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IS CHRISTIANITY A FRAUD?  ROUND TWO!

 

How Can We Know Whether Miracles Happened?  Is the New Testament Historically Reliable? 

Were Ancient Pagan Religions Like Christianity?  How Are Historical Claims Proven and Disproven?

 

                                                             

    A Rebuttal Against Darrell Conder's Reply Defending Mystery Babylon

 

                                             corrected first edition

 

                                                 by Eric V. Snow

 

PERSONAL BACKGROUND, SOURCE ISSUES, AND THE LIMITATIONS OF BGJ EXAMINED

 

(Original table of contents included below)

 

Introduction and Explanation of the Controversy......................................... 4

Some Personal Background......................................................................... 4

My Dependence on Non-WCG Scholarship Nothing New......................... 5

Were Typical WCG Laymembers Familiar with Traditional Christian

     Apologetics?............................................................................................. 6

The Need for Bluntness to Avoid Deception about Mystery

     Babylon's Contents................................................................................... 7

The Need for Truth in Advertising................................................................ 9

Unbelief as the Logical Outcome of Conder's Mode of Argumentation.... 9

How Citing a Scholar Who Would Oppose Your Overall Viewpoint

     is Powerful.............................................................................................. 10

Fox's Statement Against Seeing Parallels Between Paganism

     and Christianity........................................................................................ 11

Conder's Mistake in Adopting Higher Critic Methodology, Not Just

     Their "Facts"........................................................................................... 13

A Sample of How Conder's Reasoning Could Be Deployed Against the

     Old Testament........................................................................................ 14

Are the Higher Critics Unbiased?............................................................... 16

Since Both Sides Are Biased, Charges about this Prove Little............... 17

Why My Academic Experience Makes Me Suspicious of Mystery

     Babylon's Sources................................................................................. 18

The Need to Know the Scholarly Climate of Opinion on Secondary Works:  The

Historiography of American Slavery as an Example................................. 18

Why Mystery Babylon Doesn't Represent True Scholarship................... 19

The Scholarly Climate of Opinion on the Christian/Pagan Tie Revisited. 20

Why ICF Leans on McDowell and Nash So Much.................................... 22

How Being Too Open-Minded Can Cause Your Brains to Fall Out......... 23

How Both Sides' Sources Are Arguably Biased....................................... 24

Conder's Passing Over Many of ICF's Arguments Imply Their Correctness          24

Most of the Messianic Text Rebuttals Made by ICF Against MB

     Overlooked in BGJ................................................................................. 25

Other Points Conder Overlooks When Criticizing ICF............................. 25

Mistakenly Understanding a Challenge, Conder Fails to Provide

     Source Citations..................................................................................... 26

Conder Mistakenly Claims Three Footnote Problems Exist in ICF......... 27

Why Is Christianity a Fraud? Cites Herbert W. Armstrong....................... 28

Why the True Religion Would Satisfy Emotions as Well as Reason...... 29

 

MIRACLES--HOW DO WE KNOW THEY HAPPENED?

 

Conder's Arguments Against Miracles Are Like the Philosopher

     David Hume's.......................................................................................... 30

Some Basic Arguments Against Hume's Critique Against Belief in Miracles          31

Just How Do We "Prove" a Miracle Occurred?......................................... 33

Evidence from Hostile Sources That Jesus Could Do Miracles.............. 34

Testing Miracle Claims by Their Intrinsic Plausibility or Absurdity........... 36

Why Pagan Myths Are Intrinsically Unreliable Accounts of Miracles....... 38

Why Should This Eyewitness Evidence Be Believed?............................ 40

Further Internal Evidence for Believing in the New Testament................ 41

Why the Ebionites' Denial of the Virgin Birth Proves Nothing.................. 41

Many Higher Critics "Edit" the NT Instead of Throwing It Out Entirely:

   Why Refuting Naturalistic Explanations of the Resurrection Isn't

     Truly Circular........................................................................................... 42

The Higher Critics Did Devise Naturalistic Explanations for

     the Resurrection..................................................................................... 43

Why Claiming the Gospels Are Legends Doesn't Dispose of

     the Resurrection..................................................................................... 44

 

FURTHER EVIDENCE FOR THE NEW TESTAMENT'S RELIABILITY

 

How the Book of Acts Implies the New Testament Was Written

     Before C. 63 A.D.................................................................................... 45

The New Testament Wasn't Subject to a Long Period of Oral Tradition 46

Why Oral Transmission Was More Reliable in the Past Than It Is Today 47

Internal Evidence That Oral/Written Transmission Accurately Preserved

     Jesus' Words.......................................................................................... 49

Miscellaneous Attacks on the Resurrection Reports Rebutted............... 49

Why Public Debates with Heretics Before a Local Church Is a Bad Idea 50

Was Eusebius a Reliable Historian?.......................................................... 51

The Fundamental Discontinuity in Sunday-Keeping Christianity

     Started 313 A.D...................................................................................... 45

Good Evidence for the Apostles Being Given the Option to Avoid Dying

     for a Lie................................................................................................... 54

Why the Counter-Example of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith

     Proves Nothing....................................................................................... 55

Animal Sacrifices Revisited........................................................................ 56

Why Will There Be Animal Sacrifices in the Millennium?:

     A Tentative Solution............................................................................... 57

Do Any First-Century Fragments of the New Testament Exist?  Oops!.. 58

Significant Portions of the NT Are in Manuscripts Older than

     C. 325-350 A.D...................................................................................... 59

How Skepticism about Primary Sources Can Destroy One's Own Arguments       61

Two Reasons for the Sunday-Keeping Church's Early Leaders'

     Basic Reliability....................................................................................... 62

Could Average People in First-Century Judea Speak Greek?................ 63

Why Would the Aramaic- or Hebrew-Speaking Disciples Quote from a Greek

     OT Translation?...................................................................................... 64

Did Jesus Permanently Prohibit Evangelizing the Gentiles?................... 65

Did the Same Man Write the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of

     the Apostles?.......................................................................................... 65

How the Semitic Constructions of the Gospels' Greek Indicate No Later

     "Church Father" Wrote Them................................................................ 66

Further External Evidence for Luke's Reliability........................................ 67

"Higher" and "Lower" Textual Criticism Differentiated.............................. 69

The Bibliographical Test for a Document's Reliability Defended............ 70

The Variations in the New Testament's Text Revisited............................ 72

The Sunday-Keeping Church Was the Main Agent God Used to Ascertain

     the Canon................................................................................................ 74

The Genealogies of Christ Revisited......................................................... 75

Was First-Century Samaritan Religion Largely Pagan?........................... 77

 

HISTORICAL METHOLODGICAL ISSUES AS RELATED TO EXAMINING THE MYSTERY RELIGIONS

 

Conder Confuses Citing the Primary Sources with Using the

     Original Manuscripts............................................................................... 78

Primary and Secondary Sources Distinguished........................................ 78

Why Printed Primary Sources Are Sometimes All That Historians Need 79

The Need to Check Out Primary Sources in Historiographical Debates. 79

The Argument from Burned Books Is an Argument from Silence........... 81

Medieval Catholicism's Burning of Books Compared to Josiah's

     Image-Smashing.................................................................................... 81

The Date(s) of Composition Aren't the Dates for Surviving

     Ancient Manuscripts............................................................................... 82

 

WERE THE PAGAN MYSTERY RELIGIONS LIKE CHRISTIANITY?

 

Was Mithraism a Major Force in First-Century Rome?............................. 84

Evidence for Mithraism's Origination from Asia Minor, Not Persia

     or India.................................................................................................... 85

Mithraism Didn't Have a Strong Presence in Rome in the First Century. 86

Some Specific Ways Mithraism Differs from Christianity......................... 87

Mere Preexistence Doesn't Prove Dependence...................................... 89

The Need to Look at the Specific Meanings of Communion and Baptism 90

How Some Borrowing by Pagan Religions from Christianity Could

     Have Happened...................................................................................... 92

A Curious Custom of the Roman Army Misinterpreted............................ 93

How Could Latin American Indian Beliefs Be Like Christianity's?........... 94

Are Some Accounts of Various Pagan Gods Similar to the NT on

     Jesus' Life?............................................................................................ 95

Did the Word "Cannibal" Originate in Phoenician or in Caribbean Indian? 96

The Early Pagan References to Jesus Briefly Resurveyed..................... 97

 

ISSUES RELATED TO THE MESSIANIC TEXTS REEXAMINED AND CONCLUSION

 

Does the Old Testament Doctrine about God Contradict the

     the New Testament's?........................................................................... 99

The Duality Principle of Interpreting Scripture Defended...................... 100

What Was the Original Reading in Psalms 22:16?................................ 101

Was the Septuagint Reliably Translated and Transmitted for the Psalms? 102

Why Others Should Avoid Reading Mystery Babylon............................ 103

Conclusion:  How Interpreting the Facts Is More Important Than the Facts

     Themselves in This Debate................................................................. 105

 

                                                    ABSTRACT

This essay replies against Darrell Conder's "By-gosh Josh:  An Answer to Eric V. Snow."  It defends the New Testament as historically reliable, and  Christianity as not depending on pagan religion for its doctrinal content.

 

INTRODUCTION AND EXPLANATION OF THE CONTROVERSY

 

          As expected, Darrell Conder has written a reply to my rebuttal of his book, Mystery Babylon and the Lost Ten Tribes in the End Time.  Entitled "By-gosh Josh:  An Answer to Eric V. Snow," (BGJ) it replies to my essay, "Is Christianity a Fraud?  A Preliminary Assessment of the Conder Thesis" (ICF).[1]  To help those unfamiliar with this controversy, Darrell Conder's book Mystery Babylon (MB) attacks Christianity through three basic arguments:  (1) the New Testament is said to be historically unreliable, (2) the teachings of the pagan mystery religions of the Roman empire determined the doctrines of first-century church, and (3) the New Testament cites out of context and mistakenly the messianic texts of the Old Testament as referring to Jesus Christ in advance.  Being not an atheist, agnostic, or deist, Conder defends the Old Testament as inspired by God, so he advocates conversion to some type of Judaism, "the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."  The purpose of my rebuttal, "Is Christianity a Fraud?," was to use the standard arguments of modern Christian apologetics to refute Conder's contentions.  Below, Conder's "By-gosh Josh," which largely restates his arguments in Mystery Babylon, is weighed and found wanting once again.

 

          Conder mistakenly believes my rebuttal is a "paper attacking the Holy Scriptures of Israel" (p. 1).  But since I'm a hard-shell fundamentalist who denies evolution, I count myself as a staunch defender of the Old Testament (the OT, or, as the Jews call it, Tanakh).  The draft booklet I recently completed for a possible local evangelism campaign by my congregation (which is the Lansing, Michigan (UCG-AIA) church, not Ann Arbor) has about 18 pages of material defending the Old Testament as inspired by God using fulfilled prophecy and archeological data.[2] 

 

SOME PERSONAL BACKGROUND

 

          Since Conder's reply raises the issue of my intellectual and religious background (BGJ, pp. 5, 6), I really need to tell the reader something of my religious background, since mine differs sharply from his.  Since I was raised as an evolutionist by parents who attended the Unitarian-Universalist Church (even that lasted only for about two years with any consistency), I certainly wasn't brought up as any kind of steadfast believer in the Bible.  I distinctly remember being taught evolution in Sunday school.  Once my father (now deceased) told me as a child that my maternal grandmother was wrong to believe we hadn't evolved from monkeys while pointing at pictures on one page of some book as it dealt with the subject.  As a result, soon after I first started reading the writings of Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), the long-time human leader of the Worldwide Church of God, as a teenager in 1982, I remember mentally ridiculing him.  He said something about mankind having been on the earth for only 6000 years in an editorial (personal) in the Plain Truth magazine.  "Yeah, sure, Mr. Armstrong."  But some months later I encountered Dr. Henry Morris' The Incredible Birth of Planet Earth, which outlined the arguments for creationism in a brief, easy-to-read format.  Although I had read other things some on the subject in earlier months, this book directly led me to give up evolution as false.  Later on, while working in Yellowstone National Park during the summer of 1985, I got for free from a traditional Christian Josh McDowell's book, More Than a Carpenter.  This book fired my imagination, for before I had just taken the resurrection on faith, although I had felt the existence of God could be proven.  Later, through a book offered by the Conservative Book Club that summarized his thinking, I first encountered C.S. Lewis (besides as the author of the Narnia Chronicles that a childhood friend had).  Although Lewis converted from atheism, he never believed the Bible was completely infallible.  Through such books as Miracles, The Screwtape Letters, and The Problem of Pain, he defended traditional Christianity by philosophical arguments.  He wasn't a "fundamentalist minister," (BGJ, p. 17), but the one-time professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University.  With this kind of background, I had an open mind when I formally accepted Christianity, knowing full well some of the arguments used against it by the time I was baptized in 1987.  Claiming I approached "New Testament study not from a desire to know the truth one way or the other, but to be reassured that his faith is valid" (BGJ, p. 6) ignores how I wasn't really raised as a Christian of any kind.

 

MY DEPENDENCE ON NON-WCG SCHOLARSHIP NOTHING NEW

 

          So now‑‑why does my personal story matter in this context?  Because I was introduced to modern Christian apologetics through sources outside the Worldwide Church of God, it left a permanent mark on me.  I admired, and still admire, men such as Dr. Henry Morris, Duane Gish, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Francis Schaeffer, Don Stewart, F.F. Bruce, and R.C. Sproul who defend the Bible and Christianity.  Despite they have teachings I disagree with, such as on the Trinity and the immortality of the soul, I could see beyond that.  This reality, combined with the practical experience of having attended the Seventh-day Adventist church for nine months before attending the WCG, always permanently restrained how harsh I was on traditional Christians when I believed the Worldwide Church of God was the one true church.  With one eye on the disasters predicted in The United States and Britain in Prophecy if we didn't repent, I said more than once over the years that if everyone in America was either a [non-hypocritical] Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) or a Jehovah's Witness (JW), most of our problems would be solved.  I know full well my intellectual foundation in refuting atheism and agnosticism largely lays outside the writings of Herbert W. Armstrong.  HWA's writings led me to embrace Christianity for the first time seriously, and to most of the specific doctrines and interpretations of the Bible I still hold.  However, for dealing with the intellectual basis of the (largely) deistic background I was raised in, the answers largely came from elsewhere.  (My father's father had been a dogmatic atheist who, on his deathbed, proclaimed there was no God.  A few weeks earlier as death approached, told my father and one of his nieces, while they discussed how they discovered there was no Santa Claus as children, noted Jesus Christ was in the same category).  I've had plenty of experience in dealing with those on the other side of the fence.  I've been an undergrad student in philosophy, and a grad student in history at a secular, state-run university with its share of "political correctness" (Michigan State).  I also became fascinated by the novels of Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead), a renowned atheist and critic of Christian ethics, around the same time I first read HWA's writings.  As a result, I greatly appreciate what those defending traditional Christianity have done and did.  I had read many books on Christian apologetics and creationism long before I ever heard of Darrell Conder's Mystery Babylon and the Ten Lost Tribes in the End Times.  It's for this reason I don't see the Conder thesis as anything terribly "new" or as "never-before presented material," but as a retread of standard arguments by unbelievers against the NT.

 

WERE TYPICAL WCG LAYMEMBERS FAMILIAR WITH TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS?

 

          Conder says he didn't spend much time citing the works of traditional Christian apologists in MB because "I grew up in a church [the WCG] where the kind of fundamentalist scholarship you are referring to Eric, was crammed down my throat" (BGJ, p. 34).  As explained above, my personal experience was directly the opposite, since basically irreligious parents raised me.  The "church" they attended was really a social club.  Conder's statement raises another issue, worth some consideration:  How often were traditional Christian apologetics used in the WCG, especially before c. 1990?  Although Ambassador College did this some‑‑I know that it used Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb's seminal scientific creationist work, The Genesis Flood‑‑in my experience much less was done among the laity in local congregations.  Now HWA was like Catholicism's "Angelic Doctor" St. Thomas Aquinas in believing God's existence could be proven.  He insisted that the Bible could be proven to be the word of God.[3]  Nevertheless, I encountered three men, all raised in the church who attended the same secular university I did, who all held to some kind of fideism (meaning, believing God's existence couldn't be proven by human reason, but it should be believed in by faith alone).  One, having been raised in the WCG, despite majoring in zoology as a doctoral student at a secular university, apparently never had read a scientific creationist book!  Another, who later attended Ambassador College, had openly started to become a bit skeptical of the Bible, focusing on the Old Testament especially.  After gaining permission from a local minister, I gave him books by Paul Little, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Josh McDowell to try to staunch his creeping unbelief.  This program today appears to have been largely successful, even if he has since accepted the WCG's doctrine changes on the OT Law.  This experience shows that knowledge of standard Christian apologetics shouldn't be assumed, whether in the old WCG or in the various COGs today.  In order to help those who may think Conder's viewpoint was some dramatic new revelation, I cited in reply McDowell and company extensively to show that most of the questions Conder raised were nothing new.  Standard answers for them exist.  Conder's personal experience appears to be atypical.  Apparently, the average laymember of the old WCG or the various COGs today don't have much familiarity with what others outside have written defending belief in the Bible.  Perhaps ironically, in this regard, my experience was similarly atypical.  After all, didn't we reason that we were the one true church, and thought little of religious value was written outside our fellowship (excluding perhaps childrearing/marriage/psychological advice)?  It's because (in part) the WCG neglected traditional Christian apologetics for years under the Tkach administration and even earlier that Conder's arguments seem persuasive to so many.  The WCG's drift towards fideism, a less literal interpretation of Genesis, and more liberal views on evolution under the Tkach administration hardly strengthened the present-time laymembers of the various COGs' resistance against Conder's arguments.

 

THE NEED FOR BLUNTNESS TO AVOID DECEPTION ABOUT MYSTERY BABYLON'S CONTENTS

 

          Consider the following book description.  If you only knew this statement about its contents, what subjects would you think it covered?

 

          When the Northern Kingdom of Israel was carried away into Assyrian captivity more than 2,500 years ago, it was because they had turned from their Creator to worship the detestable deity known as Baal, the supreme god of the Babylonian Trinity.  Even while in Assyria, and knowing that their captivity was punishment for their apostasy, Israel still continued on their detestable course.  Eventually Assyria fell and the Ten Tribes disappeared into what is now the South of Russia, and have since become known as the "Lost" Ten Tribes of Israel.  Although these chosen people of Elohim may be lost to the world, they are not lost to their Creator‑‑He is anything but finished with the Children of Israel!  The Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had promised that in the end-time the Ten Tribes of Israel will be the most powerful nations the world has ever seen.  Yet, even in the midst of their tremendous blessings, the scourge of their forefathers will be the fate of the Ten Tribes.  The Elohim of ancient Israel has foretold through His prophets that the end time-time Israelites will be enmeshed in the worship of Baal.  One of the major proofs of Israel's end-time identity would be this national baalistic religion. In [book and author omitted] presented tremendous documentation to lay the groundwork for his research on the identity of the lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  His second book continues with one of the most important proofs of Israel's identity‑‑their end-time religion!  For those who have read [omitted], there is no need to convince you that it was a book with many surprising details that have long lay hidden in history.  You can expect the same type of material in [omitted].  The author writes:  "I know that there are a number of excellent books out there on the identity of the Ten Tribes, so I didn't want my research to be just a repeat of the material already available.  What I've spent the past several years doing was looking for the never-before considered aspects of this most important subject, and it has paid off in never-before presented material on the lost Ten Tribes."  [Omitted] has achieved his goal.  What you are going to read in [omitted] latest book, without any doubt, will cause you to look at the end-time House of Israel with renewed interest, and leave you with the profound knowledge that Israel's Creator is going to do what He has promised!  Proof number two, which is really what this volume is all about, will pick up where [omitted] left off.  If you read only one book this year, this should be it!  Paperback, 8 1/2 x 11, 159 pages.  Item #401 Price:  $19.95[4]

 

After reading this description of Mystery Babylon and the Lost Ten Tribes in the End Time, the typical reader would assume it describes some book on the history of the Ten Lost Tribes and their religious beliefs, past and present.  He or she would never think this book is, in reality, a full-throttled assault on the New Testament and belief in Jesus as humanity's Savior.  Nowhere does it state the author's three main contentions about first-century Christianity being a pagan mystery religion, the New Testament's misapplying the Old Testament's messianic texts to Jesus, or the New Testament being unhistorical and plagued with contradictions.  This "description" of Mystery Babylon and the Ten Lost Tribes in the End Time can only be deemed deceptive.  Evidently, the real contents are concealed, because if they were unveiled to the unwary Christian reader of Commonwealth Publishing's catalog, they most likely then wouldn't order the book.  Even the title itself is rather misleading:  Something like First-Century Christianity Proven to Be a Pagan Mystery Religion would label its subject matter much more accurately. 

 

          Conder's general letter appealing for funds and subscriptions to support Yair Davidy's Tribesman magazine is similarly covert.  After mentioning on page 2 that his second book (MB) was going into production, he states:  "I will tell you in advance that the book will stir up some controversy, because it will be anything but the usual lost Ten Tribe material!"  Later on page 3, concealing his true views from the reader, he writes in an even-handed manner:  "It is interesting that the orthodox Jews strongly believe in a literal fulfillment of these prophecies and therefore [in] the reunification of the Twelve Tribes. . . . The Churches of God believe that this will come at the second coming of Jesus.  Whether a first or second coming, one way that event is going to take place is by the preaching of the identity message to the nations of Israel‑‑all Twelve Tribes!  Whether Jew or Christian, the understanding of just who we are as a people is of paramount importance."  No clear rejection of Christianity is present here.  True, he could deny this was deceptive, since, after all, he wrote this at the bottom of page 1:  "Also thanks to Mr. Armstrong, I understood completely that the end-time descendants of Israel would be caught up in the religion of Baal‑‑that they would be worshipping a false god in a counterfeit religion called Christianity."[5]  But he surely knows that the typical "Armstrongite" reader would take this sentence in its context (in light of its first half) as a reference to traditional Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, not the primitive, first-century church.

 

THE NEED FOR TRUTH IN ADVERTIZING

 

          In light of these stealth tactics, the shock approach was a requirement in reply.  Hence, hunting for startling quotes that would illustrate Mystery Babylon's contents was completely intentional, complete with the original italicizing and all-capitals to help ensure readers would know this was serious.  None of these quotes are "out of context"‑‑if they misconstrue the teachings of Mystery Babylon, they will happily be withdrawn, upon proof.  My choice of a title, Is Christianity a Fraud?, was for the same reason.  But there's another reason for taking a shock approach.  We in the Church of God have spent months, even years by now, debating minutiae, such as church government, the finer points of administration, Sacred Names, the Jewish Calendar, new moons, the date for Passover and Pentecost, etc.  Administering the shock treatment helped make it crystal clear that Conder's teachings weren't over some additional minor quibble, but struck at the core of Christianity.  If Christianity is true, but a true Christian abandons it to follow Conder's teachings, this action will cost him his salvation, unlike (say) mistakenly observing Passover on the wrong day.  The WCG's apostasy in the 1989-97 period in repudiating Mr. Armstrong's teachings that differed from evangelical Protestantism's is as nothing compared to Conder's "doctrine changes" in throwing out the New Testament as a unhistorical, heathen-influenced, contradictory set of myths. 

 

UNBELIEF AS THE LOGICAL OUTCOME OF CONDER'S MODE OF ARGUMENTATION

 

          Saying that I believe somehow that "Judaism, agnosticism, atheism, and liberalism [are] one and the same" (BGJ, p. 1) sets up and knocks down a straw man.  Who could be that ignorant?  As I said the first time (ICF, p. 4), Conder's originality chiefly consists of turning higher critic arguments by agnostics, atheists, and religious liberals against the New Testament only, while holding onto the Old Testament as the sole word of God.  In this regard, however, a Jew arguing against belief in the New Testament often sounds like an atheist or agnostic, since, due to disbelieving in it equally, they use similar arguments against faith in it.  Another straw man argument is to imply I believe that various Christian reference books were originally intended to be in the "service of Judaism," insinuating somehow that would mean I believe in some absurd New World Order conspiracy theory that links the Jews and the Vatican together (see BGJ, p. 14).  Obviously, these works weren't written to uphold the doctrines of Judaism, but what Conder does is select various higher critic arguments from them that attack the NT and the traditional Christian interpretation of the OT, while (usually) ignoring their arguments against the OT.  But by attacking the Old Testament as well, the atheist or agnostic merely is merely being more consistent than the Jew (or Conder), since both often deploy the same kinds of arguments.  Against the charge that he may eventually become an atheist, agnostic, or deist, Conder is hardly fully reassuring: 

 

          What he's trying to do here is to warn people away from my book by noting that "higher critic scholarship" could lead them on to critically examine the so-called Old Testament, after which they might wind up an atheist.  All I can say to Eric's observation is, yes, I fully realize the implications of "higher criticism" when applied to the Holy Scriptures.  And Eric, I can say that if I find that the Holy Scriptures can't withstand the light of truth, then you are right, I will end up wherever that leads. (BGJ, p. 4)

 

Later he adds:

 

          Eric ends his assessment of the book of Daniel by essentially asking if I would accept the scholarship of my "liberal higher critics" when they pointed out flaws with the "Old Testament["]?  The answer to that Eric is yes.  After careful consideration, which would include an exhaustive study into the accumulated scholarship on the matter, I would believe what the evidence told me:  I would choose hard fact over you, Herbert W. Armstrong, and Josh McDowell anytime!  (BGJ, p. 6)

 

By using the argument from silence, hyper-skepticism about miracle accounts in historical documents, and a priori (ahead of the facts) assumptions against the supernatural, the Pandora's box thereby opened can just as easily destroy faith in the Old Testament.  The question then becomes whether and when Conder consistently takes these kinds of arguments to their logical conclusion, and deploys them against the Old Testament as well.

