Speed Dating For Christians

Yeah, I know the title would make for some hilarious comedy sketches. Unfortunately I’m not going to go that route.

I was reading a post over at The Art Of Logic a post on the topic of the date the gospels were written for the New Testament. Most people seem to think that they were written no earlier than about 70 c.e. or somewhere in the area of 40 years after the supposed death of Jesus. That’s a long time. The blog post argues that it’s not really that long:

When do scholars place the gospels?  It varies rather widely.  Many, however, put Mark written around 70 AD, with Matthew and Luke written in 80′s or 90′s (maybe early 2nd century), and John written after those two.  Let’s just assume this is true for a moment.  That puts Christ’s death around 33 AD, and Mark’s gospel less than 40 years afterward.  A long time by some standards, I suppose, but not really all that long historically, considering my grandfather fought in World War II and could remember events clearly and coherently in 2005, around 60 years later (the equivalent of the mid-90′s AD).

I have a different take on things. Do you know who Tank Man was? Well, Chinese school children don’t know who he was and won’t until they get uncensored Internet access and a desire to know. He and his action have been blotted out of Chinese history despite the fact that all the rest of the world knows.

Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, is the nickname of an anonymous man who stood in front of a column of Chinese Type 59 tanks the morning after the Chinese military forcibly removed protesters from in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. The man achieved widespread international recognition due to the videotape and photographs taken of the incident. Despite his anonymity, he is commonly (though not necessarily correctly) referred to in Chinese as Wang Weilin (王維林), as dubbed by a Sunday Express article.


Reading through multiple sources, however, I can only really find one major reason for many scholars dating the gospels between that particular time-frame.  And that is this: they think that whoever wrote Mark lied.

You see, the order of the Gospels has been widely accepted and seems reasonable enough.  Matthew and Luke both seem to draw heavily from Mark, and John may draw from Luke.  But the major piece of evidence given for landing these on a particular date comes internally from Mark, and from one verse in Mark, in fact.

The post is thoughtful but I’d argue not thoughtful enough. 20 years is long enough to change cultural history completely even when there is writing and evidence. What scholars of the Christian Bible want you, need you, to believe is that Some 30+ years after the supposed death of Jesus is when people started writing about it. That’s right, for over 30 years nobody seems to have written down what is now argued to be the most important story ever told. Nobody thought it important enough to write down how the earth cracked open and thousands of dead people got up and began walking around the streets. Nobody. Not one surviving record. Not one. No scrap of papyrus, no shard of a tablet, no oral history…. simply nothing and then 35+ years later BOOM, lets get this stuff written down. When it got written down it was riddled with inconsistencies and what can be called outright fabrications. It looks impossibly like plagiarism of other previously extent religions. The texts themselves denounce the other gods, some of which the Jews followed. It’d difficult to see the Jewish people not as polytheists. The premise of one god always for the Jews does not make sense.

So, 30, 40, more years after the supposed fact people start writing down these stories as if writing had just been invented. Really? The Romans, Greeks, even the Jews themselves had historians that paid no attention to whatever happened in the early 30’s c.e. with this Jesus guy. All the magic seems to have happened 2 generations after his supposed death. That’s difficult to believe. The Christian bible itself shows humans to be full of the same hubris they are today. This would have been top selling news had it really happened… a city full of zombies walking around didn’t make the news in Rome? Really?

I call bullshit.

  1. http://dwwork.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/evolution-part-1-science-trapped-in-the-nineteenth-century/

    Here is a “Thinking Christian’s” blog. He is starting a series on evolution if you’re interested. This first one doesn’t say much, but it’s only the first of a series.

    • Thanks, I’ve followed the blog

  2. http://withalliamgod.wordpress.com/

    I found another “thinking Christian” blog. Here is the web-site. He’s going to try to thoughtfully answer your question: “Who get the credit for the bad things that happen to us.” I looks like his answers are pretty surprizing.

