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Saturday, November 08, 2003

Thoughts on "The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus" by Lee Strobel

Now, as has been promised:

Thoughts on "The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus" by Lee Strobel


This book was mailed to me by someone I do not know after we had a brief online encounter. I appreciate the thought, but despite his intentions to the contrary, reading this book has not changed my convictions. Indeed, despite the book's claims to be a rational, objective quest of whether the contents of the New Testament are true or not, it falls far short of its objectives. Reading this book so perturbed me that I decided to jot down the many points that I didn't agree with, arguments that I thought were poorly presented and developed and the blatant lies and weasely half truths that were used to try to mislead the reader.

General Thoughts

The author set out, after his wife converted to Christianity, to discover the truth about it. By checking the historical roots of the faith, he hoped to debunk it. Instead, he found that there was a wealth of historical evidence that positively proved that Jesus Christ existed and is the Son of God. Or at least he found himself convinced, which is more than I can say for many non-Christians who have read the book.

Even granting that all the events chronicled in the New Testament did happen, and the Son of God did come down to earth, the problem that we brights have with modern day religion is that at present, there is (surprise, surprise) no evidence for the existence of higher entities. For all we know, God could have gone on a millennium long sabbatical at the start of the Age of Enlightenment (which is when, for some reason or other, supernatural sightings became much rarer). Further, there is much evidence that Paul perverted the original teachings of Jesus and weaved them with other influences to form his own religion, the Christianity we know today. Nevertheless, even after putting these objections at the back of my mind, I found much in the book and the author's (mis)use of the scientific method to disagree about.

One of the things that struck me most about the book was that it was very one-sided. The author proclaimed himself to be on a quest to discover if Christianity were real or not, but to this end he interviewed only Christian scholastic authorities, and made no attempt to pursue people who would be able to provide a balanced argument. Though he did present a smattering of common (and not a few rarely asked) non-Christian objections and queries, he did not do a very good job of presenting them, merely offering the weakest of them so they could be knocked down by the scholars he interviewed. In the face of fudging, dodging of questions, convenient avoidance of issues and blithe ignorance, he remained silent. In all, I couldn't help but feel that he was being half-hearted in playing the part of the prosecutor, and the lack of intellectual rigour disappointed me. Or perhaps he was never well versed in bright arguments, being an atheist by default and not by choice.

Another was that, as some apologetics tends to be, the logic used by many of the scholars interviewed was often ridiculous, even to the point of being farcical. It seemed that they assumed the truth of their beliefs and conclusion, then worked backwards to grasp at straws for their arguments, gathering stray points and facts and attempting to bend them to suit their purposes, thus coming up with some excruciating odd theories.

A tactic used by both the scholars interviewed and the author was to pose and then answer questions that nobody asks, or offer objections so weak that they were easily demolished. This is also known as the "straw men" fallacy - by prematurely answering doubts, and by demolishing putative points with seeming ease, they made their case seem ever stronger.

The lengthy preambles to each chapter, with Lee talking about various court cases and how evidence was found to convict or acquit the accused, were probably included to sustain interest and instruct, but I just found them incredibly dull. Worse were the page long introductions to each Christian authority, where their qualifications were listed in painstaking detail, making me wonder just why Christian authorities need so many qualifications - degrees, diplomas and honorary doctorates - and feel the need to list all of them. Also, the author described the interviewees in unnecessary, grating detail, listing their hobbies and quirks to establish them as credible authorities, yet still human, a flaw that further crippled the professionalism of the book.

One thing I did like about the book was the questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. Albeit slightly biased towards the Christian perspective, in general they were quite neutral and promoted critical thought.

A selection of pertinent specific points by book chapter

Question 1: The eyewitness evidence - Can the biographies of Jesus be trusted? (with Dr. Craig Blomberg)

It is stated that the early church was in accord about the authorship of the four gospels, and that there'd be to motive to fake their authorship. Talk of lost gospels is also pooh-poohed. Regarding the first point, as we all know, the church has not been above falsifying historical records (for example, the Donation of Constantine) and destroying material they didn't like (a great deal of apocrypha was destroyed by the early church and texts and creeds were standardised at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325) or didn't corroborate their stand. Finally, just because everyone believes something to be true does not make it so (eg the earth being flat). And about motives for faking ownership - is not maintaining your livelihood and ensuring that you go to heaven motive enough?

The authority interviewed makes the claim that though the books of the Bible were written for ideological reasons, we can "reasonably reconstruct history" by looking at them. This is rubbish for there is no independent corroboration. Using this logic, we could "reasonably reconstruct history" by reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf.

A major point is that though it is believed that the gospels were only written down from 70AD onwards (and do note that this date is disputed by many, and the logic the scholar used seemed dubious to me), this is within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses who would be able to correct mistakes. Firstly, it surely took time - 5 years at the very least - for the manuscripts to circulate after they'd been written, this being the era before the printing press. Even if we allow for the date of 70AD, it is about 40 years after the last events purportedly chronicled by the gospels. We must remember that life then was nasty, brutish, and short and life expectancy was very much lower than today. By 70AD, most of the eyewitnesses would probably have died. Also, we do not know that no one disputed the authenticity and veracity of the gospels, and it would be logical to assume that such heretical works would have been on an early version of the Index librorum prohibitorum. Further, these said eyewitnesses would not have been in a position to correct the mistakes - most were illiterate, and anyway, even in the modern era with mass media and presumed greater public enlightenment, lies and conspiracy theories continue to circulate.

