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Old 04-05-2001, 09:18 PM   #1
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Post Caesar v. Jesus: for which do we have better sources?

Over in other threads, theists like Nomad and Layman are disingenously dispensing the notion that the life of Jesus is one of the best attested in all of history, as compared to other figures of the ancient world. I won't claim to be a historian, but as a history buff this is clearly errant nonsense. To illustrate, let's compare the sources of information of, say, Jesus and Julius Caesar -- both in terms of quantity and quality. It'll be clear that Nomad really ought to do his homework before making claims that doesn't survive the light of a simple afternoon of research at my university library.

1. Sources from the time Caesar and Jesus lived.

There are three sources about Caesar from written sources that date from his lifetime. The first is Caesar's own writings. He wrote voluminously about his campaigns in Gaul and about the Civil War.

But, of course, Caesar certainly slanted his writings to fit his agenda. Fortunately for us, Cicero's writings have also survived. Cicero was a political opponent of Caesar and his writings about his opponent was often caustic -- but in general, the facts of Caesar's writings are confirmed in Cicero. Hence, we can feel confident that we know the basic, major events of Caesar's life.

Finally, there is an anonymous history of Caesar's African campaign.

Jesus: None

The evidence for Caesar is clearly superior here.

2. Sources from writings written after their subject's death, but by people who were alive at the of their subject's life.

Caesar: There are two. Sallust was a member of Caesar's faction who wisely retired after the assassination. Livy was a teenager when Caesar was killed. Unfortunately, Livy's work on Caesar didn't survive until today, though fragments do exist.

Jesus: It is possible that the people who wrote the New Testament were alive and aware of their subject, but it is hardly a proven fact. Paul was certainly alive at the same time Jesus was, but I'm not aware of any evidence he knew of Jesus before his death. And the gospels are even less clear. The generally accepted earliest date of Mark's gospel is the 70's, and the other gospels were written even later than that. And while Caesar, Cicero, Livy and Sallust were well-known figures of their time, it isn't clear at all who the gospel writers were. It is possible that they were eye-witness accounts -- but unlike Caesar's sources, we can't be sure of that. Nor do we have any evidence to believe, as we will see, that they were telling the truth.

Clearly, the sources for Caesar are far superior for those of Jesus.

3. Later historians

Caesar: Historians who at least mentioned Caesar, if not entire biographies of Caesar, include Tacitus, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Dio Cassius. Much of what they wrote can be compared to earlier sources to verify they wrote accurately about their subject. And they had access to materials -- such as the historians Pollio and Livy -- that we do not. (Note: I'm not claiming everything they wrote was correct; merely that much of what they wrote was. Modern historians, unlike Nomad and Layman, do not take everything at face value.)

Jesus: gets a very short passage in Josephus that provides little information and that even most Christian historians admit was later tampered with, if not outright fabricated.

Once again, the sources for Caesar are much stronger.

4. Archeology

Caesar: We have numerous busts of Caesar, coins minted in his honor, and ruins dating from his time in areas he conquered --like Gaul -- that support the claims made for Caesar. And these are only the ones I am aware of; I suspect a real historian could cite more archeological evidence.

Jesus: Not a thing.

Caesar wins again.

A related issue is the reliability of the sources. For example, are the sources independent of each other? This is clearly so with Caesar. As I mentioned earlier, Caesar and Cicero were openly antagonistic of each other, and had opposing political positions.

The gospels, on the other hand, were clearly dependent on each other. Of the 661 verses in Mark, 606 of them appeared in Matthew either verbatim or with additions. Luke is a similar story, and John derived from similar traditions. Where Layman gets his "multiple attestations" is unknown.

A further reason to doubt the veracity of the biblical account is that these writers had an obvious motive for stretching the truth about Jesus: what they were writing was theological propaganda, not historical facts. The evidence is in the narrative themselves. Mark doesn't mention the birth narrative at all, and his resurrection story is simple and straightforward. Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, weave complicated and contradictory stories complete with virgin births, choruses of angels, visits from magi, massacres of innocents, visitations from the grave, just to mention a few of the absurdities. Yet stories of Caesar's godlike status -- yes, he was proclaimed a god in his own lifetime -- are dismissed, rightfully so, as propaganda. If we do so for Caesar, why do we not do the same for Jesus?

