Addressing objections to the Signs of Abraham & Moses

In my previous post I noted that a really good comment had been submitted on the External Evidence Session, basically questioning the value of external evidence.  The comment noted that external evidence does not tell us whether or not the gospel stories were legendary extrapolations built around a historical kernel of events.  I agreed, but submitted that at the very minimum external evidence can be used to weed out pretenders from contenders, similar to how first-year university courses are often designed to weed out students with insufficient motivation or aptitude.

First-year courses also serve as the foundational prerequisites upon which the more useful upper-year courses are built – the ones that give the knowledge and information that we really use.  In a similar way we are now in a position to integrate the External Evidence Session with that of Session 5 – where we opened a case to see if there is a Divine Mind behind the biblical account.

Abraham sacrifices his Son

In that 5th Session we looked at two very important stories in the earliest section of the Old Testament – in the Pentateuch of the books ascribed to Moses.  We first looked at the account of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, which (though many are not aware of it) we showed to be the place where the city of Jerusalem was eventually established.  And we saw that there are allusions in this account of Abraham that have fascinating parallels with, and point to, Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem.  It is the fact that the allusion predates the event it alludes to by thousands of years that makes it so especially intriguing.  It points to a drama/literary mind, but since no human mind can coordinate events far into the future it opens the possibility that there is indeed a Divine Mind coordinating these events.

Tacitus: External Evidence Corroborating where Jesus was crucified

Now the first (and most obvious) rebuttal to this is that the gospel writers simply made up the ‘detail’ of Jesus’crucifixion being in Jerusalem to make it ‘fit’ that Abrahamic allusion.  But now we know from external evidence that Tacitus (a historian not at all sympathetic to the gospel) places that event in Judea.  He says:

Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, … but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated…(Annals XV. 44)

Josephus: External Evidence Corroborating Jesus

Josephus, the Jewish historian from the same period agrees with Tacitus in saying that:

At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die.  (Antiquities Book XVIII, III)

And Josephus tells us in his Antiquities in the two paragraphs just preceding this quote that:

But now Pilate, the procurator of Judea, removed the army from Cesarea to Jerusalem, to take their winter quarters there …Pilate was the first who brought these [pagan] images to Jerusalem and set them there …But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem (Antiquities Book XVIII, III)

In other words, though the Roman center had previously been in Cesarea, Pilate was in Jerusalem when Jesus was executed.  So we have two external sources with unbiased or negative motives that corroborate the crucifixion of Jesus being under Pilate in Jerusalem.  Thus we know that the Gospel writers did not fabricate this detail to make it ‘fit’ the allusion from Abraham.

Moses’ Passover Account

Similarly with the Mosaic Passover story we saw allusions pointing to the Passover as the time of year when Jesus was to be executed.  For Jesus’ death to fall on that same festival by chance is slim indeed.  Adding to that is that the Mosaic account tells us that this festival is a ‘sign for us’ and it comes with so many parallels to Jesus crucifixion.  Did the Gospel writers fabricate this link to the Passover to make it ‘fit’ the allusion from Moses?

Jewish Talmud: External Evidence

We did not cover this particular item in the External Evidence session, but in the Jewish Talmud is preserved this statement about the execution of Jesus.

“Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve.  Forty days previously the herald had cried, ‘He is being led out for stoning because he has practised sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy.  Whosoever has anything to say in his defence let him come and declare it’.  As nothing was brought forward in his defence he was hanged on Passover Eve” cited in FF Bruce,  Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. 1974 p.56

So we have, once again, hostile witnesses, that though disagreeing on the meaning of Jesus, place Jesus’ crucifixion (ie hanging) at Passover.  They would be the last people to have any motive to do so because it strengthens the meaning of Jesus that they are vehemently at odds with.

So we cannot simply dismiss the fulfillment of these allusions that we looked at in Session 5 as simply fabrications on the part of the gospel writers.  We have to take it seriously as history.

And that does partially address an issue that was raised when Justin asked:

The main issue at hand, I think, is the apparent impossibility of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection…can that really be addressed in this way?

In other words, how can one verify the miraculous?  And we here are confronted with a strengthening case for a Divine Mind in these accounts since, using external evidence, we cannot dismiss their fulfillment simply by saying that the gospel writers made it up.  These particular details are verifiable.  And if there is a Divine Mind, i.e. God, then certainly miracles are possible.  Now, I titled Session 5 as an ‘opening case’ because I think if there are only these two allusions it is certainly conceivable that coincidence could explain them.  But it does open up a possibility that surely warrants further investigation.  Are there more, even ones that are more explicit?  Here is a good place to start to investigate.

