Friday, March 21, 2008

Dickson on the historical Jesus

There is much misinformation about Jesus spread by Dawkins, Hitchens and Onfray - as well as by many Christian apologists. Therefore, it's good to be very clear on what is clear and basically undisputed. Dr John Dickson does just that in his SMH article on the historicity of Jesus. Here's a taste:

Outside this triangle of sceptics, accommodators and apologists there is another group of men and women who number in the thousands, whose works fill the academic libraries and journals of the world and yet whose views are rarely considered in popular discussion of this topic. I am talking about professional biblical historians: not professors of theology in religious institutions but university historians specialising in the language, literature and culture of the biblical period. Be they Christian, Jewish or agnostic, such scholars shun both overreaching scepticism and theological dogma. [...] For while mainstream scholars disagree on many things about the life of Jesus, there is a very strong consensus that the basic narrative of the Gospels is historically sound. [...] That Jesus lived cannot be disputed. [...] But what of the Easter events? There is a broad consensus here, too. Few biblical historians accept all of the details of the Gospel accounts - to the chagrin of some Christians - but most, whether Jewish, Christian or agnostic, agree that these writings have preserved a reliable core of information about the tumultuous final days of Jesus' life: he created a public disturbance in the Jerusalem temple shortly before his arrest; he shared a final (Passover) meal with his disciples; he was arrested by the priestly elite and handed over to the Romans; he was crucified for treason under the mocking charge "king of the Jews". These are the accepted facts of the Easter narrative. Christian apologists may often exaggerate them but the new atheists simply ignore them.
If you want to know what he thinks of the resurrection, you'll need to read the article.


Christopher said...

I was very pleased to see and read such a clear article, but then I was disappointed to read the below letter in today's paper. The letter isn't in response to John Dickson, but clearly the writer has swallowed the sloppy pseudo-historical "ideas" of Dawkins and co.

A ripping yarn
What? The resurrected Christ didn't even look like Jesus (Editorial, March 21)? Talk about Monty Python. I suppose just before he ascended to heaven he shouted "Look over there!", and when the disciples returned their gaze the Messiah was gone. Nice editorial, but you ought to print actual news and leave the fables to those who still believe in them.
Justin Sayers Erskineville

Perhaps with some people it is the sword rather than the pen that is needed to instruct them.

byron smith said...

Remember, the only sword carried by the risen Jesus comes out of his mouth.

Christopher said...

Yes, I agree.
But as I get older (i.e. progress from my immature early 20's to infinitely more mature late 20's) I believe more and more that people don't base their ideas, opinions or beliefs on Reason or Logic or Sound arguments, but on something else...convenience or norms perhaps. I don't think words (the pen) are as powerful as perhaps we like to think they are. Which I suppose is why God sent his Spirit with the Word. (Nice

Anonymous said...

I just watched the "Christ Files" - A very good production. Byron, are you able to tell me anything about JD? I am thinking about buying the DVD for our church (for use in Home Groups). It didn't hurt that it had Tom and Jimmy interviewed!

byron smith said...

John is a well-known Sydney scholar, author, evangelist and apologist (with a Wiki article). In a previous life he was a full-time musician, but has since done a (very well regarded and published) PhD on second temple Judaism and is on staff at Macquarie University teaching ancient history. He is also (along with Dr Greg Clarke, former director of CASE) one half of the Centre for Public Christianity, a new venture whose brand new website is here. He has written a number of books (see the Wiki article for a full list) and I'd highly recommend all the ones I've read. I've heard him speak a few times and he is a good communicator. I didn't see the program yesterday, though I now have the DVD (which is about twice the length of the televised version, I think, and also contains the full interviews with all the scholars).

He is also the brother of a good friend of mine who was in my year at college.

byron smith said...

Oops - the link to CASE is broken, so here's a few posts in which I've talked about it.

Also, I've just found that John has his own website (although it doesn't seem to be working for me at the moment).

Matthew R. Malcolm said...

I haven't seen the John Dickson thing (living in England) but I do like the bit that's been posted here. I humbly disagree with christopher about the power of words though: Words are the way we express and shape history - the problem is not that for some people words are insufficient; the problem is that these particular words are utterly subversive of human capability - being focused on the cross... in the end, then, christopher's conclusion is spot-on: the Spirit is essential