule than getting guidance from ancient, irrelevant, contradictory and often offensive ethics attributed to a man whose very existence is now extremely doubtful!

Posted by David H Lewis at Thursday, 16 December 2004 at 11:58pm GMT

Hi DHL

Your argument about Jesus not existing sounds interesting - have you stated it in full anywhere, or if not cd you do so for our benefit?

I dont currently agree - but will be interested to see if you could persuade me. Every trained biblical scholar (or over 99% of them) is against you on this point. Of late, the most eminent proponent of this view, G.A. Wells, was a professor not of New Testament, but of German (not a closely-related subject)? But will be interested to hear what your arguments are.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Sunday, 19 December 2004 at 6:22pm GMT

Gidday Chris, Thanks for your temperate remarks and enquiry. You could hardly do better than to study G.A. Wells' evidence notwithstanding people think he can be easily dismissed by saying his speciality was german not NT. That is condescending and personal - you should focus on the evidence itself which he presents with admirable and exemplary lucidity. Also it is hardly surprising that >99% of NT scholars don't buy into the evidence as it could be extremely disagreeable and to them and in any case they believe the battle was won a century ago. The few who have pretended to confront Well's views have not really come to come to terms with them, misrepresented and caricatured them or else been merely dismissive.
In a nutshell, the pro Jesus camp have to explain why NONE of the earliest Christian witness betrays the slightest awareness of the Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels. NT Wright is a prominent defender but typically relies on frequent careless misrepresentations, like Paul preached "Jesus of Nazareth" ("What Paul really really said" 1997)when such a phrase is completely absent from Paul's writings.

Posted by David at Wednesday, 22 December 2004 at 10:58am GMT

Fundamentalist *theists* to the Right of me, fundamentalist *atheists* to the . . . _other_ Right: Thank (the Leftist) God, I'm a (Leftist) Anglican!

Posted by J. Collins Fisher at Thursday, 23 December 2004 at 8:11am GMT

Hi David:

'The earliest Christian witness' amounts to one man: Paul. One man is not a significant or representative sample.

Paul (a) never met Jesus, (b) tells us from his own lips that his contacts with the Twelve were minimal, (c) no longer regarded Christ from an earthly point of view (2 Cor.5) - he is of course obsessed with the present dispensation of the crucified-and-resurrected Jesus, which has rendered any return to talk of the earthly Jesus irrelevant, unnecessary, redundant and missing-the-point. Why harp on about the lesser past when the present is so much more glorious?

Modern NT scholars are (a) of all beliefs and none, (b) trained scholars and therefore less likely than your average bloke to be biased ideologues.

One German prof against many hundreds of NT profs - I know where my money would lie. Are they all deluded and biased? How can this be, when they can't even agree with each other? This is one very very rare instance of them agreeing about just one thing. That must count for a lot.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Thursday, 23 December 2004 at 11:35am GMT

Hi again David - a P.S.:

My primary-source list for my point of view:
Thallus, Josephus, Tacitus, [probably] Suetonius, Pliny the younger, Lucian, Mark, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, John the Elder, writer to Hebrews - even rabbinic writings.

Your primary-source list is longer or shorter? More distinguished or less distinguished?

Posted by Christopher Shell at Thursday, 23 December 2004 at 5:16pm GMT

Hi Christopher, Thanks for your comments. The NT that is earlier or independent of the Gospels is most of the canon – not just Paul! I.e. All Paul’s letters, Hebrews,1,2,3, John, James, 1 Peter and Rev’n. None of them betray the slightest awareness of the Gospel Jesus.
No Paul never met Jesus nor ever gave the slightest suggestion he’d existed in his lifetime. No Paul doesn’t tell us his contacts with the 12 were minimal, they were non existent. He only mentions them once in passing. His Jerusalem contacts were with Cephas and James and he never gives any suggestion they’d known a recently crucified Jesus either. In fact he shook hands with them on his “gospel” so they must have agreed with his version of a Jesus about whose earthly life virtually nothing was known.
Modern Bible translations don’t support your view of 2Cor5:16, see New English or Rev Std. Yes, Paul’s whole theology was Christ risen but he never suggests he was anything like the Jesus we know from the Gospels in fact quite the opposite. Paul’s Jesus lived a life of humility and obscurity not even recognised by the evil spirits that engineered his crucifixion. Contrast that to the gospels where he gives demonstrations of his power at every turn!
Your pagan sources are secondary not primary, others I’ve already mentioned are earlier than Mark and do not support him. It’s not a question of numbers of NT scholars or source lists but what the earliest Christians themselves wrote about Jesus and we can’t escape the fact they knew nothing of the Gospel’s portrait.
Regards David.

Posted by David H Lewis at Tuesday, 28 December 2004 at 9:48pm GMT
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