Deep within this post on Cartoon Central…

Posted: June 3, 2010 by datechguy in catholic, internet/free speech
Tags: , , ,

…is a comment that should get more attention. Not so much over if Comedy Central should or should not be making their Jesus show. (Their souls their risk) or if it is an example of cowardice (it is) but a fellow named skydaddy brings up a point concerning the Gospels that every person should know:

… look at the manuscripts as any paleographer would, using the same rules:
#1: Older copies are better (since all we have are copies of copies, older copies have less chance of scribal errors)

#2: More copies are better (since you can cross-reference textual variants and suss out the likely original text)

So.

Looking at most of the Classical literature (Socrates, Aristophanes, Plato, etc.) we generally have a dozen or so copies, with an 1100 year gap from the original to the oldest copy.

With Tacitus, we have 200 copies. No serious scholar doubts that we can accurately reconstruct Tacitus’ original writings.

With Homer, we have over 600 copies, with the oldest only 500 years removed from Homer’s life.

The New Testament documents are not even in the same ballpark. We have over 5,000 ancient copies of the NT documents, not counting the citations in letters written between Church leaders in the first few centuries. (We can reconstruct almost the entire NT from those second-hand quotes.) Counting those citations there are over 15,000 ancient copies of NT texts. The oldest copy (the Rowland Fragment – a bit of John 18) dates to within 60 years of its original writing.

And it is also worth noting that many copies of ancient philosophers were copies made by, you guessed it Catholic Monks who painstakingly copied and re-copied books in the days before the printing press.

There are a lot of people who are very desperate to deny the very existence of Christ. It doesn’t surprise me. If you can remove or re-define the existence of Christ than you don’t have to consider if he is what he says he is and deal with the implications thereof.

Via The Anchoress Ross Douthat hits it out of the park on this subject:

In the event, the synoptic gospels and Saint Paul’s epistles do make absolutely extraordinary claims, and so modern scholars have every right to read them with a skeptical eye, and question their factual reliability. But if you downgrade the earliest Christian documents or try to bracket them entirely, the documentary evidence that’s left is so intensely unreliable (dated, fragmentary, obviously mythological, etc.) that scholars can scavenge through it to build whatever Jesus they prefer — and then say, with Gopnik, that their interpretation of the life of Christ is “as well attested” as any other. Was Jesus a wandering sage? Maybe so. A failed revolutionary? Sure, why not. A lunatic who fancied himself divine? Perhaps. An apocalyptic prophet? There’s an app for that …

But this isn’t history: It’s “choose your own Jesus,” and it’s become an enormous waste of time. Again, there’s nothing wrong with saying that the supernaturalism of the Christian canon makes it an unreliable guide to who Jesus really was. But if we’re honest with ourselves, then we need to acknowledge what this means: Not the beginning of a fruitful quest for the Jesus of history, but the end of it.

This is why so many people go nuts over the sight of Christian symbols. That is why they are so willing to debase the faith and the faithful, if it was just a bunch of nonsense it would be ignored. If a person’s beliefs are solid they can stand up under fire as Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular has done for nearly 20 centuries. Likewise if one’s disbelief is solid it can stand Christian symbolism and belief. Why such a reaction to it all? I suspect that it is that fear that instinct in the back of their minds, that it’s all true.

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