How “Case for Christ” Author Lee Strobel Fabricated His Best-Selling Story — The Old Road to Damascus Myth

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by Neil Godfrey


I’m probably one of the last persons to catch up with this interview but at least to have it on record that it did make a blip on Vridar here it is, an interview by Valerie Tarico with David Fitzgerald:

How “Case for Christ” Author Lee Strobel Fabricated His Best-Selling Story—An Interview with Religion Critic David Fitzgerald

It’s another tale of — can you believe it? — pious fraud, telling lies for God.

It reminded me of our old cult leaders conversion story. How he (Herbert Armstrong) was facing another business failure when his wife turned “religious fanatic” by deciding to keep the seventh day sabbath, and how he spent days in the public library trying to marshal all the evidence to prove her wrong, that God did not require Christians to observe the seventh day sabbath, and emerging as the humbled, contrite, servant of God, discovering his wife was right all along, and then placing himself into God’s hands for whatever purpose he willed. I have no doubts the story was all bullshit, or at least mostly b.s. The theme is just too conveniently matching the oh-so-common story of religious conversion through countless ages, of the hostile opponent confronting the “truth” and being forced, against his or her will, to recognized he or she had been on Satan’s side all along. It’s the old Paul on the Damascus Road myth. Nice story, but I would be surprised if many stories that follow that narrative could ever be proved to be “true”. I have little doubt that those who recycle such stories are highly selective in what details they select to place in the story and that even those are coloured to become something almost beyond recognition from the real situation.

Another interesting detail in the interview is the story of the so-called conversion of atheist Anthony Flew.




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13 thoughts on “How “Case for Christ” Author Lee Strobel Fabricated His Best-Selling Story — The Old Road to Damascus Myth”

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Neil!
    Note: One point I changed was referring to Dr. Craig Blomberg as a “non-historian”, though so far I haven’t been able to determine if if his degree in “New Testament” is in fact, a history degree or a theology degree. so far, it appears only 2 out of 13 of Strobel’s “expert historians” hold actual degrees in history…

    1. Yeah, this its a point we’ve made here many times, that in practice virtually everyone treats theology degrees like history degrees, even though they are nothing at all like history degrees. Theologians have managed to pass themselves off as historians. This is reinforced again in the recent History Channel special: Jesus : His Life, which also heavily features theologians who are passed off as historians.

    2. Nor ought we forget the recent foray of Eddie Marcus, presented as a “professional historian”, into the discussion: https://vridar.org/?s=eddie+marcus

      Yes, Marcus is a “professional historian” insofar as he hires himself out for research into local history of organizations, buildings, etc. His degree in history, however, appears to be nothing more advanced than whatever history he studied for his BA at Cambridge. Of course the Cambridge adds some prestige, but I suspect my own BA had at least as many history units as his, and the University of Queensland is no minor university by world standards.

  2. I understand that Tarico is primarily a blogger, so she may not know that journalistic standards demand that an interviewer disclose any personal or professional connections to the interviewee. Tarico has co-authored pieces with Fitzgerald in the past.

    In her writings, Tarico goes to great lengths to promote the work of Fitzgerald and Richard Carrier to the exclusion of nearly all other mythicists — even when the latter either had greater academic standing (everyone wrt Fitzgerald) or had priority in formulating the positions discussed (nearly everyone wrt Carrier.) This seems curious, and I, for, one would like to see a full and honest disclosure from Tarico of any personal or professional entanglements she has with those two.

    1. You might like to contact Valerie with your concern. I think she is more than a blogger, though. She regularly writes for other publications, both online and hard copy.

    2. Hi Matt –
      That is a fair question. I don’t get paid for my writing–though it frequently gets picked up by left-leaning news and opinion sites–, and I don’t have any personal or professional relationship with either Fitzgerald or Carrier, nor am I myself a mythicist. (I am a Jesus agnostic, but tend to defer to the preponderance of scholarly opinion, which is that the gospels are mythologized history rather than historicized mythology. Either way, I think that any actual historical kernal is lost in the mists of history, and that the gospel stories have little to do with any real person). I have met Fitzgerald and Carrier each once at a conference. My 3 articles with Fitzgerald (including this one) were opportunistic, as in I noticed something he was writing or speaking about publicly and thought, “Hey, I bet my readers would be interested in that.”

      All the same I do want to be ethical about disclosures. What would you suggest in this circumstance?

      1. Hi Valerie, thank you for responding directly. I’m thrilled that an ‘agnostic’ such as yourself takes a keen interest in mythicism and is eager to share it with the public, so I hope I haven’t dampened that with what might be viewed as minor quibbles.

        You do have a professional relationship with David Fitzgerald, in that you co-authored published articles with him. That collaboration should have been disclosed when introducing your interviewee.

        Nevertheless, I apologize for my assumptions. Your piece struck me as a transcript of a casual conversation between acquaintances, which led me to wonder about your connection. Also, whereas the title promised an exposé of Strobel’s duplicity, and the piece began with an allusion to his other critics, the content featured Fitzgerald opining on a variety of figures and subjects. Either approach would be fine, but I’d venture the former would appeal to a broader audience.

