The Case for Christ: The Movie!

So I went and saw it. Here’s a review.

Read on, and enjoy your Easter week pondering the aesthetic merits of a film embedded with religious propaganda. I’ll remark on both, but my focus will be on the propaganda, and what this film tells us about how Christians think. And why how they think, is flawed. Indeed, flawed to the point of guaranteeing they will trap themselves in delusion.

Backstory

Some of you might not know I was a guest on Lee Strobel’s national TV show Faith Under Fire quite some years ago (on the now-defunct PAX channel). We actually recorded several shows, but only one aired: my brief television debate on the resurrection with William Lane Craig. Strobel was a good and fair host; and the show that aired was edited in a balanced and admirable way (since they only used about half the footage we shot, they could have edited it unfairly, as later happened when the same footage was reused in a fundamentalist DVD home study kit). It’s fitting to remember that, because the movie is about the same thing.

Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, is now a leading classic in Christian apologetics, almost replacing C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and more mainstream than Josh McDowell’s popular fundamentalist tome, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Those three together, are the books Christians most commonly hand their friends and relatives in the hope they’ll see the light of Jesus. They are also the books that contain most of the arguments and assertions you will commonly hear from your Christian friends and relatives in defense of their creed.

The movie is the story of how that book came to exist. The legend is, Lee Strobel was a die-hard atheist, but then his wife Leslie converted to Christianity, so he applied his journalistic skills to try and debunk Christianity (actually, only one claim in it: that Jesus was raised from the dead), and by failing despite every effort, he saw the light of Jesus, and became a Christian, and his kids went on to be theologians and evangelists, and everyone lived happily ever after. As millionaires (they skip that part). The concluding scenes show him offering an article series on his investigation of Jesus, which his newspaper rejects, so his wife suggests he publish it as a book. And voila.

Note for the rest of this review, there will be spoilers. And I’ve split it into aesthetics (what’s good and bad about the movie, as a movie) and facts (the actual propaganda in the film). So you can skip to the latter if you want. Although the former has a bearing on it. So you might want to read through.

Is It a Good Movie?

Pretty much, yeah. It’s a far better film than either of the God’s Not Deads (see my review of the “Jesus existed” propaganda in GND 2, including Lee Strobel’s), or Risen (you can read the summary and listen to my Wired Magazine podcast review of that stinker, with Dan Barker), or any other Christian propaganda film I’ve seen. It scores well on every production value (direction, editing, lighting, acting, writing, score, and beyond). The lead (Mike Vogel) even carries off a superb impression of Lee Strobel, right down to voice and cadence (they don’t look terribly alike, but that’s irrelevant to the story). I’d only ding it for the writing, not because it’s bad (it’s a decently done melodrama), but because it’s shallow. By which I mean, there is not a lot that’s deep in this movie, nothing profound, and it often lacks the kind of writing, the depth of story or character development, that you would like to call good.

It is an okay dramatization of real phenomena. Married couples, one of whom becomes Christian while the other stays an atheist, and the conflicts and tribulations that ensue. Not badly done. Just not well done (at least in the cut I saw; more on that below). Then also, someone immersing themselves in apologetics and becoming convinced Jesus is real (the only atypical feature of which is that hardly anyone actually flies around the country interviewing people—I’m slightly doubtful Strobel even did, since a telephone is so vastly cheaper). Though some of the supporting characters in that process are not played well (occasionally it felt like an after school special). And there is a neat side-story about how Strobel’s mainstream reporting got an innocent man convicted of a crime (and his proving that later helping that guy out in the end, sort of). But the core character performances, the story development, all those aspects are well done.

What’s missing are some things that a better written biopic could not have avoided exploring. Possibly this is because they cut things for time. Strobel himself has given better accounts of his story in interviews, and some pre-release discussions of the movie reference scenes that weren’t in the cut I saw (such as depictions of Lee’s alcoholism, and his falling out with his father as a teen).

For example, Strobel is shown estranged from his parents, but it’s never actually explained why. Vague mentions of his father being distant, for example, are not adequate—you don’t hate your dad as vehemently as Strobel is shown, merely because he’s distant. The tension between them is thus badly written (or badly cut). It’s wholly unexplained. The more so why his issues with his father had anything to do with tanking his relationship with his mother, to the point of literally (and I kid you not) not even telling his mom his baby was born (“let them read it in the newspaper” is more or less what he says on screen). That’s some cold shit. Why? A good movie would tell you.

Another example is that there is something hugely missing in the portrayal of the couple’s tensions over their religious differences: the whole movie makes it out as if the only thing between them was whether she felt Jesus (or supported a church), and Strobel is portrayed as seeing that as his wife completely changing into a different person. But that’s doubly unrealistic. To begin with, it’s not well written. Strobel’s wife (Leslie, well played by Erika Christensen) never acts notably differently before or after her conversion, no changes in her person are shown (nor any discussion of Lee’s fears about how she might change, which is how he tells it in interviews), so why does he “not recognize” her anymore?

Even more importantly, if a couple diverges religiously, the first thing they are going to check in on with each other is whether that affects their social, political, and moral beliefs. In other words, is it actually changing anything about them as a person. Usually, when they do, and find they still agree on those things, the tensions are largely relieved (and this is how Strobel, outside the movie, recounts what actually happened). It’s when they start diverging even on those things that they start heading for divorce. None of this aspect of what must have occurred in their relationship is portrayed in the film. And that leaves Strobel’s character far too undermotivated for the script to make sense.

Strobel is nevertheless portrayed quite uniformly as a total dick to his wife. Until he converts, of course. “Jesus will fix you” being the naive message there I guess, an old pseudoscientific trope popular in Christianity even from its very first centuries (see the example of it I quote from Lactantius in Science Education in the Early Roman Empire, pp. 161-63, which I show even then scientists knew was not how people work). Strobel is petty, rude, sexist, controlling, and irrationally jealous—literally pouting over the wedding metaphors at his wife’s baptism, he literally accuses her of cheating on him with Jesus. This jealousy theme comes up several times, and appears to be the central motivation of the character leading him to despise her religion (other than some additional pseudoscience about his relationship with his father, which I’ll get to in the propaganda section). That’s not implausible (plenty of men are like that), but it is childish, and no one ever calls him on it. And why he’s like that is never explored; nor why he would change. It is literally impossible that merely converting to Christianity would alter his fundamental personality traits. But that’s how Christians think brains work, I guess. So it’s how the script got written. That’s not good writing.

Similarly, never once do we hear an argument for why Strobel is an atheist that makes any sense. He just keeps repeating the naive trope that he only believes what he can see, but that isn’t a realistic portrayal of atheism. Most atheists are not that stupid (knowing full well we believe lots of things we don’t literally see), and have much more challenging reasons for their lack of faith than that (see my discussions in my review of Rauser and my Christmas reply to Craig; and of course the next section here). In the same vein, though in the movie ‘atheist’ Strobel complains that the Christians he keeps talking to “talk in circles,” “fill in gaps,” and “don’t offer enough evidence,” the movie never shows the audience any examples of any Christian doing any of those things. In reality, they do them all the time. The audience is never given an example.

The script does one good thing, though. It cleverly shows and even references a sign posted at his newsroom that jokingly reads, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” A great line capturing the principle of skepticism and fact-checking that is central to honest journalism. And I couldn’t tell if it was intentional or accidental, but the one deep thing in the script (as it wasn’t exposited, so you had to notice on your own) is that it ended up showing what that actually looks like in practice: how, indeed, do we verify that someone loves us (and how, as often we must, do we verify someone doesn’t, despite their claiming so). The movie centered around his apparently not believing his dad really loves him. And in the final act, after his dad dies, he actually finds empirical evidence that his dad loved him—in a scene straight out of Inception, which is ironic because in Inception the evidence proving the character’s estranged father really loved him, was a forgery!

Take note of that for later…because forged evidence is kind of a thing in Christianity.

There are other features of the script that look like attempts at poignance that end up being a little eye-rollingly trite, like the fact that he finds out his dad has died literally right after talking to a doctor about the death of Jesus. And adding to the subtle “prove your mother’s love” storyline, there is another metaphor built into the film that’s supposed to tell us something about the interplay of feelings and evidence: the role of the innocent man Strobel gets convicted with his careless reporting. But that I must discuss in connection with the propaganda in the film.

So now let’s do that…

What about That Propaganda?

I won’t query the personal accuracy of anything in the film.

There have been questions raised in the past about the honesty of Strobel’s account of his atheism and how the book came about. He never published anything as an atheist (so he probably wasn’t much of an informed atheist). And claiming to have been an atheist before “seeing the light” is a common evangelical trope. Also, the book was published in 1998. His conversion was in 1981. A rather long time to be writing that book on his wife’s suggestion; by the time the book even came out he had been a pastor at her church for over a decade, and had already written three other books promoting Christianity. Moreover, Strobel himself has said in interviews that the movie is only about 80% accurate, as some characters are composites, some events that happened after 1980 are represented as happening before 1980, things like that, though that’s typical for cinema biopics. Although several key plot points in the film are false. It wasn’t the nurse who saved their daughter’s life who converted Strobel’s wife, nor even that incident that did, but a long process of evangelism by her neighbor and best friend. And Strobel did not discover the evidence that exonerated James Hicks (whose real name was James Dixon), and almost everything else the movie shows in the film about Strobel’s involvement in that case isn’t how it happened (indeed, Dixon was exonerated several years before Strobel began his Jesus investigation in 1980). So I’d take the movie more as fiction than fact.

