Friday, 31 August 2012

Inspiring Atheists

One of the more condescending arguments used by sufferers from religion, and ranking alongside their claim to hold a monopoly on morality for demonstrably unjustified arrogance, is that without religion we wouldn't have great works of art, music, etc., because only religion can inspire human beings to artistic creativity.

While there can be little doubt that religious subjects were often the subject of great works of art or musical composition - the breath-taking beauty of Handel's Messiah and Van Gough's "The Sower" spring to mind. (Some might struggle to see the religion in Van Gough's works but it absolutely pervades it. Look at the painting on the right. It's one of Vincent van Gough's most profoundly religious paintings, in my opinion).

I'll maybe write a blog about Atheist artists one day. This one is about Atheist composers.

It will probably come as a surprise to religion sufferers who like to pretend their co-superstitionists have a monopoly on artistic creativity that there is an enormous list of Atheist and non-believer composers, and that many of them wrote 'religious' music. Some of them, like Elgar and Mozart lost faith in later life, so whatever religious beliefs may have inspired their earlier works, they clearly never inspired them to remain religious.

This list includes many of the better-known Atheist composers and songwriters. Enjoy listening to music not inspired by superstitious belief in gods.

Giuseppe Verdi

10 October 1813 – 27 January 1901

Italian Romantic Composer

Irving Berlin

May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989

Russian-born American composer and lyricist widely considered one of America's greatest songwriters.

Aaron Copeland

14 November 1900 – 2 December 1990

American composer, composition teacher, writer and conductor.

John Lennon

9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980

British popular musician, singer and songwriter.

Sir Edward Elgar

2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934

English classical composer
(Former Roman Catholic who became an Atheist in later life)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791

Austrian classical baroque composer

Ludwig van Beethoven

16 December 1770 – 26 March 1827

German composer, transitional between European Classical and Romantic.

George Gershwin

26 September 1898 – 11 July 1937

American popular songwriter and classical composer.

Johannes Brahms

7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897

German-born Romantic composer who worked in Vienna, Austria.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958

English classical composer, hymn writer and collector of English folk song. Great nephew of Charles Darwin.

Maurice Ravel

7 March 1875 – 28 December 1937

French composer probably (though he denied it) influence by the Impressionist art movement.

Gioachino Rossini

29 February 1792 – 13 November 1868

Italian composer of opera, 'sacred' and chamber music.

Hector Berlioz

11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869

French Romantic composer and musical critic.

Robert Schumann

8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856

German Romantic composer and music critic

Georges Bizet

25 October 1838 – 3 June 1875

French composer, mainly operas.

Richard Strauss

11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949

German Romantic and early Modern composer.

Sergei Prokofiev

23 April 1891 – 5 March 1953

20th Century Russian composer, pianist and conductor.

Scott Joplin

c.1867 – 1 April 1917

African-American composer and pianist most noted for rag-time jazz compositions.

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Monday, 27 August 2012

The Easter Challenge

Here's a challenge for Christians, especially those who believe the Bible to be the literal, inerrant word of a god, and even those who believe the five accounts of the resurrection of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul are an account of an actual resurrection by Jesus.

First, a few words from Thomas Paine:
I lay it down as a position which cannot be controverted, first, that the agreement of all the parts of a story does not prove that story to be true, because the parts may agree and the whole may be false; secondly, that the disagreement of the parts of a story proves the whole cannot be true.

Thomas Paine. The Age Of Reason. 1776
The challenge is to take all five accounts of the events following the supposed crucifixion of Jesus and, starting on Easter morning and, omitting none of the details given in the five biblical accounts, construct a logical sequence of events.

I make no claim of authorship of this challenge which appears in Dan Barker's book 'Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America's Leading Atheists'.

The relevant chapters and/or verses of the Bible are:
  1. Matthew 28
  2. Mark 16
  3. Luke 24
  4. John 20-21
  5. Acts 1:3-12
  6. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
If the Bible is giving an account of a real sequence of events as seen from the perspective of five different views, these events should line up in their sequence of events and in the important details, and should occupy the same approximate time-span.