    • And another one to follow :0

  3. BS indeed. Nice rebuttal. The absence of a single passing note to Jesus (outside the gospels) screams “fictional character.” I find Josephus’s work the most damning to the claim of a historical man. He penned words on the 1st Century revolutionary crisis-cultists: Simon of Peraea, Menahem, Simon Magus, Apollonius of Tyana, Athronges the Shepherd, Judas the Galilean, John the Baptist, the ‘Samaritan Prophet,’ Theudas, the ‘Egyptian Prophet,’ John of Gischala, Jonathan (the weaver), and even the spiritual revolutionary Simon bar Giora as late as 70 C.E. These were ALL messianic characters… but not a single word on this chap called Jesus? Come’on….

    • As I read your posts, I hear lots of anger at all the self-righteous, legalistic christians in the world. I think you could maybe separate the “good” christians from the “bad” ones once in a while, in your posts. It looks like you only concentrate on the bad ones. There are good christians out here too. Plenty of us.

      Jesus is STILL alive, even today, and I believe you don’t know what you’re missing Mal. You may turn your nose up at Him because you don’t think He’s real – but He’s very real as far as I have found out (to my great, great surprise). I’m speaking for a former non-believer’s point of view here.

      • Robin, not sure if you were replying to me or myatheistlife but i’ll carry the ball forward since i’m here. As a humanist i do try to champion ALL humans. For this same reason i cringe when i see people delude themselves, particularly those of the religious persuasion. Please, take a look at the facts. Just because you “want” to believe jesus lived doesn’t make it any more real. The “facts” indicate a metafictional character, a story invented by crisis cultists which was misinterpreted by the northern Jewish diaspora.

        And please, don’t try and feed me the “good christian”/”bad christian” line. You don’t fight cancer by getting a haircut. Delusion is delusion.

  4. As I read your posts, I hear lots of anger at all the self-righteous, legalistic christians in the world. I think you could maybe separate the “good” christians from the “bad” ones once in a while, in your posts. It looks like you only concentrate on the bad ones. There are good christians out here too. Plenty of us.

    Jesus is STILL alive, even today, and I believe you don’t know what you’re missing Mal. You may turn your nose up at Him because you don’t think He’s real – but He’s very real as far as I have found out (to my great, great surprise). I’m speaking for a former non-believer’s point of view here.

    • Robing, just one more point…. I’m sure you’re a good person. That’s great. Analyse why you’re a good person… is it really because you ‘believe’ in Jesus?

      • Hi John,
        I don’t think I’m a particularly “good” christian but I try to keep an open mind – I think. I call myself a “quirky” christian actually. I was pretty much of an atheist growing up. I came from a family who thought Jesus was a myth put together to teach moral stories. I came under the “spell” of Christ in 1982 during a time of extreme crisis when there was no one else to help me in this world and I was completely unable to help myself. I go to church, and that’s all well and fine, but my relationship to God, whom I found through Christ, is mostly a walk with the Holy Spirit who I feel palpably inside me on an almost 24/7 basis. Without this other being living inside me – 2 spirits in 1 body – I would break apart into a million pieces. With my own head, and my own thinking, I could not make it in this world. I know this may sound hookey, but it’s my honest truth.

        • Robin, i’ll admit it does sound a little hookey, but if you truly believe it helps then good for you. 🙂

    • robin, perhaps I could give more credit to the ‘not crazy’ Christians, but even though I find you thoughtful, caring, and not crazy we do have a difference of opinion here. You readily eject those parts of the Christian dogma that do not agree with you so while you call yourself a Christian of sorts you have invented your own religion based loosely on the New Testament of the Christian bible. I will not argue whether it helps you get through your day or not, it seems to. I simply have trouble calling a ‘Christian’ since you don’t subscribe to the dogma.

      For those like you and many others (polytheists etc.) I have no issue… unless you are voting for someone that wants to teach creationism in science class or wants to deprive GLBTQ people of their rights etc.

      For the most part, in my country at least, these types of people all identify as Christians. This is why I seem to be aiming at Christians, for it is their dogma that is hurting the country I live in. Outside that I aim at monotheism because in general the dogma that goes with it is caustic to the world at large. Sure, if you invent your own kind of monotheism which is not caustic, then I’m not aiming at you. I do not aim to rid the world of religion… just the religion that has stupid and dangerous ideas. Please do not take it personal.

