I began my critique of Keller’s The Reason for God with an exposé of everything up through Chapter 1, then Chapter 2, then Chapters 3 through 5, and Chapter 6. Here I will cover Chapter 7. Next will be Chapter 8. I’ll continue to other chapters in future installments. In chapters 6 and 7 Keller tries defending two propositions that are so impossible to defend, he really is just screwed: that science doesn’t refute his supernaturalist Christian worldview (Chapter 6); and that the Bible is literally true (Chapter 7). Hell, right out of the gate, those claims outright contradict each other!
I’ve already shown how science makes Christianity highly unlikely, as unlikely as every other weirdo supernaturalist mythology. It’s only worse if you have to insist the Bible is inerrant and literally true. So Keller really has to lie his ass off here. He uses the same two tactics I’ve documented repeatedly: he hides all the evidence that refutes him, hoping his readers will be too stupid or gullible to notice; and he flat out lies about the contents of the Bible and the facts of the ancient world, hoping his readers will never think to fact-check him.
- Forgetting the Old Testament
- They Said What Now?
- Who Was Still Alive?
- It’s All Bad Fiction
- Please Stop Citing C.S. Lewis
- Memory vs. Legend
- Totally Fucking Lying
Forgetting the Old Testament
Keller despises mainstream Jesus scholarship, because it consists of honest historians who admit that most of what holy texts of any religion say is false, and we often can never really know what true facts lie behind them, or even if any do. Consequently, there is no consensus on who Jesus was or said or what the truth is that lies behind the extraordinary legends of the Gospels and the highly abstract theology of the Epistles. That’s a fact. But Keller doesn’t like facts. As he puts it (p. 98):
If this view of the New Testament’s origins and development is true, it would radically change our understanding of the content and meaning of Christianity itself. It would mean that no one could really know what Jesus said and did, and that the Bible could not be the authoritative norm over our life and beliefs. It would mean that most of the classic Christian teachings—Jesus’s deity, atonement, and resurrection—are mistaken and based on legends.
Precisely. Well said, Dr. Keller!
This is Hector Avalos’s whole point in The End of Biblical Studies. Biblical studies is no more fruitful pursuing than Gilgamesh studies or Romulus studies or Osiris studies. And he’s right. Sure, we need the odd Gilgamesh expert. But a vast field full of them is just a waste of resources. There is no more fact to be known about Jesus than any other ancient Godman on record. Well, except for Alexander of Abonuteichus—for whom, unlike Jesus, we have a detailed, credible, eyewitness account, actually corroborated by contemporary attestation (Athenagoras, Apology 26) and multiple archaeological finds. And Proteus Peregrinus, likewise (but for the archaeology). It’s sure strange that we have much better evidence regarding the existence, teachings, and deeds of those demigods, than of supposedly the only actual one. But whatever. Keller doesn’t do evidence. That’s not his scene, man!
But alas, “the Christian faith requires belief in the Bible” (p. 99). And that’s a problem. Because the Bible isn’t believable. Keller wants to get rid of the complaint that “the Bible is not entirely trustworthy because some parts—maybe many or most parts—are scientifically impossible, historically unreliable, and culturally regressive” (p. 99). But notably, he never even tries. He instead suddenly forgets the entire Bible, and pretends the only part to dispute is the Gospels. He labors mightily, like Sisyphus himself, to con his readers into trusting the Gospels. And then claims to have proved “the Bible” is reliable. Hoping his audience doesn’t notice that’s a massive non sequitur. Not only can’t he defend the reliability of the Gospels, but that wouldn’t even come close to defending the Bible. And the Jesus in the Gospels is a total believer in the Bible, even down to the absurdity of actually thinking Moses wrote it! So if the Bible is bullshit, Jesus didn’t know it, which rules out his being a god.
Needless to say, Keller pretends no one has ever pointed this out. He definitely doesn’t want to remind his readers how fucked his appointed task is. Talking donkeys and snakes, sticks becoming serpents, fire falling from the sky, floods deeper than Mount Everest (that miraculously leave no geological record), people being zapped into pillars of salt, suns going out for hours in the middle of the day, hordes of undead descending on Jerusalem, magically withered fig trees, spirits killing two thousand pigs…Keller never mentions any of this stuff, or any of the other bunk throughout the Bible that is not even remotely credible or scientific. Nor does he ever confront the fact that despite the whole Bible conveying elaborate conversations and instructions from Keller’s gods, spanning over a thousand pages of tiny multi-columned text…somehow those gods never correct anyone on the matter of germs, heliocentrism, slavery, democracy, or anything else likewise unknown to the primitive fools who wrote those speeches for their gods. Proving none of those speeches came from any gods.
For the full extent of this point—that the ignorance of the Biblical God always exactly matches the ignorance of the fools who wrote His supposed Book—see Ed Babinski’s chapter on “The Cosmology of the Bible” in The Christian Delusion; and Jaco Gericke’s chapter “Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t?” in The End of Christianity. In Bayesian terms, the odds of this being the case are 100% if God is a fiction; but near zero if he actually inspired the Bible. In fact the Bible is powerful evidence against the existence of any God. When you put back in all the evidence that Keller actively hides, that is (this being a variant of the Argument from Religious Experience and the Argument from Superman).
Keller hides from all of that. He says basically not one word about it. Instead, he focuses solely on the need for “the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life” to be “historically reliable” (p. 100). But what about the Old Testament? That doesn’t match science, decency, or history either. Mainstream scholars agree Moses and Abraham are mythical, that the books of the Bible are highly fictionalized, contain forgeries and lies and false beliefs, and are really no different from any other religion’s ridiculous holy book.
Oh well. So much for that. Keller forfeits.
They Said What Now?
Keller now resorts to his stock tactic of outright lying.
“Paul’s letters, written just fifteen to twenty-five years after the death of Jesus, provide an outline of all the events of Jesus’s life found in the gospels—his miracles, claims, crucifixion, and resurrection” (p. 101).
Total. Fucking. Lie.
Paul’s letters never mention any events of Jesus’s “life,” but for his evening pronouncement of his blood magic immortality spell, which Paul says was learned by revelation—Paul mentions no one being present, nor mentions anyone having ever seen or heard of it any other way. And that’s it. That’s the only event of Jesus’s life that Paul ever even mentions. And it’s one that few mainstream scholars believe credible. Paul never mentions Jesus ever performing any exorcisms or miracles. Paul never mentions Jesus ever preaching or having a ministry. Paul never mentions Jesus ever selecting or even having disciples. Or meeting or interacting with anyone. Paul only knows of commandments and sayings from Jesus by revelation. And hardly any match the Gospels; while the Gospels attribute numerous sayings to Jesus that Paul never even heard of.
Otherwise, Paul only mentions events of Jesus’s death. He says he was crucified, but not where or by whom (all statements of Paul that say more, are recognized as forgeries by mainstream scholars). He says he was buried, but not where or by whom; nor who saw that, or even that anyone saw it. He says people had visions of Jesus thereafter, sudden and brief visions (1 Cor. 15:5-8), inside themselves (Gal. 1:16). That’s it. Even when he alludes to Jesus being born, he never tells us anything about that—who his parents were, the circumstances—he even avoids using his preferred word for human birth and instead uses his preferred word for divine creation. For Paul, Jesus is only ever “born” the same way Adam was, or our future resurrection bodies will be (OHJ, pp. 575-81). Some apologists even use this passage to argue Paul was saying Jesus was divinely manufactured in his mother’s womb. An event to which Paul cites no witnesses, and no mainstream scholar believes.
