Arguments Aplenty #1

Arguments Aplenty # 1

Nazareth? The identifying label ‘Nazareth’ may raise a first modern ‘Jesus’ dispute  – was there actually even a populated place called Nazareth in Galilee 2,000 years ago? (In this area of exploration many reasons for argument are found and I do not intend to detour much to consider them.)

Jesus? Others argue that the person written about was fictional. It would be really wild to say that there never was any Jew named Jesus in Palestine about 2,000 years ago. Questions of historicity can be studied.

Fairy tales or just lost in the mists of time? Other critics say that the records are fatally messed up, deliberately or not.

An example:
“Belief in The Revealed Books
Allah revealed divine books to His Messengers as a guidance and mercy to mankind. These include the Torah and Gospel as originally revealed to Moses and Jesus respectively, and the Qu’ran as revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Apart from the Qu’ran, these revelations do not exist in their original form, as they have been distorted, changed or lost.” About Islam: A brief Introduction no details, received Melbourne 2014, Islamic

Surely more than a little difficult to test the assertions there. Of course it is possible to find amongst professionals (greater or lesser) support for asserting 'distorted, changed or lost'. In halls of learning, naturally, detailed, minute and even miniscule (Bible) questions are faced and considered and nothing is sacrosanct. So, for example, (speaking of the letters to Timothy and Titus) we can find: 'the problems they raise concerning authorship. It is difficult to ascribe them in their present form to the apostle Paul.' (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford, 1991, p 300 NT). The reasons some or many a modern commentator has 'the problem' are outlined. (After examining the same evidence not everyone reaches the same conclusion!) Scholarship is important and accountable.  In any case, how fortunate we are that Bible text is treated with respect and published in accessible language. (See Barnett, below, for something of the value of all this to everyday believers.)

Whatever anyone says, surely it is beyond dispute that a real or cleverly invented individual called Jesus or the Jewish Messiah has been continuously worshipped for a very, very long time. Read the account for yourself and decide the possibility that it is all about a fictional hero. Is there a ring of truth in the documents that we call the NT?

A statement that I consider can be tested:
“Studies of second-century gospel manuscripts and the early Christian writings give us high confidence that the text of the gospels is largely recoverable and was in circulation and use well before the end of the first century. Furthermore, the raw evidence from the hostile early sources Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny confirms the New Testament’s accounts of the origin, spread, and belief structure of the new faith. As a body of literature, the gospels and most of the New Testament are effectively “sealed off” by second-century authorities, whether Christian or hostile. In this students of Christian origins are indeed fortunate.” (Barnett, P. Finding the Historical Christ Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009, vii)

Experts? Any search on the internet will yield all sorts of viewpoints and arguments relating to Jesus. (Writers may have “an axe to grind”.) In relevant literature there are everyday books, and specialist books, and entire academic journals. They are not hard to source. Many speakers (preachers) have airtime on TV or radio. I can not give an evaluation of their offerings.

Years ago the powers of the day considered it dangerous to put the sacred writings in the hands of the common people. So (they said), leave everything to us and just hear the Latin without understanding it. Divergence was a matter for capital punishment. Thus, the people with power retained their hold. Those days are gone.

Today, even though there are many questions for diligent investigation and research, the Bible is readily available to ordinary folk. People generally do not have the opportunity for technical inquiries, engaging and beneficial as those studies are.  Ready access to the Bible is especially true in English. Quite a miracle, really.

We are indeed fortunate to be able to profit from long sustained and diligent attention by so many to the Bible texts, and to the contexts from which they come.  I think it is important to acknowledge our debt to scholarship.

However: Surely it is beyond question that the NT does not give a comprehensive account of even the identified area and its happenings. So, for example, the major new Roman population and industry centre of Sepphoris is well known in archaeology but receives no NT mention, despite its very close proximity to Nazareth. (Did perhaps Jesus successfully get some employment and cross-cultural exposure in the large construction there? Seems to me possible, or even probable, but unanswerable.)

There is no stone engraved with particulars of this Jesus and no way of fixing the exact date and address of his birth (or death). If there was a midwife present it would not be recorded, no more than for all the other births for ordinary people. Any such ‘proof’ would be absurd. (Something for a wishful tourist.)

There is no authoritative ‘Life of Christ’, nor is one possible. It is possible to construct a narrative from the documents but chronology is partial and the ‘story’ incomplete to that extent. Understanding of Jesus was progressive and comprehension evolved in the NT pages.  If you follow my reading plan you will in fact be following the ‘story’ in, as far as possible, a logical order, as it were, a chronological journey of discovery.

I am intending and taking for granted that you will read the “original” for yourself. You may have a printed copy of a translation of the text. You may wish to compare with other translations – there are resources to do so on the internet - see the websites listed as 'online'. (See also post under 'Bible Version - ??'.) My language is English, but this is not necessary to the object here.