The scholar says that the biographies of Alexander the Great were first written down 500 years after his death, and since less time elapsed before the gospels were written, they are more reliable. Firstly, I would like to point out that this is a deceptive half-truth, for though the first biographies (if one uses the word loosely) were written down 500 years later, a wealth of primary sources exist (or existed, at any rate). Among them, Deeds of Alexander by Callisthenes of Olynthus and Aristobulus, Onesicritus of Astypalaea and Ptolemy's accounts of the campaign. There were also numerous other secondary sources published less then 500 years after his death.

But to return to the topic, the scholar's point assumes unbiased authorship. Furthermore, a wealth of records were available and the authors of the biographies surely drew on other books and sources - Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, and tangible remains of his deeds and legacy remained. And anyhow, nobody claims that the biographies of Alexander the Great tell the immutable truth - for example, the tale of his cutting of the Gordian knot smacks of semi-mythological symbolism.

Question 2: Testing the eyewitness evidence - Do the biographies of Jesus stand up to scrutiny? (with Dr. Craig Blomberg)

A piffling point raised at the start in defence of the gospel of Luke is that he declared that he intended to write it accurately. Why the interviewed authority bothered bringing this point up is baffling, for it contributes nothing to the discussion and indeed detracts from his more weighty points. Continuing in his presentation of mediocre points, the Christian scholar claims that Mark and Matthew are "close to Luke in terms of genre" and so it "seems reasonable that Luke's historical intent" closely mirrors theirs. If that isn't dodgy, I don't know what is.

For some reason weakening his argument, the interviewee then quotes John 20:31, which basically says that the gospel is written to convince people that Jesus is the Christ, which says nothing about the veracity of the gospel itself. The interviewee claims that for people to be convinced enough to believe, the theology has to flow from accurate history. A cursory look at the history of mystery cults and fringe sects suffices, though, to convince one that that isn't the case. On the contrary, for someone to believe, the theology needs to answer deep seated needs, longing or hopes within a person. Either that, or the person needs to commit intellectual suicide where spiritual matters are concerned.

In further defence of his view that the biographies of Jesus stand up to scrutiny, the scholar claims that there are no "outlandish flourishes" and "blatant mythologizing" in the gospels. What would one call the numerous allusions to the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies and indeed, the numerous accounts of miracles and other supernatural occurences? He also claims that a "majority" of Jesus' teachings presuppose a significant time before the world would end, but then it seems that he inferred what the "majority" of the teachings meant, when in fact it'd been clearly prophesied by Jesus in Mark 9:1 and Matthew 16:28 that the world would end within the lifetime of some of his followers. Some Christians try to twist the words in the most creative ways, but most avoid the issue which is wise, for the early Christians did in fact believe that the world would end within their lifetimes.

In a blow to Bible literalists, the interviewee admitted that in the oral tradition, through the process of inaccurate memorisation by fallible humans, 10-40% of any given story will vary when retold. This then, can explain the errors in the Bible. Be that as it may, it still does not wholly refute the theory that the gospels concur on most major points because they were written incestuously. However, he then goes on to claim, incredibly, that it is precisely *because* of these errors that we know that the Bible is true and the authors did not collaborate on it. Going by this logic, because myriad versions of fairy tales evidence variation in minor points, but concur on major points, we know that they are true.

The scholar then suggested a "character test", the logic being people of upright character would have not have written lies. Of all the things said by him so far, this was the most ridiculous. Notwithstanding the fact that the only source we might have to judge the character of the gospel authors by is the Bible - hardly a reliable or unbiased source, especially when considering what we're trying to prove, lies are after all justifiable if they lead people to convert. Furthermore, he incredulously demolished this point later, by saying about the disciples that "they look like a bunch of self-serving, self-seeking, dull-witted people a lot of the time".

Regarding the two genealogies provided for Jesus in Matthew and Luke, the scholar first claims that they differ because Matthew provides the lineage through Joseph, and Luke through Mary. This explanation rang a bit hollow, not least because it was unusual to trace descent through the mother in the ancient world, and on closer inspection was revealed to be a lie, for both Matthew and Luke provide genealogies ending in Joseph! The scholar's second theory is that one is the legal lineage and one the human lineage, but this theory seemed extremely weak to me. His third theory is that the names of the ancestors of Jesus were translated wrongly. That's plausible, but how can any translator worth his salt, especially one religiously inspired, mangle the names so utterly? Finally, his last suggestion is that some names were left out because they were insignificant, and this was "perfectly acceptable" at the time. Fair enough, but what was the criteria used for excluding names, and why is each link in the chain depicted as a direct father-son link? And if the people left in the genealogy were so significant, why did Matthew and Luke each leave different people in?

Then he said that Jesus was so honoured and respected by his disciples that for them to forge the gospels would have ben unthinkable. This point is acceptable, but is contingent upon his being honoured and respected. Besides which, personality cults are not so much concerned with what the object of adulation actually did, but what he was alleged to have done, or what he would have done - essentially, on glorifying him.

The scholar said that disciples had little prospect of financial gain. True enough, but for them, as for most theists, the prospect of heavenly rewards dwarved whatever suffering they would go through in their mortal life. What harm a few little lies if it were for the noble prospect of saving souls? He then argues that it was precisely because Christianity was so demanding a faith that we know it is true. By that logic, numerous mystery cults, which require lengthy initiation rites and have many rules restricting everyday life, are the true religions. Anyhow, it is common for religions to hold adherents to impossible standards of perfection, such that they will chase them relentlessly and berate themselves for not attaining them (and by implication not question the religion, caught up with feelings of inadequacy as they are). At a visceral level, we are all masochists and enjoy some bit of suffering, for it makes us feel righteous and holy.

