God’s Not Dead 2: Historicity Boogaloo

The best thing about this film is that it lies to the audience. Because we live in the age of the Internet. So anyone who ever thinks to fact-check it will find out they’ve been lied to. And that may do more damage to their faith than any atheist they may ever meet. Just as actually reading the Bible in its entirety is the best way to turn a Christian into an atheist, fact-checking God’s Not Dead 2 could have much the same effect.

I won’t review the film. I’m not even going to watch it (sober, anyway). But after someone told me there is a court scene in it where the historicity of Jesus is “proven,” I thought, why not watch that part and critique it historically? After all, in that scene, not a single expert historian was called to argue Jesus existed. The only persons who took the stand as experts on that were a retired journalist and a retired police officer. Neither of whom would have been allowed to take the stand as experts on the matter, as neither was legally qualified to do so. Welcome to a hilarious metaphor for popular Christian apologetics. Which has never been big on facts. Or listening to real experts.

To redress that fail, I’ll give you an analysis of this part of the movie below. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, unlike Lee Strobel or James Wallace, I’m someone who actually would be qualified under the federal rules of evidence to testify in court on this matter.

The Context

The gist of the film is that a public high school student, Brooke, asks her teacher, Grace, in class if Jesus taught the nonviolence thing that inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. they were learning about, and the teacher answers yes. So she gets sued for “violating the separation of church and state.” Yadada. It’s not a plausible fiction, of course, since that would never happen. That’s simply not illegal. Anywhere in America. But American Evangelicals are delusional and think they are being nailed to crosses and lit on fire at dinner parties.

True, the teacher incorrectly implies Gandhi also got his nonviolence shtick from Jesus, when in fact that’s not true, Gandhi got it from Jainism, a Hindu philosophy. And true, many mainstream experts agree Jesus actually didn’t teach the Sermon on the Mount that contains that teaching either—it was invented decades later by someone else who only attributed it to Jesus to make it sound more authoritative (OHJ, pp. 465-68), just like later Christians forged letters by Peter and Paul and included them in the Bible because they wanted to steal their authority for things they wanted their flock to believe.

But—surprise!—no one ever notices either fact in this movie. So it never comes up. Even though these are literally the only legally relevant facts in the film’s narrative that could ever have come anywhere near to trial. And even then hardly. In reality, a school might at best reprimand such a teacher and have her teach the class correctly that Gandhi learned nonviolence from a non-Christian tradition and that there is actually dispute among experts as to whether Jesus actually taught it himself. The law would have nothing more to do with the matter. But this is just how bad plots go. Like when Superman never thinks to laser-eye Batman in the mouth.

The best review I encountered of the movie as a whole is a conversation between an atheist and a liberal mainline Christian that is really good, and historically informative (at ThinkProgress: “An Atheist And A Christian Review ‘God’s Not Dead 2’“). There, even Christian Jack Jenkins remarks to his atheist colleague Zack Ford…

Yeah, see, the weird thing here is that the courtroom drama eventually devolves into a debate over whether or not Jesus was an actual historical figure —an argument that is completely unnecessary to win Grace’s case, since she doesn’t need to prove whether Jesus existed in the literal sense to contend that Christianity and the Bible were directly relevant to the activism of Martin Luther King, Jr. (I don’t think anyone would dispute that it was).

Actually, though he’s right, the real reason the existence of Jesus is irrelevant is that the point in contention was whether Jesus taught the thing that inspired King. Jesus may well exist. And still not have taught that. So even within the fiction created by the movie’s plot, what they had to prove at trial was that Jesus taught the thing in question. Yet no one ever proves that. They never even try. Frankly, if that’s what any defense counsel actually did, they’d lose on summary judgment. You wouldn’t even need a jury. (She also wouldn’t be able to prove Jesus inspired Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolence.)

Despite all this, Christian Evangelicals get all love-touched by this part of the movie. Like Jeannie Law at The Christian Post, who writes:

Perhaps the greatest compelling argument for Jesus in the film is when The Case for Christ author Lee Strobel and former homicide detective J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity, both testify on the stand to the historical validity of Christ. Both men indisputably prove that Christ and His Word are proven history and every famous historian, both Christian and non-Christian, agree that Jesus existed.

Yeah. Right.

The Bumble Squad

I should pause to note that not only are a journalist and a detective not qualified to testify in a court as experts in ancient history, ancient documents, ancient languages, or ancient literature, Strobel and Wallace suck even at their own jobs.