 

HOW CITING A SCHOLAR WHO WOULD OPPOSE YOUR OVERALL VIEWPOINT IS POWERFUL

 

          Mentioning my use of the historian Robin Lane Fox (p. 24 of ICF), Conder seemingly properly complains (BGJ, p. 2):  "For instance, he accuses me of using the works of "higher critics" to back up my points, while he turns around and uses them when it suits him."  Two points need to be made in reply to this argument.  First, if a scholar makes a statement that may conflict with his overall philosophical viewpoint, or others with similar overall perspectives, it's perfectly legitimate for those in opposition to cite them to bolster their own cause.  Such concessions then have far more weight than when citing scholars who are in general argument with the view one advocates.  Creationist scientists are masters at this.  For example, Henry Morris in Scientific Creationism cites perhaps the leading past defender of neo-Darwinism, George Gaylord Simpson, to show gaps exist in the fossil record:  "The fossil record doesn't even provide any evidence in support of Darwinian theory except in the weak sense that the fossil record is compatible with it, just as it is compatible with other evolutionary theories, and revolutionary theories, and special creationist theories and even ahistorical theories."[6]  Clearly, this concession has far more impact than if Morris had cited (say) fellow creationist scientist Duane Gish make a similar statement.  Likewise, when a scholar who's not a theological conservative starts saying the entire NT was written before 70 A.D. (John A.T. Robinson), his testimony has more weight than if I cited (say) F.F. Bruce as upholding this position (which he may not).[7]

 

FOX'S STATEMENT AGAINST SEEING PARALLELS BETWEEN PAGANISM AND CHRISTIANITY

 

          Consequently, it's very useful for me to cite the fundamental thesis of historian Robin Lane Fox's Pagans and Christians since it totally opposes that of Mystery Babylon.  Fox is an enemy of Christianity, but he DENIES that paganism and Christianity are fundamentally alike.  Since his book's main point is to make a side-by-side analysis of both, this statement has even more impact:

 

          Was Christianity, perhaps, not so very novel in the pagan world?  Even before Constantine, Christians and pagans have been seen as members of a "common Mediterranean religious culture," in whose changes the role of foreign ideas was minimal, nothing more than "alien thistle-seeds, drifting into the tidy garden of classical Greco-Roman Culture."  I wish to establish the opposite view.  Early Christianity arrived with very distinctive roots.  Grafted onto the Old Testament, it was not easily smothered, not even by the established ground cover of the pagan towns.  The Christian groups retained and passed on ideals which have continued to recur in their history, giving it familiar patterns.  These roots did not die away, although proofs of "pagan continuity" have been sought in the developing types of Christian worship.  The cult of saints and worship at the graves of the dead have been seen as a pagan legacy, as have the Christian shrines of healing and smaller details of Christian practice, dancing, feasting and the use of spells and divination.  Emphasis on these "pagan survivals" has opened long perspectives.  In the West, it has led to the study of popular religion and medieval folklore as if they were living alternatives to Christian culture.  In the East, it has encouraged the myth that Hellenism endured from pagan antiquity to Byzantium and far beyond, to become the national heritage of modern Greeks.  However, almost all of this continuity is spurious.  Many of its details were set in Christian contexts which changes their meaning entirely.  Other details merely belonged in contexts which nobody wished to make Christian.  They were part of a "neutral technology of life" and it would be as unreal to expect them to change "as to expect modern man to Christianize the design of an automobile or to produce a Marxist wrist-watch."[8]

 

A priori, you would suspect that Fox, since he denies Christianity, would labor long and hard at finding similarities in paganism to Christianity, just as James Frazer, an atheist or agnostic, did in the second edition of The Golden Bough.[9]  But since he denies paganism is like early Christianity, or even (apparently) post-313 A.D. Roman Catholicism, his willingness to overcome any presumed unbeliever's prejudices to see the two as similar makes the above quote positively deadly against Mystery Babylon.  Similarly, Conder's explanation that Harnack was a theological liberal (BGJ, p. 2) merely plays into my hands, since he opposed attempts that asserted paganism's beliefs determined the NT's theology.  It merely makes Nash's citation of him still stronger, since skeptics usually wish to wield any weapon available against Christianity.  Conder, of course, does similar things‑‑citing the works of mainline liberal "Christians" against fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible (OT and NT) is one of Mystery Babylon's stocks in trade.  He states (BGJ, p. 2):  "As we shall see later, even when I use Christian sources to make my points against the validity and historicity of the NT, Eric finds fundamentalist excuses to denounce them."  But once it's realized these people often aren't true believers in Christianity in the evangelical/fundamentalist sense, their weight as concessions diminishes in direct proportion.  Even in Haley's day (fl. 1874) this kind of Christianity was a major problem:

 

          It is a lamentable fact that there is abroad in the world, and bearing the name of Christianity, a spirit which, as Canon Wordsworth well says, "speaks fair words of Christ, and yet it loves to invent discrepancies, and to imagine contradictions in the narratives which his apostles and evangelists delivered of his birth, his temptation, his miracles, his agony, his sufferings, his resurrection, and ascension."[10]

 

They label themselves "Christian," but they don't accept the contents of the Bible as being true or even mainly true.  Continually prowling about, they seek further reasons not to believe in it, or all of it, like atheists, agnostics, and deists. 

 

CONDER'S MISTAKE IN ADOPTING HIGHER CRITIC METHODOLOGY, NOT JUST THEIR "FACTS"

 

          The second general point about citing the works of scholars holding views the user would disagree with concerns Conder's inconsistency in using from them types of arguments against the NT that are equally deadly against the OT.  For example, after citing Ferrar Fenton[11] as a case in point, Conder asks:  "Now Eric, I'm not saying that you are wrong in using authors or sources with whom you may at times disagree.  My point is that you are being hypocritical when you denounce others who employ the same methods that you yourself use" (BGJ, p. 23).  After all, Conder could argue that he accepts what higher critics have to say about the NT, but rejects them concerning the OT, just as I accept McDowell as he defends the Bible, but I reject most of his analysis of the old WCG's doctrines.  But this analogy breaks down, because if Conder used the same methods of reasoning that higher critics do against the OT, it too would fall before his critical pen.  No longer is the issue the incidental doctrinal views of this or that traditional Christian or higher critic scholar that Conder or I cite would disagree with many of our beliefs, but Conder's adoption of certain overall procedures to analyzing Scripture.  Some of these techniques include the argument from silence, the (implicit) a priori rejection of supernatural intervention in the world (in places), uncritical citations of (liberal) scholarship, and a knee-jerk skeptical rejection of accounts of the miraculous in ancient historical documents.  The ghost of skeptical philosopher David Hume (1711-76) certainly lurks in BGJ.  Although I did concede (footnote 43, p. 24-25, ICF) that this kind of argument has a point, differences do appear between how Conder and I use these scholars who hold views we would oppose, since the logical culmination of the higher critics' modes of reasoning he uses results destroys belief in the OT as well as NT, while the logical culmination of my acceptance the means of reasoning of traditional Christian apologetics ultimately protects belief in both the OT and NT.

 

A SAMPLE OF HOW CONDER'S REASONING COULD BE DEPLOYED AGAINST THE OLD TESTAMENT

 

          Let's illustrate how devastating some of Conder's arguments could be when deployed against the Old Testament.  Here below OT examples [in brackets] are substituted for the NT ones he uses when he summarized many of his objections against Christianity:

 

          To accept [such and so's pro-OT argument] as "evidence," one has to accept‑‑on faith‑‑[the Jews'] word that [Moses] mentioned in the [Jews'] own [Torah] actually lived.  They would then have to accept‑‑on faith‑‑that the accounts of [the Red Sea parting] and [the manna falling in the wilderness] were written down by [Moses] "a few days or weeks" after [these events happened].  If they are willing to accept these two claims, they then have to accept that there was no possibility that [Moses and Joshua] were telling a lie, they'd have to also overlook the fact that [Moses and Joshua], who were supposedly reporting the most stupendous event in world history only "a few days or weeks" earlier had written down confusing and conflicting accounts [over when Israel left Egypt on the Passover and the two "creation accounts" of Gen. 1 and 2].  Further, because we don't have the "original" writings [i.e., the autograph], they would need to have faith that the surviving manuscripts weren't tampered with [over the roughly 1300 year period between the time Israel wandered in the Wilderness and the copying of the Dead Sea Scrolls]; to do that they need to ignore the fact that these manuscripts surfaced [from an Israel that frequently fell into apostasy and worshipped false gods, making questionable how well the Pentateuch was preserved as it passed through the hands of numerous unknown redactors and editors over the centuries (see BGJ, p. 17 on NT)].  Having this behind them they'd then have to ignore the thousands of extant [Old] Testament manuscripts which prove that indeed tampering was a way of life with [Old] Testament preservation [as illustrated by the Soperim's corrections and the addition of a false punctuation mark in Dan. 9:25 to deny its application to Jesus].  The next thing they'd have to do would be to place their faith in men like Josh McDowell, Gleason Archer, and Eric Snow and believe that the contradictions and historical inaccuracies that they read in [the parallel accounts of II Samuel, I and II Kings, and I and II Chronicles] with their own eyes, aren't really there?  If they can believe all of this, then they can have faith in Josh McDowell's evidence from [a defender of the OT].  (BGJ, p. 31)

 

Similarly, consider these statements:  "There are two problems with this so-called evidence:  1) if [ancient Israel] accepted [the parting of the Red Sea] story that doesn't prove [it parted]: 2) the assertion that [ancient Israel] accepted [the Red Sea parted] cannot be proven outside the traditions of [the Jews themselves]" (BGJ, p. 7).  "The reason that many historians don't accept the [Old] Testament as reliable but do accept the writings of Julius Caesar is because his writings do not form the nucleus of a religion, hence there has been no temptation to corrupt it" (BGJ, p. 26).  "A [fifteenth century b.c.] document declaring [the Red Sea's parting] doesn't make it so" (BGJ, p. 30, fn 86).  "A true historian wants more than [OT] stories backed by the word of biased [Jews] declaring their belief in [the slaying of all of Egypt's firstborn]" (BGJ, p. 8).  Although the inserted examples don't always quite fit, and the slams against how well the Masoretic text was preserved really are unfair, most of the inserted examples made above are congruent with standard higher critic reasoning about the OT, illustrating what Conder's approach to the NT could do to the OT.  It's positively naive to believe the OT has no problems in harmonizing its parallel accounts, just like it requires ingenuity to fit together some of the Gospels' reports of the same events.  Indeed, due to the theory of evolution and uniformitarian (gradual change) geology, the level of skepticism aimed against Genesis is higher than that against any other book of the Bible, OT or NT.  So now, what can prevent Conder from directing the same higher critics' methods of reasoning against the OT, if he was logically consistent?  The real issue isn't what "facts" these higher critic scholars may find against the Bible's reliability, but what principles of interpretation and the overall philosophy they bring to their work.  As always, if one's premises and foundations are wrong, the resultant conclusions will be similarly awry.  The GIGO principle is inescapable:  Garbage in, garbage out.  Despite being a creationist with nothing higher than an M.A. in history or more scientific than a B.A. in marketing, I am not intimidated by the (presumed) fact that 95%+ of all scientists with Ph.D's in the biological sciences accept evolution and reject creationism.  What matters is the philosophical principles they use to justify evolution and rule out creationism, not the alleged "facts" they cite for it, which often fit a creationist model for the earth's origin just as easily or better.  Similarly, no fundamentalist should be intimidated out of his or her faith by (say) Conder's citation of Dr. Burton L. Mack, "recently retired John Wesley Professor of the New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont" (BGJ, p. 16) and his book, Who Wrote the New Testament?  The same goes for any other of a pack of higher critics with impressive credentials.  Marvin L. Lubenow notes that it has been said that more than 500 doctoral dissertations were written on Piltdown man‑-now known to be a notorious fraud.  The scholarly consensus that accepted Piltdown for decades (c. 1917-53) was built on quicksand.[12]  Assuming Conder's claim is true that an "overwhelming 1997 consensus" exists that Luke was wrong about the timing of the census under Quirinius, this really proves little (BGJ, p. 22).  Similarly, an "overwhelming 1997 consensus" exists among biological scientists that evolution is true.  What matters are the facts of the case, not the interpretative assumptions and conclusions of (liberal) scholars.  Higher criticism on the Old and New Testaments has generated a similar amount of rubbish, based upon false, a priori assumptions used to guide interpretation.  The documentary hypothesis (JEDP theory), which still savages Old Testament interpretation by attributing to the Pentateuch multiple anonymous authorship, was originally launched partly by the nineteenth century higher critics' belief that Moses couldn't have written anything because writing hadn't yet been invented![13]  Whenever reading some scholar with impressive credentials attacking the Bible, always remember that it's not so much the facts as the interpretation of them that matters and the a priori, often latent, assumptions he or she has when interpreting them:  False premises lead to false conclusions.

 

ARE THE HIGHER CRITICS UNBIASED?

 

          Conder implies that the skeptical scholars he cites are unbiased:  "The sources I use critically examine both history and the New Testament itself for accuracy and historicity, and they are not motivated by illogical Christian emotions" (BGJ, p. 2).  "The clarity of [Isaac Asimov's] commentary comes from the fact that he was not reared by religious parents and therefore had no religious doctrinal bias when researching and commenting on the Bible" (BGJ, p. 6).  But illogical anti-Christian emotions also beat in the breast of many an unbeliever, because the Christian God demands actions of people they often don't wish to perform and beliefs they often don't wish to uphold.  The English author and intellectual Aldous Huxley (1894-1963, best known for the novel Brave New World) was a staunch atheist.  One time, however, he conceded his and others' motivation for their irreligion wasn't necessarily a choice born of pure logic and reason:

 

          I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption . . . For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation.  The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.[14]

 

Then consider the biases of the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778).  While looking through Voltaire's library, one Swedish traveler found Calmet's commentary on the Bible.  In it he found "slips of paper inserted, on which the difficulties noticed by Calmet were set down, without a word about the solutions which were given by him.  'This,' adds the Swede, who was otherwise a great admirer of Voltaire, 'was not honorable.'"[15]  Voltaire jotted down on paper for future reference the discrepancies Calmet noted, but deliberately ignored the solutions offered:  Is this biased, or what?  Similarly, Voltaire, who was a deeply anticlerical deist, managed to mention Jesus' name in his universal history of the world just once, and only after Constantine crossed the Milvian Bridge for battle (the fourth century A.D.)[16]  Many other cases of scholars betraying a knee-jerk unbelieving bias against Christianity that distorts the historical understanding of the past could be cited, such as Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but the above suffices to make the point. 

 

SINCE BOTH SIDES ARE BIASED, CHARGES ABOUT THIS PROVE LITTLE

 

          Although I'll readily concede many of the scholars I cite are fundamentalist or evangelical Christians who are (inevitably) biased, so too are the skeptical scholars Conder often references.  As much as the former want the Bible to be true (They've devoted their lives to Jesus!), the latter want it to be false (The God of the Bible cramps their sexual and personal freedoms too much!).  So then the point is what facts are brought by either side to the table, or reasonably sound arguments they make from those facts when either I or Conder cite them.  Properly, the citation of somebody's mere opinion on (say) when the NT was first written proves little (unless the reason for that opinion elsewhere appears in the work but was omitted in the quote).  But it's another matter, however, if they have some reasonable argument or fact for why they date it to a certain period.  Hence, when I quoted the archeologist William Albright twice on p. 8 of ICF on the date of the NT's composition, I concede to merely cite him (the first time) saying it was a first-century document doesn't prove much.  (At least, no more than "expert testimony" in a courtroom setting might be worth, knowing both the prosecution and defense pay for experts who'll contradict each other).  But when he (the second time) adds the Qumran discoveries (the Dead Sea Scrolls) confirm this, then further research into why he ties the two together becomes necessary before dismissing it as the biased opinion of some Christian believer.  (Actually, he was a moderate, being neither a fundamentalist nor an entrenched skeptic).  Naturally, some purported "fact" a scholar brings to the discussion could be false, such as Isaac Asimov's claim the kind of census conducted by the Romans described in Luke 2:1 was absurd.  Or, some logical fallacy may be committed, such as circular reasoning (assuming implicitly in a premise what someone wishes to prove in the conclusion) or equivocation (using the same term in different ways in an argument).  Clearly, it's necessary to look to the facts and to sound arguments developed using them, and beyond (ad hominem) charges and counter-charges about this or that scholar having a pro- or anti-Christian bias, for then neither side can really prove anything.

 

WHY MY ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE MAKES ME SUSPICIOUS OF MYSTERY BABYLON'S SOURCES

 

          Since I recently finished an M.A. in history at Michigan State, I'm someone with basic familiarity with how historians argue with one another about how to interpret the past in the light of primary sources.  My expertise is not in ancient history, Biblical or classical, but I specialized as a Europeanist in the labor history of England.  But since my M.A. thesis topic compared English farmworkers during the Industrial Revolution with American slaves before the Civil War (c. 1750-1870), I ended up spending more time looking at primary sources dealing with American slaves than English agricultural workers.  (And since the rough draft of my thesis came to about 400 pages single spaced before my committee accepted about 100 pages of it for the simple reason of length, not quality, this was no "quickie" project causing me to gain only a passing knowledge of the primary and secondary sources).  Having spent so much time looking at scholarly journal articles and secondary works by historians that interpreted the primary documents, I have a good "feel" for how academic arguments are really conducted in history through attending a typical state-run secular university. 

 

THE NEED TO KNOW THE SCHOLARLY CLIMATE OF OPINION ON SECONDARY WORKS:  THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF AMERICAN SLAVERY AS AN EXAMPLE

 

          So why should I tout my academic credentials in this context (and hopefully not arrogantly)?  If I, while writing my thesis, had uncritically used the works of Ulrich Bonnell Phillips on African-American slavery, I would have tied it to obsolete, racist scholarship.  By no means is American Negro Slavery (1918) entirely wrong, but it is continuously tinctured with racist assumptions about blacks which undermine the soundness of its interpretations of the evidence.  Yet through this work and others, Phillips was the reigning historian on the subject in the profession until being decisively overthrown by Kenneth Stampp's The Peculiar Institution (1956).  To really intelligently use secondary sources in academic debates, often it's necessary to know how other scholars in the same discipline view them.  Before wading into the historiography of American slavery, it's necessary to know the problems of racism found in Phillips' work, the biased optimistic tendencies and overkill on econometric theory of Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's Time on the Cross:  The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974), and the grossly distorted, if ingenious, analogy between concentration camps and American slavery is carried way too far as a way of arguing that the slaves' personalities often did resemble the "Sambo" stereotype found in Stanley Elkins' Slavery:  A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959).  Because the scholarly consensus can change, whether due to the discovery of new sources, or new interpretations of old sources, it can be problematic to use secondary works that were originally written more than one or two generations ago.  As a true academic debate rages, or just merely simmers, it's necessary to become familiar with "the climate of opinion" on a given subject and its literature before one can intelligently use older secondary works (which, by definition, interpret and make generalizations from the primary sources). 

 

 

 

 

WHY MYSTERY BABYLON DOESN'T REPRESENT TRUE SCHOLARSHIP

 

          As a result, as I looked over Mystery Babylon, I soon saw the work didn't cite fairly recent heavyweight monographs or scholarly journal articles, but was based on a fairly narrow foundation of authors deeply critical of Christianity in works (often) written many decades ago.  Leaning significantly upon encyclopedias, Mystery Babylon clearly presented itself not as a work of true scholarship (re:  BGJ, pp. 4, 16).  If Mystery Babylon was scholarly, it would contain the kinds of references found in (say) James L. Price's, The New Testament:  Its History and Theology (a basically liberal work).  It wouldn't be loaded with citations of Walker (42), Doane (20), Asimov (12),[17] old editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica (8), Frazer (6), Legge (6), Wheless (6), Kautsky (5), Hislop (5), Graves (4), Drazin (3), Graham (2), etc.  (All figures exact or nearly so, counting sources referenced in footnotes only).  By comparison, journal articles and monographs (books on a narrow subject) in the history of American slavery or English Farmworkers never cite encyclopedias as a source that I'm aware of.  Besides the New and Old Testament, Mystery Babylon usually cites the primary sources through secondary works.  For example, it appears that Conder never directly cites a printed edition for any primary source on the mystery religions.  Such authors as Hislop (1877), Doane (1882), and Frazer (1890; 1900; 1911-15) are hardly up-to-date works, and the first two (undeniably) are polemical in nature (i.e., engaged in making an aggressive attack on somebody else's ideas).  Robert Ackerman, Frazer's biographer, notes that his work was regarded as hopelessly passe' even in the 1930s while he yet lived, due to using a comparative method that yanks rituals and myths from the context of various cultures to fill in the gaps in a cultural evolutionary chain that extends upwards to modern civilization.[18]  Although Conder goes to considerable length to defend Isaac Asimov's credentials (BGJ, p. 6), the fact remains that when a man trained in biochemistry writes a commentary on the Bible, his level of expertise is going to be no higher than most other outsiders.  The realm of academia is so specialized that when a scholar or scientist writes or speaks out on something outside his area of special training, it should be regarded as having little more weight than what a typical college-educated member of the public would think on it.[19]  (Presently, on the global warming debate, it's conspicuous how scientists outside the field of meteorology/climatology appear to be much more convinced of its reality than those within it, the real experts).  The field of history, for example, is extremely specialized these days:  The opinion of a Chinese historian on the soundness of an English or African historian's work really holds no more weight than what (say) a journalist doing book reviews for New York Times might write.  True, this reality doesn't mean these books are necessarily wrong because they were written so many years ago or by someone outside their area of expertise.  But they shouldn't be used uncritically as "Authorities."  Still, Conder's complaint that I use old works like him in many cases is justified. 

 

THE SCHOLARLY CLIMATE OF OPINION ON THE CHRISTIAN/PAGAN TIE REVISITED

 

          The main place ICF attacked Mystery Babylon's use of obsolete scholarship concerns its arguments claiming that Christianity mainly derived its doctrinal content from the pagan mystery religion religions of the Roman Empire (see ICF, pp. 39, 52 (fn), 54, 56).  Now to justify his viewpoint that debate over this issue still continues, Conder cites (BGJ, p. 25) various recent works by scholars that argue for or mention these ties.  But it appears these men are on the peripheries of their disciplines when making their claims (especially the ones trying to claim Buddhism influenced Christianity).  "Junk Scholarship" (re: the controversy over Carsten Thiede's assertion that dates some NT fragments to the first century; BGJ, pp. 16-17) is hardly limited just to believers in the Bible, but appears among its critics as well.  Citing Riesenfeld's 1956 comment as evidence, Nash explains that the overall scholarly climate of opinion changed on the pagan/Christian tie thus:

 

          During a period of time running roughly from about 1890 to 1940, scholars often alleged that primitive Christianity had been heavily influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, the pagan mystery religions, or other movements in the Hellenistic world.  Largely as a result of a series of scholarly books and articles written in rebuttal, allegations of early Christianity's dependence on its Hellenistic environment began to appear much less frequently in the publications of Bible scholars and classical scholars.  Today, in the mid-1980s, most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue.

 

But then Nash asks, if this is so, why bother to write another book on the subject that denies the relationship?  Well, these charges continue to circulate among philosophers and scholars in other fields in publications since 1940.  He then proceeds to list some examples of more recent works on following pages, and later in the book, when dealing with the mystery religions directly.  As Nash comments on this score:

 

          For a number of years now, the consensus among biblical scholars has been that the earlier opponents of a primitive [first-century] Christian dependence on the mystery religions got the better of their debate.  Younger scholars now returning from doctoral studies in Germany report that, over there at least, the question of a mystery influence on the New Testament is a dead issue.  Once again, however, we find that news like this has been slow to reach American scholars in fields other than biblical studies.[20]

 

Similarly, Justo L. Gonzalez writes: 

 

          Concerning the relationship between the mystery cults and Christianity, scholarly opinion has varied.  During the first two or three decades of the twentieth century, it was thought that the mystery religions constituted a unity based on a common "mystery theology," and that Christianity was simply one of them, or at most, a distinct religion in which the influence of the mysteries was greatly felt.  According to scholars of that time, Christianity had taken from the mysteries its concept of the passion, death, and resurrection of the god; its rites of initiation‑‑baptism; its sacramental meals‑‑communion; its ascending stages of initiation‑‑the orders [of Roman Catholicism's monasticism]; and a multitude of details needless to enumerate.  But since then, a careful study has been made of the mysteries, and the conclusion reached by almost all scholars is that there was no such thing as a common "mystery theology"‑‑at least in the first century of our era.  Quite the contrary, the mystery cults differed one from another so much that it is difficult to even explain the term "mystery religion."  Moreover, the mysteries seem not to have reached their full development until the second and third centuries, which is the time when the majority of their characteristics in common with Christianity appear.  It follows that such traits can be more easily explained as the influence of Christianity on the mysteries than the opposite, the more so when we learn that already in this period the pagan cults tried to imitate some of the characteristics of the dynamic new faith.[21]

 

Evidently, for these reasons like these, an aggressive nonbeliever like the historian Robin Lane Fox made a point of denying paganism and Christianity were highly similar early on in his work that describes the two side-by-side, Pagans and Christians.  Although Conder can cite a few scholars who most recently have espoused ideas that tie the two together, Nash and Gonzalez give us good reason to doubt these men represent the mainstream of the disciplines of classical and (especially) Biblical studies.  Conder has to cite statements by scholars in these fields that demonstrate this issue still lives, such as in a recent literature review article in a scholarly journal, before anyone else can really accept this debate is still going strong, at least in the field of Biblical studies.  Book titles by a few individual scholars, etc., simply aren't enough.