It might help if, as you read the 165 verses, you attempt to answer these questions and to reconcile and harmonise the differing accounts:
QuestionThe Bible's Answers
1. What time did the women visit the tomb?
  • Matthew: As it began to dawn - Matthew 28:1
  • Mark: Very early in the morning... at the rising of the sun - Mark 16:2
  • Luke: Very early in the morning - Luke 24:1
  • John: When it was yet dark - John 20:1
2. Who were the women?
  • Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary - Matthew 28:1
  • Mark: Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome - Mark 16:1
  • Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women - Luke 24:10
  • John: Mary Magdalene - John 20:1
3. What was their purpose?
  • Matthew: to see the tomb - Matthew 28:1
  • Mark: had already seen the tomb - Mark 15:47, brought spices - Mark 16:1
  • Luke: had already seen the tomb - Luke 23:55, brought spices - Luke 24:1
  • John: the body had already been spiced before they arrived - John 19:39-40
4. Was the tomb open when they arrived?
  • Matthew: No - Matthew 28:2
  • Mark: Yes - Mark 16:4
  • Luke: Yes - Luke 24:2
  • John: Yes - John 20:1
5. Who was at the tomb when they arrived?
  • Matthew: One angel - Matthew 28:2-7
  • Mark: One young man - Mark 16:5
  • Luke: Two men - Luke 24:4
  • John: Two angels - John 20:12
6. Where were these messengers situated?
  • Matthew: Angel sitting on the stone - Matthew 28:2
  • Mark: Young man sitting inside, on the right - Mark 16:5
  • Luke: Two men standing inside - Luke 24:4
  • John: Two angels sitting on each end of the bed - John 20:12
7. What did the messenger(s) say?
  • Matthew: Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead: and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. - Matthew 28:5-7
  • Mark: Be not afrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. - Mark 16:6-7
  • Luke: Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. - Luke 24:5-7
  • John: Woman, why weepest thou? - John 20:13
8. Did the women tell what happened?
  • Matthew: Yes - Matthew 28:8
  • Mark: No. Neither said they any thing to any man. - Mark 16:8
  • Luke: Yes. And they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest. - Luke 24:9, Luke 24:22-24
  • John: Yes - John 20:18
9. When Mary returned from the tomb, did she know Jesus had been resurrected?
  • Matthew: Yes - Matthew 28:7-8
  • Mark: Yes - Mark 16:10-11
  • Luke: Yes - Luke 24:6-9, 23
  • John: No - John 20:2
10. When did Mary first see Jesus?
  • Matthew: Before she returned to the disciples - Matthew 28:9
  • Mark: Before she returned to the disciples - Mark 16:9-10
  • John: After she returned to the disciples John 20:2, John 20:14
11. Could Jesus be touched after the resurrection?
  • Matthew: Yes - Matthew 28:9
  • John: No - John 20:17 and Yes - John 20:27
12. After the women, to whom did Jesus first appear?
  • Matthew: Eleven disciples - Matthew 28:16
  • Mark: Two disciples in the country, later to 11 - Mark 16:12, Mark 16:14
  • Luke: Two disciples in Emmaus, later to 11 - Luke 24:13, Luke 24:36
  • John: Ten disciples (Judas and Thomas were absent) - John 20:19, John 20:24
  • Paul: First to Cephas (Peter), then to the 12. (Twelve? Judas was dead and wasn't replaced until after Jesus had departed.) - 1 Corinthians 15:5
13. Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples?
  • Matthew: On a mountain in Galilee (60-100 miles away) - Matthew 28:16-17
  • Mark: To two in the country, to 11 as they sat at meat - Mark 16:12, Mark 16:14
  • Luke: In Emmaus (about seven miles away) at evening, to the rest in a room in Jerusalem later that night. - Luke 24:31, LUke 24:36
  • John: In a room, at evening - John 20:19
14. Did the disciples believe the two men?
  • Mark: No - Mark 16:13
  • Luke: Yes - Luke 24:34 (it is the group speaking here, not the two)
15. What happened at that first appearance?
  • Matthew: Disciples worshipped, some doubted, Go preach. - Matthew 28:17-20
  • Mark: Jesus reprimanded them, said, Go preach - Mark 16:14-19
  • Luke: Christ incognito, vanishing act, materialized out of thin air, reprimand, supper - Luke 24:13-51
  • John: Passed through solid door, disciples happy, Jesus blesses them, no reprimand - John 21:19-23
16. Did Jesus stay on earth for more than a day?
  • Mark: No - Mark 16:19 (Compare Mark 16:14 with John 20:19 to show that this was all done on Sunday)
  • Luke: No - Luke 24:50-52 It all happened on Sunday
  • John: Yes, at least eight days - John 20:26, John 21:1-22
  • Acts: Yes, at least 40 days - Acts 1:3
17. Where did the ascension take place?
  • Matthew: No ascension. Book ends on mountain in Galilee
  • Mark: In or near Jerusalem, after supper - Mark 16:19
  • Luke: In Bethany, very close to Jerusalem, after supper - Luke 24:50-51
  • John: No ascension
  • Paul: No ascension
  • Acts: Ascended from Mount of Olives - Acts 1:9-12
Barker, Dan (2009-05-01). Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists (p. 289). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Personally, for a story so central to the Christian faith and upon which the entire religion rests, I'd be astounded if this exercise is not a regular feature of Bible study, Sunday School and church services so it shouldn't be a problem at all for true believers. So, you have all the material you need, and links to an on-line edition of the Bible to check that everything stated above is a true and accurate account of all the known accounts of the supposed resurrection of Jesus, just in case you don't have your own Bible.

All you have to do is produce a logical sequence of events from Easter morning to Jesus' claimed ascension bodily into Heaven which includes all the facts stated and following the sequence of events given in the Bible.

Otherwise, please explain why Thomas Paine was wrong to conclude that the whole story cannot be true and why the myth of Jesus should not be consigned to the dustbin of history along with the myth of the goddess Eastre (aka Ishtar aka Astarte) after whom the pagan festival of Easter was named before it was plagiarised by Christianity for the Jesus myth.

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Friday, 24 August 2012

The Historical Evidence For Jesus.

Is there good, extra-biblical evidence for the Jesus described in the New Testament?