He then points out that later, Jesus was called a sorcerer, but never a charlatan, for example in the Talmud. Since nobody disputed his power, it is obvious that he had power. Of course, one can easily see this argument is rubbish. How about witches in the Middle Ages? People accused them of having all sorts of powers, but it didn't mean they had any. If the Powers That Be have the choice between painting someone as a tool of evil, the embodiment of the devil, or as a harmless foolish charlatan, it is patently obvious that they will choose the former, for what better way to motivate your flock and distract them than by creating a malicious, menacing foe? The scholar goes on to add that nobody, especially Jewish authorities, criticised the Christian movement, so it follows that it must have been true. Firstly, we have don't know that nobody criticised the movement - as has been pointed out, the early and later Church destroyed many documents. Secondly, even if this is true, if Christianity's truth were so patently obvious, why didn't the whole of Judaea convert? Also, lack of criticism doesn't make a stand of view true - I think hardly anyone criticises the Raelians, merely dismissing them as nutty wackos. Besides which, Christianity was only one of a panoply of mystery cults which originated in the Near East during Roman times, so it wouldn't have attracted so much notice or criticism at the start.

In general, the logic used by the scholar interviewed for Questions 1 and 2 was shaky, for many times he got away with presenting arguments and theories and then saying that it "seems reasonable" to accept them. His shaky foundation, built on self-proclaimed "reasonable" assumption after assumption, did not look like a solid base on which to explore the author's other questions later, for in answering them he assumed that he'd answered the first 2 with a resounding "YES!". Granted, there is some truth buried in the gospels and there is some real basis for them, but to extrapolate and claim that they are thus inerrant, accurate and true requires an amazing leap of faith - not to mention logic. Carl Sagan once said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs. Here, we have not even ordinary proofs.

Incidentally, the scholar claimed that people had their faith increased after studying the New Testament. On the contrary, I know of many whose faith was decreased.

Question 3: The documentary evidence - Were Jesus' biographies reliably preserved for us? (with Dr. Bruce Metzger)

This chapter opens with the interviewee admitting that corruption of the gospels has occured. For example 1 John 5:7-8 only appears in 15th-16th century texts. So I can give him credit for that at least. However, he claims that none of the corruption challenges church doctrine. For one, which church is he talking about? All of them have different doctrines. The reader can do further research on this if he pleases. A suitable start might be at

The authority talked about the three criteria for inclusion of books in the New Testament, the first being Apostolic Authority - they were included by tradition: Mark helped Peter, and Luke was associated with Paul. The second criterion was that the books had to concur with the accepted Christian tradition recognised by the Church. He deftly avoided answering the implications of this, for the early church liberally ignored what it didn't like. The last criterion was whether the books were accepted and used by many people. However, people, especially commonfolk, are wont to use and believe only what their church gives and teaches them. All churches choose texts that thye are comfortable with and which best corroborate and support their beliefs, and this should not surprise anyone. The interviewee then went on to talk about the Gospel of Thomas - it was not accepted by all the synods and councils because it didn't harmonise with the other gospels. Perchance, could this be because it told the truth, and the other gospels either had been censored or had always been lacking in some aspects?

The authority went so far as to say that "The canon is rather the separation that came about because of the intuitive insight of Christian believers. They could hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the gospel of John; they could hear it only in a modified and distorted way in the Gospel of Thomas, mixed in with a lot of other things." Read: Cognitive dissonance and people rejecting what did not gel with what they believed in, or would like to believe in, determined what books were selected for the Sanitised Canon. So much for me always being under the impression that this inquiry of Lee's was a rational one. If one wants to talk about the voice of the Good Shepherd, there are plenty of people who believe that he has told them to murder other people in his name.

The scholar then talked about the Syrian church and how it was impoverished for not accepting Revelations as credible (in fact, a case can be made for the person who wrote it being on drugs, but that's another story). Perhaps it is because "they could hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the other books of the New Testament; they could hear only the rantings and ravings of a madman in the Book of Revelations, mixed in with a lot of other things". I suppose one could say the same for most Christians and the apocrypha.

Question 4: The corroborating evidence - Is there credible evidence for Jesus outside his biographies? (with Dr. Edwin Yamauchi)

With this chapter, the case got interesting, for finally, the book was attempting to break out of its circular reasoning and attempting to prove something by assuming its truth.

Reference was made to the famous Josephus, author of The Antiquities Of The Jews. In it, he wrote of "a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ". This proves nothing beyond the fact that he was merely called "the Christ". You might as well say that since Vlad the Impaler was called Dracula, the vampire lord really existed. Besides which, there may have been more than one Jesus, it being a not-uncommon name. The Testimonium Flavianum was also mentioned, but thankfully, the scholar admitted that it'd been tampered with by Christians. Removing the probable additions by pious Christians, one arrives at a version that contributes nothing to the debate. He also talked about Tacitus' writings, but the relevant paragraphs merely talk about the existence of Christians in Rome in Nero's time, and that the founder of Christianity was crucified.

In a desperate attempt to bolster his argument, the scholar asked "How can you explain the spread of a religion based on the worship of a man who had suffered the most ignominious death possible?". Unfortunately, the answer is provided by sociologists and has nothing to do with whether the religion was genuine, as knowledge of the human psyche will reveal. His answer is that the followers believed he was resurrected. The keyword here, then, is "believed", and belief doesn't necessarily have to spring from fact, or even eyewitness testimony.