Strobel claims to be a journalist in his books defending Jesus. But in all of them he violates the most fundamental principles of competent journalism, such as not even interviewing rebuttal witnesses or fact-checking anything he is told. Similarly Wallace claims to be a cold case detective, yet not only does he also not interview any rebuttal witnesses or fact-check anything with experts of the requisite specialty, he literally just believes anonymous written testimonies that show deliberate collaboration (including copying each other’s testimonies verbatim), contain patent absurdities, are not even in the original language of whoever the witnesses would have been, contradict each other not mildly but wildly, were written decades later by unknown persons using unknown sources, and aren’t even notarized much less dictated under the controlled conditions of verifying them under oath by neutral parties, as in the case of depositions—and even a deposition no competent detective would just “believe” without corroborating evidence. A detective who treated testimonial evidence like Wallace does would be fired almost immediately by any police department in the nation.

It’s worth pointing out that ancient historians actually have been called as expert witnesses in court cases before. Most famously, the philosopher and historian Martha Nussbaum, as a genuinely qualified expert in ancient Greek, and ancient moral philosophy. Yes, those actually became an issue in a U.S. court of law. In 1992, Coloradoans voted to ban gay rights. This was challenged as unconstitutional. Defenders of the homophobic Colorado law presented “expert witnesses” who argued that doing the gay had always been immoral throughout human history, indeed even Plato–gasp, even Plato!–slagged the homos off! Or so it was argued, all the way to the Supreme Court (Romer v. Evans 1996). Gay rights advocates called Nussbaum to the stand, who ate the homophobes’ experts for breakfast. Nussbaum recounts the whole story herself in her excellent anthology Sex and Social Justice.

But, as the Nussbaum case shows, true stories aren’t so convenient for Christian beliefs. So they make up stories instead, like God’s Not Dead 2. Because real stories make them look bad. Wait…haven’t they been doing that since the Gospels, the very first stories they ever told? Oh yeah, right.

Lee Strobel, “Journalist”

The scene I was told about is actually two scenes, separated by a stretch of unrelated ancillary drama. No doubt to keep the endless droning apologetics from becoming too boring. First, Strobel’s testimony in court is depicted. Then, after some dramatic interlude, Wallace’s.

The scene depicting Strobel’s testimony (yes, he plays himself, and gets to promote his books in the movie—nice!) begins in the Amazon Digital Direct edition at timestamp 1:10:15. His stated expertise for the record is “professor of Christian thought at Houston Baptist University,” at which (in a real trial) the prosecution would call a motion to further explain his exact credentials, since such a vague title at an overtly Evangelical school sounds dodgy. Then he’d have to admit, what isn’t stated in the film, that he has no relevant credentials. He has only a “bachelor of journalism” and a “masters in legal studies.” No Ph.D. No ancient languages. No training in ancient history. No training in ancient literature. The plaintiff would move to dismiss the witness for lack of qualifications in ancient languages, literature, or history. The motion would be granted. End of story.

If the story weren’t bullshit.

But let’s continue in the bizarro world these Christian film producers have confabulated for us.

Of course Strobel tells the court he can prove the existence of Jesus “beyond any reasonable doubt.” “How so?” he is asked. He immediately answers: the calendar proves it. “Our calendar has been split between B.C. and A.D. based on the birth of Jesus. Which is quite a feat if he never existed!” All sane humans are choking on their whiskey at this point. Seriously? “The calendar is based on myths about our god, therefore our god exists beyond any reasonable doubt.”

If this is what persuades Christians to believe, Christianity could only be the province of fools and loons. As Godless Wolf said at Trolling with Logic, “By that logic, the fact that I saw this movie on a Thursday must mean that Thor is real. After all, wouldn’t it be hard for anyone to make a big impact on the calendar if they were not real?” Oh snap! Wolf’s got you there, Lee.

Also, BTW, the date our calendar is based on is fake. It comes from no early text. It was entirely made up by a medieval monk. And the date he picked was erroneous even if we were to attempt deriving it from the Gospels (which he didn’t, and neither should we, as both nativity stories are implausible in every way, and manifestly fictional, and lack any stated sources). Matthew unequivocally places the birth of Jesus before 4 BC; Luke unequivocally places the birth of Jesus after 5 AD. Neither can be reconciled with the other. But worse, neither can be reconciled with that medieval monk’s fabricated claim that Jesus was born in 1 AD. (On the mountain of lies Christians tell to try and deny these facts, see my latest extensive treatment in chapter 15 of Hitler Homer Bible Christ.)

So we aren’t off to a good start here.

“Beyond that, historian Gary Habermas…” are the next words out of Strobel’s mouth. At which I had to hit the pause button because I literally puked. Not really, but still. Habermas is a fundamentalist. He is a less reliable and honest historian than David Irving. If you want to get a flavor of how unreliable and dishonest he is on this subject, just check my example of his lying with fake statistics. Any Martha Nussbaum would make mincemeat of that guy on the stand. So we can probably expect nothing but dishonest bullshit to depart Strobel’s mouth for the next few sentences.