 

WHY ICF LEANED ON MCDOWELL AND NASH SO MUCH

 

           As reflected in the title "By-gosh Josh," Conder makes a major point of mentioning my heavy dependence on Josh McDowell's work:  "Actually Eric Snow might very well be at the top of the Josh McDowell fan club because I counted some 65 references to McDowell's books while reading through Eric's 74 page paper" (BGJ, p. 1).  Conder is rather justified in saying that I could have recommended to people that they should read McDowell's books and not have written ICF (see BGJ, p. 2, 5).  I definitely felt that way myself at times, and made comments like this to others in my church (although for only one person locally was Conder's viewpoint truly a "live question").  "Read McDowell, and report back to me next week."  However, I felt it necessary to come up with something shorter and more to the point that directly answers his claims.  It also was necessary to use Nash for dealing with the pagan influence on Christianity issue and three books bought from Jews for Jesus that handled the messianic texts.  After all, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vols. 1 and 2, aren't the easiest tomes to plow through, since they're mostly a compilation of quotes from various other books organized under various headings with added explanations.  Furthermore, McDowell deals with the pagan mystery religion issue only briefly in He Walked Among Us (written with Bill Wilson).  His examination of the messianic texts was generally much too peripheral in Evidence to do any good against Mystery Babylon.  As a result, I had to lean on Frydland, Rosen, and Smith mostly for that subject (along with one letter I got from John Wheeler, a GCG laymember who can read Hebrew).  Also, as my aforementioned experience at Michigan State with fellow laymembers who were raised in the church indicates, many in the COGs might not be familiar with modern Christian apologetics.  By bringing his name forward, many might be saved much grief when doing their own research.  There's no need to reinvent the wheel in the field of Christian apologetics when analyzing Mystery Babylon; its arguments are largely tried and true, being the long-time property of various agnostics, religious liberals, atheists, and/or Jews.  I fully admit ICF was not some careful scholarly work, nor do I claim originality for it, but it was written as a polemic in a continuing controversy (re:  Conder's complaints on BGJ, pp. 4-5, 14).  Hence, I simply quickly ransacked McDowell, Nash, Frydland, Rosen, Smith, Lewis, Jehovah's Witness books, etc. for relevant points to refute Conder's assertions. 

 

HOW BEING TOO OPEN-MINDED CAN CAUSE YOUR BRAINS TO FALL OUT

 

          Conder complains, "You see, Eric approaches New Testament study not from a desire to know the truth one way or the other, but to be reassured that his faith is valid" (BGJ, p. 6).  However, that is one road I don't feel any need to travel down again.  I already proved the truth to myself years ago, long before MB saw the light of day, having been subjected to a mostly secular environment while growing up and having come under the influence of Ayn Rand as a teenager when I became a hard right-winger in my human politics.  You can become so open-minded that your brains fall out.  As a result, you become so uncertain in what you supposedly believe you really don't believe in anything at all.  Even if Conder doesn't accept the inspiration of the apostle Paul, he should be willing to see the "human wisdom" in the following statement about men in the end times:  "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Tim. 3:7).  Similarly, the apostle James states:  "But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. . . . being a doubled-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6, 8).  I may not be especially open-minded about the falsity of Christianity, but that's because I'm firmly convinced the facts are on its side, not unbelief's or Judaism's.  Similarly, at this point, I'm sure Conder is no more open-minded towards the possibility of Christianity being true, than I am about Christianity being false.  Few points are going to be scored making (ad hominem) accusations about which side is the more "open-minded" in this debate.  Instead, let's turn to the facts and how to interpret them correctly.

 

HOW BOTH SIDES' SOURCES ARE ARGUABLY BIASED

 

          Conder goes to considerable trouble to show that McDowell's sources (and mine) are mostly published by various Christian organizations and by various Christian believers, stating:  "I find the use of such material very deceiving‑‑especially when he denounces my sources as unscholarly, biased and one-sided" (BGJ, p. 3; cf. p. 9).  This kind of ad hominen argument (i.e., one that attacks the man and his character, not the arguments or facts) can be run against both sides.  For example, Conder cites (BGJ, p. 25) a book by William Harwood called Mythology's Last Gods, which is published by Prometheus Books, a known publisher of polemical books by atheists and/or other unbelievers.   G.A. Wells, who denies Jesus even existed, the writer of The Jesus Legend, also had at least one book published by this same outfit, The Historical Evidence for Jesus (note BGJ, p. 35, fn. 94).  Similarly, Isaac Asimov was an atheist, Barbara Walker appears to be an agnostic, and James Frazer was an agnostic or atheist, whose works Conder often cites from.  Again, since both sides are going to be biased to one degree or another, the job of dispassionate outsiders is to weigh the facts each side presents, and how correctly and plausibly they interpret and draw conclusions from those facts.  I believe the facts and the best interpretations of them lead one towards the truth of Christianity, while Conder believes they don't.  Those honestly uncertain have to research these questions for themselves, and avoid thinking they have all the relevant information from reading just Mystery Babylon.  Anybody who embraces Conder's beliefs without first reading Ronald Nash's The Gospel and the Greeks, Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson's He Walked Among Us, and (say) a Messianic Jewish work like Moishe Rosen's Y'shua is being criminally foolish with his or her salvation.  Conder gives good advice when saying:  "People should never make up their minds by looking at only one side of an issue and I can only hope that Eric's readers will take this to heart.  I also hope that people take this advice when reading my book.  I sincerely wish people to read papers like Eric's and then research the issues raised by both of us" (BGJ, p. 3).  Hence, it's an admirable gesture for Commonwealth Publishing (Conder's publisher) to distribute ICF after asking for my permission to do so.

 

CONDER'S PASSING OVER MANY OF ICF'S ARGUMENTS IMPLY THEIR CORRECTNESS

 

          A remarkable feature of Conder's reply (BGJ) against ICF is how much he passes over in the latter with little or no comment.  Thinking what he already wrote in MB and/or Masada is enough, he avoids specifically rebutting many points raised in ICF.  This obviously implies their correctness.  For example, for dating the book of Daniel, I cite Gleason Archer's analysis that the Aramaic of the book is too archaic to have been written in the second century b.c. (ICF, p. 6).  The grammatical structure of the Aramaic of the Elephantine Papyri of the fifth century b.c. matches Daniel's more closely than that of the second century b.c. Maccabean period.  To merely state (BGJ, p. 4), "I won't argue the specifics of Daniel in this paper, as I've already done that in my book," fails to respond to the real issues involved.  He adds that "my criticisms are outlined and backed up by scholars who have spent, in some cases, their entire adult lives studying the so-called Old Testament."  This statement evades how these folks are provably wrong, unless they can successfully refute the technical linguistic points Archer makes in Survey of Old Testament Introduction that show the Aramaic of Daniel couldn't have been written in the second century.  Since Conder in MB is the one "attacking the Holy Scriptures of Israel" (BGJ, p. 1) by claiming Daniel "was not holding up to historical scrutiny" and contains an "unhistorical mention of Darius the Mede" (MB, pp. 124-25), it's rather absurd a supposedly "Baal/Mithras worshipping" Christian like myself has to rescue Daniel's infallibility from Conder's own clutches. 

 

MOST OF THE MESSIANIC TEXT REBUTTALS MADE BY ICF AGAINST MB OVERLOOKED IN BGJ

 

          More spectacularly, besides raising the issue of how to prove the duality principle of interpretation and attacking my interpretation of Psalms 22 as a messianic text, Conder passes over most of my rebuttals against his commentary on the OT's messianic texts that refer to Jesus.  Complaining that ICF only spent 16 pages on the messianic texts out of its 74 pages, he claims:  "A 'quick' look?  You'd better believe that Eric gives them a 'quickie' because he doesn't have the answers" (BGJ, p. 36).  Ironically, Conder's BGJ features a similar disproportion, since only about 3 pages out of 40 are devoted to defending his interpretations of the messianic texts (pp. 36-39).  ICF's interpretation of such texts as Micah 5:2, Zech. 12:10, Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 52:13-53:12, Gen. 49:10, Haggai 2:7, and Dan. 9:24-27 are all conveniently dodged.  Also neglected are ICF's points that the OT's views of the Messiah as Mournful and Conquering would be contradictory if they weren't fulfilled at separate times, and Conder's misuse of the Hebrew grammar's state/tense system when interpreting messianic texts.  Conder states:  "I won't go into the all-to[o]-brief Messianic examples outlined by Eric, because I've already explained them in both my book and in Masada Magazine" (BGJ, p. 39).  But if BGJ is supposed to answer the main issues raised in ICF against MB, why is so much passed over?  Substance is lacking here, since ICF called into question many of Mystery Babylon's contentions on these texts, unless Masada had an article that rebutted ICF's arguments text by text and page by page.

 

OTHER POINTS CONDER OVERLOOKS WHEN CRITICIZING ICF

 

          BGJ overlooks other major issues raised in ICF, failing to rebut major sections or points in it.  For example, the section of ICF dealing with alleged contradictions in the New Testament, or between the NT and OT (pp. 24-30) seems to be almost entirely ignored, besides the sections dealing with Christ's genealogies and whether those believing in the OT alone have to do animal sacrifices today (ICF, pp. 29-32; BGJ, pp. 14-15, 22-24).  Although Conder raises the generic issue of me overlooking "numerous scriptural contradictions" in my paper, he neither critiques my specific solutions nor mentions further contradictions that supposedly exist (see BGJ, p. 10), except for Christ's genealogies.  My paper discusses many of the ones he judges important enough to mention, believing many of the others are easily explainable by the general principle that an omission or addition of detail does not constitute a contradiction.  The other issues BGJ passes over include the general differences between the pagan mystery religions and Christianity, the differences between Jesus' death and the pagan gods' deaths, and ICF's counterattack against supposed Gnostic and pagan philosophical influences on the NT (ICF, pp. 43-44, 49-50, 54-56).  My critique of Conder's view of Jesus' trial draws no fire (ICF, pp. 21-23).  My request that Conder proves by citing the primary sources that Mithra rose from the dead, etc. is ignored as well (ICF, p. 40).  In BGJ (p. 29), Conder asserts, "identical pagan myths predates Christianity by many centuries" without providing any specifics for this assertion.[22]  Conder attacks McDowell's "pedagogy of God" argument about how God could have used paganism to teach some truth about Himself (BGJ, p. 32), which ICF never uses, but overlooks C.S. Lewis' version of a similar argument that sees the parallels as ultimately unproblematic, which is in ICF (pp. 52-54).  ICF's rebuttal to Conder's assumption that he can read the behavior of the post-313 A.D. medieval church back to the persecuted Sunday-keeping church before the rule of Constantine draws no clear reaction (ICF, pp. 16-17).

 

MISTAKENLY UNDERSTANDING A CHALLENGE, CONDER FAILS TO PROVIDE SOURCE CITATIONS

 

          Misunderstanding a challenge to cite the primary sources as a need to produce the original (autograph) manuscripts, Conder answers with another challenge (BGJ, p. 28) my request to list the primary sources for the claim that "Every one of the Sun-god saviors rose from the dead on the first day of the week after three days in the tomb" (MB, p. 51).  Primary sources need not be the original autograph or ancient manuscripts of some work, but perfectly adequate for this purpose are individual printed renditions or collections of them made into one book.[23]  Needless to say, answering one demand with another doesn't fulfill the original request.  Conder protests that:  "Virtually every Christian who addresses the question of no similarities between the pagan Mystery's savior sun-gods and Jesus, carefully select examples from pagan mythology that have very little if anything in common with Christian customs or doctrines. . . . (Eric's paper is littered with deceptive examples)" (BGJ, p. 30).  But, unlike for Stinson on Hercules, Conder made little effort in BGJ to rebut the specific examples ICF cites for these myths (see ICF, pp. 41-42, 46-52).  If Conder is to carry his point, he needs to cite some printed edition of the myths (the primary sources) in their alternative versions for each one of the gods (Attis, Dionysus, Mithras, Adonis, Osiris, etc.) in question that ICF discusses.  As it is, the best he does is quote from ICF's citation of Frazer on Dionysus for an alternative parallel closer to Christian doctrine of the resurrection (BGJ, p. 30). 

 

CONDER MISTAKENLY CLAIMS THREE FOOTNOTE PROBLEMS EXIST IN ICF

 

          Three times Conder mistakenly asserts that ICF lacks some necessary reference.  But with more careful reading, they could have been easily found.  For example, concerning my statement about first-century fragments of the NT having been discovered, Conder writes:  "In the paper I have, Eric failed to give a reference for his Dead Sea cave NT discoveries" (BGJ, p. 16).  In fact, this is in footnote 11, p. 9:  "See Robert A. Morey, The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom (Minneapolis:  Bethany House Publishers, 1986), p. 112.  He cites in turn David Estrada and William White Jr., The First New Testament (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 1978); McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pp. 42-43."  Although this footnote, like most in ICF, combined multiple books together in order to avoid excessively multiplying the number of footnotes, the title of Estrada and White's book should have made it clear where this information came from.  Since Conder has a copy of McDowell's book, checking this reference personally would have revealed this statement couldn't have come from it, plainly showing it came from the reference listed first.  As a general rule, when ICF lists multiple works in one footnote, the citations appear in the same order in which they were used in the paragraph where the footnote number is.  The main exception occurs when multiple citations from the same work are interspersed with references to some other work, causing the paragraph's order of arguments to not fully correlate with the order of their sources found in its footnote.  Conder makes a similar mistake later:  "Eric doesn't give a reference for these quotes [from Josephus about what languages were spoken by average people in ancient Judea], but they are from Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, chap. XI:2" (BGJ, p. 18).  The middle of footnote 18, page 18 of ICF reads:  "my emphasis, Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chapter 11, section 2."  Still another one occurs when discussing the number of variations in the NT (BGJ, p. 20):  "In response to this Eric quotes C.F. Sitterly and J.H. Greenlee, without any reference, as saying:  'Such a wealth of evidence makes it all the more certain that the original words of the NT have been preserved somewhere within the MSS.'"  In fact, the beginning of footnote 16 (ICF, p. 11) reads:  "C.F. Sitterly and J.H. Greenlee, "Text and MSS of the NT," Geoffrey W. Bromiley, gen. ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), p. 818."  A different kind of footnote problem occurs in BGJ, p. 20, footnote 56:  "On page 14 of his paper Eric offers a secondhand source called The Problem of the New Testament Canon by one K. Aland, 'as cited in a Jehovah's Witness book, All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial.'"  Although it's a correct description, the words "as cited in a Jehovah's Witness book" do not appear in footnote 22, p. 14 of ICF.  If brackets or parentheses had been put around them, this would have been fine.  Otherwise, it's unacceptable otherwise to insert between quote marks additional words that falsely attribute them directly to the author.  Incidently, Kurt Aland does have respectable credentials:  F.F. Bruce calls him a "professor" and notes he revised E. Nestle's edition of the Greek NT.[24]  Although these slip ups are fairly trivial, they reflect Conder's haste and/or carelessness when writing up BGJ, illustrating how more significant misconceptions in it could have arisen which are covered below.

 

WHY IS CHRISTIANITY A FRAUD? CITES HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG

 

          Conder notes that I cited Herbert W. Armstrong's United States and Britain in Prophecy in ICF, but for mistaken reasons (BGJ, p. 5):  "(I offer this one example [of problems with this book's scholarship] because Eric uses it to back up several points in criticism of me.)"  (See also BGJ, p. 17).  In fact, excepting for using Who Is the Beast? to enlist Myers' statements to help show the pre-313 A.D. Sunday-keeping church shouldn't be equated with medieval Roman Catholicism (ICF, p. 16), I cited HWA for a very different reason:  Whenever I mentioned significant alternative possible interpretations of the Bible that differed from his, I wished to draw attention to it.  Because the Tkach administration watered down doctrine for many years before its apostasy was clear (c. 1987-1995), many may have forgotten some of the lesser teachings of HWA on this or that subject.  Although I don't believe HWA was infallible in his beliefs at the time of his death (unlike what the PCG and Gerald Flurry almost believe), and I still support some of the early doctrine changes of the Tkach Sr. administration, I believe innovations from his interpretations of Scripture should be approached with unusual care.[25]  Hence, I cite HWA's views on the subject of interpreting Gen. 49:10, Dan. 9:24-27, and Jer. 22:30 since they differ from what others say when I believe the others may be or are right.  (See ICF, p. 32, fn. 58; p. 69, fn. 129; p. 70, fn. 133).  This book of Mr. Armstrong's wasn't cited really as a source of facts or interpretations to attack Mystery Babylon with, but to help alert brethren in the various COGs to what is "received doctrine."  It's fine to say HWA was wrong about this or that teaching, or that he sinned in this or that way, but we should be more careful about doing this than many today are in the COG.  Movement from HWA's positions should be done fully consciously, not inadvertently when we hear somebody, in or out of the COG, propounding some new interpretation of a text or a doctrine change.  In short, I believe in "Burkean" (slow, gradual, careful) reform of HWA's doctrinal mistakes, not a radical, zealous plunging forward, since (despite all his mistakes and sins) God used him to preach a non-Trinitarian Sabbatarianism that reached more of the world than any other man did since the first century A.D.  In this present time of disillusion over the WCG's church government and administration problems, let us not forget that!

 

WHY THE TRUE RELIGION WOULD SATISFY EMOTIONS AS WELL AS REASON

 

          Conder overstates my emphasis on emotion, as well as Josh McDowell's, as a means of determining religious truth by saying:  "Well Eric, there you have me!  I can't argue with emotions‑‑either yours or the coed by-gosh Josh quotes!  If all one needs to prove Jesus' Messiahship is to abandon reason and embrace an emotional feeling, then all I can say is that I will leave them to it" (BGJ, p. 39; cf. pp. 7, 40).  Of course, since BGJ is pock-marked with statements which are underlined, bold printed, italicized, and put in all caps, religion is hardly an unemotional concern for Conder either.  Clearly, only a small proportion of Evidence that Demands a Verdict (vol. 1) is devoted to the descriptions of various people's testimonies for Christ.  Of 373 pages of text in the main section, only about 42 pages are dedicated to describing the inner feelings of conviction people have had about Jesus (pp. 325-67).  None of More Evidence that Demands a Verdict's 382 pages of text is spent on personal testimonies.  As for More than a Carpenter, only about 18 pages out of 128 describes issues about having a personal relationship with Christ and Josh McDowell's own testimony.  In Resurrection Factor, McDowell fills around 16 pages on his personal testimony and experiences out of 190.  In McDowell and Wilson's He Walked Among Us, only four pages (at the end) of the text's 358 pages are dedicated to encouraging people to accept Jesus as Savior, long after the chapter dealing with the mystery religions.  This picture sharply contradicts Conder's statement that (BGJ, p. 30):  "Unfortunately this flip-flop position [on similarities between Christianity and paganism] will likely be lost on the casual McDowell reader because Josh tosses in so much rubbish from Christians confessing their faith in Jesus between the two extreme points, that the reader will probably be hoodwinked into not seeing the obvious."  Then as for what I wrote, issues touching on emotion and accepting Jesus as our personal Savior don't constitute a fourth of a page's worth out of 74 (see ICF, p. 53, 73).  Nevertheless, emotional conviction should not be ignored, especially as it may reflect a changed life during the years one is a Christian after baptism and the laying on of hands.  Admittedly, we can't see, hear, or feel the Spirit of God directly in us, but we should see the results of its workings in us by changing our lives from what we were earlier while in the world.  God did not create humans to be beings of reason and logic only‑‑the true religion should satisfy both reason and emotion.  Seeing facts and emotion as necessarily opposed can only lead to a life of unhappiness.  I maintain that the facts, and the best interpretations of those facts, are on the side of Christianity, as well as my conscience and emotional state.  The latter may change from day to day, but the former don't‑‑they're the foundations for my faith, for my emotional commitment to God.  For an excellent paper that deals with the inner "subjective" experiences of the mind that help confirm God really is in our lives as Christians, see Alan Ruth's essay, "Confirming Conversion:  Can You Prove Christianity is True?"[26]  As we see people overthrow the Christianity of a lifetime when they embrace Conder's teachings, it's necessary to wonder whether they ever felt they had a personal relationship with God and Jesus to begin with.  If we are really walking with God now, even as we have emotional ups and downs while enduring various trials and tests, we should feel some kind of inward visceral reaction against abandoning our Savior Jesus who gave up His life for us, thinking He's just another pagan sun god.

 

CONDER'S ARGUMENTS AGAINST MIRACLES ARE LIKE THE PHILOSOPHER DAVID HUME'S

 

          Earlier above, I observed that Conder's means of argumentation could be wielded about as effectively against the Old Testament.  When considering Conder's arguments against the virgin birth and resurrection (BGJ, pp. 7, 12-13), he evidently has what McDowell and Wilson label a strong "Hume hangover."  The skeptical Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-76) is one of the most influential men who has ever lived, at least in the English-speaking world.  He is a major source of the "dogmatic skepticism" that characterizes irreligious, secular liberals in today's society:  Theoretically, these people are certain of nothing, except of their own uncertainty, but when it comes to religion, they make completely dogmatic pronouncements about its falsity.  Basically, Hume was an epistemological skeptic, meaning he didn't believe human reason could reliably gain knowledge about the real, external world outside our own consciousnesses.  Maintaining we can observe only regularities, he attacked the law of cause and effect as having no provable basis.  But, inconsistently, he dogmatically attacked miracles as being impossible, as violations of the laws of nature his philosophy elsewhere renders unprovable.  Consider some of Hume's own words:

 

          A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. . . .  But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country.  There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation.[27]

 

Similarly, but keeping his theoretical basis latent, Conder argues (BGJ, p. 13):

 

          In the case of John Roberts [an ancestor of Conder's] I really don't doubt that the stories about his life are basically factual.  But what if one of my relatives had declared that John Roberts rose from the dead after his murder some 250 years ago?  What if they claimed he performed miracles?  . . . What if they told me that he claimed to be a god?  In that case I think you would agree I should reject the stories unless I had some way to prove them to be true.

 

Both authors, Hume and Conder, reason (but the latter only implicitly) that since miracles are so rare and/or against the laws of nature, we should automatically reject the testimony of those saying they witnessed them.  But now, consider the miracles of the Old Testament.  These include Elijah raising the widow's son from the dead (I Kings 17:17-24).  Why should I believe Elijah did this?  Nobody alive today saw it happen.  Neither I nor anybody I know has ever seen somebody come back alive from the dead.  Therefore, I have a "uniform experience" against this "miraculous event" ever having happened. 

 

SOME BASIC ARGUMENTS AGAINST HUME'S CRITIQUE AGAINST BELIEF IN MIRACLES

 

          To refute the brand of reasoning lurking behind Hume's arguments above ultimately would require a book to be written.[28]  But let's make some basic points in reply.  First, it's assumed that the Almighty God can't ever change the regularities of natural processes, that He is a prisoner of His law‑‑or that He doesn't exist.  But if a Creator does exist, it stands to reason He could change or suspend the very laws He put into force that regulate nature to begin with, if it would serve some other purpose of His.  So if there's a God, there can be miracles.  Second, the allegedly "uniform experience" Hume speaks of presupposes what it desires to prove.  Skeptically assuming nobody has been raised from the dead by the power of God a priori, Hume argues a "firm and unalterable experience" exists against anyone having been resurrected.  As C.S. Lewis notes:

 

          Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely "uniform experience" against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have.  Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false.  And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred.  In fact, we are arguing in a circle.[29]

 

Third, Hume's "uniform experience" assumes something he elsewhere questioned (certainly implicitly) in his philosophy:  the reliability of the inductive method, which ultimately is the foundation of all science.  Before any new discovery occurs, somebody could argue, "That can't possibly happen."  (Analyzing what is meant by "possible" philosophically is a nasty quagmire‑‑to start exploring this swamp would require explaining the (supposed) distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions, which can't be sensibly done here).  A philosophical commonplace concerns white swans.  Based upon all the swans observed in Europe, scientists once concluded, "All swans in the world are white."  Although their sample was large, it was biased:  Black swans were discovered later on in Australia.  Using a different species of Oceania, McDowell and Wilson take a slightly different tack:

 

          The flaw of the "uniform experience" argument is that is does not hold up under all circumstances.  For example, when explorers returned from Australia with reports of a semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal with a broad, flat tail, webbed feet and a snout resembling a duck's bill, their reports defied all previous uniform experience classified under the laws of taxonomy.  Hume would have had to say that "uniform experience amounts to a proof . . . a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any" duck-billed platypus.  But his disbelief of such an animal would not preclude its existence.[30]

 

Fourth, Hume sets the bar so high concerning what kinds and numbers of witnesses would be necessary to prove a miracle occurred that no amount of evidence could possibly persuade him that one in fact did happen.  If we sought a similar "full assurance" for any kind of knowledge or part of life, we'd have to admit we know almost nothing at all, excepting (perhaps) certain mathematical (2 + 2 = 4) and purely logical ("A is A") and axiomatic ("I think, therefore I am") truths.  But actually, those committing themselves to a certain career or mate in life really have less evidence for their decisions than for belief in the Bible's record of miracles being justified.  Fifth, it's wrong to infer that because there are many, many false reports of miracles, there NEVER have been any correct reports.  To think ALL miracle accounts are false because MANY of them are ignores the difference in the qualities of the reports and the reliability of the witnesses in question.  Doing so is, as McDowell and Stewart note, "'guilt' by association, or a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water."[31]  This error Conder (BGJ, p. 13) commits by citing the various relics Roman Catholicism possesses supposedly from various personalities the NT relates (i.e., "a church that has claimed to have three or four skulls of Matthew . . .").  Unlike what many skeptics may think, the philosophical case against believing in miracles is hardly airtight, since it basically assumes what it wishes to prove:  Since they have no experience of the supernatural, therefore, they assume, nobody else in history ever has had either.  We shouldn't be like the Frenchman Ernest Renan who began his examination of Jesus' life by prejudicially ruling out in advance a priori the possibility of the miraculous:  "There is no such thing as a miracle.  Therefore the resurrection did not take place."[32]  Doesn't Renan sound like Conder? "They'd have to accept that Jesus did appear alive after his crucifixion and entombment‑‑something that a true skeptic would never do" (BGJ, p. 8).

 

JUST HOW DO WE "PROVE" A MIRACLE OCCURRED?