The interviewee talked about the eclipse and earthquake that purportedly took place when Jesus was crucified. The evidence that he cited was not very convincing, and anyway those events could have happened around the time of the crucifixion, and not at the specific time stated in the gospels, for the reckoning of time was not very precise in those days. Josephus also did not mention anything about a midday darkness, followed by an earthquake, even though his father lived in Jersusalem at that time. Besides which, it was also said that Dragons were seen in the skies when Lindisfarne was attacked, and that assorted natural phenomena (comets, eclipses etc) occured on other occasions (eg the births of Alexander the Great, Gaius Julius Caesar and other luminaries).

He then mentioned the Epistles of the Church Fathers, which again is disingeneous, his trying to use something to prove itself. Moving on, he talked about "the verdict of time". According to him, historian Gary Habernas provided 39 ancient sources which talked about the life of Jesus, but interestingly he cited no material, so I cannot comment, apart from to speculate why, if it was so compelling, he did not mention it. Unless the 39 sources were all either texts derivative of the gospels or documents like the Testimonium Flavianum, which said nothing about supernatural occurences.

Question 5: The scientific evidence - Does archaeology confirm or contradict Jesus' biographies? (with Dr. John McRay)

The scholar interviewed for this question makes the point that the things that Luke said were historically accurate, as far as we can verify archaeologically. All well and good, but I don't really see how much that has to do with the veracity of what we -can't- verify. Luke supposedly tried to be as historically accurate as possible, but in the 1st Century AD, it would've been hard to get all the facts right.

Again, an attempt was made to rationalise away a seeming contradiction - while referring to the healing of Bartimaeus, Luke said Jesus walked into Jericho, while Mark said he was coming out of it. A spectacular fudge ensues - the scholar says that there were up to 4 different sites where Jericho was throughout history. Fair enough, but at any one point in time, there would've been only one current Jericho proper - it makes no sense to have 2 cities, both named Jericho, at the same point of time.

3 riddles were then posed to the scholar. The first was of the census at the time of Jesus' birth. Now, it was proclaimed that "all the world should be enrolled". This is ridiculous, as it's not supported by independent documentation. Everyone was also supposed to return to the city or town from which their fathers came. Needless to say, this would have resulted in the Roman Empire being turned upside down, and such an unprecedented thing would never have been ordered by the non-deranged Augustus, without record of such an extraordinary event, no less. And finally, the census-takers would've moved around, not the taxed, both so the land ownership could be recorded and the whole country wouldn't be on the move. Thus the logical conclusion conclusion would be that Luke had to place Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the City of David, since Old Testament prophecies said the Messiah had to be born there.

However, he also needed Jesus growing up in Nazareth, so he fabricated this yarn. What the interviewee claimed instead was that in AD 104, Gaius Vibius Maximus, Prefect of Egypt, ordered that, to expedite the census, all currently residing outside their provinces return to their homes. Now, this seemed all too convenient for me, so I did my own research and discovered that the decree said that, "The census by household having begun, it is essential that all those who are away from their nomes [Ed: An Egyptian administrative district] be summoned to return to their own hearths so that they may perform the customary business of registration and apply themselves to the cultivation which concerns them." The crux, then, is that they were to return to their own homes, and not to their hometowns or indeed the hometowns of their fathers.

The second riddle was of Herod dying in 4 BC, while Quirinius was Governor of Syria only in 6 AD. To reconcile scripture with the truth, the scholar suggested first that there were 2 Quiriniuses, claiming that a coin proclaiming "Quirinius" Pro-Consul of Syria in 11 BC had been found. This seems extremely unlikely and fishy, and begs the question of why there's no other evidence of this other Quirinius being governor. The second suggestion was that Quirinius was governor twice, but this theory is demolished by Josephus' Antiquities where it says that "Quirinius... had passed through all the other magistracies until he became consul... came at this time into Syria... to be governor". His final offering is that the Greek was translated wrongly, and that the line should read "before Quirinius was Governor" but that is a painfully forced reading of the original text.

And the last riddle is of Herod's bloodthirsty massacre of the children under 2 years of age. We have no independent confirmation of this noteworthy event, and the answers given by the scholar are totally unacceptable.

Near the end of his interview, the scholar included an amusing snipe at the Book of Mormon, about how archaeology shows it to have been nothing other than myth and invention. I'm betting that the Mormons were offended by that stark fact. Oh well, when you open your mind, you always risk offence.

Question 6: The rebuttal evidence - Is the Jesus of History the same as the Jesus of Faith? (with Dr. Gregory Boyd)

In this chapter, the book went on a wild tangent, ranting on and on about the Jesus Seminar, a group that seeks to discover the historical Jesus. The scholar accused them of making certain assumptions from which they continued their research and said of them that "they've discovered what they set out to find", which incidentally sounds like a description of most theologians' work. He also said that he's "against the idea that if Jesus doesn't meet these criteria, he could not have said it". Oddly enough, that too seems to sound like what many theologians do, and especially like how early congregations decided which books to include in Biblical Canon.

On the Seminar's (and many other's) findings that Christianity had been influenced greatly by many other prior religions and mystery cults, the scholar claimed that those cults only started after Christianity had, so it was they that borrowed from it, not vice versa. This view is grossly misleading though, for Zoroaster, founder of Zoroastrianism (where they take bread too, there is a cycle of death and rebirth, they believe in the coming of the Saoshyant [Savior], whose arrival will herald Ristakhiz (the resurrection of the dead by Ahura Mazda) and that there will be a Final Battle between good and evil, culminating in the latter's demise), was believed to have lived around 600 BC, and some put the date at 1000 BC or 1500 BC even.