For a full accounting of what Paul does and doesn’t say about Jesus, see Chapter 11 of On the Historicity of Jesus. Lists of what Paul attests to for Jesus, are mostly constructed out of modern assumptions and not his actual words (e.g. Stephen Thompson, Barrie Wilson, and Gregory Jenks). And yet even they admit, Paul says virtually nothing. Yet Keller outrageously insists Paul outlines “all the events of Jesus’s life found in the gospels.” Although by now maybe you won’t be surprised to see such glaring evidence that Keller is a liar. If you’ve been reading this series from the beginning, you’ve seen plenty evidence of that already. Including yet other lies about what’s in the Gospels.
Of course his lies don’t stop there.
After lying about Paul, Keller then says “the gospel author Luke claims that he got his account of Jesus’s life from eyewitnesses who were still alive (Luke 1: 1-4)” (p. 101). Another lie. This time, at least, he’s only lying on the sly—reinterpreting words contrary to their intent. Luke never says any eyewitnesses were still alive (not there, not anywhere). And Luke never says he got his account from eyewitnesses at all. At best he implies he got his account from written sources (and indeed we know, he means he copied, often verbatim, the Greek texts of Mark and either Matthew or Q, and altered and added whatever he wanted); who, Luke says, recorded what he claimed was passed down from eyewitnesses (through an unstated number of intermediaries).
When Luke says the events of Jesus’s life were fulfilled “among us” he clearly means the Christian community throughout history, not himself (as he was not there and probably not even alive at the time); thus when he says the eyewitnesses passed down their accounts “to us,” he is saying the same thing. He is not referring to himself. Nor even is he referring to the previous Gospel authors. Luke is literally not saying how many intermediaries carried that message down to his and their time. He is simply asserting that the accounts were passed down from them, to and through the Christian community as a whole. And indeed, so far as we can tell, Luke really doesn’t know that. He’s just asserting it. Without any evidence it’s true. (For a complete analysis of what Luke actually said, see Not the Impossible Faith, Chapter 7.)
Keller also lies to his readers by claiming that, when Mark mentions Simon of Cyrene had two named sons, “Mark is saying, ‘Alexander and Rufus vouch for the truth of what I am telling you, if you want to ask them'” (p. 101). No, Mark does not anywhere say that. He never says any information came from them. He never cites them as sources or witnesses. He never says anyone can go check with them, or even that they were still alive. In ancient texts, when someone had a source, and meant you to understand that they had a source, they said it was their source. There are no exceptions; anywhere in ancient literature. We can therefore be certain Mark did not mean Alexander and Rufus were his sources. Because if he did, he would have said so. What he was doing, is what all mythographers did: inventing allegorical conjunctions of personal names to make some hidden point (see, for example, the most likely meaning proposed in OHJ, pp. 444-52).
Keller makes these and other assertions by relying on the fundamentalist apologetics of Richard Bauckham, whose absurd treatise on this point was universally panned by all mainstream scholars ever to review it (see, for example, its repeated trashing in volume 6 of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, in 2008, which issue was almost entirely dedicated to reviews of his book; even Catholic scholar Dean Bechard, of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, had a field day with Bauckham’s bogus methods, in Biblica 90, in 2009). I show quite the opposite in Chapter 10 of OHJ, by doing once again what one only need ever do to refute any Christian apologetics: I reintroduce all the evidence they conspicuously leave out. The Gospels are literary constructs in Greek. Not eyewitness lore translated from Aramaic.
So when Keller tells his readers that Bauckham “uses evidence within the gospels themselves to show that the gospel writers named their eyewitness sources within the text to assure readers of their accounts’ authenticity” (p. 101), he conveniently doesn’t mention that no mainstream scholar on earth buys that nonsense, and there is absolutely no evidence that method of naming sources was ever used, by anyone, ever, in the whole of antiquity. To the contrary, when sources were named in ancient texts, they were explicitly identified as such. By contrast, the Gospel of Luke explicitly never names the only source we know for certain it used (Mark). Thus, like most apologetics, Bauckham’s thesis is exactly entirely contrary to all facts and evidence. The rest of us call that bullshit.
In just the same way, Keller is lying when he says Paul “also appeals to readers to check with living eyewitnesses” of “the events of Jesus’s life” recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 (p. 101). That’s a lie, not only because no events of Jesus’s life are recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. And it’s a lie not only because the only two events of his death that are stated there (his crucifixion and burial), Paul conspicuously does not mention there being any witnesses of—he only says people saw Jesus after he died; Paul never says anyone saw him crucified or buried, or ever even alive, but instead only says we know he was killed and buried from scripture; Paul never says Jesus appeared to anyone before that, either. So, not only all that. Which is already enough to peg Keller a liar twice over. But on top of that, Paul never says the Corinthians can check his facts with anyone he lists there, and the only facts he said those witnesses could attest to, were their inner visions of the celestial Christ; not any facts in the life of Jesus, or even of his death.
Worst of all, none of those encounters listed by Paul—the only facts he cites any witnesses for—are recorded in any of the Gospels!
Keller claims the Gospels can be believed because Paul said the Corinthians could check them with the witnesses he lists. But Paul never says they can check such facts with those witnesses (or check any facts, honestly); whereas the only facts Paul mentions that the Corinthians could check that way (even though Paul never asks them to or tells them they could) are facts not recorded in the Gospels. 1 Cor. 15:5 says Jesus appeared alone to Peter. No such encounter is narrated in any Gospel in the canon. 1 Cor. 15:5 also says Jesus appeared to all twelve apostles. No such encounter is narrated in any Gospel in the canon. 1 Cor. 15:6 says Jesus appeared after that “to more than five hundred brethren all at once.” No such encounter is narrated in any Gospel in the canon. And incidentally, 1 Cor. 15:7 says Jesus then appeared “to James.” Which one, Paul doesn’t say, but no such encounter is narrated in any Gospel in the canon, either. And 1 Cor. 15:7 also says Jesus appeared after that to “all the apostles” (whatever that means). Again, no such encounter is narrated in any Gospel in the canon.
Who Was Still Alive?
Of course, in standard apologetics mode, Keller claims the followers of Jesus and “many bystanders, officials, and opponents” were still alive and “ready to challenge” anything written in the Gospels (p. 102). Myths could only be written, he says, when every witness was “long dead” (p. 102), and “the gospels were written far too soon for this to occur” (p. 102).
