Thursday, October 18, 2007

Zeitgeist: The Movie, Part 4: Josephus and Other Resources

In the final part of our look at the web documentary Zeitgeist, we are going to be looking at some of the most audacious claims in the documentary.

The point they are making is that the historical evidence for the existence of a man named Jesus does not exist. The claim is that only four first century historians mention Jesus. Three of them, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger only mention Christ or Christos, which, since that is a title and not a name, they argue could be a reference to anybody. The fourth reference, and by far the most significant, is made by a Jewish Historian named Flavius Josephus. This is the place where the documentary makes that amazing statement, saying that Josephus has been "proven to be a forgery for hundreds of years." Here is the Josephus quote in question (from Antiquities 18):

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

I studied a lot of Josephus in college. My professors quoted him regularly. I had never heard anything discrediting or even doubting Josephus as a source. Needless to say, I was shocked when I heard this, and had no idea what to say.

Again, here is the response of Dr. Wave Nunnally:

Lastly, they attack the writings of Josephus, saying that he has been "proven to be a forgery for 100's of years." This was completely new to me. Had you heard this before? On what grounds do they discredit him and his writings?

The works of Josephus are accepted as genuine and as legitimate sources for the reconstruction of intertestamental Judaism and NT backgrounds by EVERY expert in the field, whether Jewish, Christian, or non-aligned, and whether conservative, moderate, or liberal. This might well qualify as one of the most absurd statements I have ever heard in my entire career that was supposed to be associated with an "academic" discussion. I can only hope that whoever said it is not allowed to procreate…

An interesting response, to say the least. The response goes to show the difference between the anonymous, nonacademic, unsupported and unreferenced claims made by the creator of the documentary verses many years of study from world renown Colleges and Universities as well as trained professionals in the area of Biblical Studies. This is the initial response you will see a lot from the top experts when presented with some of the outrageous claims floating around today, including books by Michael Baigent in Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Jesus Papers. There is quite simply a huge difference between good, well researched, respected scholarship and the popular pseudo-scholarship that people like Baigent and the creator of Zeitgeist are furthering.

However, just to see the initial response of respected scholars is not enough. We should be able to talk about specifics. In a radio interview, the Creator of Zeitgeist elaborated a bit on his Josephus claim. Here is my paraphrasing of the claim in a question to Dr. Nunnally, followed by his more detailed response:

The claim: Josephus references 13 different Jesuses. The quote we see of this often quoted section about Jesus, talking about him raising from the dead, does not appear until 200 years after the death of Josephus, despite the fact that early Christians, Justin Martyr and others, would have been very interested in referencing this, though we don't know of them mentioning it at all. This section about Jesus was added later. Any further responses to this?

On the antiquities 18 passage, the answer is yes. First, all Josephus scholars acknowledge that SOMETHING was there in the original version of Josephus. This is because there is another passage (20:200) that mentions him without further explanation, which means he must have already introduced him and given sufficient information for his readership to have connected the two passages so the second would be understandable. Again, all Josephus scholars recognize this argument as being legitimate. Second, historically, there have been three different schools of thought about the originality of this passage. The earliest simply took it at face value. With the rise of critical scholarship and more careful analysis of ancient texts, two additional schools of thought emerged. One reconstructed it to read as a very negative statement about Jesus, and the other emended the passage somewhat, but retained the generally favorable tenor of the “original.” Both agreed that the original text had suffered from “creative” Christian scribes in antiquity. The problem was basically laid to rest in 1971 when Israeli scholar Shlomo Pines published an Arabic version of Josephus which followed none of the three earlier schools, but instead provided a “neutral” reading of the Josephus text. The point is, it was there and now we have a legitimate version of it with ancient textual support.

This is great, because it gives us the history of the argument. This is only scholars word for it, so if you would like to read more on this issue, check out Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament by F.F. Bruce and Jesus Outside the New Testament by VanVoorst.

Here are a few more resources. Here are three interviews posted on Youtube with Peter J, the creator of Zeitgeist. They are each in 4 parts.

Interview on 6/28/07 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Interview on 7/13/07 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Interview on 7/22/07 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Also, in case you are interested in part two of the documentary, which I have not discussed here, here are two videos that represent both sides of the 9/11 argument. Zeitgeist, as you can imagine, is a bit one sided. These videos are here and here.

Also, a fellow blogger and fellow student of Dr. Nunnally, Nate Watson has written a bit about Zeitgeist as well. Check out his blog My Friend Ivan and the Zeitgeist material here and here.

Lastly, you can purchase the complete works of Josephus from Thomas Nelson Press very cheap. I got it at Barnes and Noble for $17. Here it is on Amazon for $12.73! A very good deal.

In conclusion, I think not only has this experience shown some more good reasons why many of us ascribe to the Christian faith, it has also shown us once again that you cannot believe everything you hear. In addition, I feel that we have a responsibility as followers of Christ to educate ourselves about these issues and be able to have meaningful, informed conversations about them. May we always demand good information, even if it challenges what we believe. May we stand for truth in all circumstances. And, may we love one another while doing it.

3 comments:

Rene said...

Im new to your blog. I heard so much about the whole zeitgeist doc, I saw it a month ago and I've seen most of this before. I have learned a long time ago, that one shouldn't believe everything someone may says, always check out the sources. I haven't got to it yet so I appreciate your review of the zeitgeist doc. I do notice that many young teens and adults tend to take the whole thing as truth, never questioning anything.

Thanks for the info
Mr.Agnostic.

Anonymous said...

I am reading this article second time today, you have to be more careful with content leakers. If I will fount it again I will send you a link

Anonymous said...

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