 

          Having surveyed some problems with Humean skepticism about miracle accounts, we should consider what kind of evidence is necessary to prove to reasoning men and women why they should believe in this or that report of a miracle.  First, let's assume that we are open-minded about the possibility of God existing and the supernatural intervening in the natural, material universe.  We haven't ruled out a priori (before experience) that supernatural entities (God, Satan, angels, demons, etc.) can intervene in the world.  What kind of eyewitness evidence do we need before accepting any miracle account?  Consider above the example of Elijah raising the widow's son to life found in I Kings 17.  Why would Conder consider this report of a miracle more reliable than the New Testament's accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  Why are the Old Testament's accounts of miracles more reliable than the New Testament's?  Fundamentally, the same kinds of arguments have to be run for both.  A major theoretical point of ICF concerns how IF what in the OT or NT can be checked is accurate, it is rational to infer that what can't be is reliable  (see ICF, p. 17, 19, 44).  Hence, if the book of Exodus correctly describes Egyptian society and government, then its account of the Red Sea parting becomes believable.  Similarly, if Luke accurately describes the first-century Roman province of Judea's society and government, then his account of the specific miracles Jesus performed becomes trustworthy.  Like a scientist believing his or her lab results are universally true despite being performed only on a tiny fraction of the universe's matter and energy, this kind of inference (or extrapolation) is not an act of blind faith.  Authors reliable in what can be verified are apt to be reliable in what can't be.  And, as the archeologist Sir William Ramsay found out to the detriment of his atheism, Luke is accurate in what can be checked (see ICF, pp. 17-18).  Rebutting this kind of argumentation, Conder claims (BGJ, p. 8):  "Well, there are several ancient religious works that proclaim a man-god as savior.  These works make many of the same claims as Christianity.  Further, they are, in the sense that Josh McDowell is asserting, reliable."  These assertions ignore the manifest difference between the mythological literature set in an indefinite, murky time and place, and the New Testament, set in first-century B.C. and A.D. Judea.  They also take for granted certain superficial similarities between Christianity's Gospels and the myths of these savior gods, something which ICF already has called into question (ICF, pp. 47-52).  To prove such reasoning is valid, Conder has to cite various parts of some standard printed edition or source of these myths about Osiris, Adonis, Mithras, Dionysus, etc. as found in Hesiod, Homer, Ovid, Plutarch, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, etc. that are, in fact, historically accurate, that name historical persons and places that can be verified by archeological or other tangible evidence.  The reader shouldn't assume Conder can even begin to do something similar for some pagan myth as ICF does for the NT (pp. 17-18, 19-21).

 

EVIDENCE FROM HOSTILE SOURCES THAT JESUS COULD DO MIRACLES

 

          One standard way to examine the historical evidence for and against some event being true is to see if hostile witnesses confirm some fact or event as happening despite the concession isn't in their own best interests to make.  Hence, if for the Battle of Lexington in 1775 British soldiers alleged the colonists shot first, and the Minutemen asserted the Redcoats fired initially, the biases of both sides largely cancel out the value of each other's testimony to proving their case.  But if one Minuteman admitted, yes, indeed, our side unleashed the shot heard around the world, then this concession would weigh heavily in favor of the colonists starting the Revolutionary War's violence.  Now, it happens to be that hostile witnesses outside the New Testament make statements implying or asserting Jesus of Nazareth did miracles or magical acts.  Although a harsh critic of Christianity, the second-century pagan philosopher Celsus didn't dispute Jesus' ability to do miracles, amidst charges he evidently lifted from the Jews.  In a work attacked by the Catholic Church Father Origen, Celsus asserted Jesus after hiring "himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God."[33]  Three at least oblique references to Jesus' ability to do miracles appear in the Babylonian Talmud of the Jews.  One striking passage is in Sanhedrin 43a: 

 

          It has been taught:  On the eve of Passover they hanged [compare Luke 23:39; Gal. 3:13] Yeshu.  And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying):  "He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray."[34]

 

(Interestingly, this passage disagrees with Conder's attempts to shift all blame from the Jewish leadership to the Romans for the crucifixion of Christ in MB, pp. 51-63).  Another, more curious passage (at least to the unversed in Talmudic/Midrashic literature) is a discussion involving one rabbi who prevented another man from healing another rabbi in the name of Jesus, dated to about 110 A.D.:

 

          It happened with R[abbi] Elazar ben Damah, whom a serpent bit, that Jacob, a man of Kefar Soma, came to heal him in the name of Yeshua ben Pantera; but R[abbi] Ishmael did not let him.  He said, "You are not permitted, Ben Damah."  He answered, "I will bring you proof that he may heal me."  But he had no opportunity to bring proof, for he died.[35]

 

Another at least indirect reference to Jesus' ability to perform miracles appears in a statement by Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus made about 95 A.D.[36]  Finally, Josephus refers to Jesus' ability to do miracles in a reliable part of the disputed Testimonium Flavianum passage:  "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.  For he was one who wrought surprising feats . . ."[37]  The passages found in Celsus, Josephus, and the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) don't deny Jesus did miracles (or His existence).  Instead, Celsus and the Talmud imply He did miracles either by fakery or by the power of Satan, similar to the accusation found in Matthew 9:34:  "But the Pharisees were saying, 'He casts out the demons by the ruler of demons.'"  Similarly, Mark 3:22 reads:  "And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, 'He is possessed by Beelzebul,' and 'He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.'"  Given that hostile observers directly or indirectly state that Jesus did do miracles, there's excellent evidence for their occurrence.  After all, for the the Exodus, besides the Old Testament, do hostile (Egyptian) observers admit the Red Sea swallowed up their army?  On this basis of secular historiographical reasoning, better evidence exists for Jesus' performing signs and wonders than any Old Testament miracle's occurrence.  Now Conder wants to prove the truth of the NT's "claims" by comparing it with "the Holy Scriptures of Israel [i.e., the OT]" (BGJ, p. 17).  This amounts to a request for running the internal evidence test between the NT and OT‑‑something which largely was already done in ICF in the sections dealing with alleged NT contradictions and the messianic texts.  For example, could the OT be claimed to be self-contradictory due to portraying the Messiah very differently?  (See ICF, pp. 67-68).  Using the additional light the NT throws on the OT allows this possible claim to be dismissed.  The NT's compatibility with the OT increases the reasonableness of placing our faith in both parts of Scripture.  But necessarily, the two other means of testing a historical document's reliability‑‑the bibliographical and external evidence tests‑‑should also be used when evaluating the NT's reliability.

 

TESTING MIRACLE CLAIMS BY THEIR INTRINSIC PLAUSIBILITY OR ABSURDITY

 

          Another approach to examining the reliability of accounts of the miraculous in pagan, Jewish, and Christian documents checks their fitness and intrinsic plausibility while assuming mankind dwells in an orderly universe.  As I observed in ICF, pp. 44-45, the canonical Gospels simply don't fit the literary genre of "myth" or "legend."  For this reason, it would be absurd to claim the  "historically accurate" "Book of the Dead" proves Osiris' "resurrection" (BGJ, p. 8).  A humanities professor at Wellesley College, Mary Lefkowitz describes The Book of the Dead thus:

 

          These funerary texts, which the Egyptians themselves called the Book of Coming Forth by Day, are designed to protect the soul during its dangerous journey through Duat, the Egyptian underworld, on its way to life of bliss in the field of Reeds. . . .  Even a cursory glance at a translation of The Book of the Dead reveals that it is not a philosophical treatise [like Aristotle's On the Soul] but rather a series of ritual prescriptions to ensure the soul's passage to the next world.[38]

 

Granted this description's accuracy, the New Testament clearly is in a different literary category from The Book of the Dead, which is hardly "history."  The Gospels read much more as straightforward historical descriptions of (mostly) the ministry, acts, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  Described as they happened, the signs and wonders merely come up as part of the narrative.  To fully understand and to gain a "feel" for why the NT's miracle accounts are intrinsically more reliable than those in apocryphal Gospels or pagan myths, the reader may find it necessary to pore over a couple hundred of pages of the last two.  For example, consider this extract from The Infancy Gospel of Thomas 3.1-4.1, originally written about 125 A.D.  Would the God of love portrayed in the Gospels perform these acts?

 

          The son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Joseph.  He took a branch of a willow and scattered the water which Jesus had arranged.  Jesus saw what he did and became angry and said to him, "You unrighteous, impious ignoramus, what did the pools and the water do to harm you?  Behold, you shall also wither as a tree, and you shall not bear leaves nor roots nor fruit."  And immediately that child was all withered. . . . Once again he was going through the village, and a child who was running banged into his shoulder.  Jesus was angered and said to him, "You shall go no further on your way."  And immediately the child fell down dead.

 

Consider how embellished and exaggerated the Roman soldiers' report of the resurrection feels as found in The Gospel of Peter (39-42) compared to the canonical Gospels' accounts:

 

          As they [the soldiers] recounted what they had seen, again they saw three men coming out of the tomb; two supported one of them and a cross followed them.  The heads of the two reached to heaven, but the one whom they bore with their hands reached beyond the heavens.  And they heard a voice speaking from the heavens, "Have you preached to those who are sleeping?"  And, obediently, (a voice) was heard from the cross, "Yes."[39]

 

Doesn't the intrinsic implausibility of this miracle account make it much easier to reject than anything in the canonical Gospels' accounts of the resurrection?  Conder claims that the (Sunday-keeping) church "once backed as authentic" all the ancient apocryphal gospels (BGJ, p. 9).  This claim is the sheerest nonsense historically‑‑what canonical list(s), such as those summarized in "All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial," contained any or all of these 200 apocryphal Gospels?  Although some dispute surrounded some of these books, as the idea of the NT canon developed only a relatively few books were actively disputed, as F.F. Bruce's work makes clear.[40]  Since many of these "Gospels" plainly served as vehicles to propagate heretical doctrines, such as the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, they can be easily dismissed from serious consideration. 

 

WHY PAGAN MYTHS ARE INTRINSICALLY UNRELIABLE ACCOUNTS OF MIRACLES

 

          The vast swamp of pagan miracle accounts, in both myths and purportedly historical writings, now beckons us.  Coming from a man who made a life study of pagan mythology and classical literature, C.S. Lewis' judgment on this subject shouldn't be lightly dismissed:  "The immoral, and sometimes almost idiotic interferences attributed to gods in Pagan stories, even if they had a trace of historical evidence, could be accepted only on the condition of our accepting a wholly meaningless universe."[41]  The stories of Buddha cited in ICF (p. 45) certainly lack inherent plausibility, such as his having been (in a prior life) a marvelous elephant with six tusks who gave them all to a needy hunter after helping saw them off himself.  When considering the principle of "fitness," Conder's citation of the various relics Catholicism has preserved (BGJ, p. 13) or the story about the beheaded St. Denys picking up his own head and walking to his grave (BGJ, p. 9) can easily be ruled out.  Even skeptics believing all miracles are absurd believe some to be more absurd than others.  As Lewis observes:

 

          Whatever men may say, no one really thinks that the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection is exactly on the same level with some pious tittle-tattle about how Mother Egaree Louis miraculously found her second best thimble by the aid of St. Anthony. . . .  More than half the disbelief in miracles that exists is based on a sense of their unfitness:  a conviction (due, as I have argued, to false philosophy) that they are unsuitable to the dignity of God or Nature or else to the indignity and insignificance of man.[42]

 

Since (presumably) most of those embracing Conder's teachings probably have read little if any of the pagan myths or apocryphal gospels for themselves, they may assume their prior experience in reading how the New Testament describes miracles is easily found in apocryphal literature or pagan myths.  Knowing only the NT (and OT), they lack a standard of comparison for the intrinsic fitness or absurdity of miracle accounts between the Bible on the one hand, and pagan mythology and apocryphal literature on the other.  Lewis notes this in connection to how NT scholars could be making similar mistakes since they had read little or no pagan classical literature due to a high degree of professional specialization :

 

          First then, whatever these men may be as biblical critics, I distrust them as critics.  They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading.  It sounds a strange charge to bring against men who have been steeped in those books [of the NT] all their lives.  But that might be just the trouble.  A man who has spent his youth and manhood in the minute study of New Testament texts and of other people's studies of them, whose literary experiences of those texts lacks any standard of comparison such as can only grow from a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general, is, I should think, very likely to miss the obvious things about them.  If he tells me that something in a gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour, not how many years he has spent on that gospel.

 

Referring specifically to the Gospel of John, Lewis then says:

 

          I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life.  I know what they are like.  I know that not one of them is like this. . . . These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves.  They claim to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.[43]

 

Before accepting Conder's critique of the New Testament's miracles, those so tempted should read enough pagan mythological and apocryphal literature to know why the Bible's miracle accounts stand out as exceptional.  Conder says (BGJ, p. 7):  "All I can add is that biased Christian tradition might be 'proof' enough for Josh McDowell, who, throughout his books seems to have an aversion to fact, but it's not enough for me."  In light of this assertion, Conder himself should name his standards of judgment for why he accepts the OT's miracle accounts as more reliable than the NT's, instead of relying on (it appears) Humean skepticism to attack the latter but (inconsistently) not the former.  What specifically constitutes "proof" to him?  How does more "proof" exist for Elisha causing an iron ax head to float (II Kings 6:5-7) than for the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

 

WHY SHOULD THIS EYEWITNESS EVIDENCE BE BELIEVED?

 

          The principle that if a document is reliable in what can be checked, it should be trusted in what can't be was mentioned above.  For example, the evidence for the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ comes ultimately from just the NT and the early traditions of the (Sunday-keeping) church (see BGJ, pp. 7, 8).  But even by purely secular criteria, good reasons exist for believing New Testament authors were reliable.  A document is more apt to be reliable when it is a personal letter, was intended for a small audience, was written in a rough, unpolished literary style, and contains rather irrelevant information such as lists of details like the names of individuals.  Although a document can lack these characteristics and still be perfectly sound historically, they still remain prima facie powerful points in favor of a document being accurate when its origin is unclear.  Something written for propagandistic efforts among a vast audience is more likely to shade the truth or omit inconvenient, embarrassing facts.  Now much of the New Testament is made up of letters intended for small churches or individuals, especially Paul's, which sometimes reflect rather hurried writing.  (Consider I Corinthians and Galatians, both of which are pervaded by a crisis atmosphere).  Mostly written in the rough koine Greek of average people, the NT contains inconsequential details even in the Gospels which were intended for a broad audience (see John 21:2, 11; Mark 14:51-52).  Paul's greetings and instructions to various individuals largely take up the sixteenth chapter of the Letter (Epistle) to the Romans.  Furthermore, eyewitnesses who have much to lose and little to gain from telling what they saw are reliable.  The Jewish Christians of the first century, persecuted by their kinsmen and/or Rome, often paid for their beliefs with their lives.  Eleven of the twelve apostles died martyrs' deaths, according to (at least) reasonably reliable tradition:  How did they benefit materially from proclaiming Jesus as the Jewish Messiah?  Paul mentioned the many trials he endured for proclaiming the gospel (II Cor. 11:23-28).  If the goal was to make lots of converts to makes lots of money, the apostles could have found easier and safer messages to preach by changing their beliefs.  This Paul refused to do:  "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?  Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished" (Gal. 5:11).  Being Jews, if they proclaimed falsehoods about God, they had every reason to fear their God's wrath in the hereafter, so they had strong motives for telling the truth about the God they worshiped.  Christianity emerged from Judaism's capital, Jerusalem and its vicinity:  If the Gospels' portrait of Jesus was seriously wrong, then-living hostile witnesses (which were hardly few in number) could have easily shot it down.  Peter and company didn't pack up and go to (say) Athens and start proclaiming the Gospel far away from where anybody could easily check up on their assertions, but started in Jerusalem on Pentecost within weeks of Jesus' death.  All in all, these eyewitnesses proclaimed the truth as they knew it, having strong reasons for doing so:  Who dies for a lie, knowing that it is a lie?[44]  For these reasons, trusting the NT's miracle accounts of the virgin birth and resurrection is perfectly rational, since the NT's passes other historical tests, unlike (say) Homer's Iliad or Ovid's Metamorphoses. 

 

FURTHER INTERNAL EVIDENCE FOR BELIEVING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

          According to the New Testament itself, Jesus' life and ideas also had aspects that were problematic, even embarrassing, to many judging by worldly pagan or Jewish standards.  First, there's the deep shame of being executed by crucifixion.  (Roman citizens had the right of being beheaded instead!)  Facing opposition from within His own family, Jesus was a mere carpenter, not someone materially rich or powerful.  Jesus had views about legalism, divorce, fasting, women, and sinners that certainly presented stumbling blocks to mainstream Jews.  Similar to the Old Testament's portrayal of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, and Elijah, the New Testament repeatedly and plainly describes the sins and personal flaws of the disciples, such as Peter denying Christ three times and their arguments over who was to be the greatest in the kingdom of God.  Surely, if the church concocted the New Testament to spread its message about Jesus, editing out embarrassing facts about its founders should have been a top priority!  If you invented a historical document to promote your beliefs, you could whip up something more favorable to your cause's leaders than this!  The unfavorable facts about Christianity found in the New Testament show its early leaders didn't feel free to rewrite history or ignore historical facts.[45]  

 

WHY THE EBIONITES' DENIAL OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH PROVES NOTHING

 

          Conder claims that "ancient Christian tradition" once denied the virgin birth, later citing the Ebionites' beliefs against it to buttress his case (BGJ, p. 7).  By denying the plain meaning of the Gospels (which came first), whatever contrary "ancient Christian tradition" that developed on this point was plainly heretical.  Note Matthew 1:18, 25: 

 

          Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows.  When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. . . . [And Joseph] kept her a virgin [lit. margin, "was not knowing her"] until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

 

Similarly, Luke 1:26-27, 34-35 reads: 

 

          Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. . . .  And Mary said to the angel, "How can this [prophecy about giving birth] be, since I am a virgin [lit. margin, 'know no man']?"  And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God."

 

Now let's examine the Ebionites' other doctrines some.  Although upholding the OT law and the Sabbath, the Ebionites can't be considered fully Christian in their theology due to degrading Jesus' role as Savior and Paul's role as an apostle.  According to Gonzalez's summary, they did not conceive of Jesus' mission as one of saving humanity, but as one of a line of prophets calling forth people to obey God's law.  He wasn't considered the Son of God from the beginning, but was adopted due to His superior performance in obeying the law.  Considering Paul an apostate from the true faith, they also still practiced circumcision.[46]  Citing Ebionite theology on the virgin birth proves nothing, since it so plainly contradicts the text of the NT.  Since the NT (or the earlier oral testimony it was based upon) preceded the existence of the Ebionites, their theology denying the virgin birth can't be considered the original version. 

 

MANY HIGHER CRITICS "EDIT" THE NT INSTEAD OF THROWING IT OUT ENTIRELY:  WHY REFUTING NATURALISTIC EXPLANATIONS OF THE RESURRECTION ISN'T TRULY CIRCULAR

 

          Conder's critique of the kinds of arguments McDowell and I make for the resurrection is mistaken in several points.  First, when arguing for the resurrection based on the NT, the implicit assumption is that a skeptic largely accepts the non-miraculous aspects of the Gospels as historically accurate.  A common exercise of many higher critics has been to explain naturalistically or deny the stories of Jesus healing others, casting out demons, raising people from the dead, etc., while accepting as true at least some of the rest of the Synoptic Gospels as they report Jesus' teachings and non-miraculous acts.  Even Conder does this some, as this statement shows (BGJ, p. 34):  "If you had taken your nose out of Josh McDowell's books long enough for a serious study of what I'd written, you know that I quoted extensively from the New Testament to back my beliefs."  The point of going over alternative explanations for the resurrection is to see if any purely naturalistic explanations can plausibly hold water while having at least some minimal fidelity to its text.  Conder, of course, asserts the right to reject automatically any and all of the NT as historically inaccurate (see BGJ, p. 8 and fn. 22).  But given the evidence for the reliability of the NT in what can be checked, why can somebody be so free to reject any and all of it in what can't be checked?  If this procedure was done with any other ancient piece of literature, including the OT, it would be left in tatters as well.  Operating like Immanuel Velikovsky and others, we could then try to devise alternative explanations for various miracles in the Old Testament.[47] 

 

THE HIGHER CRITICS DID DEVISE NATURALISTIC EXPLANATIONS FOR THE RESURRECTION       

 

Conder also asserts that no higher critics ever devised the alternative non-miraculous explanations McDowell (and I) refuted:  "Hence when he answers these juvenile questions Josh is made to look like the sensible one while the scholarly critics are made to look like a bunch of fools‑‑even though they've never asked the questions that McDowell throws out" (BGJ, p. 8; cf. p. 11).  Why Conder didn't encounter scholars dealing with these questions about the resurrection in his research about the NT?  Note Gary Habermas' survey of scholars on this subject:

 

          One interesting illustration of this failure of the naturalistic theories [that explained the resurrection] is that they were disproven by the nineteenth-century older liberals themselves, by whom these were popularized.  These scholars refuted each other's theories, leaving no viable naturalistic hypotheses.  For instance, Albert Schweitzer dismissed Reimarus's fraud theory and listed no proponents of this view since 1768.  David Strauss delivered the historical death blow to the swoon theory held by Karl Venturini, Heinrich Paulus, and others.  On the other hand, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Paulus pointed out errors in Strauss's hallucination theory.  The major decimation of the hallucination theory, however, came at the hands of Theodor Keim.  Otto Pfleiderer was critical of the legendary or mythological theory, even admitting that it did not explain Jesus' Resurrection.  By these critiques such scholars pointed out that each of these theories was disproven by the historical facts.  Although nineteenth-century liberals decimated each other's views individually, twentieth-century critical scholars have generally rejected naturalistic theories as a whole, judging that they are incapable of explaining the known data.  This approach is a usual characteristic of recent schools of thought.

 

Habermas then goes on to list various specific twentieth-century higher critic scholars who, nevertheless, rejected these alternative explanations for the resurrection, including Karl Barth, Raymond Brown, Paul Tillich, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Gunther Bornkamm, Ulrich Wilckens, John A.T. Robinson, and A.M. Hunter.[48]  In The Resurrection Factor, McDowell cites defenders of various alternative explanations of the resurrection:  Charles Alford Guinebert denies anybody knew where the body ended up after being removed from the cross (the unknown tomb theory), Kirsopp Lake asserts the disciples went to the wrong tomb, Justin Martyr records the "stolen body" theory as circulating among the Jews anciently, and Hugh Schoenfield's The Passover Plot holds to a version of the swoon theory.[49]  Elsewhere McDowell lists Venturini as championing the swoon theory, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, John Chyrsostom as mentioning and medieval Jewish literature (Reimarus) as advocating the stolen body theory, and Lake as upholding the wrong tomb theory.[50]  Assuming extensive research was done, the evident reason why Conder encountered none of the naturalistic explanations for the resurrection that McDowell rebuts was because liberal scholars have given up trying to devise or defend them.  But merely because this "puzzle" may now be dead among the higher critics doesn't mean they solved it.  Indeed, in the light of Habermas' survey, it's because they couldn't unravel the resurrection by using the old critical method of assuming the truth of at least some of the Gospels' historical information, while trying to explain away the miraculous parts naturalistically.  Conder solves this problem by totally liberating himself from having to believe in anything in the NT, but this fails to reckon with the information available favoring the verifiable parts of the NT.  Throwing out any and all parts that are found (suddenly) inconvenient, this approach would never be employed on any other (non-religious/non-miraculous) historical document.  The evidence for the NT based on the three tests‑‑bibliographical, external evidence, and internal evidence‑‑indicate so much confirmation exists for its reliability that any other significant ancient historical document (besides the OT) could be more easily dismissed using the same criteria (See ICF, pp. 6-32).  So why dismiss the New Testament so lightly, except out of an a priori, skeptical prejudice against its accounts of miracles?

 

WHY CLAIMING THE GOSPELS ARE LEGENDS DOESN'T DISPOSE OF THE RESURRECTION

 

          Conder complains about ICF's survey of the proposed naturalistic theories for the resurrection:  "The problem here is that Eric includes these idiocies in a paper attacking my book, which probably gives the reader the impression that I've raised such questions.  Even though I never once considered these points when researching and writing my book . . ." (BGJ, p. 9).  Instead of being a "deception" (BGJ, p. 10), the principal point of raising this issue as well as the "Great Trilemma" was to be on the offensive for once, instead of just reacting defensively against Conder's attacks on the NT.  Conder's casual dismissal of the alternative theories shows he has no explanation, besides attempting to turn the canonical Gospels into historically unreliable legends or myths, an approach that can't succeed with the informed, unbiased mind.  Based on internal evidence alone, they simply don't fit this literary genre.  If the resurrection accounts were so ill-written, contradictory and legendary, a naturalistic explanation presumably would be easy to devise, since incongruities or gaps in reasoning should appear in the text.  Furthermore, eliminating the possibility that resurrection accounts are legends, the time gap between the time of Jesus' ministry and the writing of the Gospels is too small:  They can't be called second-century A.D. documents.  Sir William Ramsay, when a committed atheist, believed Acts was a second-century document.  But during his archeological and topographical work in Asia Minor (Turkey), he found it was composed earlier since it reflected conditions typical of the last half of the first century.  (See ICF, p. 17-18).  An ancient history professor at Western Michigan University, Paul L. Maier states:  "Arguments that Christianity hatched its Easter [Passover] myth over a lengthy period of time or that the sources were written many years after the event are simply not factual."  Critiquing much of NT criticism, archeologist William F. Albright said:  "Only modern scholars who lack both historical method and perspective can spin such a web of speculation as that with which some critics have surrounded the Gospel tradition."  He believes that "a period of 20 to 50 years is too slight to permit any appreciable corruption of the essential content and even of the specific wording of the sayings of Jesus."[51]  But, of course, Conder would reply biased Christian scholars made these statements (re:  BGJ, p. 11).  Ignoring whatever manuscript fragments some might have found, is there any internal evidence for the New Testament being written in the first century?

 

HOW THE BOOK OF ACTS IMPLIES THE NEW TESTAMENT WAS WRITTEN BEFORE C. 63 A.D.