What matters to me is that the film is representing certain things as having happened and as being a valid way to come to Christ. That would be relevant even if it were entirely fiction. As history, this is the version of events Strobel wants you to believe was effective in bringing him (or anyone, as the nonbelieving viewer is meant to see themselves in him) to Jesus. And in that respect, it’s an argument we can analyze. In fact it’s the most subtle and deeply-integrated element of propaganda in the film. More overt components of that propaganda are the “facts” he is presented as discovering, researching, and confirming in his investigation of Jesus’s resurrection. But even that is so well integrated into the movie it flows well and isn’t something alien forced into the story. It’s a fluid component of it (making this much better than most Evangelical cinema). But those “facts” are still the more obvious thing critics look at when reviewing the film. For example, there is already a good review of the way those facts are presented, by Brent Landau, who teaches Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, in an article that made the pages of Raw Story.

The one central key to unlocking every propaganda film like this, is to remember one fact: all apologetics is about hiding evidence.

So don’t just look for what they are showing you. Look for what they are not showing you. What are they leaving out? And how does putting that back in affect their argument? (See, for example, my article on Bayesian Counter-Apologetics.) All that in mind, my analysis will treat the film as its own gospel—so even if in the real world things happened differently, I might pretend I don’t know that. And then I will focus on two things depicted in the film: claims to fact; and methods.

First, methods.

Oh, Is That How Journalists Do It?

Critics have long noted the Case for Christ book is sham journalism. The movie repeats the same sham. It uses movie tropes to make it seem like Strobel is doing a real journalistic investigation (like traveling to get interviews, making phonecalls, reading books, tying strings on a board linking little photographs or pieces of paper with notes on them). But actually what he does in the film would be rated so incompetent by any actual school of journalism they’d boot him from their degree program.

Strobel says in the film that he interviewed “a dozen historians, philosophers, archaeologists” in his supposedly hard-nosed and critical investigation of the resurrection of Jesus. But not a single one of the people he interviewed was actually a skeptic, or critic of any kind. They all spew fundamentalist apologetics. In fact, all but one of them is a fundamentalist apologist. And even the sole expert he interviews who is claimed to be an agnostic in the movie, just mouths fundamentalist propaganda at him.

That exception is Purdue professor of psychiatry, Roberta Waters, who is identified as an agnostic in the film, but she does not exist in his book, and I haven’t been able to identify her with any actual living person. So did they make her up for the movie? The advice she gives him is bogus, calling into question her credentials even if she was real. For example, she feeds him the pseudoscience of Catholic psychologist Paul Vitz that atheists are only atheists because they hate their fathers (derived in turn from the hack apologetics of the amateur fundamentalist John Koster). No scientific study has verified any such nonsense, nor would any actual professor of psychology say so—the existence of vast numbers of counter-examples alone disproves the thesis, and cherry-picking is a known invalidating method even in a troubled field like psychology. A real psychologist would know those things. Especially an agnostic one. Moreover, Vitz didn’t publish Faith of the Fatherless (which contains no scientific evidence of his thesis) until 1999; and Koster didn’t publish The Atheist Syndrome (likewise devoid of any science) until 1989. Their bogus theory did not even exist in 1980 for any professor to push at Strobel then. So this whole scene looks like 100% fiction, which means in this case, 100% propaganda. A real journalist would have found that out. By talking to another psychologist. Maybe one who actually existed.

Journalists are supposed to do at least two things in cases like this: tell their readers the biases of each source; and get and report a contrary expert view, if any mainstream example is available. That’s a basic part of fact-checking a source, and making sure to give a balanced report of both sides. Yet Strobel only talks to Christian apologists (and a possibly fictional agnostic who only spouts Christian apologetics). And he never fact-checks anything they ever tell him—as a real reporter would. Thus, the “reporting” that’s done in the film, as in the book, is fake. It’s sham journalism, dressed up to look like journalism, to trick you into thinking he actually did what professional journalists do. He didn’t. What he did was just cull propaganda to repeat in his book.

An infamous example of this, in the book but not the film, is Strobel’s so easily being duped by John McCray’s false claim that Jerry Vardaman archaeologically proved the Gospels didn’t contradict each other on the year of Jesus’s birth (see Hitler Homer Bible Christ, pp. 155-66). This is significant. Only someone already sold on Christianity would believe such an astonishing thing. Real journalists would check it out. And that fact-check would discover Vardaman was a nutcase, and his claims utterly bogus. Which would then reveal John McCray to be a wholly unreliable source. Because a real archaeologist would know Vardaman’s claims were bogus. See what happens when you apply a sound method to research? And what happens when, like Strobel, you don’t?

An instructive analogy exists even in the movie itself. Strobel’s journalistic incompetence is on display in the side-story, where his shoddy methods get an innocent man (Hicks, i.e. Dixon) convicted of a crime—and eventually nearly killed in prison (which I’m not sure really happened; it’s never mentioned in Strobel’s subsequent reporting on the case). When the movie-Strobel visits the movie-Hicks in the hospital, Hicks chastises him. Strobel tells him (in the hospital), “I missed the evidence,” “I didn’t see it,” and Hicks says, “You didn’t want to see it.”

Indeed. Consider what the movie depicted. Strobel gets a key piece of information from a single source (journalistic ethics usually require you to get two sources, which have to be independent of each other). That source had an obvious bias that tainted the reliability of their information, and Strobel not only knows that, his movie character is depicted manipulating that source’s bias to get him to tell Strobel what he wanted to hear! This is among the most unethical, irresponsible, and unreliable method of journalism I’ve ever seen (short of literally just making shit up). And yet, it’s exactly what he does in the entire Jesus investigation!

That’s right. Lee Strobel makes the same mistake repeatedly in his investigation of the resurrection. The writers didn’t notice this. Because it tells exactly against the point they wanted to make, which is that Strobel “didn’t want to see” the evidence of the resurrection in the same way he “didn’t want to see” the evidence of Hicks’s innocence. But though this is supposed to mean he learned his lesson in the Hicks case (do better journalism: get more than one source, and seek unbiased or critical sources), he instead unlearns it, and accepts all the bad journalism he just did on the resurrection, where he committed all the same errors as he did with Hicks: he never gets more than one source for a fact or claim, he never seeks unbiased sources, he never seeks critical comment from a disagreeing expert source, he never considers the strongest alternative theories but only the weakest, and he just believes whatever his biased sources say without questioning it or checking it against actual primary evidence. And he never looks for what they are concealing from him.

So his methods don’t work. He found Jesus, using the exact same doomed method that got him wrong on Hicks.

In the movie, what facts did those faulty methods lead him to?

No One Dies for a Lie? Wait, Who Died for a Lie?

Of course Strobel is persuaded it’s all about the resurrection (it’s not, but whatever). He is told to start with Gary Habermas, who is (ahistorically) portrayed as saying he came to Christianity after his wife died, because it comforted him to know he’d be reunited with her. Which is a curious fiction. As it establishes a motive to maintain a false belief. Which is never explored in the film. The real Habermas is of course a notorious liar. His methods are a con game. He’s the kind of source real journalistic standards were invented to defend us against.

Of course Habermas tries to sell Strobel on the tired apologetic line that “no one dies for a lie.” Surely not, “if they knew it was a hoax,” we hear said. This is a classic straw man. And as such, another lie. It’s one thing to ask how likely it is the resurrection appearance claims were a hoax. It’s altogether another to ask how likely it is they were like every other divine appearance experience in the whole history of all religions since the dawn of time: a mystical inner vision. Just as Paul tells us. Our only eyewitness source. Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.

Which gets us to the lying by omission that defines all Christian apologetics. Here is what you aren’t told in the movie:

First, we have hardly any evidence any witness ever died for their belief, and no evidence at all regarding what belief they died for. No accounts come down to us, no records, from anyone who was there or knew anyone who was. 1 Clement is the only contemporary source we have for any such deaths (and that only of Peter and Paul), and he says nothing as to what exactly they were killed for. Second, Paul is the only eyewitness we have accounts from. And he attests to no empty tomb. He never mentions there ever being one, or anyone ever having found one. And he attests no earthly resurrection experience. Paul says apostles saw Jesus “inside” themselves (Gal. 1:16), in “revelations,” visions, not, he specifically says, “with flesh and blood” as depicted in the Gospels (Gal. 1:11-12). And his experience was the same as everyone else’s, excepting only in being last in order (1 Cor. 15:3-8; 1 Cor. 9:1; see OHJ, Ch. 11.4).

Insofar as any witnesses died for anything at all, this is what they died for: claiming to have had an inner spiritual experience of Jesus; not anything depicted in the Gospels. Which requires no miracle. Nor any hoax.

This is information they are keeping from you. This is how they are lying to you.

The 500 Witnesses

Habermas also feeds Strobel the “500 eyewitnesses” line. This is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he says (according to our surviving manuscripts), that after his death Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brethren at the same time” (1 Cor. 15:6). This becomes the most repeated fact in the film, complete with a note on his research board near the end that reads, “mass hallucination a bigger miracle than resurrection.” But concealed from the audience is the fact that we don’t have an account from any of them as to what they saw or even claimed to have seen. The audience is duped into thinking they saw what the Gospels say, but the Gospels don’t even know about any appearance to “500 brethren” (the author of Acts 1:15-16 says there were only 120 brethren altogether, and that’s already certain to be a legendary exaggeration); and Paul doesn’t know anything about the absurd accounts in the Gospels.