The cult of Mithras, too, predates Christianity, and they do share vaguely similar traditions - adherents stand under a bull while it is slain and bathe in its blood (there are many allusions and references to blood and sacrifice in Christianity) and guts (baptism, albeit in blood) and then eat the bull's flesh (Communion?). The author says Jews would have found this barbaric and thus not have joined the religion, but in a later chapter, another scholar contradicts him when he points out that many practices of Christianity (I might add non-circumcision and the eating of pork, among others) were also thought blasphemous by Jews, but that didn't stop many from converting.

He talked too about other material - about the Cross Gospel for example, which has "outlandishly legendary material" like a giant Jesus coming out of his tomb and a talking cross. This is not strictly true, for Mat. 27:52-53 says that, "[When Jesus died on the cross] the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city [Jerusalem], and appeared unto many." Amazing that Josephus did not mention this in his detailed history of Jerusalem, no?

In my book, if one can believe that he was the Son of God, raised the dead, cured the blind, walked on water and came back to life, and that there was an eclipse and an earthquake when he died, growing in size is not a big deal and it's hypocritical to denounce it. And why's a talking cross less believable than a talking, burning bush?

This chapter offered nothing to challenge the Jesus seminar's conclusions but illogical arguments and much only peripherally relevant material. Perhaps worst of all, he interviewed not one member of the Jesus seminar itself, and merely let the scholar he was interviewing slam it repeatedly.

Question 7: The identity evidence - Was Jesus really convinced that he was the Son of God? (with Dr. Ben Witherington III)

Why Lee asked this question I do not know, as it's not a common atheist question, and most non-Christians accept that he *was* so convinced. But for the sake of argument, I will follow through on the points given by his latest Authority.

Aside: Has anyone made it this far? Also, a thought: If I believe in the divine right of kings to rule, and someone else in democracy, I can be thoroughly offended because of his defiance of my deity!

The interviewee for this chapter asked what happened after the Crucifixion that changed the minds of those disciples who denied, disobeyed and deserted Jesus (as we're led to believe by the Gospels). Perhaps because he'd run out of things to say, he said that "We have to ask, why is there no other first century Jew who has millions of followers today? Why... is Jesus still worshipped today, while the others have crumbled into the dust of history?" Instead of answering this question in terms of socio-historical terms, all perfectly agreeable, he answered it by claiming that "It's because this Jesus... is also the living Lord... He's still around, while the others are long gone". I guess he won't be sounding very happy when demographics brings another religion to the top spot, and anyway he shows an astounding ignorance of reality, for he ignores the 7th century Arab who has more than a billion followers, the various Hindu gods with hundreds of millions of followers and not least the various Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, who have more than 10 million followers still.

Question 8: The Psychological Evidence - Was Jesus Crazy When He Claimed to Be the Son of God? (with Dr. Gary Collins)

As I read this chapter, it struck me that even their Shrink was a Christian scholar and worked in a divinity school, and from the way he talked he didn't seem very open to non-Orthodox ideas. The lack of objective analysis was really getting on my nerves.

Among other things, he said that mentally disturbed individuals exhibit inappropriate emotions and unsuitable behavior. What do we make, then, of the case of the fig tree? Destroying a fig tree because it wasn't producing fruit outside of fig season hardly seems like a thing for a sane individual to do. Some say that the story is a parable, and the fig tree a metaphor for the Jews, who were to be punished for rejecting Jesus, but this seems an inappropriate metaphor (the fig tree did not bear fruit because it was not the right time of year, so if we use the metaphor, the Jews did not believe he was the Messiah because they had no reason to believe so) and anyhow being spiteful, not in concordance of what we know of his personality. And what then of the incident in which he allowed demons to enter 2000 of other people's pigs, sending all of them to a bloody doom over a cliff? He also cursed others frequently and exhibited vituperation. Admittedly, apart from these anomalies, Jesus as the gospels portray him comes across as a person generally in control of his mental state.

The interviewee says people with psychological difficulties would be unable to carry out a logical conversation, but what if the speech were recorded down much later and in a form more easily understandable to the reader?

At any rate, the above still does not rule out a case of his being deluded yet lucid, for there is more than one way for someone to be clinically crazy, and they don't all include him being a raving, frothing lunatic, unable to string a sentence together. Besides which, since we are told he was either "Lord, Lunatic or Liar", he could have been the last.

Veering off-track, the interviewee started talking about Jesus' miracles. Regarding the various times he healed people, the power of psycho-somatic healing is already well known (and often those 'healed' suffer relapses later) - the authority himself cites a case where a 16 year old was cured of a skin condition by hypnosis.

What's more, of these, we seem to have no testimony outside the Bible, let alone proof - equally amazing feats have been claimed of others, with more proof too: physical inscriptions exist testifying of the miracles allegedly performed by Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, for example:

"I found [in writing this history] some who are reported to have been raised by him [Asclepius] , to wit, Capaneus and Lycurgus, as Stesichorus [645- 555 BC] says... Hippolytus, as the author of the Naupactica reports[6th century BC], Tyndareus, as Panyasis [c. 500 BC] says; Hymnaneus, as the Orphics report; and Melasogoras [5th century BC] relates." Apollodorus, The Library, 3.1.3- 3]).

