Why believe in Christianity

Why believe in Christianity part 11 to 15

Ok it has been a couple of weeks since I wrote the last “Why believe in Christianity_part_7-10”. You remember the series, I am describing all of the reasons why people would not or should not have become Christians, all the political, social and economic reasons it would not be attractive to either the average person or the elite of that time. Why would anybody want to follow Jesus Christ – unless of course there was something in it that must have made sense?

Factor #11 — Do Not Rely on Women!

The non-believers have brought this point as a last attempt to discredit Christianity whenever we get into a deep discussion. Therefore, it bears repeating and elaboration. If Christianity wanted to succeed, it should never have admitted that women were the first to discover the empty tomb or the first to see the Risen Jesus. It also never should have admitted that women were main supporters (Luke 8:3- and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.) or lead converts (Acts 16 – a long chapter that has many people mentioned).

In the ancient world, many have pointed out; women were regarded as “bad witnesses”. I need to emphasize that this was not a peculiarity as it would be seen today, but an ingrained stereotype of that time and that civilization. As Malina and Neyrey note in their book “Portraits of Paul”, gender in antiquity came laden with “elaborate stereotypes of what was appropriate male or female behavior. (p.74)”

Portraits_of_Paul

Quintilian[i] said that where murder was concerned, males are more likely to commit robbery, while females were prone to poisoning.

We find such sentiments absurd and politically incorrect today — but whether they are or not, this was ingrained indelibly in the ancient mind. “In general Greek and Roman courts excluded as witnesses women, slaves, and children…According to Josephus… [women] are unacceptable because of the ‘levity and temerity of their sex’.” (p. 82) Women were so untrustworthy that they were not even allowed to be witnesses to the rising of the moon as a sign of the beginning of festivals.

DeSilva

deSilva

also notes (p.33 http://www.amazon.com/dp/0830815724/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=3486446373&hvqmt=b&hvbmt=bb&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_1jju5nyqyh_b a book worth getting) that a woman and her words were not regarded as “public property” but should rather be guarded from strangers — women were expected to speak to and through their husbands (not much different from modern day Islam). A woman’s place was in the home, not the witness stand, and any woman who took an independent witness was violating the honor code.

It would have been much easier to put the finding of the tomb on the male disciples, or someone like Cleophas[ii] or even Nicodemus[iii], find the tomb first, or to mediate the witness through Peter or John. However, they were apparently stuck with this truth — and Christianity apparently overcame yet another stigma.

 

Factor #12 — Don’t Rely on Bumpkins, Either!

However, before you go out and join a Christian group, I have more to deter you. It was not just women who had a problem. Peter and John were dismissed based on their social standing (Acts 4:13- Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.)

This reflects a larger point of contention among the ancients. I have noted the problem of having Jesus hail from Galilee and Nazareth before (https://iamnotanatheist.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/why-believe-in-christianity-2/ ). This was as much a problem for the disciples as well — and would have hindered their preaching. The Jews themselves had no trust in such people, if we are to believe later writings in the Talmud: of men such as Peter and John, who were called “people of the land,” it was said: “…we do not commit testimony to them; we do not accept testimony from them.”

It represents an ancient truism also applicable in the ancient world as a whole. Social standing was tied to personal character in an intimate manner. Fairly or unfairly, a country bumpkin was the last person you would believe. Only Paul may have avoided this stigma among the apostolic band. (Matthew may have as well, if he were not a member of a group despised for different reasons: a tax collector.) Very few messengers of Christianity would have been able to avoid this stigma.

There is another complexity to this factor: Christianity held none of the power cards. It was not endorsed by the “power structure” of the day, neither Roman nor Jewish. It could have been crushed merely by the word of authority if necessary. Why wasn’t it, when it made itself so prone to be in the business of others? You think no one would care?

 

Factor #13 — You Can’t Keep a Secret!

The group-oriented culture of the ancients leads to a shoring up of yet another common apologetic argument. Apologists regularly note that Christian claims would have been easy to check out and verify. Skeptics, especially G. A. Wells[iv], (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/087975429X/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_2?pf_rd_p=1944687782&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0812693922&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0A7PGFFMX4C7C12YJJ80 )

The_Historical_Evidence

counter by supposing that no one would have cared to find out such things. The skeptics are very wrong — they operate not only against the natural human tendency to curiosity, but also against a very important group-oriented social structure.

Do you value your privacy? Then stay in America. Malina and Neyrey note that “in group-oriented cultures such as the ancient Mediterranean, we must remember that people continually mind each other’s business.” (p. 183) Privacy was unknown and unexpected. On the one hand, neighbors exerted “constant vigilance” over others; on the other hand, those watched were constantly concerned for appearances, and the associated rewards of honor or sanctions of shame that came with the results.

It’s the same in group-oriented cultures today…if you ever wonder why America has trouble spreading “democracy” you need look no further than that 70% of the world is group-oriented.

Think of this: We complain of the erosion of privacy, but know as well that it is a compromise for the sake of social control. The ancients would not have worried about not having adequate measures in place to stop a terrorist attack — because such measures of surveillance were already present. Control comes not from individuals controlling themselves, but from the group controlling the individual. (This is also why we have a tough time relating to the ancient church’s ways of fellowship.)