Your Common-Sense, Practical Test for the Reliability of the Bible

We are now in the closing hours of 2011.  One of the aspects of life today (and I am sure it will be true in 2012 as well) is that we rely so much on experts to address the various questions we face.  Health issue?  See a doctor, and if (s)he does not know, you can get a referral to a specialist.  Computer problem?  You find either a hardware or a software expert to help you.  In almost any area of life we turn to experts for advice and help Continue reading

Archaeological Discovery of Ancient Temple Announced

The Jerusalem Post, on Christmas Day, announced the discovery of a seal used in the Temple worship in Jerusalem has been discovered.  The article, which includes a video of the artefact Continue reading

Christopher Hitchens & North Korea’s Kim Jong-il: Is it really religion that poisons everything?

A few days after the passing of Christopher Hitchens, North Korea’s ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il also died.  Given that one of the obsessions of the North Korean regime is the suppression and eradication of anything religious, and that Hitchens championed the view world-wide that it was religion that poisons everything, one might expect that Hitchens would be in broad support and agreement with the late North Korean leader.  However, he had the following to say about Kim Jong-il and North Korea”

“North Korea is a country that still might give us a lot of trouble and it is, believe me, it is exactly like a 1984 state, it is as if it was modelled on 1984, rather than 1984 on it. It is extraordinary, the leader worship, the terror, the uniformity, the misery, the squalor.”

I sympathize totally with his assessment of North Korea.  Its condition is a modern-day tragedy and (with its nuclear ambitions) a threat to world peace.

I have a friend who is currently working to bring to trial for crimes against humanity the leaders of the former Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.  The BBC is reporting on this landmark trial.  The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia were estimated to have killed over 2 million people – all in the name of a non-religious (atheistic actually) ideology.

Hitchens, in his book, used his withering sarcasm to attack religion as the source of all evil, and he argued that emancipation from it would liberate us all.  But it is not difficult to find societies, built in opposition to religion, that have gone terribly wrong – as even he readily admits.  North Korea and the Khmer Rouge being just two in a list that would have to also include Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s Cultural Revolution – which together exterminated more people than World War II did.

Hitchens and I are in ready agreement that something is wrong.  Across our globe today we regularly inflict tragedy and abuse on each other.  A cursory reading of history will show we have been doing it all through our recorded past.  Looking around at own lives, workplace relationships, family relationships and issues in our own society (eg bullying in schools) reveals steaks of the same trend.  Vastly different societies, like that in India, live with rituals openly acknowledging that something is wrong.

We are also in agreement that religion is not a solution.  We have plenty of religious societies that display a failure equal to the atheistic ones of North Korea and the Khmer Rouge.   Is education the solution?  I am all for education and have invested heavily in it myself.  But we live in an age of unprecedented opportunities for education yet global tragedy and abuse is arguably at similar unprecedented levels.  Science and technology?  Likewise!

Jesus lay our root problem, not on any of the systems we develop, be they religious, educational, economic, or political, but deeper than that – in our hearts.  He said,

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

The verifiable fact that poison has flowed within any and all human institutions, societies, religions, educations – all the way down to even our families – shows that it is not religion that poisons everything.  Kim Jong-il and the track record of the North Korean regime point to something deeper.  Perhaps, unpleasant though the thought may be, Jesus had a point.  Perhaps it is our hearts.

The paradox of mankind is that we can reason morally, and grasp the ‘good’, but cannot live it – whether our society has religion or not.  Perhaps that hearkens to what the Bible says about us:  that we are made in God’s image but have since fallen.  If there is even a remote chance that the biblical diagnosis is correct then would it not be worthwhile to assess, even in a cursory way, the biblical credentials, as well as the remedy that is offered in the gospel.  After all, what is there to lose in becoming informed?

Posts in the same category

  • October 8, 2013 - University survey affirms we are ‘Bound to Believe’

  • January 16, 2013 - The Hindu Kumbh Mela Festival: Showing Bad News of Sin & Good News of the Gospel

  • December 23, 2012 - The Subsequent Life Lived: Signature of the Virgin Birth

  • September 15, 2012 - Corrupted (Part 2) … missing our target

  • September 4, 2012 - …But Corrupted (Part 1 – like orcs of Middle-earth)

  • August 27, 2012 - In the Image of God

  • March 11, 2012 - Richard Dawkins and our Moral Tao – Part 2

  • March 3, 2012 - Richard Dawkins and the Moral Tao – Part 1

  • February 26, 2012 - Glimpsing the Moral Tao … But not able to Grasp it

  • February 20, 2012 - An Oscar Nominee hints at Objective Truth

  • February 6, 2012 - Origins: Evolution or Design – why touch it?

  • December 22, 2011 - Christopher Hitchens & North Korea’s Kim Jong-il: Is it really religion that poisons everything?

  • Christopher Hitchens and the efficacy of Pascal’s Wager

    When I studied philosophy in university I learned about Pascal’s Wager. Simply put, it reasons from the point-of-view of a rational person who does not know for sure if there is a God or not (the position many of us are in).   Continue reading