Further, we must remember that to the ancients, miracles were much more everyday events than they are today. Take these extracts from Josephus' The Jewish War, for instance:

"Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year." [6.5.289]",

"[And in the Temple,] at the ninth hour of the night of the night a great light shone round the altar....This light seemed to be a good sign to the naive, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes as to portend the events that followed." [6.5.291- 293]

And, "...chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds." [6.5.298 - 299] (Source: - an excellent site about how Christians were not the only ones with monopolies on miracles, and how Christianity was heavily influenced by earlier pagan religions)

All this one page of the text.

The authority said that "It's just amazing to me how people will grasp at anything to try to disprove Jesus' miracles". What seems more amazing to me is how people will accept so easily the performance of said miracles and the existence of a god in the first place.

Question 9: The Profile Evidence - Did Jesus Fulfill the Attributes of God? (with Dr. D. A. Carson)

The interviewee for this section drew up characteristics of godhood and then proceeded to "prove" that Jesus fulfilled them - by quoting scripture (I could write my own holy book 'proving' my divinity this way). How anyone can accept this circular logic is beyond me, but nonetheless I will try meeting him on his (unfairly chosen) battleground.

He says that Jesus forgave sin. However, he only said that he forgave it, which has no bearing on whether the sin really was forgiven by any Higher Powers. He also asserted that Jesus was sinless, but from his various actions we can see that, though he might not have committed any major sins, he certainly had a host of venal ones (, especially if we use common christian definitions of sin (ie everything is a sin). For example, in John 7:8 he said that "I am not (ouk, in Greek) going up to the feast", but later he did - so he lied. Even if we do accept that he was sinless, why should that be an attribute of godhood? The Judaeo-Christian-Muslim gods are unique in the worldwide pantheon in that they are said to be perfect, but to say that a sinful god cannot be a god is sheer religious bigotry.

The interviewee then talked about Jesus being divine, but it was mostly wordplay. Veering off-course again, he then touched on a topic close to most christians' hearts - sin and hell! Wisely, he fudged his answer and avoided the question, but essentially came out with a view that I'm not sure most christians would agree with - he linked 'bad things', 'evil' and assorted other negative concepts with one putting one's self at the centre of the world. Supposedly, those who put their god at the centre of their world will not commit sins. So just because people won't let god dictate their actions and control them like puppets, they will go to hell. Right. And of course he said nothing about the people who *do* put their gods at the centre of their lives, yet who do things which are roundly condemned - blowing up abortion clinics for example, or hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings.

The scholar claimed that it wasn't a lack of faith that put you in hell, but defying god. But of course, there are as many opinions on what this god wants as people, so this criterion is not very helpful. When he was asked if he thought eternal torment was vicious, he dodged the question and said that there are different degrees of punishment, implicitly admitting that regardless, it would still be eternal. He claimed that people who didn't repent desired hell, but then this assumes they believed in hell, and if this was the case, it wouldn't be a punishment anymore, would it?

Going even more wildly off course, perhaps because he lacked anything to say, the interviewee went on about how evangelical Christians stopped slavery in the 19th century by using British gunboats. As we all know, that is utter rubbish. Evangelical Christians, especially in the USA, used the Bible to justify slavery, and pacified the slaves by converting them to their religion, so directing their energies and frustrations heavenwards. Slavery ended not because of Christianity, but liberalism. Continuing, he talked about how god can change racists to non-racists, conveniently ignoring the many who were or became xenophobic and bigoted after conversion.

Question 10: The Fingerprint Evidence - Did Jesus - and Jesus Alone - Match the Identity of the Messiah? (with Louis Lapides, M.Div., Th.M.)

Starting off, this scholar demaned objective reality from a god, and claimed that the subjective reality which eastern religions provided was untenable. That's rich, for at least subjective reality is harder to prove, but the "objective reality" he claims his religion offers is nebulous.

He then threw himself into identifying if Jesus fit the Old Testament prophecies. Isaiah predicted that he would be born of a "virgin". Now, not only do we have no evidence regarding Mary's virginity (and wouldn't a man married to a virgin and not consummating his marriage be seen as weird, and that's putting it charitably?), modern scholarship on the pertinent line in Isaiah concludes that the word "virgin" should instead be translated as "young girl". Further, there is a theory that Mary was actually raped by a Roman Centurion, and Jesus was the result of that rape. I have not studied the theory in detail, but it does seem plausible. Perhaps most worryingly is the fact that Isaiah's "born of a virgin" prophecy had already been fulfilled by the time Jesus was born - the sign given by Isaiah to King Ahaz was meant to assure him that his enemies King Rezin and King Remaliah would be defeated. This prophecy was fulfilled in the very next chapter.

Then there is the prediction that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. To achieve this, Luke has to make the family run around half the Middle East on camel back (see above), and you can judge for yourself the veracity of this "fulfilment". After that, we have the ancestry. The gospels give Jesus 2 sets of genealogies, and we have no way of verifying them, so to conclude that he had the right genealogy is preposterous. Of course, we also have the resurrection, where the prophecy said that he would "not decay" and would "ascend on high". This can have a figurative meaning though, and since apologists love figurative meanings so much, why don't they apply it here?

The author said the odds of all the prophecies coinciding were one in many millions, but what is improbable is not impossible, as a basic understanding of the laws of probability will show. Just because something happened, you cannot work backwards and say that since it would be so improbable for the event to occur naturally, it follows that there was divine intervention, for that is begging the question. For example, to say the odds of our coming into existence naturally are ridiculously low, so therefore we were created, is to ignore the fact that it is only *because* we exist that we can ponder this question, and that we cannot prove something by assuming it. Furthermore, prophecies are by their nature vague, and it is always easy to twist events such that they appear to fit prophecies, as a study of Nostradamus will show.