And we are not disappointed. He begins with a variant of the 10/42 apologetic that has already been soundly annihilated by actual experts in ancient history. Supposedly there are “39” sources on Jesus from the ancient world that enumerate “more than 100” facts about him. Note that we could say exactly the same of Hercules. So that claim is actually not even capable of establishing historicity. We need more than just “sources” that “say things.” We have tons of those for nearly every major god and mythical hero.

In truth, there are almost no independent sources about the actual life of Jesus. And the facts about him from our earliest sources (the epistles) are all theological, not objectively historical. While after that, all the sources on Jesus are demonstrably mythical, or simply repeating what those mythical sources say (rather than independently corroborating them). I address all the evidence in chapters 7 through 11 of On the Historicity of Jesus. It does not look good. In fact on this particular point even a mainstream scholar who was convinced of historicity, picked at random from among the whole academy, would testify on the stand that Strobel is a big fat liar.

Next Strobel quotes atheist historian Gerd Lüdemann saying the crucifixion of Jesus is indisputable—and that’s true, he does, in a single line in chapter 4 of his antiquated book Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (1995…in other words, twenty years ago…I wonder how certain Lüdemann is today). But this illustrates a common fad among Christian con-artists like Strobel. If you go and look at that line in Lüdemann you will find it is supported by exactly zero evidence. At no point anywhere in that book does Lüdemann even argue that the crucifixion of Jesus is indisputable. He simply declares it. By fiat. Sorry, Lee. That won’t hold up in court.

The only thing that is actually indisputable is that the first Christians believed Jesus was crucified. On what did they base that belief? Paul does not mention anyone seeing it. The only source he cites for it is scripture. In other words, “the Bible told us” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Romans 16:25). That is inadmissible as evidence in an American court of law. 1 Peter also cites only scripture as evidence, not anyone having witnessed it. No other sources outside of the mythical tales of the Gospels ever mention anyone seeing this happen. And those tales were unknown to Paul, and invented after his death, by persons unknown, a whole lifetime after the religion began. This is why it’s entirely possible Paul means just what he says: that the crucifixion of Jesus was a secret only revealed to those who could interpret it out of the scriptures. (See chapter 11 of OHJ.)

Of course, that Jesus existed and was executed doesn’t really help the actual case they are supposed to be making to the court. The plaintiff’s Martha Nussbaum would answer Strobel’s quotation of Lüdemann, which Lüdemann based on no evidence or argument whatever, with Dale Allison’s conclusion, thoroughly argued from extensive evidence, that Jesus did not preach the Sermon on the Mount (OHJ, p. 466). And Allison is no denier of the historicity of Jesus. He is as mainstream as historical experts come. And vastly more qualified than Strobel to testify to the point. (Although expert witnesses are supposed to testify to the status of a question in their field; and as to that, a Nussbaum would say that the historicity of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is widely doubted, but that some experts still disagree on how much of it is fabricated.)

Next Strobel says “we can reconstruct the basic facts about Jesus just from non-Christian sources, outside the Bible.” That’s not only 100% false (there is no non-Christian source outside the Bible that is not deriving its information from the Gospels or Christians citing the Gospels…so, with zero independent sources, we have no external corroboration of what’s in the Bible), it’s also 100% disingenuous. If the counsel for the plaintiff wasn’t an arrogant bumbling doofus as the writers depict, he’d point that out. His cross on this point would begin with, “Okay, can we verify Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount from non-Christian sources, outside the Bible?” In the fiction they’ve constructed, Lee probably would tell the truth. Because otherwise he’d go to jail. The answer is no.

Strobel at least closes with a valid point, which would not have required calling Strobel to the stand for in the first place: that the widest consensus even among non-Christian (and actual) experts is that Jesus existed. The fact of his existence is disputable. But for the purposes of a trial like this, that wouldn’t matter. It would be enough that it’s the present norm in the expert community, and thus isn’t merely a point of theology. A point I’ve made before. But as I noted already, nothing about this case is aided by establishing Jesus existed. The question put to the court, in the fiction the film has constructed, was whether Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. Not whether he merely existed. (Nor, incidentally, does his existing at all support the truth of the Christian religion, as these scenes seem seriously to propose—and with a straight face no less.)

But even then, in the real world, this teacher could simply say Christians, and even some non-Christian experts, believe Jesus said those things, and that even if he didn’t, the Bible depicts him saying those things, and that depiction did indeed inspire Martin Luther King, Jr. Those are factually true statements, independent of any religious conviction, and in no way does stating them in a public high school classroom violate the separation of church and state. But that returns us to the implausibility of the film’s plot, and not the internal coherence of its case for Jesus.