 

          A very straightforward argument for the date of (most of) the New Testament can be derived from the contents of Acts.  Judging from the Gospel of Luke's conclusion and Act's introduction, they were originally one book, later divided into two, or else logically written in chronological order, starting with Jesus' ministry then covering the church's early years.  As a result, Luke was necessarily written a bit earlier than Acts.  In turn, Luke has long been seen as depending upon Mark over and above his own sources, so Mark was necessarily written still earlier.  Furthermore, Matthew is normally seen as having been written after Mark but before Luke.  Hence, if a firm date can be given to Acts, all of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke, and Matthew) had to have been composed still earlier.  Six good reasons exist for dating Acts as being written by c. 63 A.D.  First, Acts doesn't mention the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., despite much of its action focuses in and around that city.  Only if it was written earlier does the omission of this incredibly disruptive event in the Holy Land make sense.  Since in his Gospel Luke himself relates Jesus' predictions of Jerusalem's destruction in the Mount Olivet Prophecy (chapter 21), it's hard to believe he would overlook their fulfillment if he had written Acts after 70 A.D.  Second, Nero's persecutions of the mid-60's aren't covered.  Luke's general tone towards the Roman government was peaceful and calm, which wouldn't fit if Rome had just launched a major persecution campaign against the church.  (The later book of Revelation has a very different spirit on this score, even if it is in symbolic prophetic code, since the Beast was Rome).  Third, the martyrdoms of James (61 A.D.) as well as Paul and Peter (mid-60s A.D.) aren't mentioned in Acts.  The ancient Jewish historian Josephus (c. 37-100 A.D.) does record the death of James, so this event can be easily dated.  Since these three men are leading figures in the Book of Acts, it would be curious to omit how they died, yet include the martyrdoms of other Christians like Stephen and James the brother of John.  Fourth, the key conflicts and issues raised in the church that Acts records make sense in the context of a mainly Jewish Messianic Church centered on Jerusalem before 70 A.D.  It describes disputes over circumcision and admitting the gentiles into the church as having God's favor, the division between Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews (Acts 6:1), and the Holy Spirit falling on different ethnic groups (Jews followed by gentiles).  These issues were much more important before 70 A.D. than afterwards.  The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. basically wiped out Jewish Christianity as a strong organized movement.  Fifth, some of the phrases used in Acts are primitive and very early, such as "the Son of man," "the Servant of God" (to refer to Jesus), "the first day of the week," and "the people" (to refer to Jews).  After 70 A.D., these expressions would need explanation, but earlier they didn't in the Messianic Jewish Christian community.  Finally, of course, the Jewish revolt against Rome starting in 66 A.D. that led to destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. isn't referred to in Acts despite its ultimately apocalyptic effects on the Jewish Christian community.  Hence, judging from what the author included as important historically, if Acts was written about c. 63 A.D., the Gospel of Luke would be slightly earlier, and correspondingly Matthew and Mark probably should be dated to the mid-40s to mid-50s A.D.[52]  Paul's letters have to be older than Acts as well.  This internal evidence points to a first-century date of composition for the New Testament; there's no need to find first-century manuscripts of the New Testament to know it was composed then.

 

THE NEW TESTAMENT WASN'T SUBJECT TO A LONG PERIOD OF ORAL TRADITION

 

          Several reasons indicate that the New Testament wasn't subject to a long period of oral tradition, of people retelling each other stories over the generations, which would place its initial composition past c. 100 A.D.  Let's assume the document scholars call "Q" did exist, which they say Matthew and Luke relied upon to write their Gospels.  If "Q" can be dated to around 50 A.D. after Jesus's death in 31 A.D., little time remains in between for distortions to creep in due to failed memory.  Furthermore, the sayings of Jesus found in the Gospels were in an easily memorized, often poetic form in the original Aramaic.  Then, since Paul was taken captive about 58 A.D., how he wrote to the Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Galatians indicates that he assumed they already had a detailed knowledge of Jesus.  He almost never quotes Jesus' words his letters (besides in I Cor. 11:24-25).  Hence, as James Martin comments: 

 

          As a matter of fact, there was no time for the Gospel story of Jesus to have been produced by legendary accretion.  The growth of legend is always a slow and gradual thing.  But in this instance the story of Jesus was being proclaimed, substantially as the Gospels now record it, simultaneously with the beginning of the Church. 

 

Using the writing of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-430 to 420 b.c.) as a test case, A.N. Sherwin-White, a University of Oxford scholar in ancient Roman and Greek history, studied the rate at which legend developed in the ancient world.  Even two generations (c. 60+ years) is not enough to wipe out a solid foundation of historical facts, he argues.[53] 

 

WHY ORAL TRANSMISSION WAS MORE RELIABLE IN THE PAST THAN IT IS TODAY

 

          Conder's example about stories told over the generations about his ancestor John Roberts is seriously misleading (BGJ, pp. 12-13).  It implicitly assumes modern people, who can be mentally lazy due to being literate and their resultant ability to write things down, have memories as well developed as the educated people of largely illiterate cultures where books and even writing materials are rare and expensive commodities (see ICF, p. 8).  Conder later asserts (BGJ, p. 19, fn. 54):  "The fact is that I've never denied the reliability of oral tradition when it was entrust to specially trained men (called bards in English) for preservation.  However, when tradition is passed around from one generation of born-again ignorant peasants to another, who could possibly deny the probability for corruption?"  This statement totally misrepresents the reality that even the liberal scholar Kummel's dates place most of the NT's writing in the second half of the first century A.D.[54]  Early on, written transmission began by necessarily literate people, not "born-again ignorant peasants" passing along stories orally.  As for the NT's composition, to the extent that oral transmission occurred in the first decades following the crucifixion, the traditional rabbinical practices of Judaism ensured Jesus' words would be well preserved, much like Conder (perhaps dubiously) asserts for British bards.[55]  Conder may be implicitly building upon Rudolf Bultmann's view of oral transmission, which really assumes a gentile cultural environment, not a Jewish one.  Even the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes writes against the form critics' assumptions of a gentile culture surrounding Jesus and the apostles:

 

          The system's chief weakness lies, I think, in the absence among its developers and practitioners of any real familiarity with the literature, culture, religion, and above all spirit, of the post-biblical Judaism from which Jesus and his first disciples sprang.  Instead, it is in the Hellenistic world of early Christianity that Bultmann and his pupils are at home.[56]

 

Using insights like Vermes', the present-day Uppsala school of Harald Riesenfeld and Birger Gerhardsson analyzes Jesus' relationship with His disciples in the context of Jewish rabbinical practices of c. 200 A.D.  In the role of the authoritative teacher or rabbi, Jesus trained his disciples to believe in and remember His teachings.  Because their culture was so strongly oriented towards oral transmission of knowledge, they could memorize amazing amounts of material by today's standards.  The Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 22a, shows that the Jews even were told to memorize information they didn't understand:  "The magician mumbles and does not understand what he is saying.  In the same way the tanna recites and does not understand what he saying."  Similarly, Abodah Zarah 19a reads:  "One should always recite, (although one forgets and) although one does not understand what one is saying."  The rabbis also aided their students by teaching them mnemonic devices to help them remember certain passages.  Illustrating the premium on remembering things accurately, Rabbi Meir warned:  "Every man who forgets a single word of his Mishnah (i.e., what he has learned), Scripture accounts it unto him as if he had forfeited his soul" (Mishnah, Aboth 3. 9.).  If a teacher ever forgot what they knew, because of (say) sickness, he had to go to his own students to learn again what he no longer remembered.  This culture's values emphasized the need of disciples to remember their teacher's teachings and deeds accurately, then to pass on this (now) tradition faithfully and as unaltered as possible to new disciples they made in the future.  Paul's language in I Cor. 15:3-8 reflects this ethos, especially in verse 3:  "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . ."  Remember, Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).  Being steeped in the practices of rabbinical Judaism, he himself would have operated in this manner, and passed down accurately what he had been told to others, although he wasn't an eyewitness of the original event.  Paul's language in I Cor. 14:23 reflects this:  "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:  that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed . . ."  Correspondingly, the apostles were seen as having authority due to being eyewitness guardians of the tradition since they knew their Teacher well (cf. the criterion for choosing an apostle listed in Acts 1:21-22; cf. I Cor. 9:1).[57]  Analyzing the early church's Jewish culture and how it would orally transmit information about Jesus' life and teachings in the light of nearly contemporary rabbinical practices has much more historical foundation than Bultmann's "creative community" idea. 

 

INTERNAL EVIDENCE THAT ORAL/WRITTEN TRANSMISSION ACCURATELY PRESERVED JESUS' WORDS

 

          Conder denies that the Gospel accounts are eyewitness evidence (BGJ, p. 11).  Can internal evidence show that later (gentile) writers didn't insert words into the mouth of "Jesus"?  One common objection to the NT's historical reliability relies on a standard higher critic view of how oral transmission/tradition about Jesus developed.  Form criticism claims the church made up stories about Jesus' life and teachings over the decades after His death because of later controversies it suffered.  In fact, much indicates Jesus expressed Himself differently from how His disciples did.  Jesus used questions and the Aramaic words "amen" and "abba" in unique ways.  Sixty-four times Jesus used threefold expressions (such as ask, seek, knock).  He employed passive verbs when referring to God, such as in this case:  "All things have been delivered to me by my Father" (Matt. 11:27).  Paul, Peter, etc. did not copy His use of "how much more," "which of you," and "disciple."  Often when Jesus' words, as written in Greek, are translated back into Aramaic, literary qualities such as parallelism, alliteration, and assonance appear.  This feature aids in memorizing them.  Monolingual Greek-speaking gentile disciples could not have fabricated His speeches whole cloth since their poetic quality in Aramaic can't be accidental.  Also, if the church had created Jesus' ideas decades later, why is it that "Jesus" never was made to comment on major controversies that divided the church?  The Jesus of the Gospels says little or nothing about circumcision, specific gifts of the Holy Spirit, food laws, baptism, evangelizing the gentiles, rules controlling church meetings, and relations between the church and state.  Paul almost never quotes Jesus directly:  If he felt free to make up stories about Jesus, he could have easily and directly justified what he did by manufacturing sayings supposedly from Jesus.  (Some Muslims through the centuries evidently didn't hesitate to do this for the hadiths (traditional sayings) of Muhammad, "discovering" quotes convenient for the doctrinal or political controversies of the moment!)[58] 

 

MISCELLANEOUS ATTACKS ON THE RESURRECTION ACCOUNTS REBUTTED

 

          Conder also makes assorted other charges about errors or contradictions in the NT.  For some reason, John Wenham regards as a major improbability that the Jewish leadership paid bribes to the tomb's guards to tell their officers that Jesus' body had been stolen out of the tomb.  Farrell Till's comment in Skeptic Review that Conder cites (BGJ, p. 10) merely builds upon this concession.  I reject Wenham's concession categorically:  Why is it intrinsically implausible that the Jewish leadership would bribe these witnesses to the resurrection to lie?  Having railroaded Jesus to death and finding events afterwards not quite going to plan, this stopgap measure to help squelch the truth about the resurrection spreading certainly doesn't seem to be an unlikely response.  Till and Conder criticize Gleason Archer, the author of Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, for refusing to debate publicly the subject of contradictions in the Bible.  Although I don't know Dr. Archer at all personally, a possible good personal reason for refusing this debate exists.  It could be, much like Thomas Jefferson (in the past) or the conservative economist/sociologist George Gilder (at present), Archer is a significantly better writer than speaker.  Had (say) Lord North or George III challenged Jefferson to a public debate on the justice of the American Revolutionary cause (something intrinsically unlikely for all sorts of reasons, but this is a hypothetical situation), a reasonable chance exists he would have turned them down.  At one of his inaugural addresses as President, he spoke so quietly almost nobody heard him.  Although Conder says Farrell in such a debate would "point out the illogic in the supposed answers that Archer does present," Conder himself never engages in any such spade work of critiquing specifically and systematically my proposed answers for various alleged contradictions (BGJ, p. 10; ICF, pp. 24-32), excepting Christ's genealogies.  Conder attempts to rebut McDowell's statement that the emptiness of Jesus' tomb is evidence for Jesus' resurrection by retorting:  "What pure lard!  If an empty tomb is a proof of Jesus' resurrection, then so are the empty tombs that litter half the landscape of the Middle East . . ." (BGJ, pp. 10-11).  Of course, what matters was this empty tomb, not some other one.  It's necessary to explain how this one became empty.  Rejecting the Gospels' testimony completely, as Conder does, ignores how so often they were right in the historical details that can be checked.  It's the worst prejudice to reject anything in them that can't be confirmed by some other source.  Conder believes he has greater freedom than those higher critics who largely or partially accepted the non-miraculous in the Gospels, but then tried to explain away the miracles naturalistically.  Instead, there's a knee-jerk rejection of anything and all things in the Gospels that may be the least inconvenient for Conder's thesis‑‑a procedure known to be unjustified, once the three standard tests are applied to its reliability.  Using a similar, arbitrary procedure on any other historical document possessing even part of evidence for its reliability that the NT has would make history writing easy for Marxists, Afrocentrists, and anybody else trying to make the past fit some preconceived ideology:  "For any document I don't like (that contains evidence contradicting my viewpoint) I will automatically reject anything it says."  This procedure hardly constitutes the methodology of an objective historian, but that of a biased polemicist.

 

WHY PUBLIC DEBATES WITH HERETICS BEFORE A LOCAL CHURCH IS A BAD IDEA

 

          Conder complains that Ken Miller, the web page master for the UCG‑‑Ann Arbor, MI church, said that it would be "inappropriate" for him and me to debate his book in front of my local congregation.  Conder says he "responded by asking him why it was, in his opinion, quite acceptable to publicly misrepresent my book and attack me on United's worldwide web site, but 'inappropriate' for me to publicly defend myself and my book?" (BGJ, p. 10).  Actually, Conder has an easily equivalent way to defend his book, which he presumably has already done:  Write a critique of the rebuttal (i.e., BGJ), and post it on his group's website.  One website is no more "public" than the other, assuming a reasonably equal number of "hits" on both.  I will gladly withdraw any "misrepresentations" of MB, should they be pointed out.  (Be specific!  Quote from them!  Number them one by one, citing page numbers in the process for both ICF and MB).  But as observed above, the real "misrepresentations" of Mystery Babylon have been those made to sell the book by a misleading book description to unwary Christians in Commonwealth Publishing's catalog.  Not lacking the necessary courage, I still would never debate Conder publicly before brethren in my congregation (Lansing, MI, not Ann Arbor).  I refuse to invite a dangerous heretic into the womb of the church that might plant unnecessary doubts in their minds.  Stating a principle applicable generally, but specifically about those denying Jesus came in the flesh, II John 10-11 states:  "If anyone comes to you [as a group] and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."

 

WAS EUSEBIUS A RELIABLE HISTORIAN?

 

          In order to attack the idea that the apostles wouldn't have died for a lie as a proof of the resurrection, Conder argues that only through the unreliable writings and traditions of the (Sunday-keeping) church can anybody know what happened to them.  Focusing his fire on Eusebius (c. 260-c. 339 A.D.), Conder deems this church historian as unreliable (see BGJ, pp. 12-13; see also p. 17).  Edward Gibbons, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is marshalled against Eusebius.  Of course, as the informed know, Gibbon's anti-Christian biases distorted his work.  As Harvard University professor Christopher Dawson observes:

 

          And since Christianity has no place in his philosophy, he is compelled to reduce its place in history by treating it with irony and seeking to discredit it with sneers and innuendoes.  The most notorious example of this method is to be seen in his treatment of the martyrs and the great persecutions . . .  This complete lack of sympathy and understanding for the religious forces which have exerted such an immense influence on Western culture is Gibbon's great defect as an historian:  and it is a very serious one, since it invalidates his judgment on the very issues which are most vital to his subject.[59]

 

Mistakenly, Conder implies Eusebius wasn't using written primary sources, but oral testimony three hundred years old:  "He simply wrote down 300 year-old legends offered from people who had no first hand knowledge of what they were telling."  Although Eusebius did use some oral sources, Robert M. Grant writes:  "For the Church History as a whole, written materials were far more important than oral traditions.  As one can see from Eusebius' other writings as well, he was a man of books and libraries."   As F.F. Bruce adds, Eusebius labored in the great church library at Caesarea, which gave him the material necessary for his work.  This gave him the primary written sources for writing a church history.

 

          Eusebius was deficient in some of the critical qualities requisite in a first-class historian, but he knew the importance of consulting primary sources, and indeed he introduces frequent quotations from them.  We have to thank him for preserving portions of ancient writings (such as Papias's) which would otherwise be quite lost to us.  But where his sources have survived independently, a comparison of their wording with his quotations confirms the accuracy with which he quoted them, and this gives us confidence in the trustworthiness of his quotations from sources which can no longer be consulted.[60]

 

Historian Robin Lane Fox, no fan of Christianity, believes Eusebius' history was rather hurriedly written (perhaps six months or less) and it made several "slips" in its fourth book, such as misdating Pionius' martyrdom.  Nevertheless, he states:  "Large and justified claims have been made for the result, its careful citation of documents, its realization that "ecclesiastical history" was a separate branch of history."[61]  Unlike what Conder claims, Eusebius plainly should be regarded as basically reliable.

 

THE FUNDAMENTAL DISCONTINUITY IN SUNDAY-KEEPING CHRISTIANITY STARTED 313 A.D.

 

          To bolster his attack on the reliability of the historical accounts Catholicism wrote, Conder notes the many ridiculous and absurd relics it preserved, such as "the wing of the archangel Gabriel" (BGJ, p. 13).  Similarly, he wouldn't want me to produce as evidence for Jesus' resurrection "a fourth century manuscript that was in the possession of the notoriously corrupt Roman Catholic Church" (BGJ, p. 27).  These criticisms confound the post-313 A.D. church, into which worldly, political, and (yes, indeed) pagan influences inflowed, with the earlier, frequently persecuted pre-Constantine, Sunday-keeping church.  This is the implicit mistake behind reading (say) the corruption of the forgers of "The Donation of Constantine" backwards to the pre-313 A.D. church (cf. BGJ, p. 38, "notorious reputation").  Conder's criticism of Catholicism routinely imputes the practices and corruption of the medieval church back to the era before the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity legal toleration.  As was noted in ICF (p. 16-17), this constitutes one of Conder's foundational fallacies in MB, routinely repeated or assumed in one form or another.  Conspicuously, he never critiques my case in ICF for seeing some fundamental discontinuity in the character and nature of the Roman Catholicism of the Middle Ages and the pre-313 A.D. Sunday-keeping church.  The Sunday-observers of (say) 310 A.D. who died in Diocletian's persecution may have been doctrinally "apostate" by contemporary COG standards.  But apostasy should be conceived as a ladder with higher and lower rungs, not just a single uniform condition.  Clearly, due to its greater doctrinal and clerical corruption, the Catholicism of (say) 1450 A.D. occupied a much lower rung than the Sunday-keeping church of (say) 250 A.D.  In the pre-Edict of Milan world, a Christian (of whatever stripe) gained far fewer material and political benefits from his status, for a good reason:  The Roman government periodically sought his life and/or that of fellow believers.  These bouts of persecution ensured the pre-313 A.D. Sunday-keeping church was far less corrupt and dishonest than its medieval successor.  As a result, traditions and documents datable to before the early fourth century are far more reliable than those originating much later when they describe the origins of Christianity.  Indeed, to call the Sunday-keeping church of (say) 200 A.D. "Roman Catholic" is rather problematic, yet Conder routinely infers the sins and dishonesty of medieval Catholicism back to the earlier Sunday-keeping church.  He fails to recognize the fundamental discontinuity of the two:  The Woman only really mounted the Beast (i.e., got involved in politics) and became a harlot committing fornication with the kings of the earth after 313 A.D., not before.

 

GOOD EVIDENCE FOR THE APOSTLES BEING GIVEN THE OPTION TO AVOID DYING FOR A LIE

          Believing that the apostles could have been dishonest in proclaiming Jesus' resurrection, Conder asserts that they had no choice but to die for a lie if they were caught:  "So, if there were original apostles who died for the Christian religion they were preaching, what does that prove other than the fact that they were seized by the authorities and put to death.  Once they were arrested, it was too late!" (BGJ, p. 13).  But historical evidence points to the falsehood of this assertion.  Frequently the Roman government could be made perfectly happy if the arrested Christian repented of his disloyalty to Caesar by offering a pinch of incense to the emperor or by cursing Christ.  If the Christian turned apostate, he or she then would be released.  For example, after Pliny the Younger asked Emperor Trajan for guidance in how to deal with the Christians, he replied (c. 112 A.D.):

 

          They [the Christians] must not be ferreted out; if they are charged and convicted, they must be punished, provided that anyone who denies that he is a Christian and gives practical proof of that by invoking our gods is to be pardoned on the strength of this repudiation, no matter what grounds for suspicion may have existed against him in the past.[62]

 

During a persecution campaign unleashed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Romans arrested Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (161 A.D.)  Before the court and an assembled crowd the proconsul offered:  "Consider yourself and have pity on your great age.  Reproach Christ and I will release you."  But Polycarp refused, answering:  "Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never once wronged me.  How can I blaspheme my King, who saved me?"  In 200 A.D., under Severus, a Christian named Perpetua was imprisoned for her faith.  Apparently moved by her plight, the judge offered her freedom and life:  "Spare the gray hairs of your father.  Spare your child.  Offer sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor."  She refused:  "I will not sacrifice."  After affirming she was a Christian, she was fed to the wild animals along with other believers.[63]  Fox summarizes what the pagans demanded of the Christians hauled into court thus:

 

          Nobody minded too much what Christians did or did not believe.  A gesture of honour to the gods and conformity to tradition was all that was required of them.  As a governor told Bishop Dionysius, there would be no objection if the bishop would only worship the pagan gods as well as his own.  In Africa, Tertullian knew of a governor who had tried to help Christians acquit themselves.  Some allowed them to offer a pinch of incense instead of meat and strove to find a "convenient" form of words.  They wanted worshippers of their own gods, not martyrs for a faith. . . .  In 180, a governor in Carthage remarked before passing sentence that the Christians had been given a chance to return "to the Romans' custom," or mores.  This note of frustrated Romanity recurs elsewhere, as does the stress on morals. . . .  If a Christian suspect honoured the gods, he went free.[64]

 

In light of these statements, it's hardly obvious that once the apostles "were arrested, it was too late!"  Although these statements generally reflect second century A.D. Roman procedure, Conder would have to cite evidence for a less lenient policy that lacked the option for Christian "repentance" earlier to really prove his point.  Admittedly, for Nero's persecution that scapegoated the Christians after the great fire in Rome (64 A.D.), a more merciless policy may have been pursued.  But since becoming a Christian involves accepting certain ideas, not unchangeable characteristics such as race, color, or gender, they could be denied when challenged, depending on how and where the Christians were captured.  It's quite possible that the first-century apostles could have denied Christ, and saved their necks, if they had chosen to do so while on trial.

 

WHY THE COUNTER-EXAMPLE OF THE MORMON PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH PROVES NOTHING

 

          Conder argues that the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith's martyrdom (1844) shows someone could die for a lie that he knew was a lie (BGJ, p. 13).  This reasoning faces fundamental flaws, the first one being the demonstrable many errors and incongruities that can be found in the LDS Church's Scriptures.  Joseph Smith kept changing his beliefs doctrinally.  A comparison of The Book of Mormon with Doctrine and Covenants or The Pearl of Great Price shows this.  Second, the dishonest nature and life of Joseph Smith is easily proven, once someone looks past the LDS Church's own sanitized histories.  Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History:  The Life of Joseph Smith, 2d ed. (New York:  Alfred Knopf, 1976) is a case in point.  Third, as ICF notes (p. 38, fn. 71), all of those outside Smith's family who signed their names as witnesses for the legitimacy of The Book of Mormon's divine origin (8 out of 11) later left the Mormon Church.  There's even record of Smith condemning them.  Obviously, this is no place to pursue and explain systematically the errors of the Mormon Church.  But those interested in how different early Christianity and early Mormonism are should consult the following works on the latter:  Ed Decker and Dave Hunt, The God Makers (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1984); John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Mormonism (Eugene, OR;  Harvest House Publishers, 1992); Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, MN:  Bethany House Publishers, 1985), pp. 166-226.  Being someone who has actually read The Book of Mormon, has known Mormons, and has studied into the Mormon Church's history and evolving, contradictory theology, I can assure you the New Testament, the apostles, and early Christianity are in a very different category.[65]  For Conder's point to stick, he'd have to prove how the apostles materially and personally benefited from upholding their belief in the resurrection.  (They certainly did not end up with as many wives as Smith did!)  Clearly, the apostle Paul didn't (II Cor. 11:23-25): 

 

          Are they servants of Christ (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.

 

Paul apparently was headed for a brilliant career within Judaism (Acts 22:2-3; Gal. 2:13-14‑‑although it's not in the NT, it's been said he was on the Sanhedrin), how was Paul's conversion in his self-interest?  Instead of being persecuted, he could have continued doing the persecuting.  Besides encountering Christ on the road to Damascus, what could have possibly changed his mind?  Material gain?  Don't make me laugh!