First, Paul never mentions there ever being any followers of Jesus, or anyone who ever met him when he was alive. So, who exactly would gainsay the claim that he was walking around or doing any of the ridiculous things claimed of him? Judea, even Galilee, even Jerusalem, were enormous places; how would anyone be able to recall exactly who preached or was crucified there in any decade span of time? How would you find any such people who knew how to read the Gospels…in Greek? Why would anyone even bother reading the crank mythographies of a hated fringe cult? Much less waste any of their time debunking them. The Christians neither encouraged fact-checking their Gospels (and there is no evidence any ever did: see Chapters 13 and 17 of Not the Impossible Faith) nor had the means to even should they have thought of it (the distances and obstacles involved just in finding witnesses, much less questioning them fruitfully, were beyond pretty much anyone’s means of the time: see Chapters 7 and 13 of NIF).
Second, the Gospels are full of easily debunked claims, that no one bothered to gainsay. Like the sun going out for three hours in the middle of the day (Mark 15:33), and Jesus being famous across the entire province of Syria (Matthew 4:24). Had either happened, they would have been widely attested in the histories and astronomies of the time. That they weren’t, means they didn’t happen (see my full analysis of the sun example in Chapter 3 of Proving History). The Gospels just made those things up. And no one cared enough to gainsay them; or if anyone did, Christians didn’t preserve anything they said. And that’s it. Most people didn’t care; and Christians decided whose voices you got to hear. Critics were thus deleted from the historical record. Keller is thus on both points not telling the truth when he says “many bystanders, officials, and opponents” were “ready” to challenge the wild tales written down generations later in a foreign language. Most wouldn’t have even known those accounts existed. And if they did, they wouldn’t have given a damn. And if any did, we wouldn’t get to hear what they said!
Third, the Gospels were written after the witnesses were dead. The first was composed in the 70s A.D., by which time the average lifespan had passed (see OHJ, Element 22). The others were composed decades after even that. And there is conspicuously no evidence of any witnesses surviving into the 70s A.D. No attestations of any being alive then. No letters. No anything. There would have been a few Judeans still alive, but they would have no way of knowing “everything” that ever happened in Judea, so as to even know none of the things in the Gospels happened; and again, they wouldn’t likely even know the Gospels’ claims, being written in a foreign language, and circulated only among a hated fringe cult, citing no sources, and not even written by identifiable authors. There is no evidence anyone even cared enough to investigate them, or even knew they existed to be investigated.
Fourth, that myths can only be written long after all witnesses are dead is totally, completely false. Just an astounding lie. We have countless examples of outrageous myths arising within but a year of an event, and continuing to be believed by millions for decades thereafter. And many of them are never gainsaid. And when any are, the gainsaying is simply erased from the believing community, as naysayers are condemned and shunned, and their books and letters destroyed. For evidence and scholarship establishing that rapid legendary development is commonplace, and in fact normal, the exact opposite of impossible, see Chapter 6.7 of OHJ. And for the full impact of this point, see Chapter 3 of Why I Am Not a Christian.
Finally, the Gospels are filled with bullshit tales there were surely no remaining witnesses to, because almost no one is said to have been there. Who saw Jesus wither a fig tree? Or drown thousands of pigs? Or fly into outer space? Were any of them alive a lifetime after these things supposedly happened? Who? Where is your evidence they were still around? How do you know what they said, if they were? The tall tales in the Gospels look just like all other tall tales, which arise just as quickly, are just as rarely gainsaid, and are just as false (see my discussion of the “Smell Test” in Chapter 4 of Proving History).
So, Keller’s bucket of lies is getting pretty full.
But he’s not done filling it. “Paul,” Keller declares, “could confidently assert to government officials that the events of Jesus’s life were public knowledge: ‘These things were not done in a corner’, he said to King Agrippa,” quoting Acts 26:26 (p. 102). This is supposed to amaze us. Until we realize Paul never said this. You’ll find it nowhere in his Epistles. Instead, someone else—who, we honestly don’t even know—a whole lifetime after even Paul was dead (and by which time even King Agrippa was dead), merely wrote a story in which Paul is made to say this. That’s bad enough. Worse, this fictional Paul never even said any of the events of Jesus’s life were “these things” he was referring to! So Keller is lying even about what Acts says, and not just that it wasn’t Paul who actually said it.
As I wrote in Not the Impossible Faith when that crank J.P. Holding tried pulling this same bullshit on me (pp. 189-90):
[W]hat “business” is Paul referring to that was “not done in a corner”? What are these “things” that Agrippa knows about and aren’t hidden from him? Does anything Luke claims Paul asserted at this trial, which Agrippa “knows” is true because it was “not hidden” from him, have anything whatever to do with whether Jesus actually rose from the dead? No. Does Paul’s defense, so far as Luke records it, even contain any historical assertion that would support the historicity of the resurrection? Again: No.
Nor does Paul mean any event or fact of Jesus’s life, either. Paul is not here referring to Jesus at all. Before Paul makes the assertion Keller quotes out of context, Paul has not referenced a single observable fact of Jesus’s life or death, but events relating to Paul:
Take a close look at what Luke actually claims Paul declared to Agrippa at this trial: Paul has long been a devoted Pharisee (26:4-5); he was being accused of merely “hoping” for the fulfillment of scripture (26:6), even though all Jews share the same hope (26:7), which is the hope that God will raise the dead (26:8); Paul persecuted Christians (26:9-11), but then saw a blinding celestial voice from God at noon on the road to Damascus (26:12-18), and he obeyed the commands of this voice and preached its message “to repent and turn to God and do works worthy of repentance,” first in Damascus, then Jerusalem, then “all Judaea,” and then to the Gentiles (26:19-20, though incidentally we know Luke is lying about this, since we have Paul’s own word on the subject in Galatians 1:15-2:1); the Jews seized Paul for preaching this message (26:21), and now he’s on trial, “saying nothing but what both the prophets and Moses said was destined to happen” (26:22).
Not a single reference to the resurrection of Jesus. Every single fact here could be true, even provable, yet none are of any relevance [to the life or death of Jesus]. And these are the only “things” Paul says Agrippa “knows” because they are not “hidden” from him. Only at the very end of his defense does Paul mention the death and resurrection of the Messiah (26:23), yet only as what “the prophets and Moses said was destined to happen,” not as an observed event. Neither Christ’s death nor resurrection [nor any fact of his supposed life] is asserted anywhere in Paul’s defense before Agrippa.
Paul never says he is innocent because Jesus really rose, “and here is my evidence that proves it.” No, all he appeals to is a private communication direct from God only to Paul himself affirming that the Savior lived (26:15), plus statements from “Moses and the prophets” concerning “whether the messiah was destined to suffer and proclaim” a message of salvation to the world—not that any Christ has suffered or proclaimed anything. Paul never asserts that, nor claims that such an assertion was anything he preached, or what he was being accused of preaching! His defense asserts only that he was preaching that scripture foretold such a thing and “therefore repent.”
So, once again, Keller is lying.
Keller then claims “thousands of people” could say Jesus wasn’t crucified, unless he was. But how on earth could that be? Who would know who “wasn’t” crucified under Pontius Pilate? Hundreds if not thousands were. I doubt even Pilate himself could remember beyond a fraction of their names a decade later. And a whole lifetime later, how would you even know who to ask that question? The notion is simply absurd.