      For my other readers, and there are several, if you don’t hold to the dangerous and stupid dogma of monotheism, then what I’m angry about probably doesn’t apply to you. Don’t take it personal. I’d suggest that you might find a different label than Christian etc. Most people have a big brush and apply the tar liberally. Even the Bible advises you to be careful who you associate with. Even atheists have this problem so it is not some special criticism of theism.

      • I guess I would call myself a “believer” since I definitely believe. And, you’re right, I do take the Bible loosely. I mostly go with what I hear the Holy Spirit (who lives in me 24/7) tells me. But I go to ACIM (A Course In Miracles) meetings every week too, because I believe it adds another dimension to my faith. Have you ever heard of ACIM? My Gnostic sister told me about it and she goes regularly herself. I hear that you don’t necessarily believe there’s not a God? (I’m still not sure where you actually stand on this matter) just that the “Christians” you know of make this type of God untenable.

        As for taking what you say personally? I’m not at all. Even though our beliefs differ, I like you and I like the way you write. You have a real gift for being able to tell it like you see it.

        robin claire

        • Here’s the thing. I claim the labels atheist, anti-theist, materialist, nihilist, and mechanical atheist. I say there is no god(s). There is no evidence to even think the idea tenable and no evidence that any exist.

          I find the natural/physical world explains all that we know of. What some of us think we know without evidence has yet to be explained. (for instance, explain how gods can exist) It was NOT easy to get where I am, but the journey has given me the understanding that I have.

          I do not believe in gods, and I do not hold science as a religion. Facts are facts, they require no faith where religion does. I hope that my posts and comments do show that I’m willing to listen even if they show me short on patience when the conversation is about things long ago debunked.

  5. Compared with other ancient texts, the New Testament not only has the most copies but the copies are closest to the original documents.

    Interesting discussion on the issues here:


    Wikipedia has an extensive entry on the historicity of Jesus discussing various sources/non-Christian documents and their position in the scheme of things

    Photographs and television don’t really compare with scrolls and horses (or walking) in terms of capacity for information transfer and dispersal. The gospels themselves could have been written down over a number of years and then compiled together at a later date. I doubt it was a case of just someone doing a brain dump trying to get it all down in a session. The writer of the Gospel according to Luke says:

    “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

    That is the claim anyway 🙂

    • Mathew, since you cite Wikipedia, the entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Luke shows that the authorship of Luke-Acts is not without issues. There is no copy of the Q writings and the entirety of the NT has a scattered history and the pedigree of a bastard child. While the author can claim to be writing what was written we do not have those works. It is a claim, nothing more and evidence that what you are reading in Luke-Acts is not an eye witness account but a third hand account of what is claimed to be an eye-witness account. In the passage you quote, it was common that many (all) were taught the religion without an orderly account – leading to people at some point saying “hey, we need to write this stuff down” which is exactly what it looks like happened.

    • J_Agathokles
    • November 19th, 2012

    Well, the Qor’ān was also only written down some time after the death of Muḥammad, because the muslims of that time started losing all the direct witnesses of the prophet, his sayings, and his deeds. So they compiled all quotes from the prophet in a book from all the surviving witnesses they could still find. The same could apply for the Bible.

    And don’t forget Yēšuah was executed as a criminal, a rebel who directly challenged the authority of the Roman government and generally creating havoc and breaking the peace, like riding into Yerušalayim on the back of a donkey (a symbol of kingship in Semitic thought), by which he declared the city to be his, and off course upsetting the daily business at the Temple. And more of that. So given the fact the Roman state considered him a criminal, possessing writings about him could be seen as a criminal act in itself, and thus be just dangerous to have.

    The issue is off course the fact that we don’t have evidence that predates the current earliest dates of those gospels. Absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence, but it’s not evidence of presence either, you know.

    Another hiatus in the record is the fact tat nothing seems to be left over from the Roman authorities’ records concerning him, until much later. So far only indirect evidence has been found, like some piece of a monument bearing the name of Pontius Pilatus, Roman governor of Judaea at the time of Yēšuah’s crucifixion. Interestingly this monument gives him a different title then the one recorded in the gospels, if I’m not mistaken. The Pilate Stone refers to him as Praefectus, the gospels as a Procurator, which became the title of Judaean governors around 44 CE.

