Sunday, August 16, 2009

[dating of the gospels] part 1 revisionism and other political agendas

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

We, in that vague area of the blogosphere we could call the libertarian centre right, like to pat ourselves on the back as the rationalists of the sphere, as distinct from the left-liberals and socialists who argue from broad brush strokes and emotion rather than from micro-stats. and other data.

On site I always point to for a man who lets stats do his talking, is Wat Tyler, of Burning our Money.

Why is it then, that when these so-called rationalists among us are confronted by Christian history, they go into some sort of automatic apoplectic denial, claiming “it’s been disproved” and “everyone knows it’s myth”?

No they don’t and when I’ve pushed my fellow rationalist centre-right libertarian all round good guys, they’ve muttered, gruffly “Well we just don’t know, do we?”

Sir Norman Anderson, describing himself as "an academic from another discipline who has browsed widely in the writings of contemporary theologians and biblical scholars, wrote in Lawyer Among Theologians, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1973, p15, about the quality of the criticism of the anti-Christian so-called intellectuals:

"At times [I am] astonished by the way in which they handle their evidence, by the presuppositions and a priori convictions with which some of them clearly (and even, on occasion, on their own admission) approach the documents concerned, and by the positively staggering assurance with which they make categorical pronouncements on points which are, on any showing, open to question, and on which equally competent colleagues take a diametrically opposite view."

That's precisely my contention.


What is evidence? In terms of history, I’ve always defined it as a document from the particular period we’re talking about. So, in the case of Christianity, that means that the writings of Josephus and Tacitus are documents and the synoptic gospels are also documents, as are the gnostic writings of the time. They were written, it’s not seriously contested that these things were written, therefore they are documents.

A document of the time, used to support or deny a propostion is evidence. Admittedly there is good and bad evidence but they’re still evidence.

So I’m amazed at a fellow rationalist who said, in a dismissive way, “I don’t accept that as evidence.”

‘But you have to because they are attested documents.”

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want and they’re not evidence.”

How can one deal with that statement, especially as the fellow rationalist considers he’s the most reasoned of men and bases arguments only on available data, which he ordinarily does, with great perspicacity ……. except on this issue.


History will always be revised, as and when new facts come to light and that’s fine. Where it’s not fine is when the existing historical record, which has neither been added to nor subtracted from for millennia, is “revised” in order to support a contention more in line with new thinking.

In other words, selectively twisting the facts round to support a contention which a political position requires.

This is precisely what has happened with the dating of the synoptic gospels. I can point to the first ten pages of Google, flooded with late-dating “arguments”, presenting themselves as “scientific” analysis but which are there for solely political purposes or assuming a certain position before they even start.

It comes out particularly in the language used, the vocabulary utilized and one of the greatest giveaways is someone who employs the PC terminology CE or BCE – common era or before the common era.

This is an automatic giveaway for to use these terms means you were educated post-1969 when the PC socialism really kicked in and produced the educational situation we see all about us today. Anyone educated in this era is going to claim that his education was just as good as any earlier era but it simply is not – it refers to a restricted book list for a start and in wider reading, haivng been academically raised this way and into this mode of thinking, the neo-historian is only going to reinforce his perspective with similar titles which more than likely were gleaned from bibliographies at the end of “learned” articles which themselves follow the new thinking.

It takes an incredibly open minded person to go into pre-1969 material with an unjaundiced eye and I don’t accept that a person who employs BCE is bias-neutral. The whole point of BCE is that it denies BC – before Christ. In other words, it cuts out Jesus Christ.

Our neo-historian would not even have addressed the issue because it has never been presented to him to be addressed in the first place. The apporved reading list uses BCE and so he just tacitly accepts that as a done deal. When he encounters BC, he puts it down to the now-exploded thinking of a bygone, discredited era.

Being part of the mainstream educational arena, one encounters this type of thing all the time, quite unquestioned by the majority of the young academics of today. If it was questioned, they’d see themselves either “re-educated’ or marginalized, something which occurred to Ruth Malholtra in America who didn’t toe the feminist-PC line and was treated shamefully and labelled hate-monger, bigot and all the other labels in the PC grab-bag, all for claiming that university courses are brainwashing students.

As I wrote above, the chances of any new rationalist of this era dispassionately examining evidence is almost nil.