Pilch and Malina (p. 115) (http://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Social-Values-Their-Meaning/dp/1565630041/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427672361&sr=1-1&keywords=malina+and+pilch)

Biblical_social_values

add that strangers were viewed in the ancient world as posing a threat to the community, because “they are potentially anything one cares to imagine…Hence, they must be checked over both as to how they might fit in and as to whether they will subscribe to the community’s norms.” Malina adds in The New Testament World (36-7) (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0664222951/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=3524617616&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=bp&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_4747qydyme_p )

The New Testament World

that honor was always presumed to exist within one’s own family of blood,” but all outside that circle are “presumed to be dishonorable — untrustworthy, if you will — unless proved otherwise.” No one outside the family is trusted “unless that trust can be validated and verified.” Strangers to a village are considered “potential enemies”; foreigners “just passing through” (as missionaries would) are “considered as certain enemies.” Missionaries would find their virtues tested at every new stopping point.

Ancient people controlled one another’s behavior by watching them, spreading word of their behavior (what we call “gossip”), and by public dishonor. Critics who ask what Pharisees were doing out in the country watching Jesus’ disciples crack grain, and consider that improbable, are way off track. “…[T]he Pharisees seem to mind Jesus’ business all the time,” (p.183) and little wonder, since that was quite normal to do. (Philo notes that there were “thousands” who kept their eyes on others in their zeal to ensure that others did not subvert the Jewish ancestral institutions — Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p379.) ( http://www.amazon.com/dp/0800626826/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=4962616351&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=be&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_4rw1okmroe_e )

Jesus and the victory of God

So now the Skeptic has another conundrum. In a society where nothing escaped notice, there was indeed every reason to suppose that people hearing the Gospel message would check against the facts — especially where a movement with a radical message like Christianity was concerned.

The empty tomb would be checked. Matthew’s story of resurrected saints would be checked out. Lazarus would be sought out for questioning. Excessive honor claims, such as that Jesus had been vindicated, or his claims to be divine, would have been given scrutiny. In addition, converts to the new faith would have to answer to their neighbors. Checking the facts would provide “grist for the mill” (since it would be assumed it could help control the movement).

If the Pharisees checked Jesus on things like hand washing and grain picking; if large crowds gathered around Jesus each time he so much as sneezed — how much more would things like a claimed resurrection have been looked at.

 

Factor #14 — An Ignorant Deity??

Scholars of all persuasions have long recognized the “criteria of embarrassment” as a marker for authentic words of Jesus. Places where Jesus claims to be ignorant (not knowing the day or hour of his return; not knowing who touched him in the crowd) or shows weakness are taken as honest recollections and authentic (even where miracles stories often are not!). This is a lesser cousin of the crucifixion factor ( https://iamnotanatheist.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/why-believe-in-christianity/ )  — if you want a decent deity, you have to make him fully respectable. Ignorance of future or present events paints a stark portrait that theological explanations about kenotic[v] emptying just will not overcome in the short term.

You have to have a trump card to overcome that seeming double whammy; otherwise critics like Celsus[vi] have more axes to grind.

 

Factor #15 — A Prophet Without Honor

Mark 6:4 A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

We have already noted above that Jesus died a dishonorable form of death, and came from a locale with a low “honor rating” (basically, the equivalent of ‘the other side of the tracks’). There is more to this matter of dishonor, but so as not to be appearing to stack the deck, let us look at some other places where Jesus endured disgrace — and thereby also offended the sensibilities of his contemporaries:

  • The mocking before his execution — this was no mere game of dress-up, but a calculated insult to Jesus’ honor and his claim to be King of the Jews. By doing this, and challenging Jesus to prophesy, it was a way of challenging, and negating, Jesus’ honor. By the thinking of an honor-based society, Jesus should have met the challenge and shown himself to be a true prophet or king.
  • The charges themselves — on the surface, Jesus openly committed blasphemy and pled guilty to sedition. “Those who elected to follow such a subversive and disgraced man were immediately suspect in the eyes of [Jews and Romans].” (DeSilva, p. 46)
  • The burial — Byron McCane[vii] has written in an article The Shame of Jesus’ Burial in which he argues that Joseph of Arimathea had clear motives, even aside from being a disciple of Jesus, to arrange for the burial: It fits the requirement of Deut. 21:22-23 to bury one hung on a tree before sunset, and as a Sanhedrin member Joseph would have this concern and want to make arrangements. On the other hand, that Jesus was buried in Joseph’s tomb — and not in a tomb belonging to his family — was itself dishonorable. The lack of mourners for Jesus was also a great dishonor.

It should be fairly noted that McCane does not regard all that is in the Gospels as reliable. He indicates as well that Joseph was not really a disciple of Jesus, just a Sanhedrin member doing a duty. It perhaps may not occur to McCane to suppose that Joseph used such a duty as a pretext to get hold of Jesus’ body before another Sanhedrin member with less respect for Jesus did so. But in any event, even with the Gospel accounts considered fully accurate, they “still depict a burial which a Jew in Roman Palestine would have recognized as dishonorable.”

 

[i] Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (35 BC – 100 BC) was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing. In English translation, he is usually referred to as Quintilian. In other words he was taught to be a BS’er.

[ii] Cleopas appears in Luke 24:13-27 as one of two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Cleopas is named in verse 18, while his companion remains unnamed

[iii] Nicodemus appears three times in the Gospel of John. He first visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings.(John 3:1–21) The second time Nicodemus is mentioned, he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged.(John 7:50–51). Finally, Nicodemus appears after the Crucifixion to provide the customary embalming spices, and assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial.(John 19:39–42)

[iv] The Historical Evidence for Jesus is not a frontal attack on Christians per se; rather it is an easily understood but scholarly examination of the evidence for many long-accepted notions about the “biography” of the man called Jesus.

[v] the doctrine that Christ relinquished His divine attributes so as to experience human suffering.

[vi] Celsus was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work, The True Word which survives exclusively in quotations from Contra Celsum. This work, c. 177 is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.

[vii] http://enoch2112.tripod.com/ByronBurial.htm

 

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