debate on Debate.org: The historical Jesus predicted a first-century doomsday

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debate on Debate.org: The historical Jesus predicted a first-century doomsday

The historical Jesus predicted a first-century doomsday

This debate is a long and rambling debate on the historical Jesus that I completed on Debate.org, against a fellow secularist, who advocated for uncertainty. I take my position and arguments to be roughly representative of secular critical scholars of the New Testament, and my opponent did very well, so I take it to be a very educational debate on the topic.

If you would rather have something shorter, then here is a debate on the same topic against a Christian:

The historical Jesus Christ was a doomsday cult leader

He ran away mid-debate, but I presented the evidence fully.


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OK, you do not have viable opponents. Then too, you missed an obvious bit in your opening.

 

Quote:
Jesus Christ Superstar
This generation shall not pass away...

 

Here is what happened as far as real archaeologists can figure out.

 

The apostles started a few dozen churches in widely scattered locations. However, they did not expect the world to last more than a few years, so they never bothered to put anyone in charge of them. Hence the reason why most of the epistles open with “to the church at” as opposed to “to the bishop of”.

 

Seriously, history does not record them as having appointed bishops early on (or at all but that is a different point). If they did, it was not until they were little old men on death's door. Facing the fact that they were not going to be alive for the triumphant return of the king (wasn't that also the title of a Tolkien novel?).

 

If that does not establish a doomsday cult then nothing does.

 

>>>>>>

 

Past that, the first leaderless communities were in casual contact with those around them every bit as much as you know people from the next town over. So while history does not record anyone as ever having been made a bishop by an apostle, if that did happen there were already hundreds of “Christian communities” and no way to know who or where by that point.

 

Eventually, leaders will emerge. That is a very interesting area of study for me.

 

The Ebionite church held that you had to be Jewish before you could be Christian. Wow! What a great way to convert pagans. I can see a typical conversation:

 

Pagan: Wait, you want me to cut what off?

Ebionite Christian: Well, it is not like you are ever going to use it again.

     

The Marcionite church went to the opposite extreme. Jews exist but only because you have to deal with them. Jesus was not Jewish. What we know of as the OT was a bunch of meaningless babble and not to be taken seriously.

 

However, in the ancient world, emphasis was already on that which is old. The Marcionite church was seen as a cult which at best had been started about as recently as we see scientology today. Great way to get a movement going boys. Next time try some fiber in your diet.

 

The Gnostic church was off the deep end in ways that today's churches can't hope to touch. Until a group of farmers found a whole Gnostic library in the 1950's, all that we really knew about them was that the early church hated them worse than all of the other groups.

 

As it turns out, they thought that pretty much all written things counted as holy text. Seriously, they could turn the romance novels they sell in the supermarket into spiritual advice. Not that they were into getting laid (despite what their detractors said about them). They had a spin on that though. Actually, they had a spin on everything.

 

The Gnostics were never, by any definition, a suicide cult. However, they were seriously into the idea of checking out of the world. They were fairly sure that the world was a bad mistake that never should have happened and those who could see that fact (gnosis is Greek for knowledge) would get the ultimate get out of jail free card when they died a natural death.

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Answers in Gene..., I think

Answers in Gene..., I think there is a problem of plausibility in your hypothesis. Seemingly never is a doomsday cult founded by a plurality of leaders instead of just one.

Or maybe I am not understanding your hypothesis?


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Well abe, just because

Well abe, just because something has not happened recently does not mean that it has never happened. Still, Christianity was founded by a rather small group.

 

If Jesus was real (the jury being permanently out on that matter), then he said that everyone who was hearing his words would see the end of the world. I would consider that to be a valid single source hypothesis.

 

If Paul was real (again no verdict is possible), then he was probably talking about something that had been written in the past. Again, you have a single man.

 

Really though, most of what I wrote had little to do with that idea. Most of what I was covering was things that certainly happened while the apostles could have been alive and what came from that.

 

Basically, by time that we have reliable records of church history, what we have is not the original cult but the consensus which emerged because that was what most people could buy into.

 

What comes from that brings in a whole plethora of other issues that we need not cover here. But yes, it started as a doomsday cult.