        As a fan of neither Fitzgerald nor Carrier, I believe you could find much better sources. But even if you wish to continue relying on them, expanding your reading list would go far to sate your curiosity about mythicism. I see you are already familiar with Earl Doherty and Robert M. Price. Two fascinating and accessible works I heartily recommend are Tom Dykstra’s Mark: Canonizer of Paul and Hermann Detering’s The Fabricated Paul. (Both bargains on Kindle.) An influential early work, Edwin Johnson’s Antiqua Mater (in the public domain at archive.org), provides a refreshing relief from the often turgid prose of 19th century ‘mythicists’.

        Internet sources abound. Hardly a day goes by when a new author or book isn’t featured at Vridar, and the subjects Neil and Tim discuss are always illuminating. Essays by a wide range of authors from the Journal of Higher Criticism are available at: https://depts.drew.edu/jhc/

        René Salm’s Mythicist Papers (http://www.mythicistpapers.com) includes a small library of 19th & 20th century mythicist works.

        Finally, I’d observe that Jesus mythicism — more precisely, research into the ahistoricity of the New Testament — has scores of contributors stretching back for two centuries, most notably among the Tübingen School and Dutch Radicals of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It also contains what could be described as several ‘gradients’ with many, many points in dispute. A few Jesus mythicists even retain faith in a spiritual Christ! Closely bordering the mythicist circle, one finds scholars who believe an historical Jesus existed, albeit one who bore almost no resemblance to the one depicted in the NT. Intertwined with the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is the historicity of the Epistles and Acts, and many scholars who accept the former reject the latter in whole or part.

        This is a fascinating and multi-faceted subject. I wish you happy hunting in exploring it and sharing it with the public!

  3. • Strobel cites Paul L. Maier, historian and novelist.

    Strobel, Lee (1998) [now formatted]. The case for Christ : a journalist’s personal investigation of the evidence for Jesus. Zondervan Pub. House. ISBN 0-310-25974-6.

    This phenomenon, evidently, was visible in Rome, Athens, and other Mediterranean cities. According to Tertullian . . . it was a “cosmic” or “world event.” Phlegon, a Greek author from Caria writing a chronology soon after 137 A.D., reported that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., 33 A.D.) there was “the greatest eclipse of the sun” and that “it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.” [Paul L. Maier, Pontius Pilate (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1968), 366, citing a fragment from Phlegon, Olympiades he Chronika 13, ed. Otto Keller, Rerum Naturalium Scriptores Graeci Minores, 1 (Leipzig: Teurber, 1877), 101. Translation by Maier.]

    […] So there is—as Paul Maier points out—nonbiblical attestation of the darkness that occurred at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. —(p. 85)

    […] it would certainly be understandable that Pilate would have been reluctant to offend the Jews at that time and to get into further trouble with the emperor. That means the biblical description is most likely correct. [See P. Maier, “Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion,” Church History 37 (1968), 1–11.] —(p. 85)

    Maier, Paul L. ap. “Historian Interview: Paul L. Maier”. Apologetics 315 podcast. 13 December 2010.

    [Per the argument that Jesus never existed] anybody who is using that argument is simply flaunting his ignorance, I hate to say it but it’s about that bad. We have more documentation on Jesus Christ then anybody in the ancient world as far as that’s concerned. There is no question whatever in the mind of any serious scholar anywhere in the world that there certainly was a historical personality named Jesus of Nazareth.

    Now you can argue about whether he [Jesus] was the son of God or not, you can argue about the supernatural aspects of his life. But in terms of the historical character there is absolutely no evidence to the contrary and all the evidence is in the favor and I just can’t stand the computer blogs and so many other would-be authorities trying to use this argument: “He’s only a myth, he never lived.” Well that’s simply ridiculous on the face of the facts.

    Cf. Historian Paul L. Maier Interview Transcript

      1. Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History?”. leaderu.com. This article, used by permission of the author, first appeared in two parts in Christianity Today on March 15, 1974 and March 29, 1974.

        I have tried to show that theories attributing the Resurrection of Christ to the borrowing of mythological themes, to hallucinations, or to alternative explanations of the empty tomb are improbable and are also inadequate to explain the genesis and growth of Christianity.

  4. Ferguson, Matthew (24 February 2013). “Faith-Based “Universities”: Degree-Granting Think Tanks?”. Κέλσος.

    [If Lee Strobel had] gone to a secular university–such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill–he could have easily found scholars who disagreed with [Craig] Blomberg about the historical reliability of the Gospels–such as NT scholar Bart Ehrman, who is the author of Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible. From my own research in ancient history, I was well aware of the fact that there are many other scholarly authorities, outside of faith-based seminaries and universities, who would strongly disagree with the Christian scholars whom Strobel was interviewing in his book.

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