Betting the farm: on Jesus, or the cynicism of the foolish?

According to RationalWiki:

Knowing they were about to push a hot button, Kelly [O’Connor] responded that there is no historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. See [the RationalWiki article] Historicity of Jesus…Kelly went on to say that 1st century Palestine is a well-recorded era with dozens of historians who kept accurate and detailed records, but never mention Jesus anywhere.

But according to Gary R. Habermas

Surprisingly few scholars have asserted that Jesus never existed or have attempted to cast almost total doubt on his life and ministry. When such efforts have occurred, they have been met by rare outcries from the scholarly community…

For instance, when John M. Allegro wrote a rather bizarre work (The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973]) to argue that Jesus probably never lived, he was greeted by intense criticism from his peers, even though he admitted that his views were only speculation on his part. Norman Anderson reports that, in England, Allegro’s thesis was dismissed by fifteen experts in Semitic languages and related fields who lodged their protest in a letter that was published in the May 26, 1970 issue of The Times (apparently referring to the American edition).

They judged that Allegro’s views were “not based on any philological or other evidence that they can regard as scholarly.” The book was also “met with scathing criticism in review after review.” See Anderson’s Jesus Christ: The Witness of History (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1985), p. 15, fn. 2.

John A.T. Robinson concurs, mentioning Allegro’s volume in a section of his book entitled “The Cynicism of the Foolish.” Robinson asserts that if such reasoning was found in other disciplines, it “would be laughed out of court.” See Robinson’s Can We Trust the New Testament? p. 15

My two cents

Cover of "The Greatest Story Ever Told (M...
Cover via Amazon

Good Friday. I always like watching The Greatest Story Ever Told on this day. I’m taking a break during the intermission of the DVD to finish this post off.

With the quotes, I guess they boil down to the Rational Response Squad’s trust in a selected group of ancient historians, or the research of current-day religious scholars.

Of course I am reminded of Matthew 10:33 “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

Some evangelicals like to ‘dedicate their life to Jesus’, but to my way of thinking, betting the farm on Jesus (instead of rationalist denialism) is more to the point.

All this triggers three questions:

  1. At what point does denial of Jesus constitute historical revisionism?
  2. At what point do rationalists open the doors of their epistemology, and in effect, put faith in the handwriting of ancient historians?
  3. And more widely, at what point do secular, peer-reviewed journals cease to be the best way of understanding the past?

Quote sources

  1. RationalWiki. (2012). Rational Response Squad debate with Way of the Master. Available: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Rational_Response_Squad_debate_with_Way_of_the_Master. Last accessed 26th Mar 2013.
  2. Habermas, G.R (1996). The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin: College Press. p. 46.
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