    • There are more problems with the NT than there are not, on balance. Whether it was dangerous to hold writings of the sayings of Jesus or not, it was not dangerous to hold records of his execution, nor histories of the events of the time. Neither of those exist. That is the straw that broke the camel’s back as it were.

  6. Thanks for providing a reply to my post! Glad to know that there are people out there interested enough in such matters to discuss it intelligently.

    Quick question: how many writings from 30-ish AD to 70-ish AD do we have?

    Dr. E.M. Blaiklock was internationally known for his scholarship on ancient writings, and has said that “practically nothing exists from the time of Christ,” even for other major figures, like Julius Caesar. He said that if he were to take everything currently discovered that has been dated from the 40’s to the 60’s, history or not, it would compose a stack of less than a foot high, and much of it, curiously enough, is from Spanish immigrants to Rome, and not the Romans themselves.

    A.N. Sherwin-White was a premiere historian out of Oxford, and he says that, historically speaking, the gospels provide a much more credible account of Roman life at the time than any of the common works of the Roman world. Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Romans” is two centuries removed from the recorded events, and Livy’s “History of Rome” comes from 500 years later. Yet we get a great deal of our understanding of Roman history from documents like these.

    As for the particular passage you used, I can see you selected it very carefully, because it is one of the strangest and most cryptic passages from the gospel accounts. Only Matthew mentions it and no others, not even Paul in any of his letters. So it is hard to know exactly what is meant by that, but it seems safe to assume that, given the way that the passage was structured, whatever events it was referring to were not on the scale of a Rome-wide zombie invasion, and were probably a number of more intimate appearances of people that would have been generally unrecognized by the rest of the population.

    So that certainly is an odd passage. But what about two of the other accounts mentioned in that passage and in the other gospels? The earthquakes, and the sky turning dark. As it turns out, we actually have secular evidence of both of those, some historical (i.e. other writers referring to them) and some scientific. Geologists have recently confirmed that a widespread seismic activity happened in the early 30’s AD. Of course, in usual form, now Mark just borrowed from that event to craft his story instead of merely making it up.

    • I needed no care in selecting a passage. It sticks out like a sore thumb unless you are busy trying not to see it.

      Even if I grant that the sky darkened and the earth rumbled and that the ghosts of long dead folk were not a city wide zombie attack, we are still left with a story that makes no sense in the context of proving a deity was crucified that day.

      Lets say an earthquake loosed a pocket of gas that affected a few people who joined each other in a bit of hysteria to convince each other they saw ghosts and further that it must have been because of the crucifixions. This does not prove a deity exists(ed).

      Signs and portents and miracles without evidence are just stories. Joseph Smith and L.Ron Hubbard have proven beyond doubt that all you need is a story to start a religion.

      The evidence, such as it is, that is offered up of the Christian belief in the early first century looks no different than the start of Mormonism or Scientology. Nothing in any of these stories offers evidence of a god and much of the stories are provably false or contradicted by other parts of the same stories. Yes, lack of mention by other writers calls into question the mention by a single writer who has an interest in telling the Jesus story. Take everything on the whole and what you get is ludicrous, not believable, and clearly not credible evidence.

      Those who had an interest in telling the histories did not give the Jesus story more than mild notice that there were people who believed it – and later forgeries show this to not even be enough for the church. In short, you have to believe Jesus existed and was crucified to believe the evidence offered proves it.

      To get a better idea of what I’m getting at, http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/1stC_Hist.htm

      • That’s fine, you can interpret the stories how you will, but my post was mostly focused on the notion that the gospels were written a long time after, and I think I’ve presented a good case for that not being accurate. The other events I mentioned were to show that the writing was more based on actual Roman history than is often assumed, and more so than could be inferred from your post, as opposed to them being stories wistfully imagined many years later.

        Now, as far as whether or not Christians forged various documents, gradually wove myths throughout actual events, changed things later on, etc., well that’s another matter, and one that I will be looking at more closely in later posts of my own.

        Thanks for the link to the other article, though. It was a good read.

        • Thanks for commenting. All discussion is good… more or less 😉

  1. January 28th, 2013

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