Even if he did fulfill the prophecies, it does not mean he was the Messiah. A Jewish page ( makes a compelling case for the intriguing possibility that Jesus was a false prophet. As the page points out:

Deuteronomy 13 tells of a false prophet who would:
- Be a Jew (v. 2, 7)
- Tell true prophecies and have the power of miracles
- He would try to seduce the people away from G-d's Law and towards strange gods unknown to Judaism to test their commitment to living under the Law, or be tempted to join a false path to salvation (v. 3-6, 7-8, 11)
- turn against certain details of the Law at key points (v. 6, 7)

If the extract is not enough for you, you are always welcome to visit the above page.

Concluding, the author appealed to us to "Ask God to show you whether Jesus is the Messiah". Well done, really, considering that so many people have asked that and have not received an answer (doubtless for his own inscrutable ends). If he really would show people this, I'm sure the "true religion" would have a market share greater than 50%.

At this point, it struck me that this book would be considered really offensive to Jews, especially this chapter of it, but it seems to be readily available in Singapore. Guess the Evil Zionists have not subverted the Singapore government yet.

Question 11: The Medical Evidence - Was Jesus’ Death a Sham and His Resurrection a Hoax? (with Dr. Alexander Metherell)

I really have no issue with this chapter except that, once again, we have a doctor who is a devout Christian (gee). I concede that if (a very big if) the account of the crucifixion in the gospels is accurate, he did die. But then, since there are 4 different accounts of Jesus' final words before death, we cannot be sure of their veracity, can we?

Question 12: The Evidence of the Missing Body - Was Jesus’ Body Really Absent from His Tomb? (with Dr. William Lane Craig)

This expert explained away the conflicting accounts of the empty tomb by claiming that though they differ on many details, the basic point of the accounts - that the tomb was found empty. He explains this by glibly saying that there was thus a "historical core" to the accounts. Conveniently, this does not tally with the points previous interviewees made, about the historical accuracy of the gospels (if all are "accurate" but give different accounts, surely not all of them can be true) and how there were plenty of eyewitnesses who would correct any errors in the gospels. And anyhow, another explanation for the accounts sharing a basic feature yet differing on most other details is that there was a common desire to "prove" that Jesus was resurrected, which only could have been justified with an empty tomb, ergo all four accounts agreeing on this one point. The authors didn't or couldn't agree on the details though, which explains the discrepancies.

Addressing the point that Jesus was dead for less than the prophesised time (Mat 12:40 - For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth), he claimed that Jesus' being crucified on Friday and rising on Sunday fit the prophecy, since he spent Friday, the whole of Saturday and part of Sunday in his tomb. This is sheer ignorance, for Jesus died at Noon on Friday (and was probably buried near dusk) and the tomb was found empty on Sunday. If we are charitable, we can agree that he spent 3 days (or parts thereof) buried in his tomb, but what about the three nights? However much one tries using fuzzy math, between Friday and Sunday there are but 2 nights, and the scholar conveniently ignored this point.

The scholar says that since the gospels say that women discovered the empty tomb, they are true since Jewish law regarded women lowly and their accounts wouldn't be believed. However, Christ wasn't a Jew and in other instances, women were elevated by Jesus, so there is a lack of consistency here.

Question 13: The Evidence of Appearances - Was Jesus Seen Alive after His Death on the Cross? (with Dr. Gary Habermas)

This scholar kept emphasising people's contact with the resurrected Christ, and the constraints of time. He said that people living at the time the gospels were written could verify the facts and ask the people who were still living whether they had really seen the resurrected Christ. Who would really bother to track these people down, though? Early Christianity was very much a religion of the poor and downtrodden, who would neither have the means nor the desire to verify the truth of what they were told, for thought is a luxury for the well to do - poor, hungry and forlorn folk rather accept what hope they are offered and ignore the possibility that it is false. Meanwhile, the rich and the Jews would have dismissed the fairy tales they heard, having heard their like millions of times before.

Even if there *were* people willing to track all the witnesses of the alleged sightings down, how would one locate them? Except for the disciples of Jesus and those close to him, we know nothing of the identities of the alleged witnesses. Furthermore, Judaea was a big place, people travelled around and this was all before the age of the phone book and mass communications. If it were really so easy to track Christians down, the Roman and Jewish authorities would have had no trouble at all.

We are told that the risen Christ appeared to 500 people at once. If that is so, how come these people (among others) did not, full of holy inspiration, convert or witness to others? We thus oddly have no accounts outside the Bible of people witnessing to the risen Christ. Further, the figure of 500 is dubitable, for,

'when Paul states that Jesus "appeared" to "over 500 brethren at once" (1 Cor. 15:6), that would have been to a far greater number of "brethren" than were said to have existed before Jesus' physical body supposedly rose into the clouds. (Only 120 "brethren" existed at the time - Acts 1:9, 14-15, 22). So by the Bible's own admission, whoever or whatever may have "appeared" to "over 500 brethren" could not have been a physically resurrected Jesus, since his body left the Earth before that many "brethren" existed.