The whole idea that “Christianity would never have gotten off the ground” (p. 102) if any of the Gospels’ claims weren’t true is profoundly illogical. Because Christianity got fully off the ground long before any Gospel was even written. Before then it had spread across three continents, for forty years. Once you realize the Gospels weren’t around to be questioned, all you have is Paul, who never says who crucified Jesus or where or when. Or that anyone ever saw it. So how would you even know who to ask? And Paul never says anything about any ministry of Jesus, either—not even that there was one, much less what happened or was said during it. So again, who would you ask to confirm something you were never told?
The apologetic Keller is badly trying to deploy is that of J.P. Holding’s entire “impossible faith” model, which is based on lies and bullshit, and a total disregard of ancient facts and all scientific knowledge of human behavior. I thoroughly debunk it in Not the Impossible Faith, and if you want a quick and easy summary, I devote a chapter to just that in The End of Christianity: “Christianity’s Success Was Not Incredible.” But here’s the bottom line:
The Gospels did not exist when Christianity was first spread. They were introduced half a century later. Meanwhile, all we have from Paul is a list of people who had visions. That’s the only fact he ever mentions any witness to. And this means, all Christianity needed to “get off the ground” was a claim by select fanatics to have seen Jesus risen in visions. Just like Mormonism (and its visions of Moroni and some magical artifacts), Islam (with its repeated visions of Gabriel), and every other revelatory cult in history. And who could gainsay that?
As even the book of Acts admits (in verse 23:9): “Some scribes of the Pharisees stood up, and argued, saying, ‘We find no evil in this man! What if a spirit has spoken to him, or an angel?” What if, indeed. How could they know about private revelations? How could they know whether or not Paul really experienced them? And how could they know if they were legit encounters, or just like the false visions of every other religion in human history? Keller’s claim that Christianity could not have “gotten off the ground” unless “the Gospels” were reliable is thus complete rubbish. It fails even on its own logic. It certainly fails on the facts.
It’s All Bad Fiction
Things get really funny when Keller actually says “we have Irenaeus of Lyons in 160 A.D. declaring that there were four, and only four, gospels” (p. 103). Holy shit. Um. Let’s see why Irenaeus believed “there were four, and only four, gospels” (Against All Heresies 3.11.8):
The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars, everywhere breathing out incorruption and revivifying men. From this it is clear that the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by one Spirit. As David said, when asking for his coming, ‘O sitter upon the cherubim, show yourself’. For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God. For the first living creature, it says, was like a lion, signifying his active and princely and royal character; the second was like an ox, showing his sacrificial and priestly order; the third had the face of a man, indicating very clearly his coming in human guise; and the fourth was like a flying eagle, making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these.
Holy shit, Batman. That’s 100% tinfoil hat. Irenaeus has no credible reason to believe there are only four authentic Gospels. All he has instead, all he is basing his certainty of that on, is a pile of Dan Brown crazy. And Keller wants you to take this as an authority? Oh, right. Keller hid from you the real reasons Irenaeus said that. He doesn’t want you to know the reasons for his belief in “only four” Gospels is totally fucking nuts. He pretends instead that Irenaeus is some sober scholar who somehow fact-checked the matter. Lying by omission.
This is super funny, because Keller is rightly obsessed with discrediting Dan Brown’s bogus DaVinci Code. Yet then cites Irenaeus as a better authority. The Dan Brown of the second century. But after giving us that laugh, Keller turns back to giving us a fallacy: he conflates Dan Brown crankery (a fictional novel by a non-expert), with mainstream scholarship (actual experts, writing serious peer reviewed articles and monographs). Which is already a fallacy. But on top of that, “the DaVinci Code is bullshit, therefore the Bible is true” is a non sequitur. They are both bad fiction. They both get historical facts wrong. They both make silly things up for no good reason.
Keller tries to argue the Gospels couldn’t have been written in the second half of the first century because, “If this popular view is correct,” and note, it is not just “the popular” view but the mainstream expert consensus, then “we would expect to see many places in the gospels where Jesus takes sides in debates that were going on in the early church” (p. 104), but we don’t see that, he says. Like, for example, “some believed Gentile Christians should be required to be circumcised.” The problem with this is that we don’t know what the debates were in the latter half of the first century. We have no letters from that period, nothing at all. Only the Gospels. So we can’t say “they were debating x then, so x should be in the Gospels.” Because our only way of knowing what x was, is by guessing from what the Gospels argue.
Moreover, his own argument is self-refuting: because the matter of circumcision was being hotly debated decades before the Gospels were written. So the fact that “they don’t address it” proves they weren’t written then. Instead, Paul’s letters show that in less than a decade of the start of the Jewish War (after which the Gospels were written, as all the evidence we have indicates), the circumcision debate had already come to a detente (as related by Paul himself in Galatians 2). After that war, the debate had moved on to something much more existential: whether Gentiles could even be Christians at all. That involved the entirety of Torah law, not merely circumcision. The holdouts, who rejected Paul’s detente, wrote the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus declares Gentiles cannot be Christians (Matthew 5:17-20). They had to convert to Judaism first. And follow all the commandments, not merely circumcision (every jot and tittle; hence when Matthew copied Mark 7:18-23 into Matthew 15:17-20, he deleted Mark’s declaration that Jesus released his followers from Torah dietary laws).
So Keller is not telling the truth again. He is trying to confuse his readers into thinking the Gospels were written earlier, when circumcision was hotly debated, by arguing that they don’t mention that debate—hoping no one notices Keller is contradicting himself. And he is omitting to mention that when the Gospels were written, one of them did fabricate a story of Jesus insisting on circumcision! By insisting on adhering to every commandment. Mainstream peer reviewed scholarship establishes that the Sermon on the Mount was invented after the Jewish War, and composed in Greek, and thus never uttered by Jesus (see OHJ, pp. 465-68). And it portrays Jesus denouncing the Pauline detente allowing non-Jews to become Christians. Exactly what Keller claimed the Gospels don’t do. So, in effect, he is lying. Again. The other Gospels were written for congregations long having accepted the Pauline detente. So they had no need to revisit that debate. It was already won. Only holdout churches, such as the congregation that authored Matthew, kept raging about it. But they had already lost that debate long ago.
Keller then moves on to asking fallacious questions like, “Why would the leaders of the early Christian movement have made up the story of the crucifixion if it didn’t happen?” (p. 104). That’s of course moot. Christianity can be 100% false and still Jesus was crucified by the Romans. I can only assume Keller hopes we don’t notice the huge non sequitur in arguing “Jesus was crucified, therefore the Gospels are reliable.” But even if we wanted to discuss the irrelevant, esoteric question of why they would invent a crucified hero, the Epistles already tell us many reasons why they would. If you care at all (even though it doesn’t matter, Christianity is still false either way), you can explore that question in my book On the Historicity of Jesus (see Chapter 12.4). In fact, all of Keller’s “Arguments from Embarrassment” (which I survey below) rely on a logic many scholars have already shown to be invalid (see Proving History, pp. 124-69).
Nevertheless, Keller tries to spin that to a wider defense of the Gospels by asking “Why would any Christian make up the account of Jesus asking God in the garden of Gethsemane if he could get out of his mission?” (p. 104). I guess Keller is hoping no one notices the fact that they had to have made that up, because the Gospels themselves say no one was there to witness it. Jesus was alone. His companions were elsewhere and asleep. And Jesus is immediately arrested afterward, and his companions flee, none attending his trial or ever getting to speak to him again. So there is no possible way that story could be true. No one would know of it.