Most Christian apologists and most preachers will usually be able to quote a list of names of ancient 'historians' or other writers who mentioned Jesus and will confidently assure us that these prove beyond reasonable doubt that the biblical Jesus existed and that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are accurate biographies (in spite of the conflicting, contradictory and obviously anecdotal and/or invented details). It's almost as though Jesus was being regularly referred to in contemporary accounts and written about by all manner of historians of his day. No doubt at all that the Bible is real history and can be verified by independent eye-witness accounts.

Or that's the impression apologists want to give you - and some of them may actually believe it. But, as so often, the historical facts were very different to the claims of Christian apologists.

In his book, "Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America's Leading Atheists", Dan Barker tells how, when he became a free-thinker he realised how shallow had been his study of the documentary evidence for Jesus during his four years of religious study at Azusa Pacific College (now University).

Not that it was a bad class, but it seemed so unnecessary. It provided an answer to a question nobody was asking...

The class did not delve deeply into the ancient documents. We recited the roster of early historians and read some of the church fathers, and then promptly forgot them all. I figured that Christian scholars had already done the homework and that our faith rested on a firm historical foundation, and that if I ever needed to look it up I could turn to some book somewhere for the facts. I just never needed to look it up.

p. 251. Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The usual list of 'historical documents' which 'prove' the historicity of Jesus, and which is routinely trotted out by Christian apologists, is usually a copy and paste from a Christian apologists on-line source. It will normally include:

Wow! Impressive, or what? Clearly masses of extra-biblical evidence!

Er... or maybe not.

Photios I of Constantinople. What? No Jesus!
I'll deal with these in a moment but it's first worth mentioning none of these were written contemporaneously within the supposed years of Jesus' life - about 4 BCE to 30 CE. Not a single record exists which was made at a time and in an Empire which is one of the most well-documented periods of ancient history. As John E. Remsberg said in 'The Christ':

Philo[-Judeus] was born before the beginning of the Christian era, and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth.

He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ's miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was there when the crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead took place -- when Christ himself rose from the dead, and in the presence of many witnesses ascended into heaven.

These marvelous events which must have filled the world with amazement, had they really occurred, were unknown to him. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although this Word incarnate dwelt in that very land and in the presence of multitudes revealed himself and demonstrated his divine powers, Philo saw it not.

Another local historian of the time was a certain Justus of Tiberius who wrote a (now lost) chronicle of the kings of Israel from Moses to Agrippa II about which a ninth century patriarch of Constantinople Photios I complained:

He [Justus] makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did.

Now to that list of Christian apologist's favourite 'historians':

Flavius Josephus 37 CE - c.100 CE
(Also known as Titus Flavius Josephus, Joseph ben Matityahu, Yosef ben Matityahu or simply Josephus)

Josephus was a highly regarded Roman historian and Messianic Jew who produced two major works - The Wars Of The Jews (seven volumes) and The Antiquities of the Jews (twenty-one volumes). It is the latter which contains the most often quoted 'proof' of the existence of the biblical Jesus, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (Testimony of Flavius) written in c.90 CE:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Antiquities of the Jews. Book 18, Chapter 3

The problem with this is that it was written some 60 years after the supposed death of Jesus and cannot be considered a contemporaneous account, and not even the Testimonium Flavianum makes a claim to be the report of an eye-witness. It was written when, if this is to be believed, the myth of Jesus was already formed and Christian communities already existed, complete with the beliefs recorded here as facts. At best, this cannot be regarded as any more an authentic account of something than would a story about something happening in 1952 without the benefit of newspaper records, newsreels, magazines and official records. If you think that possible, ask anyone who was an adult in 1952, what the strike by the United Steelworkers of America was over and what President Truman's role was in the affair. Then check their account against the records. Do you think it would qualify as accurate, reliable history?

The other problem with the Testimonium is that it's very probably either a total forgery; an interpolation added later, or a later elaboration of a brief original mention of an anecdotal account of an execution of a man called Jesus. Urban myths would have been no less common then than they are today.

Dan Barker list seven reasons for thinking it may be an outright forgery:
  1. The paragraph is absent from early copies. Origen, who vigorously defended Christinity and quoted widely from Josephus but never referred to this paragraph. The paragraph suddenly makes its appearance in the 4th century when it was first quoted by Bishop Eusabius, an ally of Constantine, who is recorded as saying it is permissible "medicine" for historians to create fiction.
  2. Josephus, a Messianic Jew would not have called Jesus 'the Christ'. If he had believed him to be the 'Christ' he would have become a Christian. He did not. Origen even referred to him as "not believing in Jesus as the Christ".
  3. The paragraph is out of context. It follows an account of a massacre of Jews by Pilate following a period of unrest, and is followed by, "And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews...". In what sense would a Messianic Jew have regarded the death of Jesus a 'terrible misfortune'? Eusabius might well have though. The paragraph can be lifted out from the surrounding text with no damage to the chapter.
  4. The phrase 'to this day' shows this is a later addition. There was no 'tribe of Christians' in 90 CE since Christianity did not take off until the second century.
  5. Josephus appears to know nothing more about Jesus apart from a reference to 'James the brother of Jesus'. He shows no awareness of the Gospels nor of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, even though, had these been contemporaneous accounts of Jesus, they would have been invaluable sources for him. Nor does he show any awareness of the writings of Paul. He mentions the deeds of other prophets at length but has nothing to say about the miracles of Jesus, about an earthquake and eclipse at Passover, of dead people rising from their grave and wandering around or the reputed damage to the Temple. In short, apart from this one paragraph, it's as though for Josephus, Jesus never existed, at least in the form reported in the Bible.

