By Robert A. Vella
Raised as a Catholic and having attended several years of parochial school, I had assumed much of the story of Jesus and the Christian religion to be at least based on historical evidence if not completely true. In my adolescence, I began to have doubts. There were far too many inconsistencies and outright contradictions in the Bible to be believable. By early adulthood, my shaky faith had turned to near-atheistic agnosticism.
I’ve been strongly secular ever since. But, my disinterest in all things religious steered me away from an empirical analysis of the historical Jesus and Christianity. Recently, a fascinating conversation with my friend and fellow blogger Tanya rekindled my interest. She summarized the epistemology of the biblical texts, pointing out that none were firsthand accounts and all having been written from disparate oral traditions decades and centuries afterwards by an equally disparate collection of authors. Tanya also explained how the Christian religion evolved through a series of decisions designed to exclude undesirable content, such as the Gnostic gospels, and to ignore contextual incompatibilities.
The conversation prompted me to search for some empirical analysis on this subject. What I found in the following FRONTLINE documentaries (circa 1998) was truly astonishing. Now I understand why Christian fundamentalists are so aggressive in defending their faith. They are justifiably worried about the lack of historical evidence in support of their religion. One of the recounted oral traditions really caught my attention – a story about Jesus as a miracle-worker who frequently failed at performing miracles!
There’s a lot of material in these links, although I encourage you to check them out.
From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians – Chapter 1: The Quest for the Historical Jesus (VIDEO)
FRONTLINE – From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians (HOMEPAGE)
This is a great “FrontLine episode. I own it on DVD. It is truly stunning how what today is called “Christianity” was pieced together and created by very human individuals and groups of people over time. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more bitching and griping from TruChristians about how “evil” FrontLine is for making this episode. I guess they prefer to not draw attention to the fact their “faith” is a crock of made up shit.
Exactly. Tanya did some research on what motivated the many authors and editors of Christianity. What she described sounded like a “conspiracy” to me, but she didn’t like that word and preferred “a collaborated effort” instead. Regardless, a rose by any other name…
I just looked at some of Frontline’s website. It looks to me that at least some of the articles are written by Christians, so I’d be careful not to totally assume what they say is accurate. After all, a Christian writer will have an obvious bias.
Here are some examples from an article called “The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History.” In it, the author makes some very biased statements:
“Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations.”
“To anyone raised in a Judeo-Christian or Islamic culture, the pagan gods seem almost trivial. Each is but one of a host of gods and godlings of very limited scope, power, and concern. Moreover, they seem quite morally deficient. They do terrible things to one another, and sometimes they play ugly pranks on humans.”
Those are not the statements of a true scholar.
Yes, that author sounds like a theologian promoting monotheism.