 

ANIMAL SACRIFICES REVISITED

 

          Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, "If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them, if the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed."  (Lev. 4:2-3)

 

          Now if a person sins, after he hears a public adjuration to testify, when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt. . . . Or if a person swears thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good, in whatever matter a man may speak thoughtlessly with an oath, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty in one of these.  So it shall be when he becomes guilty in one of these, that he shall confess that in which he has sinned.  He shall also bring his guilt offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering.  So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin.  (Lev. 5:1, 4-6)

 

Literally scores of other texts could be quoted as well before making the following point, but these will do:  Without the NT, how could somebody believing only in the OT cancel out these commands of God?  These verses provide no escape clause.  Giving no book, chapter, or verse number, Conder claims:  "The Holy Scriptures tell us that animal sacrifices are suspended for the present, not abolished, until the time of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem" (BGJ, p. 15).  In fact, the suspension of the animal sacrifices is purely opportunistic:  After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D., the Jews gave up offering sacrifices.  But how does a gentile army's actions cancel out a command of God for His people?  The mere fact God allowed the Temple's destruction implies the need for the sacrifices had ended.  If God still required them, He wouldn't have made it impossible for the Jews to keep offering them as a nation.  Furthermore, due to the difficulties of travel (even during the millennium), wouldn't more than one site for sacrifices be necessary?  Would Americans or Australians who sinned routinely travel to Jerusalem to sacrifice an animal?  Using Jerusalem as a center for sacrifice implied all those serving God lived within some reasonable distance from it.  Turning to the issue about whether a "substitute action" can replace an animal sacrifice, my denial aimed at claims that some act of penance that isn't an animal sacrifice will fulfill the commands of God.  Conder's argument that the abolition of the animal sacrifices or the addition of Jesus' sacrifice contradict Deut. 4:2; 12:32 ignores how these texts concern human-originated innovations in observing God's law.  Neither text prevents God from changing His law, as He reveals more truth to humanity.  It's silly to claim Mal. 3:6, where Jehovah says "I change not" prevents God from making future revelations, or from changing His mind when humans change their actions.  For example, consider Jonah 3:10:  "When God saw their deeds [Nineveh repenting], that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it."  Furthermore, Mal. 3:6 was a statement made in the context of God's promises to Israel, which had become unconditional:  "For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."  The implication is that God doesn't destroy Israel, despite all their sins, because of His prior promises to the patriarchs and through the prophets of Israel's eventual greatness.  Conder's request to explain how Jesus could be the Savior when the OT declares God to be the only Savior (Isa. 45:21; 43:11) is easily enough answered:  Jesus was Jehovah, therefore, the two are actually one and the same (I Cor. 10:4, 9; John 1:1, 18; 5:37; 8:58-59; cf. Ex. 33:18-23).  Lev. 17:12-14's command not to eat blood doesn't contradict the Christian Passover ceremony, since the wine stands for blood only symbolically.   Micah 6:7 and II Kings 16:3 don't contradict the sacrifice of God's only begotten Son in the NT because Jesus sacrificed Himself to the true God, not a false one.  He died on a cross, not as a burnt offering on an altar.  Furthermore, God often has required "human sacrifice" in both the New and Old Testaments, but the sacrifices weren't placed on some altar.  Instead, the prophets, loyal to God's law and ways above all, often died as martyrs, human sacrifices to God indeed!

 

WHY WILL THERE BE ANIMAL SACRIFICES IN THE MILLENNIUM?  A TENTATIVE SOLUTION

 

          As for the issue of why God would continue animal sacrifices in the millennium (BGJ, p. 15; re:  Eze. 43:18-27), Archer's basic solution consists of comparing them to the meaning and termination of the ceremony of communion ("Passover" in the COG).  As I Cor. 11:26 states:  "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."   This text implies that after Jesus returns the need to take the wine and bread will end.  But then will believers take something else that symbolizes Jesus' sacrifice?  As Archer speculates:  "Apparently it will be in the form of blood sacrifices once again, yet without any of the atoning function of the Old Testament period."  Although the terms used to describe the sacrifices remain the same as those found in the Law of Moses, they will gain new meanings.  Archer explains that Ezekiel used them

 

          because they furnished the closest analogy to the millennial offerings that the Hebrew believer had any acquaintance with.  But like so many other terms employed in connection with the end times, so these designations of sacrifice were sublimated and altered to fit the new conditions of the new age yet to come.[66]

 

Like the newly-rebuilt Temple, the sacrifices then would look back, as a memorial of Christ's death, instead of foreshadowing God's redemptive acts yet to come.  Although no simple solution to this problem exists, it's conspicuous Conder passes over the problems in saying God can just change and remit the penalties of His law whenever He chooses.  If this was so, why did God institute the animal sacrifices to begin with?  Since their symbolism and ultimate meaning isn't explained within the OT itself, it points to the Old Testament's incompleteness as a revelation from God.  Something more was to come.  Conder seems to deny God can have progressive revelation, something which is evident even within the OT itself from the time of the patriarchs to the Pentateuch to the prophets.  For example, it's hard, perhaps impossible, to find any promise of eternal life in the first five books of the Bible.

Trying to explain the OT's different portrayals of the Messiah (Conquering vs. Mournful) without recourse to the NT would certainly constitute enough challenge to Conder and Company, before asking Christians to explain with perfect clarity every murky OT prophecy, a section of Scripture notoriously subject to different interpretations. 

 

DO ANY FIRST-CENTURY FRAGMENTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT EXIST?  OOPS!

 

          Mea culpa!  Conder is right to insist that I was wrong to say it was "outdated scholarship" to deny any first-century fragments of the New Testament exist (BGJ, pp. 16-17).  I relied on statements in Robert Morey's The New Atheism which have proved to be at least premature.  Ironically, while writing the draft for a booklet for my congregation's possible local evangelism campaigns and before I received BGJ in the mail, I read a section in a book I had borrowed from my local church's library which cast doubt on the claims Morey makes.  James C. VanderKam's statement below caused me pull back from this claim, but not to repudiate it as entirely mistaken:

 

          While on the topic of sensational proposals like this, I should mention the suggestion made some 15 years ago that a few small papyrus scraps from Cave 7 [near the Dead Sea], a cave in which Greek texts have been found, were actually copies of New Testament books‑‑Mark, Acts, Romans, I Timothy, James and 2 Peter.  Naturally if that were true, the standard scenario for Qumran [the community that copied the Dead Sea Scrolls] would have to be altered appreciably.  What in the world are Christian texts doing in these caves?  There remain some advocates of this position today but it has been largely abandoned on the grounds that too little of the texts is preserved and even for what exists, the correspondences with the texts in question are not exact.[67]

 

Having received harsh criticism and scalding book reviews from his colleagues, apparently few or no other scholars support Carsten Thiede's similar claims that certain fragments of the Gospel of Matthew (Magdalen GR 17) date to the first century.  T.C. Skeat, a top-ranked papyrologist, believes they are either "late 2nd century" or "circa 200."  Despite this dismal outlook on such claims, some scholars (such as the small minority VanderKam refers to above) still willingly say certain NT fragments can be dated to the first century.  Thiede states, in his letter to Biblical Archeology Review:  "After years of critical analysis (the papyrus was first identified in 1972), leading papyrologists, among them the editor of the journal Aegyptus, have demanded repeatedly that Qumran fragment 7Q5 be given a New Testament papyrus number."  Conder objects that a certain purported Dead Sea Scrolls fragment was identified as from the Gospel of Mark based on a mere 20 letters with only one complete word, "and."  But as Thiede notes in his letter, a piece of the Virgil's great Latin epic Aenid found at the fortress at Masada had just one line with 14 letters, "two of them incomplete‑‑yet no one objected to their identification as Aeneid 4.9."  On this subject, we face the reality of being onlookers of scholarly controversy's cutting edge, in which some scholars question a "paradigm" (i.e., here loosely used for the belief "There are no first-century fragments of the NT") that a strong majority of their colleagues vociferously support.  Although this controversy shows I was wrong to say it was "outdated scholarship" (i.e. by a consensus of scholars) to deny that such fragments exist, there still remains a minority of people with respectable credentials who have identified NT fragment(s) as dating to the first century.  Although citing scholars who strongly rejected Thiede's claims, even Hershel Shanks says in his response to Thiede's letter, his "claims may well be among those 'far-out theories [that] are sometimes later proved correct,' as I recognized in my editorial."  Perhaps, X number of years from now, a scholarly consensus will arise that accepts the existence of first-century fragment(s) of the NT‑‑but presently and clearly a strong majority of scholars rejects them.[68]

 

SIGNIFICANT PORTIONS OF THE NT ARE IN MANUSCRIPTS OLDER THAN C. 325-350 A.D.

 

          On the other hand, it's mistaken to believe only small fragments of the NT exist before the copying of the great fourth-century manuscripts (mss) Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, dated to 325-350 A.D. and 350 A.D. respectively.  Using this assumption, Conder mistakenly writes:  "Since McDowell, Snow, and Stinson maintain that the pagans borrowed from Christianity, and they base this on the assertion that the earliest surviving writings of paganism date only from the second century C.E., then how do they explain this in light of the fact that the earliest surviving Gospel accounts date from the fourth century C.E.?" (BGJ, p. 31; cf. p. 27, "fourth century manuscript").  But, describing earlier partially complete mss., C.L. Blomberg writes:  "The Chester Beatty and the more recently discovered Bodmer papyri contain large sections of the NT, e.g., virtually the complete Gospel of John, most of Luke and Acts, and extensive portions of Epistles and Revelation."  Below his statement comes a list of various papyrus mss. of the NT that summarizes names, dates, manuscript locations, and what books (or parts of books) they contain:

 

          p40  Rom. 1-4; 6; 9. 3rd cent. Heidelberg. . . . p45  Gospels, Acts. 3rd cent.  Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; Vienna.  p46  Pauline Epistles.  3rd cent.  Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. . . . p47  Rev. 9-17.  3rd cent.  Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. . . . p66  John.  2nd/3rd cent.  Papyrus Bodmer 2.  Bodmer Library, Geneva. . . . p75  Luke, John.  Early 3rd cent.  Papyrus Bodmer 14-15.  Bodmer Library, Geneva.[69]

 

The Ryland fragment for the Gospel of John, dated to 125-130 A.D., is the earliest generally accepted fragment for any part of the NT.  Since John traditionally was said to have been written in Asia Minor, but this fragment was found in Egypt, the difference implies the original date of composition was (at least) two or three decades earlier.  McDowell notes the Chester Beatty Papyri and the Bodmer Papyri II dates as 200 A.D. and 150-200 A.D. respectively.  Because of these discoveries, Millar Burrows of Yale notes:  "Another result of comparing New Testament Greek with the language of the papyri [discoveries] is an increase in confidence in the accurate transmission of the text of the New Testament itself."[70]  It's misleading to claim we should be fearful of what the "Roman Catholic" church did in preserving the New Testament for the three hundred years before the copying of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus because only "fragments" precede these fourth-century manuscripts.  Fox claims that because the Gnostic heretic Marcion (c. 140's A.D.) intentionally perverted Scripture and the canon, we can't trust the NT being accurately preserved.  (See MB, p. 19).  This reasoning ignores how the persecuted mainstream orthodox Sunday-keeping church was the main agent God used to preserve the NT during much of its first 300 years of existence, not Gnostic heretics.  Similarly, God used disbelieving Jews who denied Jesus was the Messiah to preserve the Hebrew OT during the Middle Ages.  Although many of us in the COG would deny these people were true Christians, since a number of them gave their lives or otherwise suffered persecution for Christ, this shows the sincerity of their convictions.  Such people aren't good candidates for perverting the New Testament, which they would have revered as the word of God, just as the Jews revered the Old Testament.  Furthermore, Fox would not likely apply this same reasoning to the ancient texts of classics, for reasons F.F. Bruce explains:  "No classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals."[71]  Then, as shown above, based upon the dating for Acts, the New Testament's own internal evidence points to its writing in the first century, over and above the archeological evidence for Acts that indicated it was a first-century composition that helped persuade Ramsay to give up his atheism and to embrace Christianity. 

 

HOW SKEPTICISM ABOUT PRIMARY SOURCES CAN DESTROY ONE'S OWN ARGUMENTS

 

          Similar to his assault on Eusebius, Conder attacks as unreliable the history and traditions of the early Sunday-keeping church, such as on the subject of Jesus' mother living past her Son's death, allowing her to be an eyewitness for His life, death, and teachings (BGJ, p. 17).  Of course, the Virgin Mary is last noted in the NT as praying with the incipient church before Pentecost in Acts 1:14.  Again, as noted above, Conder feels free to reject any and all parts of the NT whenever it's the least bit inconvenient to his hypothesis, instead of allowing the weight of the three tests, bibliographical, external evidence, and internal evidence, point to its at least partial historical reliability even by purely secular logic.  As McDowell and Wilson note about form criticism, which Conder likely leans upon, its skepticism is all "based on literary analysis (or should we say, conjecture), not on external historical evidence.  As can be imagined, form criticism could be a mighty handy tool for getting rid of anything a person might not want Jesus to be saying to them!"  These higher critics simply assume the early Christians (i.e., "the creative community") sat around spinning stories (i.e., lies) about Jesus for their own purposes without having any real evidence for it.[72]  Conder also faces the fundamental inconsistency (which he is at least partially aware of) of using for his own purposes the same "non-scriptural legends of the early Catholic Church" (BGJ, p. 17) as found in the Christian Church Fathers.  For example, his highly speculative reconstruction of the life of Simon the Sorcerer assumes the basic reliability of such documents as the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, the Acts of Peter, and/or Pseudo-Clementines (BGJ, p. 32).[73]  Somehow, although Justin and Irenaeus vehemently oppose the teachings of Simon the Sorcerer, their brand of Christianity is supposed to originate in Simon's teachings.  So now‑‑how can Conder pick and choose?  He undermines Justin's reliability by noting only two mss. exist for his works and citing someone saying other(s) may have added to them (see BGJ, p. 36 and fn. 97).  Suppose, like Conder does with any part of the NT that's the least bit troublesome, I say, "Those parts about Simon in these writings can't be trusted."  Although it's so absurd as it stands, most of Mystery Babylon, pp. 131-142, is then promptly totally annihilated.  Similarly, Conder cites Tertullian and Marcus Minucius Felix to claim crucified gods existed before Jesus (BGJ, pp. 28-29).  Again, I could claim, "Those statements are unreliable 'early church legends,' and can't be trusted."  Promptly, another part of Conder's case falls to pieces.  You can't spend your time saying, "Nothing in the Roman Catholic Church fathers' writings can be trusted," then turn around and say, "This statement by Church Father X proves this or that against the truth of Christianity."  Clearly, historical skepticism, of attacking hypercritically any and all statements indiscriminately in some document one deems unreliable, produces mutually assured destruction for both sides in this controversy. 

 

TWO REASONS FOR THE SUNDAY-KEEPING CHURCH'S EARLY LEADERS' BASIC RELIABILITY

 

          Despite the weaknesses of the Christian Church Fathers, two good reasons exist for considering their rough historical reliability when relating (say) how the apostles died.  First, since many Christians died for their faith in Christianity's first centuries, it's sensible to believe their earlier spiritual leaders suffered a similar fate.  As McDowell and Wilson ask:  "If the students were willing to die for their faith, how much more the teachers?"  Even if not all (excepting John) of the first apostles were martyred, "We can be confident that second- and third-generation believers followed the example of martyrdom set by the original apostles."  Second, since becoming a Christian could be hazardous to one's life, limb, freedom, and property, intelligent people would carefully investigate this new faith's foundation the first centuries after the crucifixion before accepting it.  Under these conditions, Conder's belief that they materially benefited from "draw[ing] members to their money-making organization" is laughable (my emphasis, BGJ, p. 18).  Even 120 years after Jesus' death, such a man as Polycarp could still recall what Jesus' first disciples said about the Son of God's life and teachings.  Whether through written or oral sources, people could still check out the new faith's foundations.[74]  Finally, it seems Conder never recognizes in Mystery Babylon or "By-gosh Josh" that any of the people could have an ounce of sincerity or integrity in serving the true God, assuming they weren't totally deceived idiots otherwise.  Their spilled blood should witness to us otherwise (re:  BGJ, p. 26, negative comments on NT's influence).

 

COULD AVERAGE PEOPLE IN FIRST-CENTURY JUDEA SPEAK GREEK?

 

          In order to rebut my evidence for average people being able to speak Greek in first-century Judea, Conder selectively quotes Josephus, while excluding the key part of the quote that proves this point (BGJ, p. 18; cf. ICF, p. 13).  He cites Josephus saying, "For our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods."  Although converting a semicolon to a period is usually an acceptable procedure, here it is misleading.  In the next clause of the same sentence Josephus continued to explain why this was so:  "because they look upon this sort of accomplishment [i.e., mastering Greek] as common, not only to all sorts of freemen, but to as many of the servants [slaves?] as pleased to learn them."  There's additional evidence for average people speaking Greek in first-century Judea.  For example, later in the second-century, Rabbi Judah the prince contended:  "Why (use) the Syrian language [i.e., Aramaic] in the land of Israel?  Either the sacred language or the Greek language."  The ossuaries (stone boxes) that archeologists have discovered from the general time of Jesus indicate that Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew were all spoken in the Holy Land.  Mostly fairly average people had the inscriptions placed on ossuaries' outsides, not the highly intellectual and literate whose writings have been preserved down through the ages.  Stambaugh and Balch note that two-thirds of these inscriptions found in Palestine were in Greek only, while one tenth were bilingual inscriptions in Greek as well as Hebrew (or Aramaic).  The Hasmonaean rulers (originating in the Maccabees) issued coins only in Hebrew until Alexander Jannaeus had coins minted with both Hebrew and Greek writing.  Although a Jew, his grandson used only Greek on his coins, as did the Herodian princes and Roman procurators over Judea.  Even a letter possibly written by the leader of the 132-35 A.D. Jewish revolt against Rome, Bar Kokhba, reads:  "Now this has been written in Greek because a desire has not been found to write in Hebrew."  They note that "whether more Greek or Aramaic was spoken in Palestine is debated."  Furthermore, a number of towns, cities, and areas in Judea were primarily made up of Hellenized Jews, such as Hippus, Julius, Sepphoris, Tiberias, Gadara, Scythopolis, and Caesarea Philippi.  Although Jews presumably predominated in these cities, they would have spoken Greek instead of Aramaic or Hebrew.[75]  Clearly, average people in first-century Judea could have spoken Greek.

 

WHY WOULD THE ARAMAIC- OR HEBREW-SPEAKING DISCIPLES QUOTE FROM A GREEK OT TRANSLATION?

 

          Conder asks why did the presumably Aramaic- or Hebrew-speaking disciples of Jesus use the Septuagint (LXX) when quoting the Old Testament in the New Testament (BGJ, p. 18).  As Gleason Archer explains, the apostles had to use the LXX because this translation of the OT was the main, even exclusive, form available to the Hellenized Jews in the Diaspora (outside Palestine).  If they had quoted literally from the Hebrew OT, but translated it into Greek, what might have happened when those they evangelized checked out their claims for Jesus (as the Bereans did)?  "The readers would have noticed the discrepancies at once‑‑minor though they may have been‑‑and would with one voice have objected, 'But that isn't the way I read it in my Bible!'"  Conspicuously, when writing for an audience composed mainly of Jews, the Gospel of Matthew and Hebrews often quote from a non-Septuagintal form that's usually somewhat closer to the Hebrew original's wording.[76]  Then, although the Masoretic text (MT) undeniably represents the original text better than the LXX in most cases, some passages the LXX has preserved better (for example, I Samuel 14:41 and Gen. 4:8).  Among the Dead Sea Scrolls an alternative Hebrew text to the Masoretic text, called the Vorlage, sometimes appears.  As S.K. Soderlund reports: 

 

          But far from undermining interest in the LXX, the DSS [Dead Sea Scrolls] have intensified it, especially since a number of their readings support the LXX against the MT.  Thus many of the discrepancies between Hebrew and Greek texts of certain books (e.g., Samuel and Jeremiah), previously blamed on the translators, actually go back to a Hebrew text (Vorlage) different from, and sometimes superior to, the MT.

 

This alternative text presumably sometimes influenced the readings of the LXX that differ from the MT's.  For example, in the LXX the book of Jeremiah is about one-eighth shorter and has rearranged the order of its contents some.[77]  Although I believe the providence of God would ensure that the Jews would have weighed the evidence and then have selected the basic best form of the Hebrew text to preserve, the Vorlage could be in some cases the better of the two.  Still, these differences leave open one serious possibility‑‑that when a NT author cites the OT in a version noticeably different from the MT due to leaning on the LXX or some other Greek translation, it could be the NT form is closer to the autograph (original copy) than what the Jews preserved in the MT through the Middle Ages.[78]

 

DID JESUS PERMANENTLY PROHIBIT EVANGELIZING THE GENTILES?

 

          Repeating a claim found in Mystery Babylon (p. 133), Conder believes Jesus "supposedly told his disciples not to go unto the Gentiles with the gospel because it was meant for Israel" (BGJ, p. 18).  Upon this claim he builds his assertions that some later writer inserted Jesus' statements to evangelize the world into the NT and to deny that the followers of Jesus had a need to learn to speak and write Greek in order to do that.  But is the initial claim true?  As I explained in ICF (p. 29), it's patently absurd to read Jesus' statement Matt. 10:5 as anything more than a one-time temporary command:  "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans."  In the wake of Israel's complaints following the spies' false report, was Moses' command telling Israel not to enter the Promised Land then a permanent command?  (See Num. 14:41-43).  Were Jesus' commands to the 70 on their evangelism expedition to "Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes" permanent commands applying to the apostles later or even to Christians today?  (Luke 10:1, 4, 17)  The one-time nature of the mission of the 70 proves how absurd it is to assume the disciples' mission described in Matt. 10 involved permanently binding commands.  Although Jesus normally only went to cities of orthodox Jews and avoided those of Hellenized Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles, the NT still records visits to the Samaritan village of Sychar (John 4) and the Caesar Philippi and Sidon/Tyre regions.[79]

 

DID THE SAME MAN WRITE THE GOSPEL OF LUKE AND THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES?

 

          Conder asserts that the Gospel of Luke was written in a "highly polished Greek vernacular," claiming this as evidence for "a later Greek-speaking Christian Church father composing" it.  Then he denies that the same man wrote Luke and Acts.  In fact, good evidence exists for one author writing both books, as Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains:

 

          Each book is the length of a scroll (about 35 feet), and each is addressed to the same individual, Theophilus.  The similarities between the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts in literary style, vocabulary, and theological ideas are unmistakable.[80]

 

Not possibly mistaken for a fundamentalist Christian, James Price of Duke University maintains:

 

          A comparison of the language and style of the "we" sections and the rest of Acts leads to the conclusion that if Luke was the diarist he was also the compiler of the whole of Acts.  Furthermore, if Luke was the author of Acts he was also the author of the Third Gospel, for the prefaces of the two books link them as parts of a single work.

 

He then discusses the sharp dispute over whether the medical terminology interest of the author of Acts and Luke indicates he was a physician.  He concludes by accepting a moderate position that sees partial validity to this argument.  He later basically endorses J. Fitzmyer's statement that "most of the arguments brought forth in modern times to substantiate the distance of Luke from Paul do not militate against the traditional identification of the author of the Third Gospel and Acts with Luke, the Syrian from Antioch, who had been a sometime collaborator of the Apostle Paul."[81]  The most significant argument for linking the Third Gospel to Acts is their similar introductions of dedication to Theophilus, and how the conclusion of one leads directly into the introduction of the other, almost as if they were one book later divided into two:

 

          From ancient times the writer of the Gospel of Luke has been credited with the writing of Acts.  Both books are addressed to Theophilus.  Also, by repeating the closing events of his Gospel in the opening verses of Acts [the command not to leave Jerusalem is the common link‑‑Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, as well as a likely double mention of the ascension‑‑Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9], Luke binds the two accounts together as the work of the same author.[82]

 

Regardless of whatever scholarly consensus Conder alludes to, perfectly sound arguments point to the author of Acts and the Third Gospel as being one and the same.

 

HOW THE SEMITIC CONSTRUCTIONS OF THE GOSPELS' GREEK INDICATE NO LATER "CHURCH FATHER" WROTE THEM

 

          Although Conder persists in claiming a highly scholarly Greek-speaking Father wrote Luke (p. 18), he fails to reply to ICF's point (p. 12) that the Third Gospel is loaded with Semitic-influenced Greek constructions, such as the apodotic kai ("and").  A well-educated, literary Greek speaker, if he wrote a highly polished work, wouldn't load it with linguistic constructions that sound clumsy in Greek but make sense in Aramaic or Hebrew, assuming he even knew that "barbarous" eastern language to begin with.  The NT was written in koine Greek, the language of the common people, not the highly educated and scholarly, a point also incompatible with Conder's claim that the Third Gospel was written in a "high polished Greek" (BGJ, p. 19).  Shooting down claims that highly literate Christian Church Fathers wrote the Gospels is the simple reality McDowell and Wilson note:  "The word order in much of the Greek manuscripts of the gospels is actually more Hebrew than Greek."  The Greek of the NT is sometimes loaded full of "ands," indicating Semitic sources and/or authors, since Greek normally wasn't written that way.  Furthermore, if the Christian church was primarily gentile by the early second century, it's highly unlikely "a Gentile of the second century or later [would] mold an account of the life of Jesus which so thoroughly reflected the first-century Hebrew culture."[83]  Such a gentile forger would be apt to make easily detected mistakes which the external evidence test would expose, accidently imputing to Jesus and his disciples aspects of gentile culture that he took for granted, but which didn't exist in their Semitic culture.  Consider the implications of Conder's implied claim that somebody can't vary in literary style (i.e., Luke between the parable of the prodigal son and his recording of Tertullus' accusation against Paul).  It suggests that the English Poet John Milton (1608-74) couldn't have written both "Paradise Lost" and "L'Allegro," since these poems vary sharply in style.  He wrote political tracts in yet another manner.[84]  Although analyzing literary style does have weight as internal evidence in determining authorship, it shouldn't be oversold against external evidence stating "so-and-so wrote such-and-such" in other documents.[85]  Otherwise, we erect the foundation for two or three "Isaiahs," JEDP theory replacing Moses, etc. in Old Testament criticism, a result Conder presumably wishes to avoid. 