    In all of Josephus’ voluminous works, there is not a single reference to Christianity anywhere outside of this tiny paragraph. He relates much more about John the Baptist than about Jesus. He lists the activities of many other self-proclaimed messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the magician and the Egyptian Jew Messiah, but is mute about the life of one whom he claims (if he wrote it) is the answer to his messianic hopes.

    Barker, Dan Op.Cit. (p. 257)

  6. The Testmonium mentions that Jesus was prophesied by 'divine prophets' yet neglects to say who they were or what they said - an uncharacteristically incomplete account for Josephus.
  7. The paragraph is not in Josephus' style but reads more like the sectarian propaganda associated with the New Testament, e.g. "... as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him."

As Dan Barker points out, if we remove this almost certainly forged paragraph from Josephus' Antiquities his works become evidence not for but against the historicity of Jesus.
Seutonius c. 69 – c. 122
(Also known as Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus)

His most important surviving work is a set of biographies of twelve successive Roman rulers, from Julius Caesar to Domitian, entitled De Vita Caesarum. He recorded the earliest accounts of Julius Caesar's epileptic seizures. Other works by Suetonius concern the daily life of Rome, politics, oratory, and the lives of famous writers, including poets, historians, and grammarians. A few of these books have partially survived, but many have been lost.

In about 112 CE Suetonius wrote in De Vita Caesarum, also know as The 12 Caesars, "[Claudius] banished the Jews from Rome, since they had made a commotion because of Chrestus,” and reported that under Nero, "punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief..."

Nowhere does Seutonius mention Jesus by name and never refers to Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ. Some Christians have claimed, with no basis whatsoever, that 'Chrestus' was a mistake and meant 'Christ'. Crestus is a name which simply means 'good' and was in common usage at that time in Rome, but even if it was a mistake, 'Christ' could have meant the expected Messiah of the Jews of Rome.

Suetonius also recorded that the body of Caesar Augustus rose bodily into heaven when he died. Few historians regard that as factual, least of all Christian ones.

As historical proofs go, this is a great example of something that, well... isn't.
Pliny (the Younger)
61 CE – ca. 112 CE
(Also known as Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo)

Pliny is known for his hundreds of surviving letters, which are an invaluable historical source for the time period. Many are addressed to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian, Tacitus. Pliny himself was a notable figure, serving as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (reigned AD 98–117). Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man, consistent in his pursuit of suspected Christian members according to Roman law, and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices, the cursus honorum (see below). He was a friend of the historian Tacitus and employed the biographer Suetonius in his staff.

In 112 CE Pliny reported that "Christians were singing a hymn to Christ as a god..." And that's it. No mention of Jesus by name. It was normal for Messianic Jews then to refer to their current Messiah as (the) Christ so this could even be a reference not to Christians as we now use the term, but to a local Jewish sect. But even if it does refer to a group of Christians as we now understand the term, this is only a record of the beliefs of a group of people. It is not a record of Jesus, who supposedly died some 80 years earlier. Frankly, to call it contemporaneous, extra-biblical evidence is to stretch the meaning of the words 'contemporaneous' and 'evidence' beyond breaking point.
Tacitus 56 CE – 117 CE
(Also known as Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus)

Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors. These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in AD 14 to (presumably) the death of emperor Domitian in AD 96. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including one four-books long in the Annals.


Tacitus is considered to be one of the greatest Roman historians. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature, and as well as the brevity and compactness of his Latin prose, he is known for his penetrating insights into the psychology of power politics.

Around 117 CE, Tacitus wrote in Annals:

Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race.

Annals Book 15, Ch 44

Tacitus does not paint a very flattering picture of Christians and this passage tells us nothing about Jesus of Nazareth whom he does not name and about whom he claims no first-hand knowledge. It only tells us of the then common ideas about Christians. As Dan Barker points out, this is the equivalent of someone today reporting that Mormons believe that Joseph Smith saw an angel. It does not make it historic proof.

This is the only historical reference to Nero persecuting Christians, though he did persecute Jews. Perhaps Tacitus was confusing them with Christians as there was not a 'great crowd' of Christians in Rome in 60 CE, nor was the term 'Christian' then in use. Tacitus appears to be repeating a myth without checking the facts and even includes an allusion to Nero burning Rome, for which he needed a scapegoat, something which, despite the legend, never actually happened.
Thallus - Dates unknown
Thallus (Greek: Θαλλός), was an early historian who wrote in Koine Greek. Some scholars believe that his work can be interpreted as the earliest reference to the historical Jesus, and argue that it was written about 20 years after the Crucifixion. He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad, c. 112-109 BCE. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, perished, but not before parts of his writings were repeated by Sextus Julius Africanus in his History of the World.