When we get back to that, Strobel’s last line on the stand is an absolute howler. He says that if you don’t believe Jesus existed, that proves no amount of evidence can persuade you. Since I document a lot of evidence that would convince me in On the Historicity of Jesus, yet I don’t believe it’s likely Jesus existed, Strobel’s closing claim would be easily refuted in court by any Martha Nussbaum the plaintiff called. But in this movie, the plaintiff has no questions for Strobel, and no rebuttal witnesses to call. Because that’s totally realistic.

So much for Strobel’s depicted testimony.

James Wallace, “Detective”

The scene depicting Wallace’s testimony (yes, he also plays himself, and also gets to promote his book in the movie—nice!) begins in the Amazon Digital Direct edition at timestamp 1:18:29. His stated expertise for the record is “retired homicide detective” (at which the prosecution would move to dismiss the witness for lack of qualifications in ancient languages, literature, or history). What evidence does he present to the court?

1.

Wallace says he “looked at the Gospels like I would any other set of forensic statements” and concluded “the four Gospels” contain “the eyewitness accounts” of Jesus. Which establishes him as either a fool or a liar.

When  asked if the Gospel authors could have conspired to create their stories to promote their religion, he doesn’t even mention the actual evidence of conspiracy (like the verbatim copying of each other’s testimonies)—which makes sense, because he couldn’t rebut that evidence, so he needs to conceal it from the audience…I mean, ahem, the jury—but instead he tries to claim there were too many of them to maintain a conspiracy (even though there were only four, spanning a period of sixty to eighty years…oh, sorry, he doesn’t mention that, either), and that they were under too much pressure to tell the truth to have lied, because “every one of these folks was tortured and died for what they claimed to see, and none of them ever recanted their story.” Which is 100% false. We have no evidence even one of them died for anything in the Gospels, much less all of them. (Nor any evidence confirming none ever recanted anything, either.) (See Did the Apostles Die for a Lie?)

Okay. So. Liar it is.

“Instead,” he says, “what I see in the Gospels is what I call unintended eyewitness support statements,” which he explains are things like where Matthew has the guards beating Jesus ask him to prophesy who struck him, but only a later author, Luke, mentions that Jesus was blindfolded. So, Wallace argues, Matthew forgot to mention the blindfold. But Luke knew of it. Therefore, these two authors are independently corroborating each other! Good lords of Kobol I hope that’s not how forensic testimony analysts operate.

Of course, even if we granted the facts this “expert” presents in court—which violate his oath to the court that he would tell the whole truth (more on that in a moment), so in fact, Wallace is committing felony perjury in this scene—no blindfold was needed for the soldiers to challenge Jesus to miraculously know the names of the men hitting him. Luke thus could well have simply added a blindfold to make the story sound more amazing, or because he thought it made a better story, or he simply just assumed Jesus must have been blindfolded—all commonly established causes of embellishments to stories as they are transmitted and retold. That a forensic investigator doesn’t know that stories routinely get embellished in exactly this way already disqualifies him even as a detective, much less a reliable witness for the court. (Likewise if he couldn’t even think that guessing the soldiers’ names was challenging enough without a blindfold.)

But let’s get back to his going to jail for perjury in what one can only hope is the lost director’s cut.

Because you know where Luke got the idea of the blindfold? From the source he was copying: Mark. Mark 14:65 reads: “Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.” Mark uses the infinitive perikalyptein; Luke uses the participle perikalupsantes. But it’s the exact same verb: perikalypsô. Mark says they “covered his face”; Luke, that they “covered him.” Matthew 26:67-68 is also copying from Mark, and he chose to drop the covering, and replaces it instead with spitting in his face (instead of merely spitting “on him” as Mark says). Matthew then added the well-known children’s game (Aland Dundes, Holy Writ as Oral Lit, pp. 112-13) of asking Jesus to not just prophesy, but prophesy who is hitting him. Luke 22:63-65 then borrowed the covering from Mark but dropped the spitting altogether. Then he copies the exact words from Matthew: “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” Luke only drops the words “to us, Christ!” but otherwise uses exactly the same words, in exactly the same form, in exactly the same order (OHJ, p. 471).

This is not independent witness corroboration. This is creative redaction of someone else’s testimony. Matthew is rewriting Mark. And simply embellishing. And Luke is rewriting Mark and Matthew by taking some elements from one and some from the other. (John, meanwhile, fails to mention this occurring at all.) No detective could possibly not have noticed this. Nor could any honest detective conclude that this meant the Gospels were independent testimony, or even eyewitness testimony. The evidence unmistakably establishes that they are using other people’s written testimonies to construct their own. And no evidence establishes they had any other source at all but their own creative imagination.