As to why they’d invent such a tale, it’s exactly the kind of thing people invented for their suffering and struggling heroes, particularly the Jews (Proving History, pp. 131-34; On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 430-31, 548-49). The Psalms are full of heroic depictions of scenes like that. Psalm 22 most of all—the principal source for Mark’s crucifixion narrative! Notably, the earlier version of the Gethsemane scene (in Hebrews 5:7-9, which does not place the event in Gethsemane, or any earthly place, nor cites any witness for it; and yet Hebrews was almost certainly written before the Gospels: OHJ, pp. 538-40) does not have Jesus asking to get out of his mission; rather, it has Jesus asking to be resurrected, which of course is what happens. The Gospels changed that up into a scene more in line with the Jewish suffering hero trope. And made sure to point out no one was actually witness to it.
Keller continually hides from his readers the real scholarship on things like this. Such as when he asks “why ever make up the part on the cross when Jesus cries out that God had abandoned him?” (p. 105), as if it wasn’t the mainstream consensus that that was taken verbatim from Psalm 22 and is not believed to be true by any mainstream expert today (Proving History, pp. 131-33; OHJ, pp. 142 & 408). Or when he asks “why invent women as the first witnesses of the resurrection in a society where women were assigned such low status that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court?” (p. 105), as if that lie hadn’t already been thoroughly refuted. In fact women’s testimony was admissible, in all courts of law—Greek, Roman, and Jewish—and historians often used women as sources, without apology (see Chapter 11 of NIF).
Although, again, this is the same trick of pretending Mark said these women were his source, when in fact he never says that. To the contrary, he denies the women were his source (“they told no one any of it,” Mark 16:8; the rest of Mark is a well-known forgery: Chapter 16 of Hitler Homer Bible Christ). Mark places women there to illustrate the gospel, that “the least shall be first.” That men weren’t there is intended to shame the reader into being a better Christian and embracing the gospel of social reversal. Of course, Luke and John say fuck it to that, and add men as witnesses to the empty tomb (Luke 23:11-12; John 20:3-8), demonstrating how the story gets fabricated over time to fall more in line with mainstream culture and away from the radical egalitarianism of Mark and Paul.
It’s thus really funny when Keller suggests “it would have made far more sense (if you were inventing the tale) to have male pillars of the community present as witnesses when Jesus came out of the tomb” (p. 105). Because by that reasoning, he just declared Luke and John’s stories invented. Although he just can’t stop lying. In case you didn’t notice, there are no witnesses to “when Jesus came out of the tomb,” in any Gospel he is defending—not even the women are depicted as seeing that. So, once again, Keller seems to have forgotten what’s even in his own damned Bible.
So it’s obviously not the case that “the only plausible reason that all of these incidents would be included in these accounts is that they actually happened” (p. 105). That contradicts all we know of the facts of the era, the texts themselves, and the mainstream expert consensus. Likewise when Keller asks “why constantly depict the apostles—the eventual leaders of the early Church—as petty and jealous, almost impossibly slow-witted, and in the end as cowards who either actively or passively failed their master?” The answer is the same as why “the Jews” are depicted in exactly the same way in the Pentateuch. They are a literary device for the Gospel authors, just as the fickle Jews following Moses are a literary device for the authors of Exodus and Deuteronomy, or the bumbling crew is for the hero Odysseus, and so on. And Jesus is deliberately depicted in the Gospels as both (Moses and Odysseus).
All these narratives are invented to shame readers into not acting like that, and to illustrate the scripturally required abandonment of the hero to elevate his achievement. Indeed, “Why would anyone in the early church want to play up the terrible failures of their most prominent leader?” (p. 105). The answer is the same as why Christian preachers always play up how much of a sinner and a reprobate they were before seeing the light (often, probably, not even all that honestly): to demonstrate how far one can fall and still be saved, and to demonstrate how powerful being saved can be.
By our standards today, all these literary devices are awful. They produce narratives not at all plausible or realistic. No one acts like real people. Ridiculous things happen. And we get next to no motive or character development. The Gospels are worse than Dan Brown novels. But such devices were popular then. It was the style of allegory and messaging that every religion was using (see OHJ, Element 14). Keller is just trying to hide all that from you, with a lot of lying and hand-waving, so you never notice or think about it.
Please Stop Citing C.S. Lewis
Keller then closes with a bundle of lies about the literary form of the Gospels.
“The literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend,” he claims (p. 106), citing C.S. Lewis. Who as far as I can tell never said a correct thing about ancient literature. But I won’t saddle Lewis with Keller’s errors. I’ll assume what Keller argues here is Keller and not Lewis. Trust me, Lewis would be grateful. Because Keller at this point becomes a total joke.
“Modern fiction is realistic,” Keller says, “It contains details and dialogue and reads like an eyewitness account. This genre of fiction, however, only developed within the last three hundred years” (p. 106). That’s not at all true. The Golden Ass of Apuleius, the Satyricon of Petronius, the Life of Romulus by Plutarch, the Jewish book of Tobit, the Life of Aesop, even the Dialogues of Plato (which are explicitly titled as fiction) and of Lucian, and countless bogus histories and biographies and fake letters, all evoked a realism matching the expectations of nonfiction of the Roman era (OHJ, Element 44). C.S. Lewis was ignorant of all that (proving he was a shitty classicist). Keller evidently is, too. At least, I’ll assume it’s ignorance, and not lying. I wonder though.
Whether lying about or ignoring all of that, Keller fools his readers (and himself?) by comparing the prose Gospels not to prose fiction of the same era, but to poetry, and not poetry of the same period and place, but the poetry of completely different eras and cultures. A more glaring false analogy can hardly be conceived, which leads me to suspect this is actually Keller lying again. As surely even he cannot be so stupid as to think this comparison is even remotely applicable. The only two works he compares the Gospels to are the Iliad, a text predating even Classical Greece (much more so the Hellenistic and Roman eras), and Beowulf, a product of the Middle Ages, and not from any Greco-Roman or Jewish culture. Thus, wrong eras, wrong cultures. And poetry is not prose.
When we compare the prose fiction of the actual period and culture of the gospels, we get books that look just like the Gospels. I listed several above already. But perhaps we should remind Keller’s readers of the over thirty fake Gospels and Acts that were rejected from the canon precisely on the assertion that they were fake—yet many of them look a lot like the Gospels deemed genuine! So, evidently, even Keller has to admit Christians wrote more fake Gospels that look like Gospels, than genuine ones! Which ruins any claim that the four Keller wants to be true can’t be just as fictional as the dozens of others written in the same era and culture. But even apart from that, honest expert comparisons with actually comparable literature don’t get Keller’s results. The Gospels look just like a syncretism of Jewish and pagan fiction (Jewish models spanning from Kings to Daniel to Tobit; and Greek models including numerous novels, fake histories, and fictional biographies). Just read Matthew Ferguson’s many analyses of how the Gospels in fact look just like fiction of the same region and period—totally contrary to Keller’s groundless assertions, which are contrary to all relevant facts. Ferguson surveys many examples: the Life of Aesop and the Gospels; Alexander Romances and the Gospels; Tales of Homer and the Gospels; Ancient Novels and the Gospels; vs. Ancient Histories and the Gospels. (See also my analysis of David Marshall’s attempt to dodge these conclusions with bogus criteria, which resembles Keller’s, but dials up the crazy.)