So why bother? Well, why bother doing anything? If I don’t believe in gnosis, should that stop me examining and studying it, willing to allow something vaild to seep into the knowledge base in the brain? If I claim any sort of rationality – it should not stop me coming to the table with at least a willingness to consider an argument.

The Gospels

There are things it’s as well to know before we even embark on this debate, to bring us up to speed, so to speak. Just as in deciding which is the better guitar – a Gibson or a Fender, it’s an idea to see what is the current state of thinking.

The anti-Christians, that big tent which encompasses strange bedfellows, would at least allow me to say that the current thinking is that the gospels are late dated. As mentioned above, Google presents an overwhelming number of pro-late dating sites which are quite caustic and can’t conceal their hostility towards early-dating or “correct dating” in my terms.

Early-dating was the historical stance before the enlightenment revisionists got to the debate and hijacked it. You’ll find very few sources these days on the net for early-dating and the man who consistently comes up is John A. T. Robinson, a most maligned, marginalized and vilifies man – you know the way it goes for those with unpopular opinions.

Thus we get “the overwhelming views of historians today” which contains such assumptions that boggle the mind of the scholar. Since when do sheer numbers establish a proposition rather than a well argued point of view? Since when does the political hijacking of a debate constitute the establishment of a universal truth?

You’ll see below that John Robinson had critical claim for his research but it was passed over for publication and is almost never discussed on campus these days. Not only that, but he was character assassinated and it’s claimed he only has one argument in support of his contention. More than that, it’s claimed that he had no support for his contentions, again that populist claim, whereas, in fact he had quite a deal of eminent support, itself ignored today.

This is sheer intellectual dishonesty.

I don’t mind if I can put my argument up and it is disproved, as long as I could put my argument up in the first place, unedited, unexpurgated and not covered with strawmen from the opposition, before it even begins. But when the opposition asks publishing houses not to print my argument, when the oppostion claims it’s had a wideranging forum where it was dispassionately examined and found wanting when it clearly bloody wasn’t, then this is plain dishonest and that gets my blood boiling.

I detest this sort of dishonesty and we see it all the time today in these devalued times.

Why is there such ferocity over the seemingly dry, intellectual irrelevancy of the dating of the gospels? Because they are far form irrelevant. Around this crucial issue lies the whole foundation of Christianity and the efficacy of the Logos. This is a point Muslims will kill for and other faiths, along with the global socialists, will fight to the death to discredit.

So please don’t be fooled by any seemingly intellectual discourse form someone who employs the terms CE and BCE – what, in fact, you’re getting, is a very political campaign indeed and the target is the millions of still practising Christians, mainly in Catholic nations. it’s a fight for the hearts and minds of men and women.

Part 2 concerns John A. T. Robinson himself.


  1. Well said, Hob.

    And also: I've never understood the preposterous conceit by which a handful of Westerners can tell the rest of the world that there is/was a Common Era which, by some fluke, happens to approximnate to a period that is particularly important to.....the West.

    I did enjoy the author - name forgotten - who used CE and BCE throughout his book, having sneaked past the censors his explanation that they meant "Christian Era" and "Before Christian Era"

  2. Thank you and your comment at the end of Part 5 is even more to the point.

    Shoddy scholarship outrages me. If I'm shown to be mistaken by well-argued, supported quotes, then so be it. I am found to be wrong.

    But to do it by an insult to scholarship such as Anderson decries is insufferable.

    I am pessimistic as to whether these posts will escape such treatment, given the political agenda behind them.

    As for the conceit you refer to, indeed the CE and BCE labels are ludicrous. If one does not accept the BC and AD labels, well fair enough but at least institute dating which correpsonds to something otherwise significant in world history.

  3. In terms of the dating- I actually use AD and BC but just as a sidepoint there might be a good case for CE and BCE. Its slightly geeky but the dating of Christ's life, no matter what you believe about the gospels, is actually pretty uncertain- ie its within I think about eight years that he could have been born and eight years the other way that he could have died. That would mean that if we were really using Anno Domini, we should be living say in 20012 or 2017 rather than 2009. In a sense BCE or CE avoids taht issue because it doesn't tie the dating to a historical event whose date is uncertain.

    The date at which Christ was born I hasten to add has nothing to do with the question of whether the gospels are true or not- they don't mention a date- but it might effect the way that we use the calendar that we have. If Christ's birth year shifted from zero- it might be worth either shifting our calendar or changing the name to something like BCE or CE.