 

FURTHER EXTERNAL EVIDENCE FOR LUKE'S RELIABILITY

 

          Conder asserts:  "The Holy Spirit wasn't inspiring 'Luke' because 'his' book is noted for error and contradictions" (BGJ, p. 19).  In fact, as noted in ICF (pp. 17-18), Luke's historical accuracy was enough to turn an atheist into a believer, archeologist Sir William Ramsay.  Classical historian A.N. Sherwin-White remarks that "for Acts that confirmation of historicity is overwhelming."  He adds that "any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.  Roman historians have long taken it for granted."[86]  Evidence for this attitude is found in the source book my professor assigned for the Roman Empire history class I took at Michigan State‑‑among portions of works by various pagan historians it included a significant chunk of the book of Acts.  Consider some further external evidence favoring Luke's skill as a historian that justifies Sherwin-White's statement.  Luke routinely correctly stated the titles of various Roman officials despite they changed fairly often in the first century.  For example, Luke called Sergius Paulus "proconsul" (Acts 13:7), not by the old title, "imperial legate," which notes the change in Cyprus' status from an imperial province to a senatorial one in 22 b.c.  He correctly called the governors of Asia and Achaia "proconsuls" since the senate ruled them, not the emperor (Acts 18:12; 19:38).  He got it right despite Achaia was under the senate from 27 b.c. to 15 A.D., then under the emperor to 44 A.D., and back under the senate again.  Luke was the only author from ancient times to preserve the term "politarches" (Acts 17:6).  The discovery of 19 different inscriptions in Macedonia and Thessalonica having this title have destroyed the doubts about his accuracy on this subject.  He called Publius "the first man of the island" (Acts 28:7), which both Latin and Greek inscriptions have confirmed was the right title for the ruler of Malta then.  The chief magistrates in Philippi insisted egotistically on being called "praetors" (Acts 16:20), as Luke records, not "duumvirs" as they were elsewhere, as the Roman Republic's orator Cicero (106-43 b.c.) confirms.  He refers to Herod Antipas by the title "tetrarch" (Luke 3:1, 19), not the popular designation of "king," since the Romans granted the status of royalty only to his father, Herod the Great.  Similar to his supposed error concerning the censuses conducted by Quirinius, critics used to charge Luke was wrong to call Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1).  After all, the only "Lysanias" then known was a "king" executed by Mark Anthony in 34 b.c.  But then an inscription referring to "Lysanias the tetrarch" dated to between 14 and 29 A.D. was discovered, routing the higher critics once again.[87]  Similar to how no conclusive evidence for Quirinius conducting more than one census exists (there is partial evidence for it), it once was thought that only one "Lysanias" had been a ruler in this area around the time of Christ, "proving" Luke was wrong.[88]  The discovery of this inscription is a permanent warning to those arguing from silence to attack Luke's chronology on the birth of Christ:  One day, archeology may prove you to be totally wrong!  (Re:  Mystery Babylon, p. 36).

 

"HIGHER" AND "LOWER" TEXTUAL CRITICISM DIFFERENTIATED

 

          Conder asks (BGJ, p. 19):  "Which is it, Eric?  Is the science of textual criticism an evil of 'higher critics,' such as those in the Jesus Seminar, or is it a useful tool for Bible study?"  To answer this question, first it's necessary to differentiate between "higher" and "lower" criticism.  S.K. Soderlund explains "lower criticism," using the OT's text as an example:

 

          A knowledge of the transmission history of the OT text is interesting in its own right, but the ultimate goal of such study is its application to the practice of textual or "lower" criticism‑‑the science of determining the earliest recoverable text form of an ancient document on the basis of the evidence available. . . .  The responsibility of the text critic is to evaluate all relevant sources in the light of established text-critical principles and a knowledge of scribal habits.[89]

 

Similarly, McDowell and Wilson explain lower criticism as the foundation upon which higher criticism builds, since it attempts to determine the original form of the document in question when no autograph (the manuscript the author first wrote) exists.  Higher criticism then can be divided into two broad categories, literary criticism and historical criticism.  Seeking to analyze the text as a completed piece of literature, literary criticism attempts to determine the meanings of words, the style of writing, and the grammar.  It may then go on to speculate about the author's circumstances and life setting.  By contrast, historical criticism investigates the historical setting of the text's composition.  Some questions it seeks to answer include when and where the document was written, who wrote it, who did he or she write it for, and what circumstances did the author write during.[90]  Form and redaction criticism, which analyze the supposedly isolated units Scripture originally was in and who and how somebody finally edited them all together, are types of "higher criticism."  To answer Conder's question, I object to the latter two types of higher criticism, at least once they operate under the assumption the Bible isn't the infallible, inerrant word of God.  But lower criticism is very useful for determining the original text for the NT and OT.  It shows the discrepancies between various handwritten copies of Scripture aren't much to worry about.  It proves reconstructing a printed text from ancient mss. is not some highly subjective and arbitrary process.  (Conder's criticism of Sitterly and Greenlee in BGJ, p. 20, implicitly assumes this).  Higher criticism, so long as it tries to shed light to help determine the text's meaning, can be valuable to a fundamentalist trying to figure out what God has commanded us.  But those using higher criticism to engage in conjectural emendations of the text usually have exalted human reason above the word of God, such as the Jesus Seminar judging how likely Christ spoke this or that statement found in the Gospels based upon certain assumptions or Ferrar Fenton eliminating the genealogy in Luke from his translation of the Bible as being supposedly contradictory to Matthew's.  I use the catchphrase "higher critics" to refer to those analyzing the Bible, OT and NT, who use the principles of textual criticism (i.e., human reason) to attack its inspiration.

 

THE BIBLIOGRAPHICAL TEST FOR A DOCUMENT'S RELIABILITY DEFENDED

 

          The military historian C. Sanders had three tests for the reliability of historical documents:  the bibliographical test, the external evidence test, and the internal evidence test.[91]  A priori (ahead of discovering the facts), using secular criteria alone, these tests can be applied to any primary source document to judge its reliability.  Conder attacks the part of the bibliographical test that maintains, a priori, the more ancient copies of a document that exist, the more likely it is reliable historically:  "So the argument that the number of surviving New Testament manuscripts somehow proves the authenticity and validity of the New Testament is absurd" (BGJ, p. 19).  The mere fact so many were copied implies the truth of the contents, all other factors being equal (ceteris paribus).  Of course, this can't be the only means to judge the truth of a document:  The Greek poet Homer's Iliad, since it has the third highest number of handwritten copies (643), would then be the third most reliable document.  Since its literary genre is plainly mythological, it can't be seen as historically reliable, which is a judgment based on using the external and internal evidence tests.  Although this one aspect of the bibliographical test, by itself, can't fully "prove" the NT's validity, it is partial evidence for its reliability.  It's necessary then to judge how great the gap is between the NT's earliest manuscripts and its original writing (the other part of the bibliographical test), and also run the internal and external evidence tests to get a fuller picture.  Compared to classical pagan historical literature, the NT clearly trumps all of it using the bibliographical test alone (see ICF, pp. 7-9). 

 

          The kind of skepticism Fox expresses about the accurate textual preservation of the NT (cited in MB, p. 19; cf. BGJ, p. 34) is totally unjustified, judging from the criteria of the bibliographical test.  Otherwise, by the same reasoning it would be necessary to throw out all classical literature as "historically unreliable" since there are far fewer copies of Tacitus, Suetonius, Caesar, etc. and the gap in time between the original writing and the oldest preserved copy is larger than for the NT.  As J. Harold Greenlee, a New Testament Greek scholar, reasons:

 

          Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics even though the earliest MSS [manuscripts] were written so long after the original writings and the number of extant MSS is in many instances so small, it is clear that the reliability of the text of the New Testament is likewise assured.[92]

 

Now Conder replies to this reasoning thus:  "The reason that many historians don't accept the New Testament as reliable but do accept the writings of Julius Caesar is because his writings do not form the nucleus of a religion, hence there has been no temptation to corrupt it" (BGJ, p. 26).  First, it should be noted that Julius Caesar shouldn't necessarily be regarded as unbiased.  As Blaiklock notes, Caesar's reference to his expedition to England isn't doubted, although "our principal informant is Julius himself (in a book designed to secure his political reputation)."[93]  We have to remember that in the Roman Republic, he was trying to get elected and/or gain political power (ahem) more forcefully.  Yet, does that cause us to become totally critical and doubtful of what he wrote?  Furthermore, if this objection annihilates the New Testament's reliability, it destroys the Old Testament's as well, since it too formed "the nucleus of a religion."  This reasoning ignores the reality that this temptation was counter-balanced by a natural Christian desire to preserve accurately what they regarded as the word of God.  For example, consider Origen's Hexpla, which put together six versions of the Old Testament in six columns, four of them being in Greek, one the Hebrew, and one the Hebrew in Greek letters.  As he made his own recension of the LXX in the fifth column, he did not feel totally free to reconstruct a Greek text of the LXX from other versions, but placed critical marks between the words which future scribes were supposed to copy.  Using also the Hebrew text as a means for correcting the LXX, he explained:

 

          When I was uncertain of the LXX reading because the various copies did not tally, I settled the issue by consulting the other versions and retaining what was in agreement with them.  Some passages did not appear in the Hebrew; these I marked with an obelus as I did not dare to leave them out altogether.  Other passages I marked with an asterisk to show that they were not in the Septuagint but that I had added them from the other versions in agreement with the Hebrew text.

 

Obviously, this was no man to trifle with the words of God, despite even Roman Catholics today would regard a good chunk of his theology as unorthodox.  Since the pre-313 A.D. church had enough of its blood shed by the Roman government, those who became Christians would have been usually sincere in what they believed, certainly at least as much as Jews of the same time, and would have found it presumptuous to change God's words.  Although the New Testament's manuscript tradition doesn't have the truly stunning uniformity of the Masoretic text, it still was preserved better than the pagan classics by and large.  As S.K. Soderlund notes:

 

          These modifications of the rules [of textual criticism] are valid for all types of literature, but perhaps especially for the OT, given its unique transmission history and the care with which the Hebrew Scriptures were copied in comparison with Greco-Roman literature or even the NT.[94]

 

Ironically, Conder isn't above implicitly using the bibliographical test himself elsewhere.  Casting doubt upon the writings of Justin Martyr, he notes only two handwritten copies of them exist, one finished in 1364 and another copied in 1571 (BGJ, p. 36).[95]  Noting the problem "that the 'originals' of Justin's writings are missing" (BGJ, p. 36) is besides the point:  The original autographs for all major ancient historical documents are missing also, but that shouldn't generate automatic doubt about them.  No original copy of the Pentateuch exists from the time of Moses (c. 1425 b.c.).  Does Conder doubt its historical reliability?  Although it must be seen as only one part of a series of tests, the bibliographical test clearly is a valuable tool for judging the reliability of any document.  Conder's attack amounts to an attempt to evade its implications for the NT's greater reliability compared to other ancient documents he trusts.

 

THE VARIATIONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT'S TEXT REVISITED

 

          By applying Geisler and Nix's estimates of the number of significant variations to the estimate that 200,000 variations exist within the NT's manuscripts, Conder calculates that 25,000 variations have weight and 3,333 are substantial (see BGJ, p. 20).  Should these numbers scare Christians?  Do these variations clearly threaten any major doctrines or practices?  To know what the implications of these variations are, ask yourself the following practical question:  Besides the elimination or curbing of archaic English, what differences have you noticed in the New Testament between the King James Version and almost any other major translation of the Bible?  If you haven't noticed any, besides perhaps the difference between the end of Mark and John 8's incident of the woman caught in adultery, that tells you how significant these variations are in practical terms.  Even then, if you have noticed variations, the philosophy of translation the translators used had a much greater impact than text type choices in generating them.  Did they choose to be highly literal (i.e., RSV, NKJV, NASB, KJV, Young's)?  Or did they use "dynamic equivalence," making it freer and looser and more like a paraphrase (i.e., TEV, NEB, REV, NJ, JB, NAB, Phillips)?  Did they use politically correct language that avoids using "he," "himself," "man," "mankind," as universal terms for both sexes (NRSV, CEV, NCV)?  Those especially interested in the subject of variations in the NT should consult the footnotes (apparatuses) of this Greek New Testament:  Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985).  (Note also the sources listed in ICF, pp. 10-11, fn. 14).  A casual glance at this printed edition of the NT shows that although at least some variations appear on every page, many of them are spelling and word order variations, etc.  Second, if someone commits himself to following the received text (Byzantine) instead of the critical text (Western/Alexandrine), a majority of them fall away.  There's more diversity between the few manuscripts representing the latter and far great number constituting the former than within former's alone.  In a statement that the two apparatuses of their Greek NT confirms, Hodges and Farstad note:  "The relative uniformity within this text shows clearly that its transmissional history has been stable and regular to a very large degree."[96]  But this is no place to take up the battle between the received and critical texts of the NT‑‑I'll leave that to Fuller.[97]  Third, let's take another practical example of how interpretive assumptions have far more impact than any of these supposedly scary NT textual variations do:  When the Worldwide Church of God announced its doctrine changes on the applicability of the Old Testament law to Christians, how much did textual variations between the received and critical text bear on that truly massive shift in Biblical interpretation?  I wrote a careful research paper on the subject after having read Pasadena's arguments in the Worldwide News over a period of months (revised twice at least, once some months after getting the boot for my dissent).[98]  The only relevant places where textual issues came up that could favor one side over another were Mark 7:19 (on the unclean meats issue) and Acts 21:25 (as bearing on whether the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 abolished the Law of Moses).  I can assure you textual issues in that major controversy were a trivial point, compared to (even) the (non-textual) translation differences between the NIV and KJV/NKJV.  Whether you accepted the argument from silence against any OT law being in force by whether it had to be repeated in the NT, a general exegetical principle, was far more important than these minor textual issues.  Another appeared in Brinsmead's Verdict articles, which argued the Epistles should interpret the Gospels, and the NT the OT, in a basically one way direction.  Higher critics can create a menacing big, bad wolf from purportedly high numbers of variations in the New Testament, but their real, practical impact is minor compared to other factors, principles, and assumptions bearing on how to interpret the New Testament.

 

THE SUNDAY-KEEPING CHURCH WAS THE MAIN AGENT GOD USED TO ASCERTAIN THE CANON

 

          Curiously misunderstanding my position, Conder maintains:  "Eric dismissed my findings that the Catholic Church decided the final canon of the New Testament by following the so-called historical scholarship of the Seventh-day Baptist Church" (BGJ, p. 20).  "As proof that the Catholic Church didn't decide the final canon of the New Testament, Eric offers . . ." (BGJ, p. 21).  Overlooking for now his failure to recognize the fundamental discontinuity in the Sunday-keeping ("Roman Catholic") church's history that began under Constantine in 313 A.D., Conder attacks a position I actually uphold.  He misunderstands my denial that the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy determined the canon as a denial that the Sunday-keeping church elders, laity, and writers generally figured out which books were inspired and which ones weren't when placing them in the New Testament.  The decisions of the bishops merely reflected the general consensus ultimately.  In ICF (p. 15), I stated: 

 

          In actuality, the Roman Catholic Church's leadership did not choose the canon, and then impose it from the top down. . . .  It [Conder's argument] also discounts how God can move men who are not true believers to make the right decisions.  (Would God be so careless to let ultimately His holy word become perverted by those with false doctrines?  After all, how did He preserve the OT and/or have the right books placed in it when Israel so often had fallen into idolatry as a nation?)

 

Similarly, God used the Jews, who had denied Jesus was the Messiah, to preserve the Hebrew Old Testament and Sacred Calendar through the Middle Ages, which the Catholic Church didn't do.  Although many of us in the COG would think they weren't true Christians, the Catholic and Orthodox churches were the main means by which God preserved the New Testament.  This job certainly wasn't done principally by the oft-persecuted Sabbatarian churches down through the centuries.[99]  The citations from works by Herbert W. Armstrong, John Ogwyn (a GCG minister), and Ellen White made in ICF (p. 21) were meant to prove a fundamental change occurred in the Sunday-keeping church beginning in the fourth century, and nothing about the canon (see BGJ, p. 21).  That church clearly became far more corrupt and apostate as it gained political power in the centuries following the issuing of the Edict of Milan (313 A.D.)  The fallacy of imputing back the corrupt nature of medieval Roman Catholicism to the pre-313 A.D. Sunday-keeping Church, kept on the run and relatively pure by Rome's off and on persecution, never appears to dawn on Conder.

 

THE GENEALOGIES OF CHRIST REVISITED

 

          Since ICF already covered many of the issues surrounding Jesus' genealogies, this terrain will not be slogged through again here.  Conspicuously, when Conder takes up the subject of foreshortened genealogies (BGJ, pp. 23-24), he deals with only one of the examples I used to show the OT will sometimes leave out ancestors on them.  The family trees of Caleb, Nebuchadnezzar, Shebuel, Ezra, and Maacah all omit ancestors, but these examples draw no response in BGJ (p. 24).  Being a top leader of post-exilic Judah at a time various Israelites "were excluded from the priesthood" due to uncertain genealogies (Ezra 2:62), Ezra's genealogy has to be seen as crucial, as was Christ's.  Nevertheless, a comparison of Ezra 7:1-5 with I Chron. 6:3-15 shows at least a couple of generations were omitted in the former text.  As for the dispute about whether 13 or 14 generations occurred between Jeconiah and Christ, it apparently comes down to our old friend inclusive versus exclusive counting, familiar to those who remember the disputes over whether Pentecost is on a Sunday or Monday[100] or how traditional Christians try to stuff "three days and three nights" between Friday sunset and Sunday morning.  If both Jeconiah and Christ are counted as one generation each, 12 generations come in between according to Matthew's list.  If David and Josiah (Jeconiah's father) are counted as one generation each, 12 ancestors/descendants appear in between in Matthew's list.  But although between Abraham and David 12 ancestors/descendants appear, David gets counted again for the next set of fourteen (until the time of exile).  The basic issue then becomes over how and whether to count inclusively or exclusively the "ends" and "beginnings" for each set of 14 generations mentioned in Matt. 1:17:  "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations."  On this basis, it's hardly clear Matthew committed an error by saying 14 generations came between Jeconiah and Christ, assuming the generations Jeconiah and Christ are in (as the "ends") are counted as one each of the 14 since 12 generations come in between.  As for whether any Biblical precedent exists for adoption, which Joseph could have done with Jesus, the case of Moses being adopted by Pharaoh's daughter comes to mind (Ex. 2:9-10; Heb. 11:24).  But if that example is rejected because it involved a gentile nation's customs, quasi-adoption appears in the cases of Jacob's two wives, Leah and Rachel, who accepted as their own the children born to their handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah (Gen. 30:3-8, 12-13, 24).  The New Testament clearly recognizes the concept (Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Eph. 1:5), but that naturally cuts no ice with Conder.  As for whether Luke's or Matthew's genealogy was Mary's, it's ironic that the Talmud evidently points to Luke's just like the early Christian tradition maintains, by saying Mary was the daughter of Heli (Haghigha, 77, 4).  Does God's promise that David's throne would never lack a "MAN" then exclude tracing Christ's claim to David's throne through Mary?  Must this term exclude "women"?  Although feminists object to this usage, when used collectively the traditional English terms "man" and "mankind" refer to all human beings of both genders.  Consider how the "king's daughters" were used to keep the Davidic throne alive when it was transferred to Ireland (re:  Jer. 43:10; 43:6).  If Conder still accepts HWA's framework of British-Israelism, then he'd have to accept that a woman (Elizabeth II) occupies that throne today, and women have occupied it in the past ("Bloody" Mary I, Victoria, Elizabeth I).  Also under Athaliah an interregnum occurred (II Chron. 22:10-12; 23:12-13).  Since George I was fifty-eighth in the line of succession in 1714, the move to put the Hanoverian  family on the throne after Anne's death shows there's no need to trace the family line in the straightest manner (re:  Conder's comments on other descendants of David besides Joseph passing along this right and Joseph's other children inheriting this right).[101]  Although Conder is totally skeptical about Christ's genealogies, we must remember no surviving ancient Jewish or gentile tradition of attacking them as fake is known, such as in the Jewish claims that influenced Celsus, even though both groups attacked Jesus' birth as illegitimate.  Since the public Jewish genealogical records survived until the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Matthew and Luke would have been rather foolish to concoct some false genealogy of Christ since they could have been easily exposed.[102]  Although this topic could be debated further, the fact remains the supposed problems with Christ's family tree are nowhere near as bad as Conder thinks.

 

WAS FIRST-CENTURY SAMARITAN RELIGION LARGELY PAGAN?

 

          Citing Legge, Conder maintains that first-century Samaritan religion was mostly pagan, outside of its respect for the Pentateuch (BGJ, p. 26, fn. 75).  Since Simon the Sorcerer worked his (ahem) "magic" and gained a following among the Samaritans, how pagan their religion was matters for disputes about how much Palestinian paganism supposedly influenced first-century Christianity.  R.T. Anderson describes the Samaritan religion in New Testament times as sharing "practices and beliefs with both heterodox and orthodox Judaism."  For example, like the evidently Essenic community at Qumran, they renounced the Temple in Jerusalem, interpreted Deut. 18:18 as a messianic text, didn't observe Purim or Hanukkah, used a complex lunar/solar calendar, and drew the exclusivistic image "sons of light" in their literature.  Although their religion focused on Mt. Gerizim, their "common feasts, laws, apocalyptic visions, and scriptural recensions show likely continued mutual influence."  Over the centuries, they have "shared beliefs and practices with several groups:  Rabbinic Judaism, the Qumran sect, Gnosticism, Christianity, Islam, and the Karaites."  As for Simon, Anderson says:  "Simon Magus (Acts 8:9ff.) was likely the leader of the Dositheans, an unorthodox, possibly gnostic-influenced, Samaritan group that continued to play a role in Samaritan history, particularly visible in the 4th and 14th cents. A.D."  Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary states about the Samaritans:  "At what stage the pagan elements of Mesopotamian religion were removed from Samaritan belief is impossible to determine.  But probably by the time of Nehemiah (about 450 B.C.), the Samaritans considered themselves orthodox."  Later it notes the Samaritans have "retained [until today] their belief in God as the unique Creator and Sustainer of all things."  Note that the Samaritans revered the Pentateuch, which includes the Shema of Deut. 6:4 and the First Commandment.  Although their canon was severely truncated, since they only accepted the Books of Moses and possibly Joshua, the doctrines of these books certainly aren't compatible with polytheism.  To assert that the Samaritans were polytheistic pagans who just had Yahweh as one more god among many does not appear to be their theology in the first century.  As for other kinds of evidence on how common paganism was in Palestine, evidently Mithraism wasn't popular, because no Mithraic monument has been found south of Sidon and Secia, which were to the north of where the Samaritans lived.[103]  In light of these similarities to Judaism, claiming the first-century Samaritans were mostly pagan should be rejected until further proof (such as citing from their writings) is provided.

 

CONDER CONFUSES CITING THE PRIMARY SOURCES WITH USING THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS

 

          In ICF (p. 51), I challenged Conder thus:  "I hereby challenge Conder to prove specifically, by citing examples while quoting the original versions of the myths themselves, such as from Plutarch, Ovid, or whomever, not secondary works such as Doane, Walker, or Frazer, that "Every one of the Sun-god saviors rose from the dead on the first day of the week after three days in the tomb. (MB, p. 65; cf. p. 67).  After a long discussion of books being burned by medieval Catholicism, the off-key response this request generated was this (BGJ, p. 28):  "I HEREBY CHALLENGE YOU ERIC SNOW TO QUOTE THE ORIGINALS [autographs of the NT].  WHEN YOU DO THAT ERIC, I WILL PRODUCE THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS OF THE MYSTERY RELIGIONS!"  Evidently, Conder misunderstood what I meant by "original versions of the myths themselves."  What I meant was to get Conder to give the exact quotes and references from standard printed editions of classical literature, hopefully available in English translation, for this claim about these gods rising from the dead on Sunday.  There's no need to produce the autographs or any ancient manuscripts copied down through the ages to answer this request.  His statement in footnote 79 (same page) makes the statement:  "Even when he [Snow] cites originals they are copies that were made many centuries after the events that they outline."  Since that's all we have for just about any ancient historical document, including the OT, this limitation affects Conder's research and mine equally.  Original autographs of documents a dozen or more centuries old are non-existent for any major ancient historical work, pagan, Jewish, or Christian.  For this reason, textual criticism is important, since it allows for the publication of printed editions of various ancient and medieval works with sufficient confidence that they can be used as reasonably accurate reflections of the autographs.

 

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SOURCES DISTINGUISHED

 

          So what are "primary sources" and "secondary sources"?  Primary sources are accounts written down at the time of some historical event or process' occurrence by witnesses, or by those same witnesses (or those they told) later on.  These compose the raw material historians use to write secondary sources.  Secondary sources attempt to interpret and explain what happened in the past through generalizations based on various facts and opinions found in primary sources.  For example, in the historiography of American slavery, the Narrative (1845) of Frederick Douglass is a primary source, since it relates his own personal experiences as a slave in Maryland before successfully escaping.  By contrast, Eugene Genovese's Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974) is a secondary work that surveys and analyzes an enormous amount of primary documentation as well as secondary literature by other historians to come to basic conclusions and generalizations describing American slavery in the South before the Civil War.  Likewise, in the debate between Conder and I, Doane and Nash are both secondary works dealing with the pagan mystery religions, while citing the NT, OT, Aeschylus, Ovid, Plutarch, etc. directly uses a primary source.  Disconcertingly, as noted earlier above, Mystery Babylon never appears to cite any of the pagan mystery religions' myths out of some standard printed edition.