The simple fact is that Nomad and Layman are simply being credulous when they claim that the evidence for anything Jesus supposively said or did is a historic fact. Compared to the sources of information we have for Caesar, the evidence for Jesus's life is anemic. When you consider the sources, it becomes unbelievable. There is no reason to accept their viewpoint at all.



[This message has been edited by DennisMcD (edited April 05, 2001).]
 
Old 04-05-2001, 09:28 PM   #2
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Since neither Nomad, nor I, have argued that we have more evidence for Ceasar than we do for Jesus, what is your point?

If you have specific disagreements, please be specific. Attacking something we never said might build your self confidence, but it accomplishes little else.

"Modern historians, unlike Nomad and Layman, do not take everything at face value."

What have we taken at face value?

"Where Layman gets his "multiple attestations" is unknown."

I was quite specific. Please review my Jesus, the Miracle-Worker thread.
 
Old 04-06-2001, 04:53 AM   #3
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Lightbulb

I am sorry, but comparing Jesus and Caesar is like comparing David Koresh vs. The President of the U.S. 500 years from now. There will be no contest.

Back to the drawing board with you.
 
Old 04-06-2001, 08:03 AM   #4
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by isa457:
I am sorry, but comparing Jesus and Caesar is like comparing David Koresh vs. The President of the U.S. 500 years from now. There will be no contest.

Back to the drawing board with you.
</font>

Exactly the point. Theists on this board wish us to think that the sources we have for Jesus isn't as good as, but better than the sources we have for other ancient figures. As I've shown above, and you apparently agree, the sources are much better.

So why do I need to go to the drawing board? It seems to me you got the point exactly right, even if you draw the wrong conclusion.

 
Old 04-06-2001, 08:22 AM   #5
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Layman:
Since neither Nomad, nor I, have argued that we have more evidence for Ceasar than we do for Jesus, what is your point?
</font>
Actually, Nomad has:

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Yeah. On the other hand, how many contemporary writings do we have on the assassination of Julius Caesar? Or the death of Cleopatra? Pick an ancient event, and ask how much testimony we have on it from the period in question.
</font>
Evidently, you need read your threads more carefully.

More Nomad quotes:

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
I understand all of this max, but what we do have is a mountain of 1st Century testimonial evidence.

You know that we don't have multiple books of anyone else from antiquity right?

</font>
Both clearly false statements when viewed in light of the evidence for Caesar.

You, Layman, while not nearly as quotable as Nomad, was included because of your credulous Jesus, Miracle Worker thread, and as I'm only dealing with sources here, I handled everything you brought up except for the Talmud. And as that was effectively refuted, I see no reason to discuss that more. Whether you brought up Caesar is irrelevant. Your credulous discussion of sources is, and the comparison to Caesar's sources effectively demonstrates that there is no reason to trust any of the sources we have for Jesus. The evidence is severely lacking.

In fact, if we approach the sources for Jesus with the same critical eye we approach Caesar's, we'd have to throw out practically everything that is written in them. Unless, of course, you're willing to accept everything that the ancients wrote about Caesar, which I sincerely doubt you would.

Either way, it doesn't matter. If you evaluate Jesus's sources the same way we evaluate Caesar's, we literally have nothing we can say confidently about him. Evaluating Caesar's sources at face value, as you do Jesus's, effectively demonstrates the absurdity of your claims.

I certainly hope this has helped you see the point, Layman.



[This message has been edited by DennisMcD (edited April 06, 2001).]
 
Old 04-06-2001, 08:29 AM   #6
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by DennisMcD:
Both clearly false statements when viewed in light of the evidence for Caesar.

You, Layman, while not nearly as quotable as Nomad, was included because of your credulous Jesus, Miracle Worker thread, and as I'm only dealing with sources here, I handled everything you brought up except for the Talmud. And as that was effectively refuted, I see no reason to discuss that more. Whether you brought up Caesar is irrelevant. Your credulous discussion of sources is, and the comparison to Caesar's sources effectively demonstrates that there is no reason to trust any of the sources we have for Jesus. The evidence is severely lacking.

In fact, if we approach the sources for Jesus with the same critical eye we approach Caesar's, we'd have to throw out practically everything that is written in them. Unless, of course, you're willing to accept everything that the ancients wrote about Caesar, which I sincerely doubt you would.