So the audience is lied to, right out of the gate, with the very first and most central “fact” in the film.

Notably, Paul’s text is probably corrupt (I’ll say more later on why we know there are hundreds of such corruptions in the manuscripts; the film lies to the audience about that, too). More likely Paul originally said “all the brethren at Pentecost” and not “above five hundred brethren.” The words for “five hundred” and “Pentecost” are nearly identical, as are the words for “all” and “above.” And Paul alludes to the resurrection of Jesus in terms that reference the Pentecost later in the same chapter. Moreover, Luke used Paul’s letters as a source, yet never shows any knowledge of such a mass appearance…except the very Pentecost event in Acts 2:1-4, there described as an amorphous vision of seeing auras and interpreting that as the visiting spirit of Jesus (see The Empty Tomb, p. 192). Which agrees with Acts’ portrayal of Jesus’s appearance to Paul as, again, an amorphous light (Acts 9). Not what’s portrayed in the Gospels.

Either way, these “500” witnesses are not said by anyone (not Paul, not even the Gospels) to have seen (much less touched or dined with) a flesh-and-blood Jesus. And this is a crucial fact the audience (and the movie-Strobel) is never told. Nor are they told that this is the only appearance Paul says occurred to more than one person simultaneously (he uses the word for that only here), and that his description means a singular, brief experience—not Jesus hanging around and dining with them for days (as the author we call Luke implausibly describes in Acts 1, in contradiction to every other Gospel—including, ironically, his own). So when we peel back the layers of myth and legend, and get back to our earliest sources, what we see is an amorphous visionary experience.

This is where the (fictional?) psychiatrist Roberta Waters comes in, to give Strobel both the “you can’t mass hallucinate” and the “you are an atheist because you hate your father” pseudoscience. Actual scientists who actually study hallucination would not say what she does in the film. They would tell Strobel all about mass hallucination events and what they are like and the science of them (see On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 124-37). And indeed they are often exactly like we just found: an interpretation of hallucinated light phenomena. Mass hallucination, often studied as mass ecstasy, can also take other forms (Phillip Wiebe in Visions of Jesus, pp. 77-82).

But this is more of the “hiding evidence from the audience” shell game. Because what’s implied is that Strobel is asking about the Gospel narratives, in which there is never any appearance to “five hundred witnesses” at all; and the appearance stories in the Gospels contradict what Paul implies the witnesses most likely “saw,” which was an inner vision they took to be Jesus communicating with them from heaven (as I just showed), not a guy walking up to them in a body they got to touch. If you ask the right question (can what Paul says be experienced in a mass religious ecstasy?), any honest psychologist will tell you yes. Thus, the audience is shown the weak argument debunked, and are kept from ever hearing the strong argument. Apologetics, once again, is the art of lying by concealing.

Even a mass hallucination of a walking-touching Jesus is possible, once you allow the Gospels are embellishing what even they admit was often an experience of meeting some other person who didn’t look like Jesus but whom the believers took to be Jesus (see Luke 24:15-16; John 20:14 and John 21:4-7; and Matthew 28:17). The psychology of a mass of fanatics convincing each other that something like that just happened is well understood. Notably, apart from hallucination (and only the most implausible version), Strobel only considers in the film the “swoon” theory, that the disciples saw an actual Jesus who didn’t really die. Strobel never considers or even mentions the theory actually presented in the Gospels themselves: that the man they saw and assumed was Jesus, was never even Jesus. Thus, the audience is shown the weak argument debunked, and are kept from ever hearing the strong argument. Once again, the art of lying.

If Strobel had researched this claim like a real journalist, he would have found several expert historians and psychologists telling him that in fact a mass hallucination of an ambiguous or amorphous kind is not only totally plausible, it actually better fits and better explains the evidence we have. As long as you don’t treat that evidence like a gullible fool and believe every single word in a holy text is literally true, as if lies and legends and mythologizing never occur.

I’ll just add before moving on, that in the film, Strobel also flies across the country to consult a medical doctor on the improbability of Jesus surviving a crucifixion (so as to rule out his appearing to hundreds of witnesses that way). We know that doctor from the book: yet another Christian fundamentalist, Alexander Metherell. And in a more direct “apologetics is all about lying” fashion, nearly everything Metherell says to Strobel in the film is not true. Nevertheless, I think the survival hypothesis, though still far more likely than sky-ghost magic, is among the least likely of every naturalist hypothesis there is, and wholly unnecessary. It’s just a straw man. The favorite kind of man in Christian apologetics.

The Nine Ancient Sources

Habermas also tells Strobel there are “nine ancient sources” confirming encounters with Jesus after his death. That’s pretty much a lie. Because Habermas is a liar. And it’s like most other lies in slick apologetics: it’s only true, if interpreted in such a way as to be evidentially meaningless. Habermas lists what he means in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (pp. 51-55), and he includes among those “nine” the “four” Gospels, which are not independent sources, are written a lifetime later, and at best contain legends recorded by unknown authors using unknown sources, telling wild tales that contradict information in our only eyewitness source, Paul. Habermas also includes among those “nine” sources some hearsay reported by Irenaeus about Polycarp, a bishop he met over a hundred years later. That Irenaeus gullibly believed some wild tales Polycarp told him, which are wholly uncorroborated and not very plausible, about things that occurred several lifetimes earlier, is not exactly what anyone would call a usable source. No journalist would ever trust a source like that.

But this is moot, since these nine sources all contradict each other regarding what exactly the first apostles saw. And that should be the focus of Strobel’s investigation. But he avoids the subject entirely. As we just noted, Paul seems to have no knowledge of anything but inner, felt experiences of seeing Jesus, mere revelations, not the absurdities told in the later Gospels. And I do mean later Gospels. Mark never describes any resurrection appearance; we only get those urban legends fifty to a hundred years after the fact. Compare this with other urban legends, from Roswell’s flying saucer, or John Frum or Ned Ludd, to Joseph Smith’s conversations with angels and digging up of ancient golden tablets (see index of On the Historicity of Jesus for most of those). The later Gospels are actually decades later than when those myths appeared: Frum and Ludd and the Roswell “intact spaceship” legend, less than 40 years after the fact; and Smith’s tall tales were fabricated and “corroborated” by multiple eyewitnesses in a matter of mere years. Matthew was written at least 50 years after the fact; Luke at least 60; John at least 70.

When we look at our only eyewitness source (Paul), we get amorphous inner visions. Not what is claimed in the later Gospels. Or anywhere after that. Those wild tales appear only lifetimes later. In unsourced, anonymous religious tracts.

Those Ever So Reliable Manuscripts

Part of Strobel’s investigation is to make sure that we have reliable documentation. “Are the manuscripts reliable” is written on his research board. In the film he speaks to an ex-archaeologist, now priest, Father Jose Maria Marquez. I don’t know why. No such person is interviewed in the book, on this subject or any other. I’m not even sure he’s a real person. But regardless, he is introduced to gawk at the Shroud of Turn (a bogus hoax) and push the “reliability of the manuscripts” argument. And immediately he scams Strobel and the audience by claiming the number of manuscripts is so large, and some are so close to the originals, that we can conclude they are totally reliable. This is a massively dishonest argument (see Three Things to Know about New Testament Manuscripts).

Had Strobel gone to an unbiased source who was actually an expert in ancient manuscripts, they would have told him about all the evidence Marquez hid from him. And how bringing that evidence back in, reverses the conclusion. Remember when I said all Christian apologetics is about hiding evidence? Here’s a perfect example.

Marquez tricks Strobel and the audience into thinking the “5,843” manuscripts he says there are, are early. In fact, almost all of them date over a thousand years late. Very few of them date within 250 years of the originals (and that’s already longer than the entire history of the United States). And almost all of those are mere tiny fragments, of just a few words or sentences. He also tricks the audience by showing such a scrap from John that dates, he says, within decades of the original—not mentioning that “decades” might mean as much as a hundred years, or that “John” was already written seventy to a hundred years after the fact, and just rewrites earlier Gospels, contradicts them shamelessly, and fabricates a source for the changes. In other words, this is unreliable.

Worse, Marquez conceals from Strobel and the audience the hundreds of demonstrated interpolations and errors across the manuscripts he mentions. And he doesn’t mention that all our manuscripts, even the earliest ones, come so late that there must be dozens more interpolations and errors that we will have no evidence of (because that evidence died out in the first hundred years of transmission). In other words, when asked about the reliability of the manuscripts, Marquez conceals from Strobel all the evidence of the unreliability of those manuscripts, and instead dazzles him with some irrelevantly large numbers. But unreliable manuscripts awash with errors and interpolations don’t suddenly become reliable when you have five thousand of them. Or even five million.

Even worse, Marquez conceals from Strobel and the audience the fact that most of the New Testament consists of forgeries. The Gospels themselves contain forged material (such as the second ending of John, and the long ending of Mark, on which see Chapter 16 in Hitler Homer Bible Christ). Even the “authentic” Epistles have been doctored and edited (see OHJ, pp. 510, 566-69, 580, 582-83; and HHBC, Chapter 14). And the remaining Epistles are wholesale fabrications.

