A Fight They Can’t Win: The irreligious assault on the historicity of Jesus
by John Dickson
It is time for the evangelists of unbelief to give up the nonsense that the figure at the heart of Christianity may have never even lived.
There are plenty of good arguments against the world’s largest religion, but claiming Jesus never walked the roads of Galilee isn’t one of them. To make such a claim is to turn what should be a world heavyweight contest into a lightweight sideshow.
Let me press the boxing analogy a little further. A story is told – and I hope it is true – of three young men who hopped on a bus in Detroit in the 1930s and tried to pick a fight with a lone man sitting at the back of the vehicle. They insulted him – he didn’t respond. They turned up the heat of the insults – he said nothing. Eventually, the stranger stood up. He was bigger than they had estimated from his seated position – much bigger. He reached into his pocket, handed them his business card and walked off the bus and then on his way. As the bus drove on the young men gathered around the card to read the words: “Joe Louis. Boxer.” They had just tried to pick a fight with the man who would be Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World from 1937 to 1949.
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Today’s ardent Jesus-deniers remind me of a reckless gang throwing puerile insults at a gentle giant, oblivious to the fact that they are way out of their league.
The study of the historical Jesus is one of the West’s most focused, rigorous and voluminous academic inquiries into an ancient figure. In the library of Macquarie University, home to the largest Ancient History Department in Australia, students will probably find as many historical tomes on Jesus of Nazareth as on Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great combined. It is a vast discipline operating on entirely secular principles of linguistic, literary and historical analysis. Recourse to theological validation, while a legitimate intellectual route in itself, never features in this literature.
When Richard Dawkins says “a serious historical case” can be made that “Jesus never lived at all,” he no doubt receives applause from his followers, and perhaps even from his fellow experts in zoology, but in departments of Classics, Ancient History, New Testament, Jewish and Near Eastern Studies (the relevant disciplines) such a comment is entirely bemusing…
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