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Entry 1185, on 2010-04-21 at 20:38:57 (Rating 1, Religion)
In my last blog entry I talked about how confused I was after listening to two theologians debate an obscure point on a podcast. Yesterday I was doing some work for the theology department at the university I work for and I thought why not ask a theologian to explain some of the more basic aspects of the subject, to get some answers about things I have wondered about, but also to see the way theologians think.
A topic I have debated a bit recently is the historicity of Jesus so I thought why not choose that as a subject to ask questions about. It's a simple, relevant, and practical problem and it should have real importance to everyone.
If Jesus really existed and did all the things the Bible claims then that changes everything for people like me who reject religion. And if he didn't exist or only existed in a form which is totally different from what the Bible describes then that changes everything for believers - at least it does for the world's biggest religion, Christianity.
So I decided to ask some basic questions about the historical evidence for Jesus. I sent them by email this morning and haven't got a reply yet but I will report back when I do get something. These are the questions...
1. Do most theologians think Jesus really existed in a form recognisable as the character described in the Bible?
2. Do they think the supernatural events really happened or do they just start with the assumption they did (do theologians usually have a world view which includes the supernatural?)
3. Regarding the New Testament. Most of the writers are unknown, right. And even when some writing is attributed it's often doubtful (eg Paul is attributed 13 epistles but 6 are doubtful, right?). Were there any writers at all who wrote from first hand experience having met Jesus?
4. Regarding the gospels. Do the canonical gospels have any true merit beyond all the others which the early church decided not to include?
5. All the gospels were written by unknown people at least 60 CE, right? So none are eye witness accounts, except they are based on Q but we know nothing about that do we? Could Q be written by a real witness?
6. Is there any credible material outside the Bible describing Jesus? I know about Tacitus but that seems rather indirect and uncertain. Also Josephus, but the big one there is a forgery, right? And the lesser reference is rather vague, agreed?
7. Is it reasonable to expect that if someone like Jesus was wandering around attracting a lot of attention, crowds, performing miracles, etc that there would be some reference to him in Roman, Jewish, etc written material of the day? Should we expect to find any of that?
8. Why did none of Jesus' followers write about him? Did they think the world was going to end soon anyway? Is the famous reference in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32 really a prediction of the end of the world, second coming, etc?
9. There are a few people who oppose the conventional views and who say they are theologians, Bob Price would be one. Do these people have and academic credibility?
I'm not sure what my theologian friend will think of these questions. Maybe they are too mundane to really be considered serious theology but I think it's important to get the simple stuff out of the way before moving on to more complex and esoteric subjects.
If I do get a response (and she doesn't find this process too annoying) I also have some questions regarding the Old Testament to ask as well as a few general theological issues which I find confusing. It could be quite interesting and I will report what I learn here.
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