Having five thousand copies of a forgery, five thousand copies of a doctored text, five thousand copies containing interpolations and errors introduced before the earliest surviving copy was made, is useless. It does absolutely nothing to restore the reliability of the manuscripts. And not telling the audience that, is telling a lie.

The Empty Tomb

At one point William Lane Craig phones Strobel from Jerusalem (nice touch!) and tries to sell him on the empty tomb. This is prompted by Strobel asking how do we know Jesus was really buried—repeating J.D. Crossan’s argument that Jesus must actually have been left to rot on the cross and thrown into a mass pit as a grubby gross corpse, because that was so commonly done everywhere else. This question is already a straw man, because J.D. Crossan’s argument is among the stupidest in counter-apologetics, completely ignorant of the political and legal situation in Judea at the time, which made it specifically unlike everywhere else in exactly this one detail. (See my chapter on the burial in The Empty Tomb.)

So Craig gets to bat that down easily. For some reason Strobel never asks what a real journalist would ask: which is why Paul shows no knowledge of anyone ever finding a tomb empty, why Mark says the only people who ever saw one never told anyone, and none of the authorities in the entire history of the church in Acts ever notices one (see “The Legend of the Empty Tomb” in TET, pp. 155-97; and OHJ, Chapter 9.2). It sure looks like a later invented legend: the first source to ever mention it, says no one knew of it; and every source after that, just copies that source, and adds ridiculous things to it (like rock-shattering earthquakes and flying death monsters from outer space). Once again, we are kept from knowing all the facts, facts that call the very thing into question.

Women as Witnesses

It’s here that we get William Lane Craig lying to Strobel that “according to Jewish custom” women were “unreliable witnesses” and therefore no one would invent women discovering the empty tomb. In fact there was no such Jewish custom. That’s a lie. Women witnesses were widely regarded as equally reliable as men, even in courts of law, and especially outside court. Josephus, the famed Jewish historian himself, cites women as his only sources for what happened at Gamala and Masada, without embarrassment—and many modern historians strongly suspect he made those witnesses up, and those stories. So Jews were not averse to inventing female witnesses. Nor would Christians have been, since the gospel taught them that the least shall be first, the very reason to invent a tale of women being the first to learn Jesus was risen.

I discuss all the evidence regarding women witnesses and the entirely plausible reasons to invent them in Chapter 11 of Not the Impossible Faith. But what this movie doesn’t tell you is that all the Gospels borrowed the idea of women finding the tomb from Mark. And Mark did not invent those women as witnesses to the empty tomb; he specifically says the women never told anyone about it, the exact opposite of citing them as his source. He instead invents them to make a point about the gospel. And even insofar as it offended anyone that the men don’t find the tomb empty, Luke fixes this by completely contradicting Mark: Luke has the women report it (directly contradicting Mark), and then invents men visiting the tomb and reporting it, so as to remove all doubt. John then borrows the same idea from Luke, and fabricates an even more fantastical account of it. Embellishing a story to make it sound more believable or desirable is a typical sign of fiction and legendary development, common to many urban legends.

As any real journalist would know.

Gospel Contradictions

The movie-Strobel only brings up the problem of contradictions in the context of the empty tomb accounts. He says “I’d be out of a job,” if his stories were so contradictory. William Lane Craig (still on the phone) answers that they only contradict each other in secondary details, which is common in multiple eyewitness testimony. This is another example of lying with the truth. It’s true secondary details will vary in multiple eyewitness testimony. But the Gospels are not written by eyewitnesses, and name no eyewitness sources. Moreover, they do not contradict each other merely in “secondary” details. So again, by leaving evidence out, Strobel and the audience are conned into thinking his concern has been addressed.

Strobel is complicit in the con. Because, unlike almost any real atheist imaginable, the only example of contradictions he mentions are the number and names of the women who visited the tomb, the least significant contradiction to point to. This is how apologists lie to you: they ignore all the real, serious arguments (the much larger contradictions) and only pick the weakest one, debunk it, and claim they’ve won. This just hides the truth from you. Just another way of lying.

In actual fact, the empty tomb stories contradict each other in primary details, and indeed so egregiously as to render Craig’s response ridiculous. As I’ve done before, I’ll quote just what I’ve said on this point in The Christian Delusion (p. 295, in my most concisely thorough debunking of resurrection belief in print):

[In Mark and Matthew, discovering the empty tomb is] basically the same story. Except in Matthew the young man sitting inside the tomb has become an angel descending from heaven, causing an earthquake and paralyzing some guards that Mark has no idea were ever there. Now imagine you’re a police officer who arrives at the scene of a bank robbery and finds an empty vault and two tellers. One says they went to get some money and found the vault empty and no one was there except a young man inside in a white suit—who has since mysteriously vanished, but at the time said “Don’t worry! We took it for a good cause!” Already a suspicious story. But then the other employee says when they went to the vault, a robot with a jet-pack descended from the sky, paralyzed two United States marines who were guarding that vault for some reason, then singlehandedly tore it open, revealing that somehow (as if by magic) it was already empty, and then this flying robot sat on top of the vault door and said “Don’t worry! We took it for a good cause!” Now be honest. Would you ever believe the second witness? I doubt you’d have much confidence even in the first one’s already very odd story, much less the second’s wild tale. And yet when it comes to Jesus, we don’t get to interview any witnesses like this. We just get to hear what some unknown guy decades later said someone else saw, with no idea how he even knows that, or who told him (or why we should believe them).

This is why Strobel is a bad journalist. He not only believes in flying death monster stories. He believes stories with flying death monsters don’t contradict stories without flying death monsters.

Gospel Witnesses?

That scene with Craig also tricks the audience into thinking the Gospels are four independent eyewitness testimonies.

Several other scenes reinforce that, such as when Strobel says we have “accounts of actual eyewitnesses,” “some of whom” even ended up “dying for their beliefs.” In fact none of the Gospels are written by eyewitnesses. We have no eyewitness narratives of the empty tomb or appearances of Jesus. We also have no evidence any author of any Gospel died for their belief. And none of the Gospels are independent of each other: Matthew copies Mark verbatim, and embellishes with things Mark never heard of and that are often ridiculous or even contradict Mark’s account in fundamental ways; Luke copies Mark and Matthew verbatim, and embellishes with things neither of them ever heard of and that are often also ridiculous or contradict their accounts in fundamental ways (e.g. the Nativity Accounts between Matthew and Luke contradict each other on nearly every primary detail, and even put the birth date of Jesus ten years apart); and John rewrites Mark and Luke in his own words and embellishes yet again with yet more implausibilities and deliberately contradicts them in several primary details (see On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 10.7).

And as I’ve said, none of the Gospels ever name any eyewitness as a source, either. Apologists will lie to you and claim Luke said he did, but he didn’t. Luke said he used as sources prior written Gospels—but does not name or identify them. We know he meant Mark and Matthew, or another written source used by Matthew (see Not the Impossible Faith, Chapter 7), only because he copies from them verbatim. And John outright fabricates a witness, but in our current text never names them, and we can be certain they never existed (On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 500-05).

So the movie lies to you yet again, by keeping from you important facts, such as that the Gospels literally copied each other (not what an eyewitness does…at least not an honest one: verbatim copying of one witness’s account by another is universally regarded as evidence of lying), and that none of them were written by an eyewitness, or indeed any known person, or anywhere near to the time of the events they allege to report (all of them date a lifetime later than those events), or even in the language any of the eyewitnesses would have spoken, had there even been any. They also don’t name any sources (eyewitness or otherwise), and they don’t discuss or apply any critical method in using those sources. They also contain those fundamental contradictions on primary details, and are filled with ridiculous and improbable tales.

This is literally the worst evidence you can ever have for a thing.

Once again, put the evidence back in, and what the apologist is telling you, reverses into exactly the opposite conclusion. This is how we can tell Strobel was not applying any actual journalistic standard to his investigation. What he was doing was 100% apologetics. Which means, 100% lying.

The Logic of Blood Magic?

Finally Strobel asks “why” Jesus would submit to death, and the answer he gets is, “love.” But the movie never explains how that makes sense. The atonement magic of Christianity is illogical (see Chapter 7 of The End of Christianity). Human sacrifice has no logical connection with fixing criminal pathology. And substitutionary sacrifice cannot be justified by any sound principle of justice, even for us mortals, much less omnipotent gods, who, by virtue of being able to do anything, don’t ever have to do that. No form of justice, even retributive, can operate by substitution. If it could, we’d allow volunteers to do the prison time of actual offenders. But in fact the very logic of atonement magic is prehistorically naive. We have long since matured into realizing justice is about restitution to victims, prevention of harms, and rehabilitation of the harmer. Retributive justice is morally unjustifiable, even barbaric. Indeed, it’s immature and childish. And that means, so is Christianity.

The Logic of Conversion

The last thing I’ll discuss is how the movie portrays conversion, being itself an argument for converting—both explicitly (it’s what eventually persuades the main character to convert) and implicitly (it’s the process the audience is supposed to identify with and be moved by, whether believer or not).

As portrayed in the film, Strobel’s wife Leslie’s conversion is entirely irrational. It’s based on literally just two things:

  • an ordinary coincidence that saves her daughter’s life
  • and how she feels in church

The coincidence of a nurse deciding to change restaurants for a meal, and thus being there to save their daughter from choking to death, is such an appallingly bad reason to convert to any religion, that I just have to ask you to listen to Tim Michin’s brutally honest song on the point.