A further problem for Christian apologists who want to rely on this account is that all the works of Africanus have also been lost. So, the only knowledge we have of Thallus and his reputed account of the 'Passover solar eclipse' (which is technically impossible given the relationship of Passover to the lunar cycle) is a putative quote from Africanus by a ninth century Byzantine writer, George Syncellus, a Christian monk and syncellus (literally, cell-mate) to Tarsius, patriarch of Constantinople. He can scarcely be called unbiased.

As Dan Barker points out:

We have no idea who Thallus was, or when he wrote. Eusebius (fourth century) mentions a history of Thallus in three books ending about 112 C.E. so the suggestion is that Thallus might have been a near contemporary of Jesus. (Actually, the manuscript is damaged, and "Thallus" is merely a guess from "_allos Samaritanos." That word "allos" actually means "other" in Greek, so it may have been simply saying "the other Samaritan.")

Barker, Dan Op.Cit. p. 261.
Mara bar Serapion (dates unknown)

Mara bar ("son of") Serapion, sometimes spelled Mara bar Sarapion (sic) was a Stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria. He is noted for a letter he wrote in Syriac to his son, who was also named Serapion. The letter was composed sometime between 73 CE and the 3rd century, and may be an early non-Christian references to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Although the other examples are named, no first name is given for the 'wise king', so this could equally refer to, for example, the Essene 'Teacher of Righteousness', who was killed by the Jews, whereas, so Christians believe and so the Gospels report, Jesus was killed by the Romans.

The actual text is preserved in the British Museum having been obtained from an Egyptian monastery by Henry Tatton. The 1855 English translation of the key original Syriac text is:

What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the "new law" he laid down.

Given the uncertainty over the date and the ambiguity of the reference, this cannot be regarded as serious historical evidence for the historicity of the biblical Jesus.
Lucian c. CE 125 – after CE 180
(Also known as Lucian of Samosata)

Lucian of Samosata (Ancient Greek: Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, Latin: Lucianus Samosatensis; c. CE 125 – after CE 180) was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature. Although he wrote solely in Greek, he was ethnically Assyrian.

The often cited 'evidence' for the historicity of Jesus comes from a satire entitled The Passing of Peregrinus in which the eponymous character, Peregrinus Proteus, takes advantage of gullible Christians. In it he describes the basis for the Christian sect as "a man who was crucified in Palestine".

But this was in the second century, when this would have been known anyway. It has no more historical value as a source document than would modern writing reporting the same thing. It is nothing more than the equivalent of saying the basis for Mormonism is a man who saw an angel.

The real historical value of this source is that it is probably the earliest record of the pagan perception of Christians in the second century.
Phlegon 2nd Century.
(Also known as Phlegon of Tralles)
Phlegon of Tralles (Ancient Greek: Φλέγων) was a Greek writer and freedman of the emperor Hadrian, who lived in the 2nd century AD.

His chief work was the Olympiads, an historical compendium in sixteen books, from the 1st down to the 229th Olympiad (776 BC to AD 137), of which several chapters are preserved in Eusebius' Chronicle, Photius and George Syncellus.

He is quoted as having made some passing references to the Jews but is not recorded anywhere as saying anything about anyone called Jesus nor anything which could be interpreted as a reference to him.

It seems Phlegon is included in the traditional lists of historical 'proofs' of the historicity of Jesus merely to pad the list and make it look more impressive.
Tertullian c.160 – c. 225 CE
(Also known as Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus)

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD), was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology".

Tertullian was too late to be considered contemporaneous with Jesus or with anyone who might conceivably have known him. His writings are nothing more than early Christian apologetics, no more reliable as authentic history than those of any modern apologist.

Again, he seems to be included in the lists as impressive-looking padding.
Justin Martyr 100 CE –ca.165 CE
(Also known as Saint Justin)

Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin (AD 100–ca.165), was an early Christian apologist, and is regarded as the foremost interpreter of the theory of the Logos in the 2nd century. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue did survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Just another early Christian apologists who seems to be included by insecure modern Christian apologists who seek safety in numbers.
Clement of Rome 'flourished' c.96 CE
(Also known as Pope Clement I, Saint Clement of Rome, Clemens Romanus)

Pope Clement I (fl. 96), also known as Saint Clement of Rome (in Latin, Clemens Romanus), is listed from an early date as a Bishop of Rome. He was the first Apostolic Father of the Church.

Few details are known about Clement's life. According to Tertullian, Clement was consecrated by Saint Peter, and he is known to have been a leading member of the church in Rome in the late 1st century.

The Catholic Church is hopelessly muddled about whether Clement was the second, third or fourth Pope after Peter. The only existing writing is a letter from him to the Christian congregation in Corinth in which he calls for the reinstatement of some deposed bishops on the grounds that they had been consecrated by the Apostles. It contains nothing which could be interpreted as a reference to a historic Jesus. Clement was merely stating the, by then, established Latin Christian dogma.