As if that wasn’t enough to call Keller’s wanton bluff, he then goes on to say this ridiculous thing: “That is why if you are reading Beowulf or The Iliad you don’t see characters noticing the rain or falling asleep with a sigh” (p. 106). Um. Those things don’t happen in the Gospels either. So if the Gospels are fiction, they clearly do correspond to ancient modes of writing fiction! Even by Keller’s own inapplicable examples. His whole argument is thus a weird non sequitur. I can only assume it’s an attempt to distract the reader away from noticing that showing that the Gospels don’t look like modern fiction, does nothing to argue that they don’t look like ancient fiction. This is the same bullshit move as citing ancient examples from completely the wrong form (poetry instead of prose), completely the wrong eras (Archaic Greece and the Middle Ages), and completely the wrong cultures (Mycenean and Scandanavian).
Memory vs. Legend
Continuing the same parade of lies, Keller claims ancient fiction never added details to make stories seem realistic (p. 107). That’s false. They often did. Hence the fake histories and biographies; fake Gospels and Acts; fake letters; dialogues that look like transcripts; novels that look like memoirs; and so on. Besides what I’ve already covered and mentioned, just check out Cameron’s Greek Mythography in the Ancient World, Bowersock’s Fiction as History, and Cueva & Byrne’s Companion to the Ancient Novel. Or go straight to The Ancient Novel and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative. The same things the Gospels do to add “realism” (by ancient standards), were done elsewhere in ancient fiction and forgery. Nothing is peculiar about the Gospels in that respect at all.
Nevertheless, Keller has to keep trying to beat this healthy horse with his invisible stick, insisting (p. 107):
The gospel accounts are not fiction. In Mark 4, we are told that Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern of a boat. In John 21 we are told that Peter was a hundred yards [the text says two hundred—ed.] out in the water when he saw Jesus on the beach. He then jumped out of the boat and together they caught 153 fish. In John 8, as Jesus listened to the men who caught a woman in adultery, we are told he doodled with his finger in the dust. We are never told what he was writing or why he did it. None of these details are relevant to the plot or character development. … The only explanation for why an ancient writer would mention the cushion, the 153 fish, and the doodling in the dust is because the details had been retained in the eyewitnesses’ memory.
The odd thing here is that none of those details are even realistic. Real narratives don’t mention bizarrely exact counts of fish caught, or mention irrelevant details like what someone was resting on, or know exact distances no one could possibly have been able to measure at the time, or claim someone could recognize a person two entire football fields away. And real narratives would say what someone was doodling if bothering to even mention it. So in fact, these are actually the hallmarks of fiction. Numerology, esoteric allusions, descriptive color, improbable descriptions. These we find all over ancient fiction; not so much in real stories.
In fact fictionalized events were often embellished with vivid details like these (PH, pp. 182-83), and indeed ancient schools taught students specifically to do that (OHJ, 397-98). Even modern studies of urban legends confirm that myths acquire more details like these over time, as people strive to make the tales seem more true, by making them sound more real and detailed (OHJ, pp. 480-81, n. 195) and we know that trend existed in antiquity. See, for example, “Names for the Nameless” (Wikipedia even has an extensive list); other details we can see being added in later redactions of Luke-Acts, for instance—in the versions Keller rejects as fake, because they aren’t the ones in his Bible: the tombstone of Jesus required “twenty men” to move; Peter crosses “seven steps” in his escape from prison; and so on (about 10% more text was added to those versions of Luke-Acts in supplying like embellishments). Obviously, such details were routinely added in fiction and fakery.
Keller continues his nonsense claims, asking us to “factor in the fact that disciples in the ancient world were expected to memorize masters’ teachings,” when in fact in every known case it was the other way around, students changed and altered their master’s teachings—which is why, for example, no one trusts Plato’s accounts of Socrates are reliable records of what Socrates said. And unlike any Gospel’s author, Plato was an actual eyewitness to what Socrates said! The evidence is entirely against there being any mechanism of memorization in place anyway—the Jews could only preserve the Mishnah, for example, by funding and sending kids to years-long schools for memorizing it; there is no evidence any such schools ever existed in early Christendom. (See OHJ, Chapter 6.7.)
And we actually can be sure no such system of memorization was in place, because the Gospels all contradict each other, showing free redaction and alteration and embellishment over time, rather than evidence of reliable memorization; and the only consistency between them consists of exact copying of a Greek written text, not oral repetition. And we know much of what Jesus is said to have said in them, Jesus never said (e.g. the entire Sermon on the Mount was fabricated in Greek half a century after Jesus died, decades after Paul had died; and many statements Paul makes in his letters, were converted into things Jesus said, a fact Paul surely would have known and mentioned, had Jesus ever really said them; etc.).
So it simply isn’t the case that we “have every reason to trust the accounts” (p. 107). It’s a non sequitur even to say that “many of Jesus’s statements are presented in a form that was actually designed for memorization,” a sly statement that admits some weren’t (and therefore couldn’t have been; the Sermon on the Mount being a prominent example), and “therefore” they were memorized by witnesses and tradents. Many a wholly fabricated text includes sayings built to be easily remembered and repeated by readers. That therefore is not evidence they weren’t fabricated for that purpose by the Gospel authors themselves.
It’s also a total lie that “the gospel writers did not feel free to embellish or fabricate words or events in the life of Jesus” (p. 107). Holy Moses. How can one compare John with Mark and still claim that!? Luke embellishes, alters, adds tons to Mark and Matthew. Matthew fabricates vast amounts unknown to Mark, and deliberately alters Mark. Matthew and Luke’s nativity legends wildly contradict each other on almost every single particular (see Chapter 15 of Hitler Homer Bible Christ). And so on. And it’s irrelevant to mention, as Keller does, that many cultures distinguish fiction from history. Because those same cultures also include in what they consider “history” fake and false history. And worse, we know the Christian elite didn’t regard any whole Gospel as literally true, but as allegories for deeper truths, and written to make lower ranking Christians believe in their literal truth because they were inadequately educated to benefit from the allegorical sense (extensively documented in OHJ, Element 14). In other words, some Christians even admit the Gospels were faked specifically to trick the uneducated (and other Christians forged documents, like 2 Peter, to try and shut them up: see OHJ, p. 351).
Keller then fills his bucket of lies all the way to overflowing with this shameless howler: that “all these revisionist histories,” by which he means all mainstream expert literature on the Gospels, “completely ignore the growing body of careful scholarship that shows there were a very large number of eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life who lived on for years” (p. 108). At which he cites no scholarship that ever shows that at all. In fact, there is none. There is not a single piece of evidence whatever that any eyewitness was alive when any Gospel was written. Much less “a very large number” of them. (Fabulous legends fabricated centuries later, hardly count, BTW. And no honest expert counts them.) Claiming there is a rising body of scholarship proving otherwise is just a full on lie. As is Keller’s lie that “the actual foundations” of mainstream “scholarship are eroding fast” (p. 109). To the contrary. Mainstream scholarship doesn’t agree with Keller at all. And all Keller has to cite against it is an increasingly insane body of fundamentalist apologetic bullshit dressed up to look scholarly.