The atheist movie-Strobel uses the “just a coincidence” argument against it, but that’s a hypothesis, not an argument for the hypothesis. The argument any actual atheist would use is that as that nurse was saving their kid from choking to death, um, dude…someone else’s kid choked to death. Three a week, in fact. Every year. That’s thousands of dead kids each and every decade. For decades and decades and decades. Where are their magic nurses? It cannot be claimed God sends nurses to save children from choking, when in fact he almost never does that. When you see almost all kids dying, not getting any lucky mind-changing nurse to save them, then you know: this one nurse changing her mind about where to go that night was in fact a coincidence. (See my article Everything You need to Know about Coincidences.)

This is the evidence they concealed from you in the movie: how rarely kids choking to death get saved by magic nurses.

Thus, they try to fool you into thinking it’s actually logical to conclude God sent that nurse to save their kid. Because, apparently, no one ever just happens to be in the right place at the right time. Oh no. That can only be caused by sky spirits. Except, we know for a fact, that it is statistically inevitable that people will randomly be in the right places at the right time. Just by random chance alone. Just as many are also inevitably, randomly, in the wrong places at the wrong time. So how do you know the incident you are looking at, is anything other than one of those inevitably hundreds of chance accidents? Well, you’d check, and see how many times those lucky coincidences fail to save choking children. A God who was marshaling nurses to save kids, would perform vastly better than random chance. But, alas, that’s not what you see in the data. There is a reason studies keep proving prayer doesn’t actually cure heart disease; some people just recover by chance accident. And most don’t. While some just spontaneously drop dead from a heart attack at 22. That’s exactly what we’d expect to see in a godless world. It’s not what we’d expect to see in Leslie’s world.

This is the fundamental difference between Christian delusion, and rational belief.

Likewise the “feelings” argument. Christians usually rant and rage against the liberal, pinko, postmodern idea that what you feel is true is the truth. But not when what you feel is true is Jesus. Then it’s a valid argument all of a sudden. The irrationality of this—knowing full well we can be mistaken in what we feel about the supernatural, and that in fact almost everyone is—is well explored by John Loftus in his highly-recommended book, The Outsider Test for Faith.

Again, when you put back in all the evidence these propagandists are leaving out—such as a Muslim “feeling” Allah’s commanding them to the hajj, a Buddhist “feeling” the oneness of existence, a Taoist “feeling” the mindlessness of the Creator, a pagan “feeling” the presence of Hermes, a Mormon “feeling” the Holy Spirit confirming their faith (among a great deal else), and on and on, varying across thousands of years and hundreds of variant religious cultures—the argument “I feel it, therefore it must be true” is proved false. Not the other way around.

We are inherently prone to convince ourselves to feel anything is true. Indeed, I used to talk to trees when I was a kid, and experienced an imaginary friend who was a humanoid cat from Saturn. Had my culture or best (actual) friends told me those were real, and I liked the church they took me to, I’d just as likely be a tree-talking alien-cat believer. And my feelings in the matter would be the most real feelings I’d ever had! Yet 100% irrelevant to the truth of any of it.

So giving Leslie the line, “My feelings are a valid experience; they’re real to me,” is certainly honest. It’s the folly that makes most Christians believers. And most Muslims believers. And most Buddhists believers. And most Mormons believers. And every other false god, spirit, and religion. Hence folly it is.

Conclusion

The Case for Christ the movie is quality propaganda. But still propaganda. It is one long well-filmed lie. Not a bad movie, if you excuse the so-so script, and don’t believe anything it tells you. Because when it comes to facts, it is pretty much a panoply of deceptions. Strobel’s journalistic methods in the film are so incompetent they are practically designed to trap him in a delusional false belief—or con the audience into one. Because while he is portrayed as questioning facts and claims throughout the film, he never once actually does that. He only talks to fanatics, apologists, the most biased and unreliable sources one can trust in the matter (just like his misplaced trust in police informants in the case of James Dixon), and he just instantly believes them. He never gets a second opinion—he never consults experts critical of the claims made by the fanatics he talks to—and he never fact-checks anything he is told. He just believes what they say—hook, line, and sinker.

And since apologetics is all about concealing evidence, Strobel’s character’s biggest mistake in the film is thinking that only what he is told is all there is to be told. Consequently, in the film, what we actually see is probably not what the writers intended. Lee Strobel is shown being conned into belief by a series of liars, because he never looks for, and thus never discovers, all the evidence his manipulators were concealing from him. Exactly like the dirty cops he trusted when he falsely reported the guilt of James Dixon. Yet neither Strobel, nor the screenwriters, nor his duped audience will ever notice they just made a mockery of themselves with their own story. Which is both sad and disturbing.

42 comments

  1. Denis Gaudreau April 15, 2017, 8:48 pm

    Hello from Montreal, Québec in Canada!

    Merci Richard for that long review on that movie, not sure I will ever watch it… I was glad to see you had a review on the movie Risen (I’m quite new on your site). I felt quite the same as the first part was great, than slowly almost it became absurd at the end.

    One question is on my mind. I’m agnostic with deist beliefs and more into spirituality. I have read about a spiritual teacher who said Jesus beliefs were about Karma like who kill by the sword will be killed by the sword or in Matthew 5 : 21-26 if someone say fool or else to his brother with no good reason, could be brought to the judge and to end up in “jail” until you have paid to your last penny and other parts.

    And there was also part on possible reincarnation like in John 9 : 1-5 or when Jesus asked his disciples about “who the people think I am” 8 : 27-30. Or even that teacher said Jesus resurection was more about getting into the Kingdom or Nirvana with no more reincarnation.

    Personaly I get more into Karma and reincarnation if there is any God out there and if Jesus was real at all.
    With all respect to your position what will be your view on that? If Jesus didn’t exist why then those anonymous authors did write any thing that can stand for karma and possible reincarnation?

    PS: I have no blind faith, so I know there is no proof for reincarnation, but is what’s make much sense to me if there’s anything out there. Again thanks for your time!

    Reply
    1. Those were widespread beliefs in the ancient Greco-Roman world. And Jewish beliefs were diverse enough to accommodate them. The popular notions of reincarnation and karma there did not work quite the same way as they did in Hindu or Buddhist religion, but they have similarities. The Gospels are just reflecting the common beliefs and assumptions of the people of the time.

      Reply
  2. Joshua Lisec April 15, 2017, 10:58 pm

    Incisive review, Dr. Carrier. I cannot thank you enough for taking this film to task on every deception it and the book has peddled to make Lee some easy dough. It’s a relief to be able to reference the facts that you present here when I engage with the hordes of believers here in the Bible belt. You’re a lifeline, Dr. Thanks again!

    Reply
  3. Edwardtbabinski April 16, 2017, 4:08 am

    Strobel’s book was indeed written after he had composed others and worked as a minister in a church. So the question remains what he actually read prior to converting and what he began to read after converting. Maybe he himself doesn’t even remember any longer. But from his testimony it appears he was probably highly deficient in his knowledge of religion in general or biblical studies in particular prior to converting, so whatever case he worked on prior to converting was probably also highly deficient rationally speaking. And doesn’t Strobel say he was surprised when he attended church with his wife, surprised at what he was learning about Christianity? How little he must have known at that time.

    I myself converted and began attending an Evangelical church due to influence from my closest friend in high school, and he himself was influenced by a young female who gave him a ride home from school one day. My friend and I had both been raised Catholic and confirmed. But had lapsed in our churchgoing in high school. Evangelicalism sounded new and interesting to us, and we both wound up attending an Evangelical church with a book rack of InterVarsity press books and C. S. Lewis books, and we both began reading modern English translations of the Bible. Hence suspect a similar book rack or someone who taught apologetics at the church that Strobel’s wife attended probably began suggesting apologetic books for her to share with her husband. And her husband didn’t have a lot of friends suggesting to him any good scholarly material that looked at such questions from a more historical critical angle. So the question remains what exactly did Strobel read prior to converting? Not after he converted.

    Also would have been nice if Strobel took a college course in New Testament studies at a non-Evangelical institution of higher learning to get a scholarly overview and perhaps have some discussions with his professor as well to grain added perspective rather than allegedly traveling round the country to meet with nothing but Evangelical apologists.

    By the way, Josh McDowell says he also undertook an investigation prior to converting. But he also admits he was merely attending a two year college at the time, with no scholarly background in biblical studies, and then he allegedly began his crusade to single handedly destroy Christianity. He also admits he had a wandering mind at that time of his life, couldn’t really concentrate, but his mind grew more focused AFTER he converted. He also alleges that he visited major libraries in Europe (and added later… The Middle East… in his retelling of his conversion tale) all to try and write a definitive take down of Christianity. Did he know ancient languages? Did he even have a college course in New Testament studies at a major university under his belt before he began his deconstruction project? He was a young two year college attendee at the time with an inability to concentrate very well by his own admission. Little wonder his enterprise failed. Any list of what books McDowell read prior to converting? Same missing data as in Strobel’s case.

    But they both sure read a heap of conservative Christian apologist material AFTER converting. So did I. But the LIE these guys keep pushing is that they studied “hard” questions in a purely skeptical fashion prior to converting. Or did they hardly study? Only a list of exactly what they read prior to converting might tell us more.