 

Potential interlocutors might wish for the sanitized version of history but that just is not what happened. Really though, it matters not whether the church was started by one, twelve or twenty people. What matters is the fact that whomever got the ball rolling, the political machinations that followed make it abundantly clear that the founder(s) expected the end of the word in their own life time(s)

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I appreciate the

I appreciate the clarification, Answers in Gene..., and I think we are on the same page. I have an argument that was fully discussed in the first debate that I linked, and it goes something like this:

1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.
2) Christianity was a doomsday cult, and Jesus was the reputed figurehead of Christianity.
3) Therefore, Jesus was a single human cult leader who founded Christianity.

It is an argument based largely on external historical patterns, which are important for considerations of plausibility. We shouldn't give more or equal probabilistic weight to theories that propose that Christianity began in such a way that we have never observed anywhere else in history, in my opinion, if instead we can very fittingly explain all of the evidence in terms of what is perfectly normal. Though, of course, Christianity could have been a special exception, and the internal evidence concerning this argument is indirect with respect to the historical Jesus.


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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

Potential interlocutors might wish for the sanitized version of history but that just is not what happened. Really though, it matters not whether the church was started by one, twelve or twenty people. What matters is the fact that whomever got the ball rolling, the political machinations that followed make it abundantly clear that the founder(s) expected the end of the word in their own life time(s)

 

Interesting. I'm more inclined to believe it got started by hundreds or thousands than by 1 or 20. Smiling I would expect its origins to be more memetically driven than consciously. Don't wish to derail the thread though. Just my musings in passing.

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ApostateAbe wrote:1) Every

ApostateAbe wrote:

1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Hi Abe, again, this is sort of a detour, and I don't mean to derail at all, but I'm curious what you think of the Aum Shinrikyo cult from Japan. What are the identifiable characteristics of doomsday cult leaders, and does Shoko Asahara (Chizuo Matsumoto) fit them? When I first read about Aum, I was struck by some of the differences between what I'd come to expect of people like Koresh or Manson or whatever. Sure the guy is nuts like them, but he comes off as very different nonetheless. Less obviously psycho on the surface.

Just curious.

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OK since I think we have established that the early cult was a doomsday oriented one, can we call this a derailed thread?

 

@ natural: I think that we have covered the “historical jesus” deal before. There is insufficient evidence to make a clear conclusion one way or the other. In another thread a couple of weeks ago, you invoked Bayesian statistics and asked so really good question but still ones for which an answer is unlikely to obtain.

 

The only reason for that detour is based on the thread title which, as I read it, tacitly assumes that there was an historical jesus. Whatever.

 

As far as the historical cult goes, if it began with thousands of people, then it was probably an evolution from the mystery schools. In all honesty, I can't sat that that was not what happened.

What I can say with reasonable confidence is that at some point, leaders did turn up and those fairly few people drove the movement on to bigger and, well umm, better things.

 

Whatever actually happened, I am given to understand that roughly half of the Pauline Epistles are consistent enough to support a single or at worst a small group of men as the original source. So right there, you have one guy (or a very small number of guys) pushing for stuff.

 

Later on, we see the proto-orthodox founders such as Tertullian, Eusebius and that general crowd working to define the church as a monolithic entity. Again, there were leaders and followers.

 

Now, if one takes the apostles as a starting point, then it took less than 20 years for what they may have done to completely fall apart. Not that we should just assume that. Really, there is scant evidence for most of the people in the NT. There was an article in National Geographic a few years ago about Herod's grave, so apparently we have his bones. Pilate appears in Roman record external to the cult. The rest of the crowd, not so much. That and give the amount of out right forgery in the first few centuries is reason enough to cast doubt on much.

 

Still, for the first three centuries or so, I think that a good enough case can be made that there were a small number of people pushing a shifting and evolving agenda.

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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

Whatever actually happened, I am given to understand that roughly half of the Pauline Epistles are consistent enough to support a single or at worst a small group of men as the original source. So right there, you have one guy (or a very small number of guys) pushing for stuff.

I see what you're getting at. Yes, that's a good point. Whatever wide variety of different Christianities existed early on, what came out of the fray in the end was largely a product of one or a few highly prolific meme pools (or 'people' as I've heard them called). Eye-wink Just restating it from my POV. YMMV.