So here Keller doesn’t just lie about all the pertinent facts. He lies even by conflating crank shit (like Brown’s DaVinci Code) with serious scholarship (like Helms’ Gospel Fictions or MacDonald’s Mythologizing Jesus or Brodie’s Birthing of the New Testament); and by claiming the mainstream consensus is changing toward Keller’s view, when that’s not true—it’s getting even more skeptical (e.g. for an honest account of the growing state of memory and orality studies, which wholly contradicts Keller’s, see Ehrman’s Jesus Before the Gospels). What Keller wants his readers to believe, is that the pack of liars and fools that passes for Christian fundamentalist scholarship, is mainstream. When in fact it’s just digging an even deeper hole of delusion, with an ever-growing supply of falsehoods and fallacies. Just like this book by Keller.
Totally Fucking Lying
And if all the lying Keller has done, across all seven chapters I’ve surveyed so far, hasn’t pissed you off by now… Oh boy. Wait for it.
Keller hasn’t made any honest defense of the historical reliability or even plausibility of the Gospels. But he also has to defend them against being culturally backward and even morally dubious. And when he gets to that, the lies just fly like fireworks.
The Gospels are not morally sound. The Sermon on the Mount alone is absolutely horrible. The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels is a sociopathic asshole. And the Old Testament is worse than Mein Kampf. But Keller ignores all the evil in the OT (he attempts no apology for it); and instead tries to defend some of the more popularly cited moral failures of the NT. By lying.
For example, he is annoyed by the complaint that the Bible “seems to support slavery and the subjugation of women” (p. 109). It doesn’t just seem to. It actually does (and both of those links, BTW, are to the New Testament! You don’t even want to see the horrific shit God commands and allows in the Old Testament). His response? “One possibility I urge [such critics] to consider is that the passage that bothers them might not teach what it appears to them to be teaching” (p. 110). No. Sorry. The passages are absolutely clear. So that won’t fly. The facts are these. A book that could have condemned slavery and the subjugation of women, never does. But it does repeatedly endorse them. And that’s fucked up. This is why the whole Bible is ancient primitive shit we have no business heeding anymore.
Keller’s desperate attempt to deny this awful news consists of lying about the ancient world in the most shocking ways. “In the first-century Roman empire, when the New Testament was written,” Keller claims, “there was not a great difference between slaves and the average free person” (p. 110). Holy fuckballs. So, while those Christians who don’t want to admit the OT is a genocidal rape book actually try defending genocide and rape, Keller tries defending slavery. I honestly shouldn’t have to explain why Keller’s claim of no difference between ancient slaves and free people is not just false, but appalling. But since he actually tries this shit, here we go…
- “They looked and lived like most everyone else, and were not segregated from the rest of society in any way” (p. 110). Except by the fact that they had no freedom, had few legal rights, could be beaten, raped, or killed with impunity, could be bought and sold without their consent, had to obey every command, nearly all they ever earned went to their master, and had to wear slave collars and other distinctive clothing segregating them from the rest of society. You know. Other than that. They looked and lived like most everyone else, and were not segregated from the rest of society in any way.
- “From a financial standpoint, slaves made the same wages as free laborers, and therefore were not usually poor” (p. 110). Except that this is totally false. Most slaves in antiquity worked in literal chain gangs for zero wages, in mining and agriculture. Their lives were miserable and short, and worse than any working poor. Only a lucky few ever made any wage at all, and almost all of that went to their master, not themselves—so there is no sense in which they made “the same wages” as free laborers. And only the luckiest of those lucky few were “not poor,” by virtue of being smart or educated enough to take significant roles in their master’s household or business affairs.
- “Slaves could accrue enough personal capital to buy themselves out” (p. 110). Except that only the lucky few slaves who could earn any money at all even had a chance at this. And many of them never succeeded in raising the requisite capital. And those who did, were not fully free. They acquired a freedman status, which is halfway between slave and free. They still owed service and income to their former masters, and were still denied numerous rights. Only their children enjoyed freedom and citizenship. And I should not have to remind anyone who pretends to be a moral person that no human being should ever have to labor for decades to buy their own fucking freedom. Much less a mere half-freedom. And the failure of God or Jesus ever to mention that, wholly condemns them.
- “Very few slaves were slaves for life” (p. 110). Except that most slaves were slaves for life. Again, Keller is conflating the lucky few who had household positions or profitable occupations and could find themselves in a situation to be manumitted (or buy themselves out), with the majority who worked in mining and agriculture that never had any realistic prospect of freedom.
- “Most could reasonably hope to be manumitted within ten or fifteen years, or by their late thirties at the latest” (p. 110). Except that that’s bullshit. I don’t even know how Keller pretends to know that. But there is no evidence of that being commonly the case. For all the reasons just noted. And even for those few for whom it was the case, being enslaved for a decade or into your thirties (when the average life expectancy was 48) is still not “just like” being free. And let’s not forget, most slaves, were slaves even as children, and worked as such. Mass child slavery. Keller thinks that’s totally fine. Sure. No need for Jesus to condemn that.
It is true, as Keller says, that “New World slavery was much more systematically and homogeneously brutal” (p. 110)…but…um…that means Christian slavery was way worse than pagan slavery! Which kind of points out the extra need for God and his Jesus to maybe, you know, condemn that shit rather forcefully. Instead, Jesus sits around in his magical space city for over a thousand years and watches his total failure to condemn slavery generate the worst slave system in human history. Honestly. Do I need any further evidence there is no God?
Keller keeps on lying, though, claiming that before Christians made it horribly worse, “In the older bond-service or indentured servanthood, only slaves’ productivity—their time and skills—were owned by the master, and only temporarily” (p. 110). I have no idea where he gets that from. Greece and Rome are infamous for having implemented chattel slavery on a previously unmatched scale, not the indentured servitude Keller is talking about. No such model even existed under Greek or Roman law. And in Biblical law, the indentured servitude model only applied to fellow Jews. Gentiles were subject to full chattel slavery. Up to and including God-ordained mass rape. So not only does Keller outright lie here, he also lies by omission as well. Two for one. How generous.
It only gets worse when Keller claims “the Bible unconditionally condemns kidnapping and trafficking in slaves (1 Timothy 1:9-11; cf. Deuteronomy 24:7)” (p. 111). That’s cleverly worded, but just another lie. Neither passage he cites outlaws buying, selling, or owning slaves. Both in fact only condemn illegal entrapment of citizens into slavery. The Deuteronomy passage only applies to Israelites, not Gentiles; the Timothy passage only mentions people who kidnap citizens to enslave them illegally. Neither condemns enslaving non-citizens or trading in slaves or owning slaves, in any way already legal under Roman law. So it’s certainly false to say the Bible “unconditionally condemns” slavery. It doesn’t even condemn it. Much less unconditionally.