    Reply
    1. I concur.

      In the movie, he is shown reading Bertrand Russell and Voltaire, and says Antony Flew “is my hero.” But whether any of that is true, who knows. None of those authors, even had he actually read them, are suitable critics to test detailed claims about the NT though. Voltaire is antiquated. Russell and Flew are only philosophers, with no relevant training in biblical studies or ancient history. And old. Etc.

      Reply
  4. Davit April 16, 2017, 8:17 am

    Hi Richard, this might be a bit off the topic.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dQZTLcNSLs

    In this 2 minute video, NT Wright suggests that because death on a cross was such a horrific one, people in the ancient world would avoid even using it in a normal conversation, as it was almost like a swear word.

    So, it is impossible to explain why Christians would start using cross as their symbol from the beginning unless Jesus actually was crucified.

    I know that the Mythicist position you defend includes Jesus crucifixion in lower heavens, but what do you think of Wright’s argument in the context that he is making it?

    Reply
    1. I don’t have time to view videos. But if you are correctly describing what he says, this is one more example of Wright being an incompetent historian (or a liar; I’ve documented other examples: see Chapters 3 and 11 of Not the Impossible Faith; and my FAQ here and here). Consequently, I’ve come to never trust anything that man ever says.

      First, there is no good evidence crosses were used as Christian symbols until the third century. Before that, they used other symbols instead. Every competent historian of this subject knows that.

      Second, crosses were religious symbols all over the empire even before Christianity, in numerous religions, even on Jewish inscriptions. Every competent historian of this subject knows that.

      Third, crosses meant many things; a crucifix is a different thing (specifically depicting a crucifixion), and only enters Christian art in the fourth or fifth century. No competent historian would confuse those two things.

      Fourth, a crucifix wasn’t a cross. It was shaped like a T. Crucifixions used vine props, a well known and widely available agricultural instrument, that has a crossbeam rest atop an upright. T’s also had other symbolic meanings, and were widely used across religions of the time, and thus a T-symbol alone is still not the same thing as a crucifix.

      Fifth, people spoke valorously of crucified martyrs even before Christianity, e.g. the Maccabeean martyrs were revered as atoning for the sins of the Jews by their crucifixion. Plato describes the crucifixion of an innocent man as signaling his just nature. Crucifixions are depicted numerous times in the Old Testament. And even ignominious crucifixions are discussed without embarrassment in all forms of ancient literature (Cicero, Petronius, Seneca the Elder, etc.).

      So, what you say Wright argued, is bollocks six ways from Sunday.

      Reply
  5. Justin Legault April 19, 2017, 7:56 am

    Hi Richard,

    Great review btw.

    I never got this; How could the author of Mark know what the woman saw and experienced if they “told no one”. What is an apologetic answer to that?

    Also, do we ever know who this man (In Marks gospel) was in the tomb? Do we hear from him again or he disappears just like Joseph or Arimathea?

    Moreover, Nobody was there to witness the resurrection correct? Only Paul through visions. According to the gospels they just “assumed” he was resurrected because the tomb was empty (Even though grave robbery, or reburial in another location is the naturalistic more plausible scenario) and that his fanatical believers had visions of Jesus which was common enough in antiquity to have visions and hallucinatory experiences, and a random man told them he was risen when we can’t even fact check that, who this man was, is he reliable, how did he know that Jesus would appear to people etc.

    Thanks

    Justin

    Reply
    1. Justin, good questions.

      Apologists need Mark to have said the exact opposite of what he said. So they just insist he meant the exact opposite of what he said.

      All apologetics is about concealing evidence. But a lot of it also consists of insisting a word or sentence means the exact opposite of what it says.

      And no, indeed, the man in Mark’s tomb vanishes from history (see Chapter 9 of OHJ). The other Gospels convert him into an angel, and eventually into two angels. In reality, he’s the young naked man in the previous chapter, a symbol for death and resurrection (he flees naked after losing his linen garment, a known metaphor for dying and the soul losing its mortal body; and the white robed man in the tomb represents those resurrected in glory, in a new shining body; I discuss this in my chapter on the resurrection body in The Empty Tomb, Part II on the tomb).

      And yep, none of the Gospels show anyone watching Jesus rise. His corpse just gets lost. And then they “see” things that make them think he is alive again (Luke and John even say they saw someone else, and assumed it was Jesus; even Matthew says some who saw the guy, doubted it was him).

      Reply
      1. Justin Legault April 20, 2017, 9:09 am

        Isn’t all this frustrating when it comes to Biblical studies? How can there be so many documentaries on the life of Jesus if they pick and choose from each of the Gospels (that contradict each other) to fit their specific narrative. And the fact that most believers don’t read it or even know about the errors. It’s discouraging, even more so for honest historians such as yourself.

        In other words, what, apologists claim Mark was dishonest? I heard some try and date Mark later than Matt and Luke to try and reconcile the irreconcilable.

        Which of the versions of Mark is the original one (Or closer to the original); the short version? Or we don’t know.

        Also, doesn’t Mark say in his first verse that he is speaking in allegorical terms. So the believers will see it as true for them but allegory for outsiders? This should be telling enough.

        Last question; We know why Matt and Luke claim Jesus was born in Bethlehem to try and fulfill the silly prophecy in the OT. But what is the argument apologists have for Mark saying he was born in Nazareth? This is problematic, yet I never hear good arguments for it.

        Thanks 🙂

        Justin

        Reply
        1. Denis Gaudreau April 20, 2017, 11:02 am

          Hello to Justin and Richard !

          May I join in your conversation. I may have a different view as I’m agnostic with deist beliefs and more into spirituality, not christian even if I was born and raised in Roman Catholic religion (Quebec, Canada…).

          To make a story short, about why I do follow-up on Dr Carrier’s blog, came from 2013 when I had a wild and nasty discussion with an old friend from High school and his friends which were of course atheists and mythicists. They were immatures and so troll like kind. I tried to have honest debates with them and it turns out to pure trolling.

          So I’ve made a decision as I’m a critical thinker to have a 360 vision on the whole subject. I’ve started to see debates with Richard Dawkins about God, because they were in that stuff. But I also found debates with Dr Carrier and I was impressed with the way he brought the whole matter. I’ve seen lately Dr Robert Price debate VS Dr Erhman and I find Dr Price, even if I was a fan of Lovecraft back in my 20′, I find him a little bit too off in his attempts to convince that Jesus was a myth.

          To get to your question Justin, I do agree with your views as I don’t consider Jesus being God, Son of God or trying to start up a new religion. On my first post on the topic I said that a was reading a spirtual teacher and philosopher (no scholar) who did traveled in the 50′ – 60′ to India, Jerusalem, Patmos, and many more Holy places. Today I’ve realized that teacher was more into Gnostics’ views like the Knowledge, theosophy, Jewish Kabbale and he was taking all religions / philosophies as a big puzzle to fit back pieces, in order to get the bigger picture.

          I’m pretty open minded so it fitted my mind. Also I’ve experienced so many bizzare issues in my life, so that’s why I’m still believing there’s might be something out there, but with no blind faith in anything.

          For that spiritual teacher, Mark was more about the historical Jesus with these aramaic sentences in his Gospel, saying that he saw some parts written back in aramaic and that they were making more sense than in the Greek’s version (is that true ???).

          The other Gospels were more inspired stories or even made up to built a new cult, like Paul which he didn’t consider as a disciple at all.

          But he liked much that part in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is saying to the samaritan woman in John 4 : 20 – 24, that some day there will be no more worshipping on the mountain or in the temple.

          So quite funny that Rome have started a new religion, on a man stating that some day there should be no religion at all !!! And moreover if Jesus like both of you think, was a myth…

        2. Justin Legault April 20, 2017, 11:27 am

          Dr. Carrier would be able to answer most of your questions obviously. However, I appreciate your message and joining this conversation.

          I don’t know if there was a historical Jesus. It was a common name back then however. I think with the lack of reliable evidence and independent sources we can’t make a 100% assertion if he did or not. We have to remain agnostic on the matter, which is my stand.

          We can see why he could have been invented as many dying and rising gods at the time were (Osiris, Zalmoxis, Adonis, Innana, Romulus). So his story is unique to Christianity but every story is unique to each culture but the parallels and similarities are there (Undergoing a Passion, injustice death, dying and rising to overcome death). Just Innana for example was killed, nailed up, 3 days later, resurrected.

          Romulus never existed yet Plutarch has a whole biography on him (Romulan tale), extensively talks about Osiris in On Isis and Osiris.

          The key word Richard brings up which makes complete sense is ‘Syncretism’. Every religion or idea borrowed from others to make it their own and appeal to their people and beliefs.

          Just look at the heaven, hell, resurrection idea that likely derives from Zoroastrianism (Persians). It wasn’t a Jewish belief until the Persian conquest of Judea around 500-300BC.

          Coming back to Jesus, I think it’s as arrogant to assert if he did or didn’t. Because we may have had evidence that was destroyed, lost etc. Given all the evidence against a historical Jesus, and the fact that we know these stories were widely known and used throughout antiquity, it’s more probable that he didn’t exist. But we can’t truly know…yet, unless something else pops up like the dead sea scrolls that may answer more questions.

          I’m definitely an agnostic on his historicity, as everyone should be. Moreover, it’s also good to note that even if a man named Jesus existed. It doesn’t make him god or the Bible true. It only just proves there was a historical Jesus.