Once again, mere padding for a list, which modern Christian apologists seem only too aware is embarrassingly meagre if only the sources with any realistic claim to substantiate the historicity of the biblical Jesus are included.
Ignatius from 35-50 to 98-117 CE
(Also known as Ignatius of Antioch or Theophorus)

Ignatius of Antioch (Ancient Greek: Ἰγνάτιος Ἀντιοχείας, also known as Theophorus from Greek Θεοφόρος "God-bearer") (ca. 35 or 50-between 98 and 117) was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, he wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology. Important topics addressed in these letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.

Church tradition, which has no documentary support, says that Ignatius met Jesus as a child and was taken in his arms and blessed. This seems to be based on his 'stage name', Theophorus ('God Bearer') involving some curious notion of role reversal. He, along with his friend Polycarp (of whom more later) may have been disciples of the Apostle John.

Many letters and other documents once attributed to him have been shown to be forgeries and others have been heavily doctored with interpolations. A claimed eye-witness accounts of his martyrdom is also a forgery.

Probably included in the list to give it the caché of including some early Christian fathers and martyrs.
Polycarp 69 – 155 CE

Polycarp (69 – 155) (Ancient Greek: Πολύκαρπος) was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. Polycarp is regarded as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches.

It is recorded by Irenaeus, who heard him speak in his youth, and by Tertullian, that he had been a disciple of John the Apostle.


With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. The sole surviving work attributed to his authorship is his Letter to the Philippians; it is first recorded by Irenaeus of Lyons.

The only extant document attributed to Polycarp is a letter to the Philippeans which shows a heavy reliance on the New Testament. At best, it can only be regarded as a statement of early Christian belief.

Polycarp, like the preceding two members of the list, appears to be included to create a trio of early Christian Church Fathers. He has nothing to offer by way of historical authentication of the biblical Jesus either. Maybe the 'argument' is that, if they believed it, it must be true, maybe as a form of ancestor worship or quoting the beliefs of a Founding Father as 'proof' of that belief.
Clement of Alexandria c.150 – c. 215 CE
(Also known as Titus Flavius Clemens)

Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150 – c. 215), known as Clement of Alexandria, was a Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. A convert to Christianity, he was an educated man who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature. As his three major works demonstrate, Clement was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy to a greater extent than any other Christian thinker of his time, and in particular by Plato and the Stoics. His secret works, which exist only in fragments, attest that he was also familiar with pre-Christian Jewish esotericism and Gnosticism. Among his pupils were Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem.

It's hard to see why a Christian theologian who could not possibly have had any first-hand experience of events between 4 BCE and c.30 CE should be included in a list of people providing authentic, contemporaneous evidence for the biblical Jesus.

List padding and a desire to mislead seems to be the only possible explanation.
Hippolytus 170 – 235 CE
(Also known as Hippolytus of Rome)

Hippolytus of Rome (170 – 235) was the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome, where he was probably born. Photios I of Constantinople describes him in his Bibliotheca (cod. 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus, who was said to be a disciple of Polycarp, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that he suggested that Hippolytus himself so styled himself. However, this assertion is doubtful. He came into conflict with the popes of his time and seems to have headed a schismatic group as a rival bishop of Rome. For that reason he is sometimes considered the first antipope. He opposed the Roman bishops who softened the penitential system to accommodate the large number of new pagan converts.

Again, someone who could not and does not provide any direct, or indirect evidence for the historicity of the biblical Jesus, being born some 140 years too late, and who the early church did not hold in very high regard, seems to be there just to provide bulk in order to impress those who are too lazy to check and who will just accept the list on 'faith'.

Origen c.184 - 253 CE
(Also known as Origen Adamantius)

Origen (Greek: Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs), or Origen Adamantius (184/185 – 253/254), was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, largely because he believed in the pre-existence of souls and apokatastasis, or universal reconciliation, ideas acknowledged to be beyond the pale of Christianity. Today he is generally regarded (in the Catholic Church) as one of the Church Fathers.

Once again there seems to be no reason to include Origen in this list as his 'knowledge' can only ever have been received. Simply retrospectively rehabilitating a former heretic and elevating him to the status of Church Father does not add the weight of historical authenticity to his opinions.

Historical authentication does not work by fiat.
Cyprian died September 14, 258
(Also known as Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus)

Cyprian (Latin: Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus) (died September 14, 258) was bishop of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249 and eventually died a martyr at Carthage.

Maybe not the least in the list, but thankfully the last in a list which would be more honest by its absence.

So what have we from this impressive-looking list of sources which allegedly prove that the Biblical Jesus existed and was as described in the, often contradictory, Gospels in the New Testament, and as talked and written about by 'Paul' and others pretending to be Paul?

What we have is nothing at all which can't be dismissed as forgeries, hearsay, received 'wisdom' or merely statements of orthodox Christian dogma written by people with a personal commitment to belief in Jesus and/or a vested interest in promulgating it.

Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the Bible, is thus probably one of the least well-attested figures in all legend, on a par with King Arthur, Prester John, Rip van Winkle and William Tell. A person who no one alive at the time seems to have noticed or to have considered worth reporting on as a person of any importance.

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Monday, 20 August 2012

Debate: Is There Scientific Evidence Only For The Christian God?

Terms and conditions

The topic for debate will be the proposition that:

There is verifiable, falsifiable, scientific evidence for only the Christian God for which no possible natural explanation can exist.