It’s already a well known fact that large quantities of Matthew and Luke are literal verbatim copies of Mark. Which eliminates any possibility that Matthew and Luke are recording eyewitness testimony. It’s also a well known fact that large quantities of Matthew and Luke are literal verbatim copies of each other. Which means either Luke is copying Matthew, or Luke and Matthew are copying some other fixed Greek text. Either way, again, not an eyewitness source. Omitting these facts from his testimony in court is perjury.

The fact that Wallace ignores all the evidence refuting him, and fabricates claims about the documents that are false, pretty much establishes him as a liar. And in a real case, the counsel for the plaintiff would certainly have pointed that out. Or their Martha Nussbaum would. And then it would be Wallace who needed a lawyer.

2.

So, that’s bad.

Wallace then asserts (yet presents no evidence to the court) that the Gospels “contain the reliable accounts of the actual words of Jesus” because he analyzed them as eyewitness testimonies. Even if Wallace were qualified to testify to this in court (he isn’t), the plaintiff’s counsel would just call their Martha Nussbaum to the stand, who has far more credentials in ancient languages and ancient literature than Wallace, to eat him for breakfast.

Any Nussbaum would immediately note that Wallace cannot apply the principles of eyewitness testimony analysis to the Gospels, because they are not eyewitness testimonies. They are, as all mainstream experts agree, the literary constructions of unknown later authors whom the defense can’t even establish knew any witnesses, much less faithfully recorded anything they said. But even if they called a detective to the stand, he would explain that when two witnesses tell you the exact same story word-for-word, that demonstrates collusion—in other words, conspiracy. Such testimonies are actually not trusted by police or courts. And Luke doesn’t just repeatedly copy Mark verbatim; he repeatedly copies Matthew verbatim, including here; and everything else Luke says here is simply reworded from Mark.

But more importantly, the extent to which Luke copies Matthew (or some other Greek document also copied verbatim by Matthew) in the Sermon on the Mount, the actual passage of relevance to the trial, is even more extensive. Notably, Wallace gives the court no testimony relating to the agreements and variations between Matthew and Luke on the passage actually relevant to the case. So he cannot argue these are eyewitnesses corroborating each other. This is one author copying and rewriting another. And this does not leave us with a reliable account of the Sermon on the Mount.

And yet, after having concealed from the court all the pertinent evidence that refutes the defense’s and their own expert’s position, the defense counsel asks Wallace to confirm that Jesus said exactly what the Sermon on the Mount records. As I already noted with Strobel, the most damning problem here is that it’s the opinion in the peer reviewed literature of actual experts on this matter, that Jesus didn’t say what the Sermon on the Mount records. Not only was it invented decades later, but it was composed in Greek, using the Greek Septuagint and not the Hebrew Bible as its basis. It therefore cannot contain the eyewitness testimony of anyone. The eyewitnesses would not likely have spoken Greek, nor been able to read or recite the Greek Bible. Nor would a Jesus have used the Greek Bible rather than the Hebrew Bible as the basis for his teaching.

For Wallace to think a Greek text composed using a Greek Bible as its scriptural basis that the peer reviewed expert literature declares forged decades after the life of Jesus can somehow be reliable eyewitness testimony to what Jesus said decades earlier in Aramaic entails, again, either massive incompetence on his part, as the plaintiff’s Martha Nissbaum would point out, or, again, outright lying to the court.

3.

Having thoroughly deceived the court on these points, and committing felony perjury, Wallace responds to the only question put to him by the inept counsel for the plaintiff, regarding the contradictions in the Gospels refuting their reliability, that “reliable eyewitness accounts always differ slightly.” Let me put an emphasis on his word always. Because that’s what a competent lawyer would do. Because that one word turns his own testimony against itself.

Since it is a fact demonstrable to the court (it doesn’t even require expert testimony to verify) that Luke and Matthew copy Mark verbatim in numerous places, and each other verbatim in numerous places, if it were the case that “reliable eyewitness accounts always differ slightly,” it follows that the Gospels cannot be reliable eyewitness accounts. Obviously, they are colluding: simply copying each other’s testimonies, verbatim. With minor variations, and sometimes major ones, but that’s exactly what colluding liars often do, too. This disproves Wallace’s contention that the Gospels are independent eyewitnesses or even using eyewitnesses—because even the same eyewitness does not repeat their stories literally word-for-word, identically, for pages on end each time they are interviewed.

And as the plaintiff’s rebuttal expert would point out on the stand, and indeed they would call such a witness in any real court case, the case against the defendant’s expert is far worse than that. Because when the Gospels do differ, they often don’t just “differ slightly.” They differ radically. To the extent that, as any real detective would tell you, if two witnesses were to deviate in their accounts that much, any competent detective would be dead certain one or both of them is lying.

