Six Of One…

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is Christianity.  This event was recorded in the Gospel narratives found in the New Testament of the Bible authored nearly two-thousand years ago.  The Gospel accounts record Jesus’ relatively brief preaching; attributes miracles being performed by Him; His rejection by the Jewish population at large; His trial and death by crucifixion; and finally reports that His disciples claim to have witnessed Him alive again after three days buried.  Of course, not everyone gives credence to the Gospel accounts, usually due to inclusion of supernatural events.  But there are some who dismiss the veracity of the Gospel accounts because they believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection so closely mirror previous accounts of gods and their stories, that His story is just another version.

This accusation, that the Christian story is just another in a long line of mythologies, has been handily dispatched.  The claims attributed to the alleged similar gods have been highly conflated or exaggerated.  Many of the details have been invented.

However, my focus is more broad than the details of the comparisons.  Whether there are similarities (I will even grant for the sake of argument that there are) between the Jesus story and alleged prior stories has little bearing on whether Jesus’ story is true.  The claim is essentially:

  • There are stories of gods recorded prior to Jesus which are false
  • There are striking similarities between the false stories and Jesus’ story
  • Therefore, the Jesus story is false

This is simply false reasoning.  The account of any event must be assessed on its own merits.  Say I meet three men at a party and all three men claim to be Navy SEALs.  They have incredible stories all more exciting than the next.  After a while, the three men’s wives all make their way over to where we are chatting, and all three dispel their husbands tall tales.  Now say the next day I get stuck in an elevator with a man who claims to be a Navy SEAL.  My instinct may be to be suspicious of his claim, especially because since I had just been subjected to a bit of story telling the day before.  But the fact of the matter is, those three false stories have nothing to do with whether the man on the elevator is a Navy SEAL. “Sorry sir, you’re not a real Navy SEAL, because I met three men yesterday why told me they were SEALs and their stories weren’t true!”  Whether the man on the elevator is who he claimed to be must be determined by examining this man’s life, not the other three.

The most well-known example of this that I can think of is Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, and the Titanic.  Needless to say, the similarities between the Titan and Titanic are far more substantive, given that Futility was written 14 years prior to the Titanic event.  We do not assess the veracity of the Titanic event through the lens of Futility.  We assess the veracity of the Titanic event based on the eye-witness accounts and other pieces of evidence.

The same is true for the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.  We do not filter Jesus through other alleged records of dying and rising gods, we filter Jesus through the evidence.  Whether one is compelled by the evidence for the accounts of Jesus is another issue.  The existence of false similar stories, however, is not evidence against the story of Jesus.

This really is not that controversial an idea.  Unfortunately, when it comes to religious claims, standards are raised and methodologies which would never be considered reasonable for non-religious claims become commonplace.  It is important when assessing whether an account for an event is trustworthy, is to do so on its own merits.  We may have a tendency to lump all similar stories together and consider them as a whole, but that is not how we determine if any or all are true or false.  They do not work as a team.  Weigh the evidence for the event itself, and not the evidence from a similar story.

Comments

  1. I understand the point of your essay, John, but I think that it is just one facet of the bigger picture.

    Yes, I agree that dismissing a claim because there were several similar false claims may be faulty reasoning. I would be interested in hearing a defense of your first statement regarding the stories of gods prior to Jesus being false. How exactly would you know this?

    I personally don’t believe that the Jesus story is true because of the lack of evidence supporting it, not because I lump it in with all previous similar claims. Ultimately, it all comes down to whether or not you believe the bible to be true or not.

    Can you please cite an example of the raised standard or methodology against religion that isn’t seen against a non-religious claim?

    • I will get a few examples for you, I am now at work and can only drop quick replies. But start with the phrase: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But in nonreligiois contexts all that is required is adequate evidence.

  2. rautakyy says:

    Actually, in your navy SEALs example I could be more doubtfull about the man in the elevator, as the men lying in the party have revealed a pattern of lies of men claiming to be navy SEALs. Their behaviour points to that it has become some sort of cultural phenomenon that men lie to be navy SEALs. As your analogy does not explain why the three men at the party lied to be navy SEALs, it leaves open a rather large possibility that this is a common prank. Why would anyone lie to be a navy SEALl in a party, or in an elevator? Why would a total stranger approach me in an elevator to tell me what his occupation is, unless the elevator jammed and he happened to be an elevator repairsman? A social prank, or even some sort of practical joke would be much more propable explanation, for the self acclaimed navy SEALs popping out at my way continuously. Though, it alone would not rule out the possibility of the man in the elevator actually being a navy SEAL.

