As anyone who has read a good book on the theory of evolution will appreciate, the strength of the theory lies in its
- explanatory power, and
- predictive ability
Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish is one such book. Shubin explains simply and elegantly how evolution explains both the fossil record and genetic patterns across all species, and even how the same theory enables paleontologists to know where to look for certain kinds of fossils.
Let’s outline what a rough draft of these two tests might look like when applied to (a) the theory that Jesus was historical, and (2) the theory that he was a myth. Only have time to begin work on the first one this post.
I’m sure there is much more that could be said than I outline here, but a rough draft has to start somewhere.
Historical Jesus theory:
1. Would expect to find authoritative and detailed references to the human life and teachings of Jesus among the earliest texts claiming to be the outcome of his life;
2. Would expect to find teachers claiming authority through contact with this Jesus or with those close to him;
3. Would expect to find authenticating references to witnesses of some of the most notable achievements and confrontations or teachings of Jesus;
4. Would expect to find sceptical views of lay contemporaries of specific deeds of Jesus, and controversies raised by him (e.g. his baptism), raised and addressed;
5. Would expect to find sceptical views of former followers of Jesus in relation to his resurrection raised and addressed, and details of how and why disciples who remained loyal after his death chose to do so;
6. Would expect to find independent details across various records — that is, information that is clearly distinctly different in secular and religious texts, and multiple early religious texts independent of each other testifying of his life;
7. Would expect to read some secular records, or references to now lost secular records, of the founder of the Christian sect if it was indeed so troublesome in civic society;
8. Would expect to find a relatively homogeneous set of views of Jesus early in the record, with diversity only a gradual and later development over time;
9. Would expect to read historical-biographical type narrative details of his deeds and sayings, even if coloured by theology — as Herodotus et al write history cum theology — distinct from brief tracts that are consistently echoes of other literary motifs and stories, or symbolic tales.
10. Explains . . . . ? (Need more time to think about this one. Help?)
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