Here’s an example the plaintiff’s Martha Nussbaum might have used to illustrate the point, which I quote from my chapter on the historicity of the resurrection in The Christian Delusion (John Loftus, ed., 2010: p. 295):

[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 not some “slight” variation in eyewitness testimony. What Matthew is writing is 100% bullshit. And any honest detective would say so. (As it happens, Matthew’s rewrite of Mark’s story is partly built out of elements from the Old Testament story of Daniel, just as Apocalypse Now is built out of Heart of Darkness: see Proving History, pp. 199-204)

Of course, what’s also never brought up in this trial are the many alterations to the Gospel texts that occurred over the centuries. The versions we have now are literally not at all identical to what their original authors composed; and indeed the version now used to compose our bibles today is a construct of scholarship—the Greek text they rely on exists in no manuscript on earth, and even that version, which is actually entirely hypothetical, is well known by actual experts not to be identical to what the original authors wrote either. For there are not only hundreds of undecidable variant readings, but statistical inevitability further entails that there must be dozens of interpolations, deletions, emendations, and transcription errors that occurred before any substantive manuscript evidence begins in the third century A.D. (and are therefore no longer visible in any extant manuscript). In fact, all the manuscripts we have, derive from a single edition composed in an inter-sectarian propaganda war in the mid-second century, a hundred years after the New Testament books began to be composed—an edition we know to have been meddled with by its editors, yet because no manuscripts of any previous edition survive (nor any quotations of it), we have no access to how it would have differed from the edition we have. (On both points see Three Things to Know about New Testament Manuscripts)

For example, the Codex Bezae of Luke adds to the empty tomb story that the stone took “twenty men to move.” By Wallace’s bullshit methodology, the latter must come from an eyewitness, because how else could the scribe producing that copy of Luke have “known” the reason why the women worried over who would open the tomb for them was that it took “twenty men” to do so? No, Mr. Wallace. The scribe who added that just made it up. Because these documents were regarded as freely alterable texts. Not as sealed and inviolable testimonies. They were stories. Not reports. Myths. Not histories.

4.

Wallace then concludes by claiming he was “a devout atheist” when he started his forensic study of the Gospels. And it was their examination that converted him. A lot of authors like him say that. Their stories often turn out to be less than credible. My bet is he’s flat out lying. But if I supposed he was telling the truth, it’s truly sad if Wallace was converted by this evidence, when even a mere police detective like him should have known the Gospels had all the typical markers of false testimony rather than true—such as collusion in verbatim statements; irreconcilable contradictions; an excess of fabulous and improbable claims; lack of external corroboration; contradiction with known historical facts; and absence of any verified eyewitness sources for anything in their records.

In other words…we’re to conclude that Wallace believes in Jesus because he didn’t notice that Luke copied a detail from Mark? What do you say to a person like that?

Honestly, there are only two possibilities—and which is worse, that Wallace is massively incompetent…or that he is simply a liar? And could he, in the fiction of the story, have been convicted of perjury? Probably. His only defense against that would be, after all, that he was too incompetent for his testimony to have been entered at court.

Conclusion

It’s telling that this is what Evangelicals think is a good case for historicity. It requires lying to everyone, by making false statements about the evidence (like that we have independent non-christian sources for Jesus—at all, much less as to anything he said), and by conveniently forgetting to mention inconvenient facts (like that Luke got his blindfold reference by copying Mark; and that Luke and Matthew both copied Mark extensively and verbatim, and Luke copied Matthew extensively and verbatim—or else Luke and Matthew copied some other Greek book extensively and verbatim). And above all, the writers of this film could not even imagine that a plaintiff in a trial like this would call their own expert witnesses in rebuttal. They not only can’t imagine there even being a Martha Nussbaum, but they can’t even conceive of what she would say.

More likely, they simply don’t care what actual experts think, or what the actual evidence is, or what the problems with it really are. They don’t want to show any of these rebuttals that would occur in a real trial like this, because they don’t want to believe those rebuttals exist. And they certainly don’t want their audience to know they exist. They don’t want the audience to know that real actual experts (experts with actually relevant credentials) conclude Jesus did not teach the Sermon on the Mount. They don’t want the audience to know that real actual experts (experts with actually relevant credentials) conclude that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses and probably not written by anyone who knew any eyewitnesses. They don’t want the audience to know that real actual experts (experts with actually relevant credentials) do not know of any eyewitnesses who died for the content of the Gospels. They don’t want the audience to know that the Gospels copy each other verbatim, and therefore cannot be independent of each other, nor drawing their material from eyewitnesses. They don’t want the audience to know that the Gospels don’t just “slightly” contradict each other, but contradict each other in ways so fundamental that anyone of sense would adduce that fact as evidence of lying, not reliability. They don’t even want the audience to know that the calendar was based on a medieval fiction about Jesus that doesn’t even have any scriptural support from the Gospels, much less actual historical records.