    As you say, all claims have to be evaluated on their own merit. No claim however exists whitout context, and if there are previous examples that were false, it of course affects how we evaluate any particular claim.

    The story of Jesus might be true, in some sense, but like all stories based on claimed eyewitnesses, it is up to us to evaluate what is plausible in the descriptions of the event. How reliable we think the wittnesses are. If their stories contradict each other we know, some of them at least, are telling a very subjectively illustrated version of the story. If the story involves strong emotions for the witnesses then there is ample reason to believe all their stories are emotionally influenced. If the eyewittnesses were illiterate there exists a possibility that their accounts of the events have been distorted by political, or personal reasons of the writer. If the events were of great emotional significance (like for example religiously influenced interpretations of events), there is even a great chance that these people have subjected themselves to suggestion, or manipulation of their own memories of the events. This is how the desperate or fanatical mind often works.

    Did the dead rise from their graves on eve of crusifiction of the particular unemployed carpenter from nasarea, and if they did, why only one writer in the gospels bothered to mention this? Did Jesus perform the miracles, or did he just give very good advice how to live our mortal lives? Why would the latter not suffice to us?

    • The analogy doesn’t require their motivation, I could have easily made their occupation school teachers, or truck drivers. The point of the story was that the three lying men have no bearing on whether the man in the elevator is himself lying. That would be like me saying that I met three native Europeans who lied about not being child molestors. You are a native European, and since they lied about not being molestors, that when you say you arent, I should assume you’re lying too. In fact, that is not a sound way to assess the accusation. Your claim should be investigated apart from theirs.

      I’m not suggesting you might not be more leary of the Jesus story based on other stories, but that bias should be left out of the investigation since any other false stories have zero to do with Jesus.

  3. Great post, John. I actually find a slightly different version of this argument is more common. It goes like this:

    1. There are stories of gods recorded prior to Jesus. [no claim about those stories being false is necessary]

    2. There are striking similarities between those stories and Jesus’ story.

    3. Therefore, the Jesus story was copied from those earlier stories.

    4. Therefore, the Jesus story is false.

  4. rautakyy says:

    If there is a cultural phenomenon that is known to repeat itself, then there is a good reason to include suspicion of it repeating itself once again in any similar account. It might be that the isolated incident is totally different from the others that bear its likeliness, but if there is a series of events that have similar atributes, it is more likely that they are all the manifestations of the same phenomenon. If there is an earlier series of quite similar events it sheds a light of suspicion on the uniquenes of any particular event.

    The more often a particular event, or story, or explanation repeats itself in human culture, the more likely it is to be the same phenomenon, when an occurance whith the same atributes surfaces. It is not logical to hold one event among a number of very similar events to be totally different. So, either we accept that all claims of sons of gods are equally plausible/unplausible, or you have to present evidence that shows there is one among them that is completeley different.

    You have the right to make the leap of faith that one particular among these wondrous stories is true and others are false, but there is no way you can prove that logically. Is there?

    John Barron Jr, let us compare the claims. In your analogy of child molesting native europeans the point of view is all about your personal experience. You propably hold information that contradicts your allegorical personal experience in this matter. The claim of sons of gods appearing repeatedly in the Near-East is information based on several historical studies. Your personal experience is not comparable, hence the analogy is futile.

    I have to ask, if the analogy of the child molesting native europeans was meant as an insult? If it was, you can simply ask me not to comment in your blog anymore, and I will comply. It would be more civilized.

    • Raytakyy,

      You should know I would not be insulting you! I was trying to give you a solid example of my overall point . Which is, even if every other native European was a child molestor, that fact alone speaks nothing as to whether you are. Their status is not evidence either for or against you. Your situation must be examined on its own; facts about them, are not facts about you. I could have just as easily have turned the situation to myself, but I wanted the point to hit you.

      You are my first regular commentor, and that is much appreciated. I hope you stick around as I enjoy having you here. I do apologize if I was not clear.

      • rautakyy says:

        Good that we got that setteled. I was not at all offended, but neither was I quite sure so, I decided to ask. I will put it on my bad english. Nice to hear you appreciate my comments.

        On the actual topic; Do you understand the difference, between personal experience and a repeating cultural phenomenon, I am referring to?

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