This debate will take place between the proposer (the person calling himself @Sacerdotus) and myself. It will be conducted according to the following rules:

The proposer will supply an agreed scientific definition of the Christian God against which the proposition can be tested, precise details of the evidence and how it can be verified, how it could be falsified and how it establishes the truth of the proposition beyond reasonable doubt. Failure to do so will be regarded as conceding the debate.

A neutral referee will be agreed. The rulings of this referee will be final and binding on both parties to the debate. The referee will rule on:
  1. Whether an assertion of fact has been validated with verified evidence.
  2. Whether questions have been answered fully, honestly and without prevarication.
  3. The meaning of words, when these are in dispute.
  4. Whether an argument was ad hominem or not.
  5. Any other disputes when requested by either of the parties to the debate.
  6. Whether a referral to the referee was mendacious or an attempt to prevaricate, divert or otherwise obstruct the normal flow of debate.
  7. The referee may intervene at any time to declare the debate won, lost or drawn.

Should either party fail to provide evidence for which a claim of its existence has been made, the debate will be considered lost.

Making any claim which is shown to be untrue or unsupported by evidence will result in forfeiture of the debate.

Ad hominem arguments will result in forfeiture.

Failure to respond to an reasonable point, answer a reasonable question or to supply the evidence requested within three days (subject to notified periods of absence) will result in forfeiture.

The debate will take place across two blog sites; this one and @Sacerdotus' own blog. Each party will make it clear which point is being addressed. A record of the entire debate may be published in full at the discretion of either party.

As I expected, though I hoped not, Sacerdotus would not accept these terms and conditions nor was he able to establish the proposition despite his boasts that he could produce scientific proof of the Christian god's existence. Perhaps his definitions of the meanings of the words 'scientific' and 'proof' are private ones and not those used by normal people.

Eventually, I posted this proposition in his blog and invited him to refute my assertion that he would not be able to establish it's truth.

He then went into what looked like panic-stricken denialism and posted some 20-30 tweets on Twitter demanding I reply to his blog, and despite repeatedly being given screen-captures of my reply. He even created at least three new accounts to RT his hysterical tweets.

Eventually, the overwhelming consensus of people who responded to my tweet asking if I should continue was that Sacerdotus clearly had no intention of debating honestly and seemed not to understand the basic rules of debate. The whole ploy had been disingenuous from the outset, hence his fear of holding it on neutral ground with a neutral referee and according to agreed rules to prevent prevarication, diversion and the other traditional tactics of Christian apologetic sophistry.

If 'Sacerdotus' has the integrity to leave his blog up, this may be read here. It is not a pretty sight.

One can only assume that Sacerdotus was fully aware that he could not support his claim and had decided that his 'faith' can only be defended with these sorts of tactics of deception. One wonders at the mentality of someone who knows they are pushing a lie but never-the-less is prepared to go to these lengths to 'promote' it in their own deluded way. One can only assume they are getting something out of their phoney piety in terms of the behaviour, opinions and attitudes they can blame on it. Or maybe it's just the hope of an easy living from the life as a parasite on the gullible and vulnerable.

Whatever the motive, there is clearly no belief that a god of honesty is watching his every move and taking note. The abject abandonment of intellectual integrity is too profound to support that view. It never ceases to amaze me how people are prepared to drag their 'faith' through the gutter rather than to back down and admit that it is baseless.

Clearly, their precious ego is much more important than the god they purport to believe in

[Further Update]
As a rather sad footnote, it seems my challenge to @Sacerdotus and his laughably infantile attempts to make excuses for running away from it seem to have pushed him over the edge psychologically. I'm not a psychiatrist so I don't pretend to understand the processes involved but I suspect I undermined his one remaining claim to a degree of importance in the fantasy persona he believed he had constructed on social network sites like Twitter and Blogger. With that gone he now has to come to terms with just being ordinary again. It's a shame he sees no value in that.

The last few weeks, when @Sacerdotus, who turns out to have been a failed trainee Catholic priest called Manuel de Dios Agosto from Bronx, New York, who left the St Joseph's Franciscan seminary, New York in mysterious circumstances some time after entering it sometime after 2003, became increasingly bizarre in his claims and behaviour, have culminated in some of his many Twitter accounts being suspended. His increasingly bizarre and irrational claims have included claims that I am a paranoid schizophrenic, a child abuser and a terrorist in whom the FBI have an interest. His blog now includes a picture of a typical modern English house which he claims is mine provided by his 'contacts' and a claim that 'the authorities' have been passed a file he's compiled on me. I assume his 'contacts' are as fictitious as his other claims of multiple degrees, impending priesthood, etc.

Needless to say, the house bears no resemblance to mine and his claims are pure fiction, the product, so it would seem, of a deranged and psychotic or immature mind. And all because I challenged him to substantiate his claim to have scientific proof of the Christian god. I obviously blew his cover in a big way with that simple challenge.

Perhaps the biggest lesson here is the rather obvious one; that those who profess piety and identify with religious belief often do so as a cover. There can be little doubt from his blog, his tweets and his actions, that Manuel no more believes in a watching god of truth who requires it's followers to be honest and to behave well towards others, than I do. The difference being that I don't believe Atheism frees me from responsibility to be honest and to behave with integrity and respect towards others.