The lesson of this movie, even from just the two scenes I just analyzed, is that Evangelical Christians are either hopelessly incompetent or disgusting liars. The case made for the historicity of Jesus (and his exact teachings) in this film can only be one or the other. Lee Strobel and James Wallace can only be one or the other. The evidence is that clear and that stark. Your call.

17 comments

  1. Johan Rönnblom December 11, 2016, 2:20 pm

    A minor question: you refer to professor Gerd Lüdemann as an ‘historian’. But really he is a theologian, or scholar of religion. That is his education, that is the subject on which he has published profusely, he was employed by a department of theology, and so forth. It is true that he was given a title with ‘history’ in it after his colleagues tried to oust him for being too questioning of official protestant theology, but that hardly makes him an historian, as I’m sure he would agree himself.

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    1. It might be charitable but still fair. Lüdemann has a postdoctoral degree in New Testament Studies from Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen. That’s essentially a graduate degree in a field of history. Yes, he also has a Doctorate of Theology. And has taken teaching positions in theology departments. And NT Studies might not have the best standards among the history degrees there are to be had. But he’s at least just enough qualified in history to call him a historian (in the same way I’d grant Bart Ehrman to be). And he has published extensively in the field of ancient history under peer review. And he has extensive qualifications in ancient languages and literature. In other words, all the stuff neither Strobel nor Wallace can claim. So I’ll grant Strobel that.

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    2. Johan Rönnblom December 12, 2016, 7:05 pm

      Let me first say that I’m not trying to question the qualifications of prof. Lüdemann. It is obvious that he is exceptionally well qualified on this subject. However, I think it is unreasonable to call someone an historian because of a degree that person achieved at a theological institution. In my view, historians are people who have a degree from an institution of history, who are employed at a faculty of history, and/or have published in reputable journals in the field of history. From what I can gather, this is not the case for prof. Lüdemann. A theology department may teach subjects that are very close to history, but in my view anything taught at such an institution is still a subfield of theology, not history. Just like someone studying physical chemistry at a chemistry department becomes a chemist, not a physicist. This is because in my view the standards of an academic subject are upheld by the constant interaction between experts in a field, which means that the subject must be defined by those experts who are most dedicated to that subject, even though other experts may touch upon the same methods or issues. In this case, it seems to be quite rare for scholars with degrees in historical subjects from theological institutions to go on and publish in journals focusing on history, or to gain employment in historical faculties, which suggests to me that there is a significant divide between these subjects.

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        1. P.S. For those who want to know what, for example, the qualifications are of persons like Lüdemann or Bart Ehrman, Google them. They will have Wikipedia pages or personal or university pages that tell you their educational background (you can also look for their “cv” or “curriculum vitae” online). Degrees in divinity or theology are not history degrees, certainly not in the sense of training a historian. Degrees in Early Christianity or New Testament Studies and the like, are. Those do often have certain deficiencies, with respect to straight up history degrees, but you can’t tell just from the name of the degree. It depends on the school and the student’s chosen concentrations. Ehrman has, so far as I can tell, no graduate degrees in history, only a masters in divinity and a Ph.D. in theology. But he concentrated in paleography and textual criticism, which is a branch of history. So one might say that’s 50/50.

  2. Someone asked why I say the Gospels were “probably not written by anyone who knew any eyewitnesses.” My reasons include but are not limited to:

    (1) Authors in antiquity who had eyewitness sources tended to say so or even name them, and often demarcate what comes from them. Instead the Gospels are written as fictive omniscient narratives, with no apparent knowledge of any eyewitness sources being available to them. (Not even Luke, who occasionally slips into first person plural in Acts—and only in Acts, not his Gospel—is not plausibly doing so because he is a witness or is quoting one, as pretty much all non-fundamentalist experts agree: OHJem>, index, “we passages”; and John, whose added ending has authors in the plural claiming to have used an anonymous eyewitness source are widely agreed to be lying, and in any event claim in fact to be drawing on something that eyewitness wrote, not to have actually met them: OHJem>, pp. 487-506.)

    (2) The Gospels uniformly use or rewrite prior written fictive tales, often verbatim, and without any expressed critical analysis (and when they add things, typically they fabricate ridiculous stories that are not probable as coming from witnesses); the markers of doing anything else are wholly absent (OHJem>, ch. 10; Not the Impossible Faith, ch. 7). Had they met witnesses, they would not probably compose their stories this way.