Either way, it doesn't matter. If you evaluate Jesus's sources the same way we evaluate Caesar's, we literally have nothing we can say confidently about him. Evaluating Caesar's sources at face value, as you do Jesus's, effectively demonstrates the absurdity of your claims.

I certainly hope this has helped you see the point, Layman.

[This message has been edited by DennisMcD (edited April 06, 2001).]
</font>
Nothing but conclusory B.S. You failed to demonstrate I take any source at face value, and you failed to respond to my discussion of source re: Jesus, the Miracle Worker.

I'll let Nomad respond for himself, but I don't think he was saying that there is more evidence for Jesus' existence than we do for Ceasar's existence. When you want to discuss some specific events in their respective lives, however, such as the events surrounding Jesus' execution vs. Ceasar's assasination, then we may very well have more evidence for Jesus' execution than Ceasar's assasination.
 
Old 04-06-2001, 08:51 AM   #7
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Layman:
[B] Nothing but conclusory B.S. You failed to demonstrate I take any source at face value, and you failed to respond to my discussion of source re: Jesus, the Miracle Worker.
</font>
I'll direct any readers to your Jesus, Miracle Worker thread to make up there own minds. I saw no critical analysis of the sources in it.

But tell us, do you believe the god-claims of Caesar? If not, why do you uncritically accept the god-claims of Jesus?

Unless you're willing to treat both subjects in the same way, our only conclusion is that your being disingenous in your approach to the sources.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">

I'll let Nomad respond for himself, but I don't think he was saying that there is more evidence for Jesus' existence than we do for Ceasar's existence. When you want to discuss some specific events in their respective lives, however, such as the events surrounding Jesus' execution vs. Ceasar's assasination, then we may very well have more evidence for Jesus' execution than Ceasar's assasination.</font>
Untrue. We have accounts of Caesar's execution that date from the time that it actually occurred (remember Cicero)? We have none from Jesus. The accounts we have from other sources are consistent as to the time, the place, the manner, the method used, and who was involved. Jesus's narrative, which unlike Caesar's was written as propaganda, contains numerous contradictions (what Jesus said on the cross, who was there, who came to his tomb, who was there in his tomb) and fantastic events (earthquakes, darkness, angels, resurrections) that are lacking in Caesar's. Moreover, the sources for Jesus's execution were clearly not independent, while the sources for Caesar's are. Finally, the sources for Caesar's execution are well-known historical figures; we can only guess who the gospel writers were.

Your inability to even begin to refute this comparison is ample evidence that not only is your claim false, but that you know that it is false.


[This message has been edited by DennisMcD (edited April 06, 2001).]

[This message has been edited by DennisMcD (edited April 06, 2001).]
 
Old 04-06-2001, 09:18 AM   #8
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Cool

Dennis,

Could you prove for us that Caesar's writings were actually by him and are not an example of pseudpigraphica? The same with Cicero. Also, no Roman source should be acceptable as evidence if you discount Christian accounts of Jesus.

Certainly Plutarch, Dio Cassius and others who wrote about Caesar over a hundred years later should not be taken into account or we'll throw all the later Christian stories and gospels into the account for Jesus. As for those busts etc, please show us that they were modelled on life.

Yes, my tongue is in my cheek here but the standards you set for Jesus are rather higher than for anyone else.

Also, John's Gospel is independent of the synoptics and claims to be an eye witness. Why don't you believe that when you do believe the alleged Cicero about that he was around when Caesar lived.

Finally, Caesar was murdered, not executed... unless you know something we don't.

Yours

Bede

[http://www.bede.org.uk]Bede's Library - faith and reason[/url]
 
Old 04-06-2001, 09:28 AM   #9
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"I'll direct any readers to your Jesus, Miracle Worker thread to make up there own minds. I saw no critical analysis of the sources in it.

But tell us, do you believe the god-claims of Caesar? If not, why do you uncritically accept the god-claims of Jesus?

Unless you're willing to treat both subjects in the same way, our only conclusion is that your being disingenous in your approach to the sources."

Well, one reason I reject the god-claims of Ceasar is that he stayed dead. Are there accounts of his resurrection? Do Romans still worship him to this day?