 

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natural wrote:ApostateAbe

natural wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Hi Abe, again, this is sort of a detour, and I don't mean to derail at all, but I'm curious what you think of the Aum Shinrikyo cult from Japan. What are the identifiable characteristics of doomsday cult leaders, and does Shoko Asahara (Chizuo Matsumoto) fit them? When I first read about Aum, I was struck by some of the differences between what I'd come to expect of people like Koresh or Manson or whatever. Sure the guy is nuts like them, but he comes off as very different nonetheless. Less obviously psycho on the surface.

Just curious.

I think "strong cults" or "dangerous cults" (not to be conflated with violent or suicidal cults) follow patterns in common with each other, and they all have potential to become either doomsday or violent/suicidal, unless they happen to hold doctrines that are starkly contrary. Violence, suicide or doomsdayism are only potential secondary characteristics, not central to what makes them cults, though doomsdayism often helps some cults to succeed. Cults that are violent/suicidal are actually a very slim minority--peaceful cults exist in every city and most towns--but the violent/suicidal cults get the most attention.

The Cult Studies Journal published a "Checklist of Cult Characteristics," useful for identifying "dangerous cults." The most important criterion is the first item: "The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law." This almost defines a dangerous cult, though I would qualify it by saying that the leader should be either alive or recently alive. If the leader died more than 100 years ago and the cult has diversified, then it is an ideology, not a cult. The group no longer has such potential for abuse since the commands of the founder are loosely interpreted, competing and compromising with other social forces. So, the remainder of the checklist is also useful and important. If a group of people unambiguously satisfy most of the items on the checklist including item #1, then the group is a dangerous cult.

I have personally investigated two cults in my own life. One of them was a political cult--Lyndon LaRouche. That had all of the smacking of a stereotypical cult. The members were aggressive and creepy, and their doctrines were bizarre.

The other cult was the International Church of Christ. These people, on the other hand, seemed hardly different from normal churches, believing almost all of the same things that normal conservative Christians do--no bizarre doctrines--but their practices had key differences. They spent an immense amount of time together and they put exceptional investment into evangelism. They would "love bomb" all potential recruits with praise, gifts, friendship, and outings. And when they had critics, they were excommunicated--no member was allowed to speak with them.

It is the practices, not the beliefs, that are most useful for identifying cults.


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ApostateAbe wrote:natural

ApostateAbe wrote:

natural wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Hi Abe, again, this is sort of a detour, and I don't mean to derail at all, but I'm curious what you think of the Aum Shinrikyo cult from Japan. What are the identifiable characteristics of doomsday cult leaders, and does Shoko Asahara (Chizuo Matsumoto) fit them? When I first read about Aum, I was struck by some of the differences between what I'd come to expect of people like Koresh or Manson or whatever. Sure the guy is nuts like them, but he comes off as very different nonetheless. Less obviously psycho on the surface.

Just curious.

I think "strong cults" or "dangerous cults" (not to be conflated with violent or suicidal cults) follow patterns in common with each other, ...

It is the practices, not the beliefs, that are most useful for identifying cults.

I'm fairly familiar with the characteristics of cults, what I'm asking about is doomsday cult leaders, as per your argument:

ApostateAbe wrote:
1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Presumably, you're using this point to argue about Jesus as a person (the leader), not about the practices of Christians (the cult).

I'm asking what is this 'profile' of 'a single human cult leader' that 'every doomsday cult' has? Does Shoko Asahara fit that profile, for example? Aum Shinrikyo is a verified, bona fide doomsday cult, and the leader seems quite different from other typical doomsday cult leaders. That's what I'm asking about.

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natural wrote:ApostateAbe

natural wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

natural wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Hi Abe, again, this is sort of a detour, and I don't mean to derail at all, but I'm curious what you think of the Aum Shinrikyo cult from Japan. What are the identifiable characteristics of doomsday cult leaders, and does Shoko Asahara (Chizuo Matsumoto) fit them? When I first read about Aum, I was struck by some of the differences between what I'd come to expect of people like Koresh or Manson or whatever. Sure the guy is nuts like them, but he comes off as very different nonetheless. Less obviously psycho on the surface.