    I hope that isn't too geeky or PC for the site James!

  4. Both Dearieme and I have both shown the diametric opposite - that there is no case for changing to CE and BCE bar one. It is simply a reaction, within the same time frame to the Christian designation.

    It's only purpose is to replace the Christian connotations with those "acceptable to other faiths".

    I was wondering when you'd come in to defend the indefensible, Tiberius. You haven't let us down. :)

    If they truly wanted a different historical dating in this new "post-Christian" era they could have done it from some vastly more significant dates.

    No, this was as reactive as adverts on the sides of buses and the Dome on the Rock writing on the inside wall telling all Muslims that Jesus is not the Christ.

    It's not unlike the Scottish unofficial anthem singing of sending Edward's army home to think again.

    Why would a religion concern itself, inside its own citadel, with another and not even Judaism at that, why would the Scots have the English in their anthem, why would the new dating ape the old instead of striking out in new directions?

    Why would a prostitute be seated on the altar of Notre Dame? Why would Madonna include being crucified in her Moscow concert? Why would the Stranglers do similar?

    If Christianity is no threat whatsoever, why this inordinate interest in it from the infidel majority? :)

  5. Given that Dionysius Exiguus almost certainly got it wrong BC and AD are somewhat meaningless terms anyway.

    I can#t see what a trivial matter such as AD or CE has to do with the dating of the Gospels

  6. Very little, Jams. People are choosing to comment on the whole case after reading only the opening part, which is a mere preface. Parts 3 to 5 are what you're actually looking for in terms of the argument, particularly Part 5.

  7. The date at which Christ was born I hasten to add has nothing to do with the question of whether the gospels are true or not ...

    A piece of wisdom one can agree with from your pen, Tiberius. By the way, didn't you precede those times by some 168 years?

    You must be getting a bit long in the tooth now.

  8. Even so James, this has nothing to do with the dating of the gospels

  9. I'm not trying to defend the practise of BCE and CE- as I said if you'd bothered to read my comment I actually use AD and BC.

    What I was saying is that the dating you may be using may not actually date to the birth of Christ. Noone actually knows if he was born in 0- he may have been born in 4 BC. That's all I was saying- the years since the birth of our lord (ie AD) might not actually be the years since that birth.

  10. Jams, that's what I agreed with Tiberius aboutin my second comment above. Yes - we actually agreed! :)

    Tiberius, I did read your comment, as can be seen in the second comment above but you also did write:

    it might be worth either shifting our calendar or changing the name to something like BCE or CE.

    ... to which I replied that the diametric oppostie is the case. The only reason to use that dating is to spite Christianity, which was a point which occupied the second half of my first comment.

    The strange thing is - we are actually agreeing on so much. :)

  11. John "Honest to God" Robinson is the archetypal Anglican "liberal" theologian of the 1960s who gave all others the idea.

    I met him on my fist day in England, and he confirmed all my prejudices about about English theologians, and confirmed me in my belief that theological liberalism went hand in hand with political conservatism, and that liberal theologians stood so pompously and flatulently for tyhe status quo.

    All the more reason, then, for taking what he wrote in his Redating the New Testament seriously.

  12. Steve, I don't completely understand - you're saying that Robinson was pompous? But then you say further down that Redating should be taken seriously.

    Or were you saying that those he called to task were pompous?

  13. No, her wasn't particularly pompous, but others of the breed were. But in Honest to God Robinson thoroughly misrepresents theologians like Bonhoeffer, who was writing in a crisis situation. The general idea of theological liberalism is that one must change one's theology to suit the world, and as G.K. Chesterton put it, as long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will always remain exactly the same.

    Robinson's great virtue was that he was able to recognise his own prejudices and hidden presuppositions. Also, he was a New Testament scholar, niot a theologian, and so when he was talking about theology he was on shaky ground, when he was talking about the New Testament he was on his home turf.

  14. BCE reflects an adjusted chronology. It doesn't make too much sense to say "Jesus Christ was born in the year 4 before Christ," but it's a little late to reset the calendar.

  15. Unfortunately, BCE is code for non-Christians to eliminate any reference to Jesus Christ and should therefore not be used either by them or by communities based on the Judaeo-Christian tradition.


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