To the contrary, the Bible very definitely limits its condemnation to what was already illegal in Roman law: the enslavement of citizens. Otherwise the Old Testament explicitly declares full chattel and sex slavery legal, even commanded by God; and the New Testament says nothing to the contrary, but commands slaves to be obedient, while never asking masters to free them (or even to not buy or sell them), despite repeating this ethic four different times–none of which the words of Jesus (1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1). In fact, the NT commands slaves to submit even to being beaten (1 Peter 2:18-20); and when Paul wrote a whole letter on slavery, somehow, condemning it totally slipped his mind. The Gospel Jesus, meanwhile, who says calling your bother a fool warrants the death penalty and eternal hellfire (Matthew 5:21-22), never once said a word against slavery. To the contrary, he repeatedly uses slavery as a valid moral model for God to treat people by! In other words, far from thinking anything ill of slavery, Jesus thinks it’s the ultimate moral standard.
Note what a sleazy snake Keller is, using tricky words and the omission of context to make his readers think he said the Bible condemns slavery, when really he didn’t. Yet that means he isn’t even responding to the objection, that the Bible endorses slavery. Guess what. It does! No rebuttal possible. Sorry, Dr. Keller. Your book is evil.
I should perhaps mention that Keller is leaving something else out, too.
Not only did Christians make chattel slavery horribly worse in every way (which Keller is honest enough to admit; sort of), but they even invented a new category of slave, the serf, who was bound by law to their land and occupation, not ever free to change either (nor were their children), or to marry or sell or buy property without approval, with no rights to sue their landlord, obligated by force to forever pay rent to and perform labor for their “owners,” who could buy and sell them like any other slaves, simply by buying and selling the land to which they were bound. Laws eventually legalized keeping serfs in chains, and defined them as “slaves to the land,” and their landlords as masters. By which device, as soon as any Christians ruled the Empire, they covertly enslaved millions of free people. Thanks, Bible.
The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, issued the first decree to do this, and that deed was solidified by further enslavement laws under Theodosius by the end of the same century. So in less than a hundred years, all farmers renting land were converted into de facto slaves. This is just one of several horrible consequences of Jesus’s failure to damn slavery and defend human rights (and indeed he never defends human rights; that concept never appears in the NT, nor is any major human right ever defended even once there; the OT, meanwhile, is explicitly against almost every basic human right there is: see my chapter on how America’s constitution is actually a covert condemnation of the Bible, in Christianity Is Not Great). Constantine’s ever-so-Christian decree is a marvel to read, declaring “that [renters] shall fulfill, under compulsion of a merited condemnation to servitude, the obligations which befitted them as free men” (Theodosian Code 5.17.1). George Orwell, a shot of scotch to you, sir.
We’ve caught Keller lying about history like this before. And we’ve seen already how sad it is that his need to defend his barbaric religion keeps compelling him to defend countless evils as the best of goods. This is how Christianity destroys your soul.
Chapter 7 is just a disgusting juggernaut of lies.
Keller says he will defend the immorality and scientific and historical inaccuracies of the Old Testament. Then never does. Yet it contradicts science and sense; and mainstream experts concur: Moses and the Patriarchs are mythical, the tales in Kings and Chronicles are rife with implausible and unverifiable legends mixed with some true, if embellished, facts of history, and the whole Bible contains forgeries (like all of Daniel and portions of Isaiah). The Biblical God is always just as ignorant as the primitive fools writing his book. All these problems? Not even mentioned. Keller attempts no defense. He hides them from his readers instead.
Keller says the Gospels name eyewitness sources. Total lie. They never even say they used eyewitness sources (except one John made up: see Chapter 10.7 of OHJ); and certainly never name them. And Paul only cites witnesses to their own private visions of the inner mind. He never mentions anyone ever being witness to any event of Jesus’s birth, life, or death.
Keller says there were witnesses still alive when the Gospels were written. Total lie. There is no evidence any were. And it’s unlikely any were. The average lifespan alone rules it out, much less a whole war that devastated the population. Random survivors from the 30s A.D., meanwhile, would have no way of knowing any stories in the Gospels are false, even if they knew they existed, could read Greek, cared to read the myths of a hated fringe sect, and could write, and had any interest in publishing their complaints, and anything they published was preserved by Christians for us to know of it, none of which is likely. Meanwhile, none of the “appearances” of the risen Jesus Paul says there were witnesses to, is recorded in any Gospel in the canon.
The Gospels in fact look like every other unbelievable holy fiction invented back then, in every religion—including Christianity itself, which even Keller must admit trafficked in literally dozens of fake Gospels. They cite no sources, describe no methods, pack their books with errors and anachronisms and improbable events and behaviors, and safely wrote a whole average lifetime after the fact. Yet Christianity spread across three continents for forty tears without a single Gospel being written; it’s success therefore never depended on the stories in them.
In all this Keller repeatedly lies about what his own Bible says, he lies about the facts of history, he lies about ancient slavery, he lies about the standards and practices in ancient literature, he lies about the state of memory and orality studies in his own field. And then, after repeatedly violating his own God’s commandment to tell the truth, he closes by defending his evil Book, by defending evil itself: “To stay away from Christianity,” Keller insists, “because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?” (p. 112). Yes. You fucker. By all the gods yes. Slavery is offensive to me. If God likes slavery, God is offensive to me. And if you don’t agree with me, you’re just another asshole defending slavery.
Keller tries to weasel out of this sad consequence by saying that churches all disagree on what the Bible teaches about things like gender roles (p. 113). But that is precisely why we know they have no access to any divine truth. They are just fallible, ignorant men (and yes, mostly men), claiming their uninformed and prejudiced opinions are endorsed by an ancient pile of garbage mythology written by a bunch of primitive, murderous, slave-owning flat-earthers.
And then, Keller says, if you reject the horrific evil teachings of the Bible—including, we must remind you, God’s rules for maintaining sex slavery and Jesus’s commandments to hack out your hands, eyes, and balls if you even so much as think about sex—“are you saying that because you don’t like what the Bible says about sex that [therefore] Jesus couldn’t have been raised from the dead?” (p.113). Well, I have to admit, that certainly makes it unlikely. Unless an evil God rose Jesus from the dead. But then he is to be despised, not worshiped, and his deceiving sorcery condemned rather than celebrated. But really, we reject the resurrection of Jesus, not because Jesus is a horrid little monster, but because his resurrection is massively unlikely based on all we’ve learned about the world—and the evidence for it is garbage.
It’s not as if Hitler rose from the dead and a booming voice from heaven told us to follow him, therefore we should. No moral person would, even under those conditions (honestly). “Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination” (p. 114) is total bullshit. That Keller would dare say such a horrible thing is appalling to me. He honestly is saying we should hold racism, sexism, homophobia, slavery all as signs of the divine, and never even end a friendship with someone who endorsed them all—he is saying, in fact, that the Bible’s gross immorality even proves it’s divine!
Dr. Keller, you should be ashamed.
Next I’ll discuss Keller’s Chapter 8 (that link will go live later this month), in which he tries to prove God exists because the universe does and we can understand it and find it pretty.