    (3) There is no evidence any witnesses were alive when the Gospels were written; and their being alive that late (an average lifetime after the events in question, which for anyone who would be an adult at the time of the events, would be long after the average lifespan; compounded by this also being after famines and wars and persecutions) is not inherently probable (OHJem>, Element 22, pp. 148-52).

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    1. Average lifespab is probably not a great indicator of the lifespan of highly literate wordsmiths like the gospel authors. But I agree, the genre of the gospels is not history but (religious) fable. I would say acts is hagiography, which is at least a subgenre of history. But it seems to me that most interpreters of the gospels are looking at a sentence or two, out of context, missing the forest for the trees.

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      1. The witnesses would not have been elite literati, though. And it’s only the witnesses whose lifetime matters.

        For the authors, we have no evidence anyone afterward ever even met them anyway, e.g. they were dead by the time Papias wrote, and information about them was already by his time hopelessly inaccurate. We can’t even say they ever met each other. Whereas we already well know they knew each other’s writings, since they use and argue with them.

        And genre is not useful for determining reliability. Plutarch’s biography of Romulus is squarely in the prose, rational, historical biography genre, for example, yet still 100% fiction. Myth is not itself a genre. Myth can be written in any genre—hence Plutarch’s biography of Romulus.

        Acts is myth. Its genre is actually the ancient romance novel. I document this extensively in Ch. 9 of OHJ. It conveys its myths through historical fiction, and as such does double duty as propaganda (fake history that some were meant to take as true). We otherwise know it’s not real history because it directly and deliberately contradicts eyewitness accounts of what happened, in Paul, and fabricates its legends out of other literary legends and organizes them in mythical rather than legitimate historical structure (and conforms to the romance novel genre in structure and content). It may have adapted some honest historical sources about something, but what those sources actually said has been erased from the record.

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    2. Johan Rönnblom January 6, 2017, 9:19 pm

      The lifespan of writers is relevant because they could have met witnesses much earlier than when they wrote down the stories.

      I agree the genre is not useful for determining reliability, but it is useful for determining the intent of the author and the expected reaction. Specifically, when the gospel authors frequently change ‘historical’ claims found in earlier gospels, without explaining why their version is true or the previously known version is in error, that is strange if the genre is history. Because the author would expect sophisticated readers to wonder why they don’t agree with the previous works. But if the genre is religious fable, this is just what we would expect.

      Reply
  3. David Quigley December 13, 2016, 3:27 pm

    Great article, Dr. Carrier! That conclusion is a great summary of the wafer-thin nonsense evangelicals use to argue their case for not only the divinity of Jesus, but also his historical existence.

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  4. Justin Legault January 3, 2017, 9:06 am

    Frustrating part of these types of movies is that Christians will look at it and claim victory…Not knowing all the fallacies that took place, the erroneous reasoning masquerading as verisimilitude.

    They will in turn say “Ah! Take that Atheists.”

    That to me is the most frustrating part.

    They don’t understand the agenda driven purpose of these movies. Apologists don’t care about facts. It’s about defending the faith at all costs even if it entails lying.

    They are clearly taking notes from Eusebius of Caesarea.

    Richard your thoughts? Am I the only one that finds this frustrating. Seeing these movies actually grinds my gears in a way.

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  5. Kate April 19, 2017, 4:06 pm

    Who do you ‘debunk’/’disprove’/’expose’ Christian movies and books for and why? Don’t you have more important things to do with your Ph.D.? Does it concern you that movies and books like God’s Not Dead 2 are converting people or strengthening their faith in God and Jesus? Totally unrelated but have you heard about or studied the supposed gospel of Judas? Last question, have you read the bible?

    Reply
    1. Just for fun:

      Who do you ‘debunk’/’disprove’/’expose’ Christian movies and books for and why?

      People who want to know the truth. Because they want to know the truth. And fund my researching it for them.

      Don’t you have more important things to do with your Ph.D.?

      Certainly. Including my new series on ancient science. And my work in naturalist philosophy. And historical logic.

      Although, people who want to know the truth, paid me tens of thousands of dollars to apply my Ph.D. in ancient histiry to the historicity question. That’s essentially a postdoctoral research grant. One of the main functions of getting a Ph.D.

      Does it concern you that movies and books like God’s Not Dead 2 are converting people or strengthening their faith in God and Jesus?

      Are they? I haven’t seen any data suggesting that. If people are persuaded to believe in Jesus by such crappy and illogical propaganda, that’s not a sign of anything good for the human race.

      Totally unrelated but have you heard about or studied the supposed gospel of Judas?

      Yes. It’s an example of how most literature Christians produced was fake. Including countless fake Gospels.

      Last question, have you read the bible?

      Yes. Every word. Cover to cover. And the New Testament, even in the original Greek.

      Reply

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