All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate
I have been neglecting to include David Fitzgerald’s (DF) own responses to some of Tim O’Neill’s (TO) diatribes against Nailed. Let’s make amends here. After all, TO did post a reply last year to DF’s response, so it’s only reasonable to see how the debate went. My own weariness with addressing TO’s rhetoric is also showing. I stated earlier that I intended to point out some of the small fry personalities that are recorded in our sources, making it doubly mysterious why Jesus should not have gained any attention, and it is time I kept my kept my promise. (Will do Josephus in the next post.)
But the flaw in Fitzgerald’s argument does not lie in the lack of “would-be messiahs”. As he says, I listed plenty of those. What Fitzgerald skips around here is that the problem lies with the complete lack of these alleged (dare I say it mythical) “plenty” or even “scores” of writers who mention these other figures but fail to mention Jesus. He claims these writers exist and then backs that claim up with … nothing.
Never argue a substantive point if you can find an ambiguity in the original wording that you can twist for your own advantage. Of course DF “backs that claim up with …. nothing” because it is clear to anyone reading the book that he makes no such claim and TO’s entire rebuttal is based on an interpretation that goes against the grain of DF’s entire argument.
DF writes (2012) in response to the points TO made in his 2011 review:
. . . . O’Neill makes my point for me. He proceeds to name a few would-be messiahs from the first century:
- Athronges (Athronges the Shepherd);
- the unnamed Samaritan Taheb/messiah;
- Theudas (also known as Theudas the Magician) . . . .:
- and “the Egyptian” another failed Jewish messiah . . .
In actuality, as I alluded to in the section he quoted, there are many more loser messiahs and messiah-like figures that he could also have brought up:
- Simon of Peraea,
- Judas of Galilee,
- John the Baptist,
- Simon Magus/Simon of Gitta,
- Yeshua ben Hananiah,
- Jonathan the Weaver,
- Apollonius of Tyana,
- Simon bar-Giora and still more.
(And if you’re interested, I do go into more detail on many of them in “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”) None of these failed messiahs, prophets and rabble-rousers succeeded anywhere near as well as our Jesus of Nazareth. But every one of these loser messiahs did beat Jesus on one crucial matter: all of them managed to leave a trace in the contemporary historical record – so why couldn’t Jesus? If O’Neill is right, the real Jesus was just “small fry” and his exploits and supposedly radical new teachings were ignored by history for his entire life – actually, for over a century. But if that’s so, O’Neill (or rather, those historians whom he’s parroting) can’t explain what for me is the central paradox of the Historical Jesus:
Either: he did and said all these amazing, earthshaking things – and no one noticed.
Or: he was just one more failed messiah of the early first century – and yet after his death, a fringe cult springs up, scattered all across the Roman Empire from Spain to the Egyptian Desert to Asia Minor, made up of bickering house churches that can’t agree about the most fundamental basics of his life and teachings.
This oft-encountered “Stealth Messiah” approach to the problem simply doesn’t hold up. (DF:2012 My formatting and bolding)
None of this is addressed by TO. He repeats (2013) his “gotcha” argument over the ambiguity of DF’s wording when he spoke about “many writers” and tells readers that all of the supposed would-be messiahs in the historical record attracted attention because they were responsible for major military confrontation with Roman armies. So let’s look at a few of these and compare with the record for Jesus.