Finding the historical Jesus in biblical inconsistencies

In Matthew, Jesus is simply born in Bethlehem, and very soon after his birth, his parents flee to Egypt with him to avoid his being killed by Herod. After Herod's death, they return to Israel, but, to avoid Herod's son, they wind up in a town called Nazareth, a town with which, before that point, they apparently had no connection.

In Luke, he is born in Bethlehem because his parents had to leave Nazareth to register for a census. The family stays in Bethlehem for a time, and then simply heads back to Nazareth. There is no flight to Egypt, and no vast killing of male infants.

Luke's account of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem, besides being inconsistent with Matthew's, faces the following difficulties:

"1) nothing is known in history of a general census by Augustus; (2) in a Roman census Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem, and Mary would not have had to travel at all; (3) no Roman census would have been made in Judea during the reign of Herod; (4) Josephus records no such census, and it would have been a notable innovation; (5) Quirinius was not governor of Syria until long after the reign of Herod."

Some people might be tempted, on seeing these problems, to decide, "See, it's all a bunch of nonsense."

But historians do not treat their sources as something to be believed or disbelieved; they are something to be interrogated, witnesses whose testimony, however inaccurate it might be, will nevertheless provide clues to help us get at the facts.

Luke and Matthew both wanted Jesus to be born in Bethlehem because prophecy said the Messiah would be born there. So why not simply have him come from Bethlehem? Why these elaborate stories as to why he was born there but was a Nazarene? There is only one plausible reason: There was an actual person called Jesus, and it was widely known that he was from Nazareth. If Luke and Matthew were simply making up this figure out of whole cloth, there would be no reason to involve a completely insignificant village like Nazareth in the story at all.

12 comments:

  1. By application of the well attested "NTG Cypher" (pitifully, I've seen attempts this done on English translations), we can easily extract from the New Testament the message, "Idiotically implausible message in Latinized Greek from the University of Illinois." Nuff said.

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  2. To add a fifth difficulty: The town of Nazareth did not exist at the time Jesus lived. He was not "from Nazareth." He was a Nazorean.

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    1. "The town of Nazareth did not exist at the time Jesus lived."

      Sorry, archaeologists have found the town. Yes, of course it was not the modern city of Nazareth

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    2. My source on the discovery of Nazareth is Prof. Bart D. Ehrman of UNC.

      And now to really piss you off: i made the post using siri.

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  3. Too clever by half. This evidence from Matthew and Luke implies that there was an earlier tradition that Jesus was a Nazarene. It hardly shows that Jesus was a real person. It's a bit of a strawman to show that Matthew and Luke didn't make Jesus up from whole cloth. Of course they didn't: they had Mark and Q as sources, as well as possibly others. The tradition that Jesus was from Nazareth is in Mark.

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    1. Too stupid by half. Why do Americans have a "tradition" that George Washington was from Virginia? Why do the English have a "tradition" that William was from the Netherlands? Why did the French have a "tradition" that Napoleon was from Corsica?

      Perhaps because they were?

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    2. See, here's the thing master. i would guess off the top of my head That there must be several hundred places in Israel and Judah Mentioned in the Old Testament. If you were going to just make up some guy quote obviously you choose one of those places for him to come from. What you would not do is choose a place that absolutely no one had ever heard of before that point in time. As I said, the only plausible explanation is that Jesus really was from Nazareth, And that explains quite well why there was a "tradition" saying he was from Nazareth

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    3. You know, "too clever by half" is a common expression. It's not a compliment, but neither is it a harsh putdown. That you stoop to responding with invective detracts from your argument.

      I don't know a lot about the documentary evidence for Washington and Napoleon, but I suspect they are not at all comparable because I suspect there are various sources linking them to Virginia and Corsica, not the extremely limited range of sources we have about Jesus.

      As far as I can tell, your argument boils down to: "Jesus was a real person who came from Nazareth, because Mark says he came from Nazareth, and why would anyone make that up?" How could anything good come from Nazareth? Matthew and Luke don't really have anything to do with it, since they are clearly responding to earlier sources: Mark and possibly others that we might speculate about.

      The presence of details about Jesus' life that don't fill an obvious narrative role (another example is the sign on the cross: INRI, which none of them gospels seem to be using to make a point) can be taken to imply that Jesus was a real person. It could also just mean that we're not psychics who can known for sure why an author made each narrative choice that he or she did. Perhaps the earliest Christians that Mark knew of were from Nazareth, so he assumed that would be where Jesus was from. Maybe Mark knew that Jesus was called "the Nazarene" (or that his followers were called Nazarenes) and concluded incorrectly that that meant he was from Nazareth. Maybe Mark's immediate audience was mostly people from Nazareth, so he wanted to make Jesus one of their own. Maybe Jesus was a real person. This and more is possible.

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  4. It's not the ONLY plausible reason but it is the simplest. And there is other plausible evidence too. The existence of a Jewish teacher Jesus from Nazareth who was crucified seems pretty solid.

    I'm always amused at skeptics who need to argue he's an invention out of whole cloth. Displays a lack of imagination I think.

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    1. Ken, you are correct: Saying it is the only plausible explanation is an overstatement. But in friends to the best explanation would give us "yes, Jesus was from Nazareth."

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    2. "Inference to the best explanation": Siri!

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  5. @master: A bit more on the logic. This is the principle of dissimilarity in action. Early Christians would have preferred to NOT have a tradition that the man was from Nazareth because that is a problem for their theology. So the preservation of this *embarassment* by M&L indicate that M&L recieved the tradition (and believed it), ie that the tradition is OLDER than M&L. That's a big deal since M&L are fairly late (circa 75).

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