          He still failed his second coming (his return). He explains in Mark 13:24-32. Most believers will say, he didn’t know the time or day. Yes, but reading the whole verse, Jesus explained that his generation shall not pass until all these things have happened.

          (Mark 8:38, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27 and Mark 16:28) corroborates it. He would have been one of many failed apocalyptic prophets at the time.

        3. Apologists don’t say Jesus was born in Nazareth, because the Gospels (only Matthew and Luke, and John; Mark never says where he was born) all agree he wasn’t. He was a native of Nazareth only because his family was from there (either already, or after settling there with their child Jesus).

          If you mean instead why do the Gospels tell contradictory convoluted tales to make Jesus hail from both cities, the answer is simple: because the scriptures contradictorily said the messiah would hail from both cities. (More specifically, a scripture quoted by Matthew but now lost, says the messiah would be a Nazorian, and that matched no known city, but was close enough sounding to Nazareth for Matthew to pick that town. Another scripture said he would come from Galilee, so Matthew had to find a town in Galilee that matched. Davidic Bethlehem isn’t in Galilee.)

          I discuss these and other facts and cite sources and scholarship in Proving History (check Nazareth in the index). I summarize and might have added more in OHJ (ditto).

        4. Justin Legault April 21, 2017, 6:59 am

          Thanks Richard!

          I’ve read both Proving history and OHJ but there’s so much info and im not a scholar, so it’s difficult to remember it all. My bad!

          So in other words, the contradictions on what Jesus said, did, where he was born, when he was crucified, his last words, who the angel Gabriel talked to etc. All these are still problematic right?

          Let’s say for example someone says Jesus was crucified before the Passover meal was eaten (Like in John). And they assert it as fact. Then I counter with “How can you be certain of that if Mark says he was crucified AFTER the Passover meal?” Is that a good way to debate? Usually they don’t know that I know this much (Thanks to you and others). They assume me being an Atheist will know less than them (Believer).

          Usually we see documentaries with star of Bethlehem (Matthew not same as Luke), then the family goes to Bethehem because of the Census (Luke not same as Matthew) during King Herod (Matthew not Luke – even though the Census was around AD6 during Quirinius). And that the angel Gabriel only appeared to Mary while the other Gospel says only to Joseph (Unless i am mistaken).

          This is what I find annoying.

  6. Denis Gaudreau April 21, 2017, 9:52 am

    Hello Justin merci for your reply !! Well said !!
    Thanks for your explanation about Osiris, Zalmoxis, Adonis, Innana, Romulus (didn’t know of Zalmoxis and Innana) and Syncretism. Dr Carrier’s book OHJ is my wish list on Amazon, it will be helpful to get more into it.

    Sure it was obvious to me there was some myths throught the Gospels even before I started to look for more evidence. I did fight my mother toward it as she still is a Catholic fundamentalist…

    Actually I’m 45 YO and I getting back to spirituality as I undergo psychotherapy for PTSD… Without getting into personal matters and drama, I have to go throught forgiveness toward myself as well as to forgive others in the process. I bought a book back in 2012 from a Canadian priest, which was a reknown psychologist Jean Monbourquette and his book was a 12 Steps method toward forgiveness… So it was easy for me to get back to the core of forgiveness as Jesus in Western religion seems to be the Master of it.

    I have also bought biographies and DVD movies from both: Mahatma Gandhi & Martin Luther King, which to me are the 2 more plausible imitation of a real Jesus. Gandhi had to deal with three major religion in India and his non – violent resolution was astonishing against British colonial forces !! And MLK was the kind like Jesus chasing merchants from the Temple. He was reckless about Civil rights. And both were killed for their legacy…. As Jesus but this is no proof Jesus was real, because poeple got killed in his name.

    I have a little bit of that spirit in me, so maybe that’s why I’m still buying it !!

    But like you said with the Dead Sea scrolls, unless something of very significant value pop ups any days. We can be wondering much and much…

    It was nice to talk with you : )

    Take care !

    Reply
    1. Justin Legault April 21, 2017, 10:40 am

      Bienvenu 🙂

      Zalmoxis if I’m not mistaken was a Thracian god which is documented in Herodotus. Innana in Mesopotamian literature. I have all of Richard’s books and I recommend them all! The way he conveys the information to the reader/listener is what I liked. He really knows his stuff and can answer any questions you have. He goes over the facts and doesn’t hide, misrepresent or present falsehoods to mislead like apologists do (Aka William Lane Craig).

      My mom is also Roman Catholic (Being Portuguese/French). The very few times I talked about god and Christianity it made her upset and she felt discouraged thus I longer talk about it unless she really brings it up for a convo. For her it helps her during difficult times and for solace and thats fine, shes not hurting anyone and its a harsh world out there. I dont want to kick her when shes down. I have only a problem when religion gets involved with government, tries to force their false ideas on kids. Or when so called “educators” “scholars” use their position to mislead people.

      I try and pick my battles and only discuss with my dad because he’s more open minded about it.

      Jesus main idea was forgiveness thats true. However he’s the one who talked more about hell than anyone in the NT. What bothered me was Luke 14:26 where he says in order to become his disciple you need to hate your brother, sister, mother, father and even your own life, if not you shall not profane his sanctuaries.

      Matthew 10:34 where he says I did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword. Or finally, Luke 19:27 where he says something like, “for those who did not want me to be king over them, bring them to me and kill them in front of me”.

      Priests don’t usually mention those, they mention’ turn the other cheek, or golden rule (which did not originate in Christianity).

      I think the most peaceful of religions in my view would be Jainism. Extremist adherents would be like someone that sneezes on you. Thats the most extreme for example.

      Nice talking to you as well and thanks for sharing.

      Bonne journée!

      Justin

      Reply
      1. Denis Gaudreau April 21, 2017, 3:55 pm

        Yeah Justin it’s about the same with my parents… My dad is more open minded and like you I have stopped been harsh to my mother, telling her that she was like Jehovah’s witnesses…. She was using a lot of Paul’s Epistles or that famous statement in Matthew about Peter and upon that rock I will built my Church….

        I got at peace with her on this even if my view of Catholic Church is best described with the movie Spotlight with Micheal Keaton and Mark Ruffalo on the Boston’s Catholic Church scandals.
        Btw where are you from: US, Europe or Canada ?

        I’m no scholar in the field but I do remember from my French-Canadian Bible, that Jesus was referring to Géhenne de Feu or Gehenna not Hell, which is much or less is considered a Purgatory-like place where the wicked go to suffer until they have atoned for their sins from Jewish sources I have found. Which is quite similar to that buddhicism concept in the Bardo Thodol, book of the dead.

        Once someone died is soul will be under attack from his inner demons, which can be seen as the Christian Purgatory or that Jewish version of Gehenna.

        Another thing that Jesus was referring to if someone wasn’t getting into the Kingdom, he was than cast out to that mysterious place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

        I had more the feeling that was more about Karma (Sins) / Reincarnation, Earth like you said being a harsh world so people were cast out back on Earth and even that spiritual teacher didn’t believe in any eternal Hell as fundamentalist Christian are fond of… Again funny Jesus said “forgive others” but you wish Eternal Hell to all those who don’t submit to your religion… I have seen many of these wishes on FB or YouTube comments.

        Well either you’re atheist or non religious more spiritual oriented, it makes no sense at all, that hatred contradiction. I have some psychological knowledge from my issue and from working 11 years in a federal medical facility with Mental Health services, and it is so much of that Black and White cleavage. No one is perfectly good or bad… So !!!

        Reply
        1. Denis Gaudreau April 23, 2017, 10:47 pm

          Thanks Justin I have my younger brother living in Toronto. It was nice to discuss with you !

  7. Denis Gaudreau April 21, 2017, 9:58 am

    Hello Richard,

    Prior to my last comment with Justin, is it known that other Antique religion or philosophy had forgiveness as a key topic, like it is more obvious with Jesus ??

    Is it unique like Christianity try to convince people or was it taken from earlier tradition ?? Because I cannot remind any deity in particular in the Roman / Greek pantheon who was devoted to forgiveness.

    Reply
    1. Justin Legault April 21, 2017, 10:18 am

      I think they had one similar with Osiris in Ancient Egypt (Correct me if I am wrong Richard). Where the sins would be weighted on a scale of some sort.

      Reply
      1. Denis Gaudreau April 22, 2017, 9:25 am

        Merci Justin !

        One last word about my beliefs. And I will refer to that spiritual teacher who was into that Gnostic / Theosophy / Esoteric stuff that was out there in the late 19th century early 20th.

        He was an educator and philosopher from Bulgaria. Then after he went in India in the late 50′- early 60′ and then started his teaching. It was à la mode like the Beattles !!

        He was doing conference and answering questions in his book. And once he came along with probably someone or more than one person asking him if there’s a God (I guess)

        And his answer instead of arguing like Christian was: Yeah sure maybe God and everything is bogus, but still I will keep doing what I’m doing in order to help out people…

        So same for me. I am aware and get enough wit to know that all my beliefs are bogus. And that was how my discussion with my old friend and his got pretty sour… I mean we should be able believer or not be able to stand with the fact that our beliefs might be bogus.