And again, I will ask you the same question, what makes you think I take any source at face value? Or, for that matther, what makes you think that I uncritically accept the god-claims of Jesus? You seem to be equating my belief in the reliability of the gospels with being per se taking those sources at face value and uncritically accepting their claims. No doubt most on these boards would agree with you, but it is just an assumption. One that you still fail to address.

"Untrue. We have accounts of Caesar's execution that date from the time that it actually occurred (remember Cicero)? We have none from Jesus. The accounts we have from other sources are consistent as to the time, the place, the manner, the method used, and who was involved. Jesus's narrative, which unlike Caesar's was written as propaganda, contains numerous contradictions (what Jesus said on the cross, who was there, who came to his tomb, who was there in his tomb) and fantastic events (earthquakes, darkness, angels, resurrections) that are lacking in Caesar's. Moreover, the sources for Jesus's execution were clearly not independent, while the sources for Caesar's are. Finally, the sources for Caesar's execution are well-known historical figures; we can only guess who the gospel writers were."

You could very well be right about Ceasar's assasination having more evidentiary support than Jesus' execution. But since I accept the fact that Ceasar was assasinated, what is your point?

Anyway, your assertions as to the evidence are just more unsupported, conclusory B.S. The manner and method of Jesus' death? All sources (Paul, L, Mark, John, and Hebrews, the Talmud, and Josephus) agree that it was execution by accusation of Jewish leaders and crucifixion by Roman romans. Who was involved? Jewish religious leaders (the High Priest), Jesus, Judas, Peter, and Pilate. The time? Near or on Passover.

I admit that I don't know as much about Ceasar and the source regarding his death, but you must support your assertions that the sources are independent and noncontradctory. They ALL agree as to time, manner, method, who involved? Prove it. Which sources? What do they attest to? Does one attest to something that the other does not?

Otherwise this is just conclusory BS that might be right but has so far not been demonstrated.

You also make the whopping assertion that none of the passion narrative accounts are independent of each other. Especially in light of your claim that they contradict each other. Again, PROVE IT. The majority of scholars believe that Mark is independent of Paul's letters, and that John is independent of Mark. Matthew and Luke also have unique source material. So, PROVE IT.

And you stretch the SCOPE of the comparison from Jesus' execution to his resurrection. There is no account of Ceasar's resurrection is there?

"Your inability to even begin to refute this comparison is ample evidence that not only is your claim false, but that you know that it is false."

You have made no comparison. Just conclusory assertions unsupported by any detailed discussion or reference to sources.

There probably are tons of evidence regarding Ceasar's assasination. But you still overstate your case and draw all of the wrong conclusions. Ceasar is not the standard. It is not a matter of "anything less and it never happened."

So, you've said a lot. Now prove it. I actually would seriously like to learn about the sources related to Ceasar's assasination and see how they stack up to each other.
 
Old 04-06-2001, 09:57 AM   #10
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Bede

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Could you prove for us that Caesar's writings were actually by him and are not an example of pseudpigraphica? The same with Cicero.</font>
DennisMcD cites independent attestation and corroboration through physical evidence.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Also, no Roman source should be acceptable as evidence if you discount Christian accounts of Jesus.</font>
Are you saying that either all texts must be interpreted literally or that no text should be accepted as anything except toilet paper? A classic straw man.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Certainly Plutarch, Dio Cassius and others who wrote about Caesar over a hundred years later should not be taken into account or we'll throw all the later Christian stories and gospels into the account for Jesus.</font>
If the only evidence we had for the existence of Caesar were hundred-year-old political propaganda tracts, we would indeed doubt his existence.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">As for those busts etc, please show us that they were modelled on life.</font>


Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Yes, my tongue is in my cheek here but the standards you set for Jesus are rather higher than for anyone else.</font>
This is a intellectually dishonest interpretation of DennisMcD's argument, made no less fraudulent by your attempted discalimer. He is not setting the standard higher for Jesus, Rather, DennisMcD demonstrates that the evidence for Jesus does not meet the evidentiary standard set by theists themselves (e.g. Nomad): the evidence for Caesar.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Finally, Caesar was murdered, not executed... unless you know something we don't.</font>
Whatever

Your counterargument is embarassingly weak.


Layman

You win the giant "missing the point" award. DennisMcD refutes the claim that the evidence for Jesus is just as good as the evidence for Caesar. Your attack on peripheral trivialities shows the weakness of your position.
 
 

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