On the other hand, Manuel, whose upbringing has been steeped in the belief that one has to behave well to avoid eternal suffering, and for no other reason, seems to have concluded that Atheism for him means freedom to abuse and take out his anger for his failure on others. It's a shame that loss of 'faith' for so many former Christians seems to mean loss of the control that fear once had on their latent psychopathy. This control may be one of the few benefits of religion but it surely can only be needed for those damaged by religion in childhood in the first place.

I wish Manuel well and hope he gains the self-esteem he so obviously lacks at the moment. Maybe just trying to be a decent person rather than trying to get away with pretending to be something he so obviously isn't, would help.

[Further Update] Manuel is still after five months, constructing ever-more elaborate and deranged fantasies about me, including letters to 'UK Authorities' detailing reports from his imaginary UK 'contacts'. It's almost as though he's living out his fantasies through me, including lurid tales of stalking New York school children. One can only hope that these remain fantasies.

Surely there must be someone in the Bronx Catholic Community who can arrange for him to get the psychological support he clearly needs, even if they are ashamed of him and embarrassed by his bizarre behaviour. Aren't they at least partly responsible for the mistake of accepting him as a trainee priest in the fist place?

Here is the account in a New York Catholic newsletter of his entry into the Franciscan Seminary in 2001 (when the site was archived), about three quarters of the way down. Use your browser's search facility to find Manuel de Dios Agosto.

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Sunday, 19 August 2012

How Christian Fundamentalists Lie To Us

It's never a pretty sight to watch a fundamentalist in melt-down, hilarious though it might be, and I don't normally carry over spats in Twitter into this blog, but this one is too good to pass up.

Of course, you can't draw a general conclusion from a specific example, but this illustrates what can happen when religious (in this case Catholic Christian) fanaticism crossed the boundary between a sincere attempt to convince people of the truth of a firmly-held superstitious belief, and a blatantly dishonest attempt to fool people, having run out of ideas for doing it honestly and with integrity but lacking the moral courage to admit to not having any evidence to use when asked for some.

It also illustrates rather nicely I think, the point I made in an earlier blog - If Creationism Is Science, Why Do They Need Tactics? - to which no creationist has yet been able to produce a coherent reply.

It also illustrates the parasitic viral nature of the religion meme in one of its more pathological manifestations.

These tweets on the right were posted by a fundamentalist who claims to be a trainee Catholic priest but who already has a reputation for dishonesty and is something of a figure of fun in the community of people who follow and post to the #Atheist / #Atheism hashtags on Twitter. He is know by the user-name @Sacerdotus. The tweets were all sent between 16:41 and 16:53 on 19 August 2012 BST.

The first thing to notice is the the link @Sacerdotus includes ( does not link to any such challenge, nor is there any reference to one on the site it links to. It is merely a link to his blog.

@Sacerdotus has access to my blog (Rosa Rubicondior) and regularly posts comments but has never seen fit to post his 'challenge' there, nor have I ever received a challenge to him via email. I have never seen a Twitter tweet referencing this 'challenge', although, as @Sacerdustus knows, I had blocked him several months ago having tired of his infantile and dishonest 'debating' tactics there and in accord with the policy I state in my Twitter bio, and only unblocked him yesterday, so maybe @Sacerdotus chose to hide his 'challenge' by tweeting to me when he knew I wouldn't receive it.

But perhaps I am crediting @Sacerdotus with too much intelligence in assuming he would know that to issue a challenge, one needs to communicate that challenge to the person you are challenging, but, even for a trainee Catholic priest it seems unlikely that he would really be that stupid.

Which just leaves us with one realistic explanation: @Sacerdotus is lying again, and hoping again to trick people with deception because he knows that truth and honesty won't work.

And this of course illustrates what Francis Collins, himself a Catholic Christian, means when he says in The Language of God "Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology. Its persistence is thus one of the great puzzles and great tragedies of our time". I would also add moral bankruptcy to that charge but then that is to be expected of those who have abdicated personal responsibility in favour of obedience to the diktat of a character in a book, who then provides a convenient scapegoat in the 'God Sez!' excuse.

@Sacerdotus' abandonment of even a pretence of honesty and integrity and his descent into the playground tactics illustrated above in lieu of evidence, reason and logic in civilised debate, shows how religion can pervert the human mind and turn it to it's own purpose at the expense of personal integrity and dignity, just as a virus perverts the host it infects and uses it for the benefit of the virus at the expense of the host.

One wonders just what else sufferers from this psychotic delusion are capable of perpetrating on mankind if they ever regained the power they once held over us in the appropriately-called 'Dark Ages', if this is the sort of response you get to a polite request to validate an assertion or provide supporting evidence for a claim of fact.

Further reading: It Could Never Happen To Us - Zombies Controlled By A Parasite.

[Update]: To see how this subsequently developed and how @Sacerdotus, who turned out to be Manuel de Dios Agosto who was expelled from St Joseph's Seminary, NY because of his behaviour there, and who now spends his days trolling the Internet harassing, abusing and intimidating people, including threatening them with violence, under a variety of guises, see:

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