        And live, mind our business and let live without always trying to force out beliefs on people…

        Otherwise it is dictatureship like the Catholic Roman Church… Funny and twisted to know that Himmler Chief of the SS was fond of the Jesuit order, but wanted to destroy Christianity in Germany at the same time !!!

        Take care !!

        Reply
    2. Even the Christian concept of forgiveness is not what Christians mean by it today. It meant then excusing a debt, in particular a debt incurred after offending a god. That was a universal attribute of ancient religion, which was awash with procedures for paying debts to offended gods. Indeed, Christianity is only peculiar in trying to advocate a permanent condition of purity and contrition, whereas most other cults (including most Judaism), only required brief periods of purity or sacrifices and rituals to effect the same state. That “sins” (offenses against the gods) also weigh or stain the soul that requires cleaning was also ubiquitous across religons; the debt concept was in those cases transformed into a stain concept, but still it offended the gods, and one needed to clean the stain to get them to favor you again. This is as much what Christianity was then talking about as many other cults of the time.

      Reply
  8. John MacDonald May 23, 2017, 1:02 pm

    Hi Dr. Carrier: Today is my first day as a paying patron, so hopefully this message will get posted.

    I have a question.  I am fascinated by the “Noble Lie” theory of Christian origins.  You indicate the plausibility of this theory on your blog when you write:

    “Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.” – Carrier’s full post at: http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12263

    Similarly, Lataster writes:

    “Jesus crucifixion and resurrection could also easily be seen as a Platonic ‘noble lie,’ cleverly incorporating Jewish and Pagan elements (Lataster, JDNE, 76).”

    I find the idea that ‘the birth of Christianity could have been a hoax to help create a better world’ fascinating.

    A while ago, I wrote a brief blog post about “The Noble Lie Theory Of Christian Origins.”  Dr. Carrier, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you read the blog post and the reader comments and let me know if you think I’m on the right track?  Here is the blog post and the reader comments:  http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/

    Thanks for taking the time to respond,

    John

    Reply
    1. That’s pretty neat. I like your collection of data there. I agree it’s an intriguing argument. Especially since the idea was well known in that period: it’s the entire basis of the argument in Plato’s Republic, one of his most popular and well-known dialogues all throughout antiquity, and the Medieval Catholic Church very definitely engineered itself along the very lines described there. As does the modern Neocon movement, indeed explicitly, as Strauss argued religions are false but the public must never be told that, so all leaders must profess to be religious, so as to control the masses, exactly what Plato said…and just as he thought he was describing something noble but in fact something nightmarish, so also the neocons don’t realize how horrifying their worldview is.

      P.S. I’ve whitelisted the email address you used to post comments here (the same as you used to register at Patreon); so from now on, your comments will post immediately, without going to moderation.

      Reply
      1. John MacDonald May 24, 2017, 12:18 pm

        The gospels seem to me to be highly sophisticated evangelism tools.

        It almost seems like the gospels were composed on 2 levels.  On the one hand, it seems like there were lots of exciting miracles to appeal to (and dupe) the masses, and on the other hand there was lots of Haggadic Midrash / mimesis to (dupe) and appeal to the religious elite.

        From beginning to end the purpose of the movement was to sell the new religion to the world:

        (A) 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

        (B) The Great Commission
        16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

        (C) Sending out Emissaries
        As Price points out, just as Moses had chosen twelve spies to reconnoiter the land which stretched “before your face,” sending them through the cities of the land of Canaan, so does Jesus send a second group, after the twelve, a group of seventy, whose number symbolizes the nations of the earth who are to be “conquered,” so to speak, with the gospel in the Acts of the Apostles. He sends them out “before his face” to every city he plans to visit (in Canaan, too, obviously).
        (D) For Paul, Jesus resurrection is understood as the “first fruits” of the general resurrection, and so was a selling point for the new religion: “The end of the world is at hand, so you better join the winning team.” many decades later, when it became evident that the world wasn’t ending any time soon, the miracle of the resurrection would keep bringing in the converts.

        Christianity was all about winning converts and spreading the word, so it is no surprise that they succeeded doing just that.

        Reply
        1. John MacDonald May 24, 2017, 5:27 pm

          And the author of the Gospel of John agrees that the purpose of writing down the stories about Jesus was for evangelism:

          “31 But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

        2. John MacDonald May 24, 2017, 9:04 pm

          Just one last thought here.

          Paul says in his letters that Christ was the “first fruits” of the general resurrection of souls, meaning the end of the world was imminent (1 Cor 15:20). I don’t believe Paul actually thought the world was ending, but just that claiming that it was ending was an evangelism tool: The world is ending so you better get on the winning team and start loving one another and get right with God. This noble lie would be an excellent tool. After all, Paul said “If through my lie the truth of God has abounded more to His glory, why am I still being judged as a sinner? (Romans 3:7).”. – David Fitzgerald reminded me of this passage from Romans.

        3. It’s hard to say if Paul really believed the end was coming, or only used that as a device to motivate moral and social action. Either is possible.

        4. John MacDonald June 11, 2017, 3:25 pm

          However, even if the Gospel of Mark is a literary invention that doesn’t reflect the events in the life of Jesus, this still doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t exist. Maybe Mark wanted to write a narrative piece of eschatological or apocalyptic writing depicting historical figures he knew like John The Baptist, Pilate, and Jesus caught up in events at the end of time.

        5. No one says the mythologization in Mark entails Jesus didn’t exist. Rather, it reduces the probability that he exists. Just as it does for Hercules and Dionysus and Osiris and everyone else. The question is, by how much. And you need frequency data to answer that. How often do people actually like Jesus get made up entirely, vs. mythologized from a real person? That gets you a prior. Which affects the final calculation. But is not the final calculation.

      2. John MacDonald May 26, 2017, 3:49 pm

        One of the big themes I outline in the blog post is the connection between the New Testament and Euripides’ Bacchae.

        The key verse from the Bacchae seems to be when Cadmus says “Even if this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you think, still say that he is.  Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele, for this will make it seem she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on all our race.”

        Imagine my surprise when I found out today that Dr. Dennis R. MacDonald just published a book called:
        “The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides (2017).”

        Wow!

        Reply
        1. John MacDonald May 27, 2017, 12:07 pm

          Regarding Dr. Dennis R.MacDonald’s new book “The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides (2017),” I wrote a guest blog post at Vridar a few years ago about the relationship between Euripides’ Bacchae and The New Testament here: http://vridar.org/2015/09/27/new-testament-in-the-greek-literary-matrix/

          Also, on the relationship between Dionysus and the Gospel of John, Vridar has previously posted this: http://vridar.org/?s=dionysus+john+gospel

          Dr. MacDonald’s new book should be excellent!: https://www.amazon.com/Dionysian-Gospel-Fourth-Euripides/dp/1506423450/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1495901062&sr=8-3&keywords=dennis+macdonald

  9. John MacDonald June 29, 2017, 2:45 pm

    One point I find particularly interesting is Dr. Ehrman’s argument in Forged and Forgery and Counterforgery that forgeries in that ancient period were definitely frowned upon, and yet some of the Christian writers were doing it anyway. I suspect, and this is just my guess, they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong because they believed God wanted them to lie. There is scriptural support for justified lying, especially when God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets:

    “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. (1 Kings 22:21-22).”

    Reply
    1. That’s possible. And well worth adding to the list of things like that that we know. See also Eusebius’s Christian defense of the legitimacy of lying.

      But it’s also possible they didn’t really care about God’s approval, or didn’t even think to look for scriptural support. As for example when Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon or Mohammed (or whoever) fabricated the Quran. Those people clearly knew they were 100% making shit up. And falsely passing it off as delivered by angels from God. The same motives that moved them, could have moved any Christian author in antiquity.

      People conflate religion with politics, and use religious discourse to “convince” people of socio-political policies (like the sets of rules and allegiance policing the define a religion or a sect thereof). And in pursuit of that often it is not even relevant to them what God thinks, or if they even really think there is a God (many likely didn’t; pretending to be a theist, was a common occupation among the ancient elite, as still today). And for those who even really believed, the same reasoning as “kill them all, God will sort them out” applies to lying: “I can tell any lie I want; God will judge whether it was to his glory or not.” See Chapter 10 of Not the Impossible Faith for the anthropology of this.

      Almost all religious literature, in all ancient religions, was fake. So in fact, lying was not an exception. It was exceptionally the norm. See Element 44 in Chapter 5 of On the Historicity of Jesus on that point. Since all religions did this routinely, evidently scriptural support was unnecessary.

      And it was standard elite ideology across all religions that lying was always acceptable as long as there was a “meta-level” truth your lie supported. Hence the “double truth” system admitted to by Origen (in the third century) as standard-operating-procedure among the Christian elite: stories would be written and passed off as literally true to convert the simpletons, while the “real meaning” is some deeper abstraction only symbolized by the literal story that is actually literally false but “spiritually” true. This reasoning is defended by Plato and even the Jewish theologian Philo. See Elements 13 and 14 in Chapter 4 of OHJ.

      There are of course many precedents in Judeo-Christendom for forging documents in the names of respected authorities to swindle a populace into thinking it came from that authority. The book of Daniel. The forged sections of Isaiah. Etc.

      Reply
      1. John MacDonald June 30, 2017, 3:04 pm

        Good ideas! Thanks. I especially liked the analysis about Eusebius and lying, which I hadn’t heard of before.

        Reply

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