Ironically, the "500" passage is thus an argument against the physical resurrection of Jesus. Far more likely is that if there genuinely were (which I doubt for the reasons above) 500 witnesses of something, then they were like those at many other emotional religious gatherings. People
sharing a common emotion which they interpreted as an experience of the "risen Christ," just as people still do at religious rallies today."' (

The authority asked, "How long do local stories circulate before they start to die out?". Pretty long, as anyone researching folklore, mythology and local tales would know, but with people actively propagating them, it is no wonder these "local stories" have survived to the present day.

Question 14: The Circumstantial Evidence - Are There Any Supporting Facts That Point to the Resurrection? (with Dr. J. P. Moreland)

In this chapter, using various peripheral points, the interviewee tries his hardest to construct a case for the gospels being true. Since this authority relies less on evidence purely from the Bible, it is easier to give him credit - but not by much, especially since all the evidence is circumstantial.

The authority says that many early christians were willing to give their lives for the faith, and many apostles were killed by the Romans, so this proves their faith was not false as they would not have died for a lie. This logic, however, is contingent on the apostles actually being killed (and we have no outside corroboration of that). Also, it is proven that lured by the promise of heaven, people can do anything. This could have motivated the early Christians or apostles, as it has motivated people through history, especially if they were already inspired by preachers or Jesus. Even in modern times, people are prey to such lunacy - witness the popularity of doomsday cults. For example, Heaven's Gate's founder, Marshall Applewhite (aka "Do") followed his cult to their deaths in 1997. The founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, went to his death believing in the religion he had founded to cheat people of their money, even though he had once said that, "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous, if a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his own religion." Reality is no barrier when people believe in something and cognitive dissonance is in effect.

For some reason, the authority then compared the conversions of Paul and Mohammad, both formerly skeptics, to the primogenitors of their movements. He said Mohammad's conversion was a private experience, but then Acts does not even agree on the details of Paul's experience. Acts 9:7 says they "stood speechless, hearing the voice...", Acts 22:9 says they "did not hear the voice..." and Acts 26:14 says "when we had all fallen to the ground...", so whether this occasion actually took place or not is in doubt.

He also said that converts to Christianity had to give up many Jewish practices and precepts they held sacred. Why not, if they were disenchanted with the old corrupt religion and inspired by a charismatic speaker, or just wanted to try something new? If the power of Jesus were really so great, all the people involved in his life - the Pharisees, the Roman soldiers and the Jewish crowds, would have been converted. If an entire community of "at least ten thousand Jews" was converted, surely a significant event, why was this mass apostasy not recorded in Jewish or Roman chronicles, or lamented of in the Talmud? Thus I doubt so many converted so quickly.

The scholar then pointed, as many do, to the uniqueness of christianity in having communion and baptism - the former celebrating Jesus' death. So what if Christianity is unique? A thousand and one ways could be found in which other religions are unique, but that has no bearing on whether or not they are true. He claimed that there were no mystery religions believing in the death and resurrection but that is either blatant ignorance or a white lie, for what about the cult of Osiris, which had existed for 2000 years prior to Christianity?

He then said that Christianity swept the Roman Empire, and it was this successful because Jesus existed. How the conclusion follows from that piece of evidence, I do not know, for after 40 years, all the witnesses to the resurrection would have died, and it took Christianity a good 300 years to become the empire's pre-eminent religion. If Christianity was so successful due to Jesus' existence, why is the whole world not now converted? Religions spread because of socio-political reasons - Islam for example was spread by Arab traders to Malaysia and Indonesia, and eventually almost the entire population of those areas was converted.

The authority then started talking about famous Christians and concluding that Christ existed, conveniently ignoring famous non-Christians. He also talked about "the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of back-grounds and personalities." People all over the world (especially Americans) will also testify to seeing UFOs, Little Green Men and Elvis. Further, the "encounters" are dwarved by the non-encounters.

His final point was that there was an "experience test". Interestingly, many have taken this test, but have failed to experience anything. Ultimately, no matter whether the resurrection can be proven or not, this is the crux of the issue - is there credible evidence that a god exists today? For many, the answer is simply - no.

Conclusion: The Verdict of History - What Does the Evidence Establish - And What Does It Mean Today?

The author concludes by saying how Christianity has changed his life, and how he was a horrible person before, ignoring the cases of people made into worse persons by Christianity. He says that in other religions you need to do things, but in Christianity they are already done, ignoring the emphasis placed on Good Works by the Catholic Church, and that Christianity holds adherents to impossibly high standards where everything (including living) is a sin, and makes them work towards them, on pain of eternal torment.

Conclusion: My verdict

My emphasis on outside corroboration may seem picky, but without at least some form of outside corroboration, we will not know what truly happened, and commiting yourself to a lifetime of worship, giving of your time and effort, and then dying to no end is truly a waste. There is abundant evidence that a personality cult grew up around a real Jesus, and Paul later transmogrified the fledgling Christian faith into what we know today and furthermore, there is no verifiable proof of the Christian God's existence today, not any more than there is proof of the others.

Despite structuring the book so as to build a progressive argument for Christ's resurrection, Lee's arguments fell flat since he never adequately answered each question that he posed before moving on to the next one, with the assumption that all his previous questions had already been answered satisfactorily.

This book does make valid points from place to place, but overall it is a poorly written, poorly argued effort. An excellent book could be written on this topic, pitting Christian and non-Christian arguments against each other but sadly, this is not it.

For more excellent material on this and related subject, some useful sites are:

Historical Jesus or Jesus Myth: The Jesus Puzzle

Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story

CHALLENGING THE VERDICT - A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ

Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth

Review of Lee Strobel THE CASE FOR CHRIST (Reading this, I am ashamed at how my review pales in comparison)
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