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The Washington Post — motto ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ — tweeted this Christmas message:

The article is from 2014! Yet, WaPo persists three years later.

Raphael Lataster is a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Sydney. ‘Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up.’ is a most shallow article. Excerpts follow:

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved …

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein …

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased. Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them …

Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.

WaPo published the article on December 18, 2014. On December 24, Raphael Lataster’s former professor, John Dickson, wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC. Dickson is an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University, and he teaches a unit called ‘Historical Jesus to Written Gospels’ for Sydney University’s Department of Jewish Studies.

‘It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas … Mythicism’s in the Air’ is worthwhile reading. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

You can almost set your clock by it. Another article appears arguing Jesus never lived – so Christmas must be upon us.

This time, however, I was particularly interested, not because Raphael Lataster’s piece in The Conversation had anything new to say but because it was written by a young man who just three years ago sat in my Sydney University class on “Historical Jesus to Written Gospels.”

I baulked at writing a reply until, amazingly, his article was picked up by the Washington Post of all places. Such is the appetite for the extraordinary!

Lataster has also written a book entitled There Was No Jesus, There is No God, a rather unsubtle contribution to the growing “new atheist” genre. And he is on his way to completing his PhD at Sydney University – notably in religious philosophy, not in history

But my concern is not with atheism, religious philosophy, or even Christian apologetics. It is with history. As his former lecturer, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Raphael’s 1000 words on Jesus would not receive a pass mark in any history class I can imagine, even if it were meant to be a mere “personal reflection” on contemporary Jesus scholarship. Lataster is a better student than his piece suggests …

First, Lataster has offered an academic contrivance, as he seeks to give respectability to what is known as “mythicism” – the view that Jesus started out as a purely celestial figure revealed in dreams and visions to prophetic figures like the apostle Paul and only later written into history-sounding texts like the Gospels …

“Mythicists” are the historical equivalent of the anti-vaccination crowd in medical science. They are controversial enough to get media attention. They have just enough doctors, or doctors in training, among them to establish a kind of “plausible deniability.” But anyone who dips into the thousands of secular monographs and journal articles on the historical Jesus will quickly discover that mythicists are regarded by 99.9% of the scholarly community as complete “outliers,” the fringe of the fringe …

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality

Thirdly, Raphael’s claim that the letters of Paul “overwhelmingly support the ‘celestial Jesus’ theory” is an indefensible exaggeration. It would have been valid to point out that a case for a mythical Jesus in Paul’s letters has recently been offered by atheist apologist and historian Richard Carrier. But one cannot talk of “overwhelming support” for this idea …

Lataster surely knows what every historical Jesus course makes plain: Paul’s evidence for the historical figure of Jesus is widely regarded as particularly early and significant. His letters weren’t written to defend a historical personage, and yet Paul refers in passing to Jesus as “born of a woman,” being a descendant of King David “according to the flesh,” having Twelve apostles, eating a final meal, being betrayed, and being crucified and buried. There is a mountain of data standing in the way of any claim of “overwhelming support” for the celestial Jesus theory.

Fourthly, there are numerous idiosyncratic statements throughout Lataster’s article which he passes off as accepted insights of historical study. For example, the claim that the Gospels are all “anonymous” is no more accurate than insisting that a modern biography is anonymous on the grounds that the biographer’s name appears only on the front and back cover of the book not in the body of the work. Of course, the Gospel writers did not begin by writing, “I, Mark, now want to write about Jesus of Nazareth …” But wherever we have a surviving front or back page of a Gospel manuscript, we find a superscript indicating the biographer’s name, and there is absolute uniformity of that name: euaggelion kata Markon, euaggelion kata Lukan and so on.

Finally, Raphael Lataster reveals that his real interest is in sceptical apologetics rather than ancient history when he opines, “There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses.” Leaving aside the question of whether there are eyewitness accounts in the New Testament – many think there aresuch a statement overlooks the fact that virtually everything we know from ancient history comes to us from sources that are neither “contemporary” with events, nor written by eyewitnesses. What we know of Emperor Tiberius, for instance, comes mainly from the Roman chronicler Tacitus, who writes some 80 years after the emperor’s death. This is typical of ancient history, and it poses no dilemma to the contemporary scholar because it is clear that authors such as Tacitus, like the Gospel writers, employed earlier sources within their works.

In any case, to suggest that the Gospels are somehow dodgy because they are not contemporaneous accounts of Jesus indicates a basic unfamiliarity with the discipline of history. And it underlines the impropriety of a student in religious philosophy, whatever his faith perspective, assuming the mantle of academic historian. Anyone may express an opinion, of course, but opinion should not be offered under the guise of expertise

There is just an urgent need for all of us to be more cautious before making (or accepting) grandiose claims like, “there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.” Fail.

Thank you, Dr Dickson.

I found the WaPo tweet to Lataster’s article at the beginning of Imperator_Rex’s Christmas message, excerpted below:

1. The irony? Progressive liberals like to advertize their atheism and ridicule religion, but they’re actually some of the most religious people in history.

2. They have simply replaced worship of an external God with a new object of worship: themselves. Self-worship is the core of their perverse religiosity.

3. This makes them extremely gullible to con artists and evil people, who exploit the narcissism of liberal progressives while they serve their malign (criminal) self-interests …

5. If you know the right language and words to use, liberal progressives will give you a leave pass EVERY TIME. They will let you get away with anything, so long as you keep their narcissistic supply going.

Imperator_Rex then goes into a discussion about Obama and Obama worshippers.

19. Their extremely religious cult followers – such as the nauseating people who wrote the WaPo article at the start of this thread – were willing accomplices.

21. They rail against God and His believers, without realizing that they are the most extreme zealots around. In their arrogance they fail to understand that we have been warned about their type for millennia.

22. ‘If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams..saying, ‘Let us go after other gods and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams’ – Deuteronomy 12:29

23. ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many’.
– Matthew 24:4-5

24. Whether you are religious or not, believe or not, Jesus’ powerful words resonate down the millennia. As does his request for us to commit to the way of the truth, the way & the light.

25. On this special day, let us reject the false song of the liberal progressives. The song that aims to persuade us to give power to evil men and women, as well as to anaesthetize us with sweet sounding lies.

26. We MUST face down our enemies. They will not go away. We live in a perpetual war between good and evil, light and dark, truth and lies. Whether we like it or not.

27. There will always be evil and bad people who seek to cover us in darkness for their malign ends. And their useful idiots, as this shameful WaPo piece proves.

‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’. Indeed it does, WaPo, indeed it does. The stark irony of this motto is inescapable.

30. And let us pray for the eventual defeat of America’s greatest enemies, as well as their cult members and propagandists. We are almost there – they are doomed – but we must remain vigilant.

Jesus & his disciples – the first Christians – would expect no less.

The end.

Just so.

I will have more about the Washington Post soon.

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