Just curious.

I think "strong cults" or "dangerous cults" (not to be conflated with violent or suicidal cults) follow patterns in common with each other, ...

It is the practices, not the beliefs, that are most useful for identifying cults.

I'm fairly familiar with the characteristics of cults, what I'm asking about is doomsday cult leaders, as per your argument:

ApostateAbe wrote:
1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Presumably, you're using this point to argue about Jesus as a person (the leader), not about the practices of Christians (the cult).

I'm asking what is this 'profile' of 'a single human cult leader' that 'every doomsday cult' has? Does Shoko Asahara fit that profile, for example? Aum Shinrikyo is a verified, bona fide doomsday cult, and the leader seems quite different from other typical doomsday cult leaders. That's what I'm asking about.

OK, thanks for clarifying. The only thing that differentiates a "cult" (as described in the previous post) from a "doomsday cult" is the point that a "doomsday cult" predicts a severe global calamity, and a "cult" may or may not. Doomsday cults among themselves are generally equally diverse in all of the same respects as all other cults, and a "doomsday cult" still meets the same criteria of "cult" as I have previously described.


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ApostateAbe wrote:natural

ApostateAbe wrote:

natural wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

I think "strong cults" or "dangerous cults" (not to be conflated with violent or suicidal cults) follow patterns in common with each other, ...

It is the practices, not the beliefs, that are most useful for identifying cults.

I'm fairly familiar with the characteristics of cults, what I'm asking about is doomsday cult leaders, as per your argument:

ApostateAbe wrote:
1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Presumably, you're using this point to argue about Jesus as a person (the leader), not about the practices of Christians (the cult).

I'm asking what is this 'profile' of 'a single human cult leader' that 'every doomsday cult' has? Does Shoko Asahara fit that profile, for example? Aum Shinrikyo is a verified, bona fide doomsday cult, and the leader seems quite different from other typical doomsday cult leaders. That's what I'm asking about.

OK, thanks for clarifying. The only thing that differentiates a "cult" (as described in the previous post) from a "doomsday cult" is the point that a "doomsday cult" predicts a severe global calamity, and a "cult" may or may not. Doomsday cults among themselves are generally equally diverse in all of the same respects as all other cults, and a "doomsday cult" still meets the same criteria of "cult" as I have previously described.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure how to be more clear.

I'm asking about the leaders of cults, not of cults themselves. Allow me to requote with emphasis added:

ApostateAbe wrote:
1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

What is this profile of leaders that you are talking about? What are the characteristics of the leaders?

You're giving me information about cults in general. I'm asking about cult leaders.

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natural wrote:ApostateAbe

natural wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

natural wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

I think "strong cults" or "dangerous cults" (not to be conflated with violent or suicidal cults) follow patterns in common with each other, ...

It is the practices, not the beliefs, that are most useful for identifying cults.

I'm fairly familiar with the characteristics of cults, what I'm asking about is doomsday cult leaders, as per your argument:

ApostateAbe wrote:
1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

Presumably, you're using this point to argue about Jesus as a person (the leader), not about the practices of Christians (the cult).

I'm asking what is this 'profile' of 'a single human cult leader' that 'every doomsday cult' has? Does Shoko Asahara fit that profile, for example? Aum Shinrikyo is a verified, bona fide doomsday cult, and the leader seems quite different from other typical doomsday cult leaders. That's what I'm asking about.

OK, thanks for clarifying. The only thing that differentiates a "cult" (as described in the previous post) from a "doomsday cult" is the point that a "doomsday cult" predicts a severe global calamity, and a "cult" may or may not. Doomsday cults among themselves are generally equally diverse in all of the same respects as all other cults, and a "doomsday cult" still meets the same criteria of "cult" as I have previously described.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure how to be more clear.

I'm asking about the leaders of cults, not of cults themselves. Allow me to requote with emphasis added:

ApostateAbe wrote:
1) Every doomsday cult was founded by a single human cult leader of the same rough profile as the reputed figurehead.

What is this profile of leaders that you are talking about? What are the characteristics of the leaders?

You're giving me information about cults in general. I'm asking about cult leaders.

Sorry about that. I think you were more clear this time. So, my claim concerning "rough profile" was about the basic biographical information--name, age, family, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, hometown and associations. That is the "rough profile" that I was referring to. Cults may, however, develop myths about their founder after their founder has already died or gone away, in those few times when the cult persists after that, and these myths will follow the pattern of being in line with the wishful thinking of the cult, especially to elevate the status of the cult founder. They may attribute miracles to him or her, for example. This is a pattern followed by L. Ron Hubbard, Haile Selassie I, Joseph Smith, Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster and others.


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ApostateAbe wrote:Sorry

ApostateAbe wrote:
Sorry about that. I think you were more clear this time. So, my claim concerning "rough profile" was about the basic biographical information--name, age, family, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, hometown and associations. That is the "rough profile" that I was referring to. Cults may, however, develop myths about their founder after their founder has already died or gone away, in those few times when the cult persists after that, and these myths will follow the pattern of being in line with the wishful thinking of the cult, especially to elevate the status of the cult founder. They may attribute miracles to him or her, for example. This is a pattern followed by L. Ron Hubbard, Haile Selassie I, Joseph Smith, Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster and others.

I think I get it now. I think I misread your original statement. I thought you were saying that all doomsday cult leaders are very similar, and share a 'rough profile'. I see now that that's not what you were saying.

Sorry for the confusion.

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off the subject

This is off the subject but it's something that I thought was funny.  If I remember correctly, the apostles put all their resources together while they waited on the second coming.  Eventually, their supplies ran out.  Personally, I think that is funny.  I have been accused of having a weird sense of humor though.

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Actually, that is kind of what happened.

 

As far as a sense of humor goes, have you seen this:

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I think every cult

I think every cult originated in small groups or individuals. No cult could start widespread without a big external stimulae of some kind, and it would pretty much need to be a divine influence to have enough people agree on the incident and its implications to form a religion around it in anything less than a generation.
Large groups of people don't tend to make something up to fool people not part of the group, simply because with a large enough group you will unavoidably have people who let slip the truth for one reason or another. Much to conspiracy theorists dismay.
This was long before you could sit in England chatting to someone in China. It would take years for an idea originating in one village to spread across a country when it takes days of travel to go a few dozen kilometres.
I don't think the origins to any cult for which we do not already know will ever be known. By the time the ideas spread enough to be recorded they were changed significantly and the originators were centuries dead.

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Vastet wrote:I think every

Vastet wrote:
I think every cult originated in small groups or individuals. No cult could start widespread without a big external stimulae of some kind, and it would pretty much need to be a divine influence to have enough people agree on the incident and its implications to form a religion around it in anything less than a generation. Large groups of people don't tend to make something up to fool people not part of the group, simply because with a large enough group you will unavoidably have people who let slip the truth for one reason or another. Much to conspiracy theorists dismay. This was long before you could sit in England chatting to someone in China. It would take years for an idea originating in one village to spread across a country when it takes days of travel to go a few dozen kilometres. I don't think the origins to any cult for which we do not already know will ever be known. By the time the ideas spread enough to be recorded they were changed significantly and the originators were centuries dead.

Yeah, I do think that there are some things about history that we just don't know. When I got involved in the debates about the historicity of Jesus, and persisted in it from all sides of the debate, I discovered that there are many things about the historical Jesus that we can reasonably make some very good guesses about--i.e. he was an early-1st-century doomsday cult leader, he was baptized by John the Baptist, he was crucified by Pontius Pilate, and he was succeeded by Peter and Paul. I came to such probabilistic conclusions (not absolute conclusions) because all evidence really does indicate that early Christianity was a cult, and cults really do follow strict sociological patterns. For example, the cults will believe and profess according to whatever makes their leader/founder/figurehead seem as esteemed as possible, including white-washing the embarrassing/inconvenient known facts. This particular pattern is grossly apparent in the earliest Christian documents about the life of Jesus (gospels), and it means that one explanation is far better than others. Unfortunately, it does take some involvement in the investigations and debates for this theory of history to become obvious--too many people are pulled into wishful-thinking models of history because they just don't know the counterarguments and they don't know much about ancient history in general. To such a person, any otherwise-bizarre theory of history found in a book can be made to seem probable.