 

WHY PRINTED PRIMARY SOURCES ARE SOMETIMES ALL THAT HISTORIANS NEED

 

          Now, in order to adequately use primary sources, it's not always necessary to look at the original manuscript or document, depending on whether copies of them, printed or on microfilm, exist.  If copies exist, or a printed edition, that's normally unnecessary.  Admittedly, sometimes it may be necessary to look at the original, if it exists.  For example, I felt this need when I studied Barrow Bennet's diary in the printed edition, which was originally written by a large plantation owner who lived in Louisiana before the Civil War.  When studying the appendix that listed how often Barrow whipped various slaves, it wasn't always clear why certain names were listed there without the tell-tale "X" that indicated Barrow had whipped that slave.  Were those slaves whose names appeared but had no "X" by them whipped?  Mostly I couldn't be certain they weren't, except if I went through the hassle of trying to locate, travel to, and laboriously read the handwritten original manuscript of the diary, assuming it's even available to scholars to begin with.  (It may be in private hands, not a library or research institution's collection).  This issue mattered because Fogel and Engerman in Time on the Cross claimed that Barrow didn't whip his slaves very often, raising issues that Herbert Gutman and others responded to in the books Slavery and the Numbers Game and Reckoning with Slavery.  Nevertheless, depending on what kind of project a historian is engaged in, often he or she has no need to consult the original manuscript for some historical document.  If a historian is analyzing how some governmental entity operated according to its own documents written by its own officials and bureaucrats, most of these documents may have literally no other copies in existence.  He or she then would have to travel to the place(s) where that governmental body operated, and look through its archives or record office(s) to figure out what its officials said or recorded about their actions or beliefs behind the scenes, as opposed to what any newspapers or other outsiders may have said about them.  In a work comparing American slavery with Russian serfdom, Peter Kolchin notes his reliance upon printed primary sources for his subjects while making "considerable use of the extensive secondary literature" on them as well, but remarks the two shouldn't be confused.[104] 

 

THE NEED TO CHECK OUT PRIMARY SOURCES IN HISTORIOGRAPHICAL DEBATES

 

          The reason why I issued this challenge to Conder was to get him to quote directly from assorted pagan myths from various standard printed sources of them in English translation, instead of giving us the potentially biased renditions found in the secondary works such as Walker, Doane, etc.  For example, I am suspicious they may be using Christian terminology to describe pagan rituals or beliefs, which then artificially forces or strengthens the parallels they're attempting to draw.  Although even professional historians in thoroughly respectable works do this, it's always potentially hazardous to quote another book you haven't seen through its citation in a book you do have.  The quote could have been taken out of context, etc., which is a stock complaint evolutionists make against books written by creationists that cite evolutionists to help them make their points.  Proof that Walker or Doane shouldn't be necessarily trusted to get it right concerning their use of the pagan myths comes from the one case where I did look up directly the pagan myth being cited.  When Doane cited the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus' play "Prometheus Chained," he plainly and dishonestly quoted from it out of context to make his point (see ICF, pp. 48-49).  Intensifying Conder's debacle in relying on Doane on this point was how he cited this example no less than three times in Mystery Babylon (pp. 51, 62, 73).  Conspicuously, Conder makes no attempt in BGJ to salvage his case on this score.  Hence, in the one case the original (in a printed English translation) was consulted to give some context to the original quote, Conder's case bombed.  Given the conscious dishonesty of Doane's quote from Aeschylus' play that Conder mistakenly depended upon, I'm totally suspicious of this secondary work as well as Walker's.  I won't accept this statement in Mystery Babylon (p. 65) as being true until Conder lines up a dozen direct quotes from different myths from printed primary sources in English translation which I can check myself using the resources of (say) the Michigan State University and University of Michigan libraries to make sure they weren't taken out of context or otherwise misinterpreted.  I'm thoroughly convinced that no evidence exists for any pagan savior god being resurrected on Sunday after being in the tomb for three days in any primary sources available existing today (compare the Pinchas Lapide quote found in BGJ, p. 25). 

 

          In a scientific dispute between competing theories, scientists attempt to replicate the results supporting claims they disagree with in their own labs.  In historiography, disputes between historians involve a somewhat different verification process, assuming it's not just a matter of interpreting those sources:  By reading the primary sources for themselves, they can check if something was quoted out of context or otherwise misused in a colleague's work.[105]  Importantly, I'm not questioning the basic manuscript reliability or general soundness of the written accounts of the pagan mystery religions in the Christian Church Fathers or elsewhere, but Conder's interpretations of these sources (see BGJ, p. 29), especially any that ignore chronological issues about their time of composition or read deep meanings into superficial similarities.  What matters is what the NT teaches as true doctrine, not what errors Sunday-keeping Christianity may have picked up later, since the commands of men (such as on changing the Sabbath) can't override the words of God.  I want Conder to lay out the printed sources Doane and Walker relied upon for the claims they're making, hopefully in English translations so most of us have the ability to check them out instead of just scholars trained in Latin and Greek.

 

THE ARGUMENT FROM BURNED BOOKS IS AN ARGUMENT FROM SILENCE

 

          Conder goes on and on about how medieval Roman Catholicism burned books (BGJ, pp. 26-27), but I'm convinced that if such evidence had survived it would have instead clearly exonerated first-century Christianity from having depended on them.  Knowing so much more specifically about the mystery religions would have made the cases of critics like Conder, Doane, or Walker harder to prove, since often all that's seized upon are superficial similarities, such as the absurd equation of the taurobolium and water baptism (the latter being, as inspired by God, a rite taken directly from the Jews!)  Furthermore, Conder is stuck arguing from silence here.  It may be nice to think that had all these burned books not been torched, and assuming the various barbarian invasions and upsets of the Medieval period had allowed their continual copying down through the generations, his case would be proven.  But as it is, he is speculating in a vacuum, without any evidence to support his contentions.  Fundamentally, historians have to depend on what evidence that has (often fortuitously) been preserved, not speculate about how this or that idea they have would be proven true had this or that manuscript or document survived.  My speculation that had these pagan works been preserved, they would have made it easier to exonerate first-century Christianity from having depended on the pagan mystery religions for its doctrinal content, is, a priori, just as sound as Conder's contention that they would have proven Christianity did depend on them for its beliefs.  There's no way to prove otherwise, except (perhaps) extrapolating from the evidence that is available.

 

MEDIEVAL CATHOLICISM'S BURNING OF BOOKS COMPARED TO JOSIAH'S IMAGE-SMASHING

 

          Another factor to consider is why did Medieval Catholicism burn these books (BGJ, p. 29 on Aztec [or Mayan] books)?  Was it to cover up its past?  Actually, it was out of (perhaps) misguided enthusiasm for the ways of God.  Consider, for example, the bouts of iconoclasm (image/idol smashing) that broke out in the Byzantine Empire and in Puritan England during its civil war in the seventeenth century.  Were the motives of these traditional Christians smashing (say) idols or pictures of Jesus or Mary any different in motive from the campaigns of Hezekiah or Josiah against false pagan worship (II Kings 18:4, 23:3-20)?  Conder's interpretation of Catholic persecution campaigns that burned books is that their motive was to suppress evidence that undermined the truth of Catholicism.  My interpretation of their motive is they were simply being misguided but sincere religious people who sought to suppress manifestations of false pagan religions just as Hezekiah or Josiah engaged in.  Who's right?  Well, that may require citing documents stating what these people burning the books said were their reasons for doing it, assuming the "public transcript" (James C. Scott's term) correctly reflects the true motives of those involved.[106]  Of course, since we don't have direct access to their minds today, and can't ask them any questions, a common historiographical problem in knowing the motives and beliefs of average people in the past looms before us.  This question may be ultimately unanswerable.  But Pope Gregory, in one example Conder cites, says it was done "lest its secular literature distract the faithful from the contemplation of heaven" (BGJ, p. 27).  This bit of evidence doesn't agree with Conder's interpretation of these acts.  Ultimately, were they all that different from Josiah cutting down Asherim? (II Kings 14:23).  Consider the books on occult practices newly converted Christians in Ephesus burned (Acts 19:19).  Since these books reflected and explained practices that involved false religious worship, they couldn't be sold to someone else, lest their errors influence others.  Consequently, writings worth 50,000 pieces of silver went up in smoke.  One can't sit back, centuries later, and impute to them that the motive was the desire to suppress evidence without citing some evidence that this was true!  As always, it seems Conder (BGJ, p. 26) can never admit a Catholic having a pure motive (except, perhaps, when noting he or she has been duped into a false religion).  But even the medieval church had sincere people such as St. Francis of Assisi (1181 or 1182 to 1226), despite they neither were true Christians nor had the power to control or fully reform their church.    

 

THE DATE(S) OF COMPOSITION AREN'T THE DATES FOR SURVIVING ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS

 

          Apparently, Conder confuses the dates of the copying of manuscripts with when they were originally written, and the doctrines of fourth-century Christianity as reflecting first-century Christianity's.  For example, I argue that a late fourth-century (376 A.D.) pagan inscription stating "reborn for eternity in the taurobolium and criobolium" couldn't have influenced the beliefs of the first-century church's concept of spiritual begettal (see ICF, p. 41).  This point discusses a general problem with those arguing paganism determined Christianity's doctrinal content and rituals in which they ignore chronology when making comparisons.[107]  Conder replies (BGJ, p. 28):

 

          There isn't any real evidence that the fixed doctrines of fourth century Christianity can be dated to the first century.  The assertion that the modern religion we know as Christianity is the product of the first century Jesus and his apostles may be acceptable to a Christian fundamentalist, but it has little if any historical standing.

 

A similar mistake is committed on p. 31:

 

          Since McDowell, Snow and Stinson maintain that the pagans borrowed from Christianity, and they based this on the assertion that the earliest surviving writings of paganism date only from the second century C.E., then how to they explain this in light of the fact that the earliest surviving Gospel accounts date from the fourth century C.E.?

 

Now, the doctrine of spiritual begettal I'm referring to (traditional Protestants would say "being born again") is based mainly on Jesus' words in John 3:1-8.  If the Gospel of John was written in (say) 100 A.D., then there's no way the kind of pagan thinking reflected in a 376 A.D. inscription can be proven to have influenced it.  Even the nineteenth-century liberal scholar Baur dated John to 160 or 170 A.D., and Kummel, another liberal, dates it to 90-100 A.D.  The Rylands fragment (125-130 A.D.) proves the Fourth Gospel existed by the early second century.  A virtually complete copy of John can be found in the Chester Beatty and/or Bodmer papyri (which date to 155 A.D. to 200 A.D. or so).  Like any other COG member, I maintain the teachings of fourth-century Sunday-keeping Christianity involved a major apostasy from the truth.  Many of its doctrines and practices, which include the adoption of the date for Christmas from Mithraism and the Saturnalia, simply can't be read back to the primitive church of Paul, Peter, and John.  What matters isn't what was taught in the fourth-century church, but rather what are the doctrines of the New Testament, which is the word of God and was written by c. 100 A.D.  Only if Conder can cite from some pagan document or inscription originally composed in or before 100 A.D. could he prove paganism might have influenced the teachings of first-century Christianity.  For example, Conder cites Justin Martyr as a source of information on the mystery religions (BGJ, p. 28).  Although Justin wrote in the middle of the second century, the oldest manuscript copies of his writings date from the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries (BGJ, p. 36).  If the document is a copy made centuries later by a medieval scribe, that would be fine for his case, assuming it was reasonably accurately transmitted (the bibliographical test bears on this point).[108]  By the standard Conder uses to turn the NT into a fourth-century document, Justin Martyr's writings (which he uses) become a fourteenth-century document!  Conder earlier somewhat misstates the arguments of those saying chronology bars the drawing of parallels between paganism and Christianity (BGJ, p. 25):  "They next seek to dismiss the Mystery Religion's [Is it one or many?  The error of combinationalism may lurk here‑‑EVS] influence on Christianity by arguing that the surviving records detailing the customs and doctrines of the Mysteries are not reliable because they are not as old as the Christian New Testament."  What matters fundamentally is when those records were originally written, not the age of the surviving manuscripts.  For example, Conder cites something out of the works of Tertullian (155 or 160 to after 220 A.D.) as evidence for a point he is making about the mystery religions influencing Christianity (BGJ, pp. 28-29).  Presumably, like Justin Martyr's, the oldest copy of Tertullian's works follows his death by (perhaps) a thousand years, but since they were written in the late second and early third century A.D., they can be cited to illustrate that period's conditions when relevant.  Although this should be all very obvious, that an ancient document's date of composition usually isn't the date of the oldest surviving copy, it seems to have been forgotten.

 

WAS MITHRAISM A MAJOR FORCE IN FIRST-CENTURY ROME?

 

          After ICF (p. 40) notes that M.J. Vermaseren's statement that, "no Mithraic monument can be dated earlier than the end of the first century," Conder replies (BGJ, p. 28):  "Need I point out that no Christian monument[s] at all exist from this time period, including a fragment of the New Testament."  Importantly, this exchange implicitly concedes the reality that both these religions, not just Christianity, were still just getting off the ground in the first-century.  As David Ulansey explains:  "Mithraism began to spread throughout the Roman Empire in the first century C.E., reached its peak in the third century, and finally succumbed to Christianity at the end of the fourth century."  To explain the origins and beliefs of Mithraism, he brilliantly theorizes based upon the iconography (pictures inscribed in stone as reliefs) found within the places (often underground caves) where the Mithra's worshippers gathered, mithraea (singular, mithraeum).  The tauroctony was the central image, featuring Mithras slaying a bull while facing away from it.  Seeing these stone reliefs as constellations, not as (like Cumont, the earlier very influential historian on Mithraism) depictions of Persian myths, he maintains the god Mithras was the local god of Tarsus (in Asia Minor, Paul's birthplace) Perseus (one of the constellations also) renamed.  As he states:  "Our argument so far has shown that there is good evidence that Mithras represents the constellation Perseus, and that the other tauroctony figures [on stone] represent the constellations which lay on the celestial equator when the spring equinox was in Taurus."  The first reference to Mithras in his western form, when Plutarch wrote about the Cilician pirates, whom the Roman general Pompey defeated and hauled back to Italy in chains, places them in the same area of Asia Minor.  Mithras' slaying of the bull (which stands for Taurus) symbolizes the control he has over the material universe.  This idea came out of how Stoic philosophers in Asia Minor, who had long been interested in astrology, astral religion, and speculating about the "Great Year" (i.e., a cyclical view of history, not Judeo-Christianity's linear view), possibly reacted to the ancient astronomer Hipparchus' discovery of the precession of the equinoxes (c. 128 b.c.).[109]  Being superstitious men, they found the discovery of some hitherto unknown motion of the cosmos a point of departure for religious speculation.  Conveniently, since the precession of the equinoxes had moved from Taurus to Aries most immediately in preceding centuries, the constellation Perseus, which is just above Taurus in the sky, was a useful figure to represent his ending the age of Taurus to usher in the age of Aries.  As Ulansey further explains: 

 

          The hero killing the bull would symbolize that cosmic force which had, in ancient times, destroyed the power of the bull by moving the entire cosmic structure in such a way that the spring equinox moved out of the constellation of the Bull and into its current position in Aries.  Thus would arise the core of the image of the tauroctony.

 

Importantly for our purposes, Ulansey basically denies any connection between western Mithraism and Persia's Zoroastrianism and the Mithraism of the Magi of the east.

 

EVIDENCE FOR MITHRAISM'S ORIGINATION FROM ASIA MINOR, NOT PERSIA OR INDIA

 

          Now, at this point, you may be asking why is Ulansey's explanation relevant to Conder's view of Mithraism in Mystery Babylon?  The fundamental issue becomes whether western Mithraism had any real connection with Persia and its myths at all.  Ulansey maintains the name "Mithras" was simply lifted by the Cilician pirates (who numbered at least 20,000) from the local king Mithridates who sided with them, who (on coins) compared himself with the god/constellation Perseus!  Maintaining western Mithraism had no organic connection to Persian religion he states, "even if my theory is correct, and Western Mithraism originally had nothing to do with ancient Iran," he still concedes that some authentic Iranian traditions may have picked up by the cult as it spread within the Roman Empire.  Since we lack writings by devotees to Mithras about their beliefs (after all, they wanted them kept secret, i.e. kept "a mystery"), Ulansey's ingenious reconstruction of their core beliefs has to be seen as ultimately speculative.  Nevertheless, since his book opens describing how two top scholars on Mithraism attacked (one moderately, one radically) Cumont's attempts (which had become the standard paradigm in the field) to explain Mithraism's iconography through Persian myths at the First International Congress on Mithraism in 1971, his analysis can't be casually dismissed.[110]  Given Ulansey's reconstruction of Mithraism's origins, my statements in ICF (p. 40) about Mithraism spreading from Persia in the east I no longer regard as accurate.  This may explain why the Mithraeum found in Dura-Europos has such a relatively late date likely (168 A.D.) despite this city's location on the Euphrates River.  If western Mithraism's origins lay not in nearby Persia, but in Cilicia and its capital of Tarsus in southern Asia Minor in the late second and early first centuries b.c., then the second century date becomes more understandable.  Such a reconstruction as Ulansey's for Mithraism calls into question the Hislop/Conder doctrine that states (perhaps crudely summarized here) "All false religions' basic ideas came from Nimrod's Babylon ultimately."

 

MITHRAISM DIDN'T HAVE A STRONG PRESENCE IN ROME IN THE FIRST CENTURY

 

          Conder believes that Mithraism had a strong presence in the Roman Empire in the first century (MB, p. 110):  "Mithraism, don't forget, was the dominant form of the Babylonian Mysteries present in Rome when the Christian Church was founded, and Christianity clearly and indisputably reflects it!"  In the context of S. Wikander's denial that the god Mithras of Iran had anything to do with its namesake mystery religion in Rome, the French scholar Robert Turcan surveys the evidence for linking western Mithraism with Iran and the Magi.  Despite defending Cumont's basic viewpoint, he still notes in the context of its first century b.c. form in Asia Minor that:  "What isn't required is to say that it existed now such that it expressed itself by epigraphic monuments or reliefs in the second century after Christ."  This statement still concedes that Mithraism couldn't have been a dominating religious force within the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., or else the Mithraea, etc. would have been built by then.  Some believed that Pompey's hauling in 20,000 Cilician pirates could have established the worship of Mithra on Italian soil in the first century b.c.  In reply against this idea, he states:  "In fact, no archeological or literary evidence confirms directly this hypothesis."  The first literary evidence for Mithra's existence in Latin literature appears in a c. 80 A.D. reference by P. Papinius Statius.  The oldest image of Mithras killing the bull is in marble consecrated by a slave of a man who was known to serve in a position under the Emperor Trajan in 102 A.D.  The evidence points to the cult being solidly implanted in Rome itself by the last quarter of the first century A.D.  The Mithraea multiplied in the city of Rome from the second to fourth centuries, not earlier.  Even in the area Ulansey maintains it was born, Asia Minor, major uncertainties remain about the case of sanctuaries found in Pergamon and Kapikaya.  Its manifestations there were sparse, including even Cilicia, although it was present in Lydia's Savcilar around 77-78 A.D.  It spread into Syria (being in the cities of Tyre, Sidon, Laodicea, and Caesarea of Palestine (but evidently leaving no monuments‑‑see my point about the Samaritans above) and North Africa, arriving in Morocco around 190 A.D.  It didn't influence strongly the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), excepting two areas, by 155 A.D.  Areas where Mithraism was strong included valleys along major rivers (Rhone, Rhine, and Danube), certain administrative and/or commercial centers, and along the frontiers where the legions took up their posts protecting the Empire from invasion.  The first emperor to officially declare his belief in Mithraism, rather ironically, was the main one immediately preceding Constantine, Diocletian, who had so badly persecuted the Christians for ten years starting under his rule (re:  Rev. 2:10).  Although evidence indicates Emperor Septimius Severus (196 A.D.) couldn't have ignored this god, Diocletian's 307 A.D. declaration in the context of restoring a mithraeum with two others constitutes the first "clear and neat" official affirmation, in which the god was called the "protector of their power."  Such evidence, including the two second-century dates he lists for the spreading of Mithraism by two legions, indicate Mithraism was still only really getting off the ground in the first century A.D. within the confines of the Roman Empire, just as Christianity was.[111] 

 

SOME SPECIFIC WAYS MITHRAISM DIFFERS FROM CHRISTIANITY

 

          When determining whether the doctrines of Mithraism could have influenced first-century Christianity's beliefs, this fundamental problem arises, as Turcan explains:  "Mithraic art is like a book of images whose text has been lost."  Unlike the case for the myths of the Olympian gods like Zeus, Athena, or Apollos, no "Bible" of western Mithraism exists, since the rites and core beliefs were intended to be kept secret (i.e., a "mystery") to a select few, and so were passed along orally.  The main evidence comes from (1) Mithraic monuments and inscriptions and (2) the ancient literary evidence on this cult.  But as Turcan states:  "The major difficulty comes from the fact that the first doesn't always agree with the second, which are indirect and second hand, seeing that they don't arise from authentic practicing Mithraists."  Still, certain aspects of their beliefs do appear clear when compared to Christianity's.  Turcan attacks those, such as Cumont, Loisy, and H. Jonas, who reduce the various mystery cults to "religions of salvation," and simplistically ignore the differences between them.  While noting that the Mithraism's doctrines are rather badly known, he still contradicts the claims Conder makes in MB (p. 33) about Mithra by declaring:  "Mithra wasn't a god [who was] dead and resurrected.  He didn't identify himself in any manner with the victim of the sacrifice . . ."  Furthermore, Mithraism had no place for a female deity nor for women as active participants in its rituals, unlike other mystery religions (or, I would add, first-century Christianity).  "The salvation that he gives first is physical safety from living beings."  Inscriptions such as "the fruitful earth" and the "guardian of fruits" show "the major worry that animated Mithraists" was the "preservation of life, vigilance towards life."  In one sense they were collectively saved already, "in the world, with the creation of Oromasdes[/Zeus‑‑a reference to Persian myth].  The problem of individual salvation and beyond the earth never achieves standing.  It's a question of bio-cosmic [earthly] salvation."  The comparison between Mithra's ascension in a solar chariot and Christ's has been made too quickly, "because Mithra never died.  Never being descended from heaven (but totally to the contrary coming from an earthly rock [in myth]), he [Mithras] has no need to show again in it in order to affirm his triumph over death, after his acts in the world and for the world."  Implicitly, Turcan is contrasting John 6:33, 42, 51 with the myth saying Mithras was born out of a rock.  Furthermore, apparently like the Stoics, Mithraism must have also believed in the transmigration or reincarnation of souls since the great stellar year (the Great Year) involves a repeating cycle.  If Turcan is correct, then Nash was wrong to say Mithraism believed in a linear view of time like Christianity, at least in its western version.[112]  Clearly, all these differences show that while some common terminology might be used by both Christianity and Mithraism, such as some kind of "salvation," the same words certainly didn't mean the same thing here.  Fundamentally, the pagans sought deliverance from fate, while the Christians sought redemption from sin's death penalty.  All this illustrates a key point Moreland makes when discussing the alleged parallels between Christianity and the mystery religions in a general summary form:

 

          Differences far outweigh similarities.  The mystery religions have a consort, a female deity who is central to the myth.  They have no real resurrection, only a crude resuscitation.  The mysteries have little or no moral context, fertility being what the mystery rites sought to induce.  The mysteries are polytheistic, syncretistic legends unrelated to historical individuals.[113]

 

If percentage terms could be applied, one might say they are 10% alike and 90% different.  Clearly, for Conder to maintain Mithraism and Christianity are alike involves selecting out the few superficial similarities while blotting out the reality of far greater differences in theology and ritual.[114]

 

MERE PREEXISTENCE DOESN'T PROVE DEPENDENCE

 

          Now Conder argues, based upon Justin Martyr's statement that Mithraism had a diabolical imitation of communion, that Christianity got it from Mithraism (BGJ, p. 28).  Conspicuously, this is a case of selective perception:  Conder focuses our attention on the 10%, ignoring the 90% in which Christianity isn't like Mithraism.  BGJ makes no attempt to rebut the general theological differences between Mithraism and Christianity described in ICF (pp. 43-44) or those between Jesus' death and that of various "pagan savior-gods" (pp. 47-50).  He claims that since no NT manuscripts from the first century exist as evidence for proving it was written then, there's no way to deny Christianity borrowed from Mithraism.  Of course, even liberal scholars like Kummel believe most of the NT was written by 100 A.D., so Conder's implicit assertions for a later date aren't supported even by many higher critics.  Next, consider the logical fallacy described above in a footnote:  "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc," "After this, therefore because of this."  That something happens before something else doesn't prove the first thing caused the second to happen.  Instead, specific evidence must be found linking the two together in a causal relationship, such as through near proximity and a sharing of causal agents (people here).  As noted above based on archeological evidence, Mithraism had little presence in Palestine itself, the birthplace of Christianity.  The NT itself portrays the Last Supper in the context of the Jewish Passover festival.  There's no evidence from the NT or the writings of the early Christian Church Fathers that Christianity's leaders such as the apostles were gentiles converted from Mithraism or some other pagan mystery religion.[115]   Furthermore, it's known that the Qumran community did have a communal meal that looked forward to a "future banquet with the Messiah."  Given the Jewish cultural matrix Christianity was born within and its geographical separation from archeological evidence of Mithraic monuments, this meal among (presumably) the Essenes is certainly a more plausible candidate for influencing Christianity, if one denies that Jesus Himself was the originator of the Christian Passover ceremony.[116]  The cultural context for the origins of Christianity, including its initial leaders' ancestry, is always portrayed (when known) as lying in Judaism and Judea (although Paul was from Tarsus), not paganism and gentile areas.  In the Gospels, Jesus avoided visiting gentile, Samaritan, and Hellenized Jewish areas, with the three exceptions of the village of Sychar (John 4) and the Tyre/Sidon (Luke 6) and Ceasarea Philippi (Mark 8) regions.[117]  Even if Mithraism was proven to have a ceremonial meal like Christianity's before the latter's existed, that still doesn't prove a causal relationship between the two.

 

THE NEED TO LOOK AT THE SPECIFIC MEANINGS OF COMMUNION AND BAPTISM

 

          The specifics of the rituals also can militate against believing one came from the other.  It appears Mithraism had two different kinds of ceremonial meals.  Besides water and bread, as Justin Martyr knew, Mithraists also ate meat and drank wine in their Mithraea, as archeological evidence (bones and inscriptions) indicate.  Pictures in the St. Prisca Mithraeum in Rome indicate roosters, a ram, a bull, and a pig would be sacrificed.  But this leads to the next issue:  How do we know they applied the same meanings to these ceremonial meals?  The context of the Passover ceremony is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior from the death penalty of sin.  Deducing what the devotees of Mithraism thought while going through their meals is hardly clear.  Apparently, it involved in one version commemorating the sun-god Helios driving his chariot, which while Mithras was behind him, he seizes his waving mantle and jumps on.  The other version involves commemorating a feast of Helios and Mithras together.  It's a real stretch to find some similar meaning in meals dedicated to Mithras and Helios to the Christians' acceptance of Jesus as a Savior from sin.  Similarly, consider the example (Conder doesn't raise this in BGJ) of baptism.  Persian texts (assuming these had any connection with western Mithraism) can be cited stating that before devotee can take libations to Mithras, they have to wash themselves.  However, the specifics go against seeing Christianity getting its idea of baptism from Mithraism, because these involved multiple washings over periods of days, as well as undergoing multiple "strokes" (whippings).  Christian baptism was only supposed to be done once, unless done in error or by heretics the first time.  Then, did Mithraism's interpretation of its ritual washings match Paul's explanation of baptism as symbolizing the death and resurrection of Christ as well as Christian's putting to death the old sinful life and coming up to a new righteous earthly life, giving hope of eternal life to come (Rom. 6:3-6)?  Unless evidence is found showing Mithraism had a similar view of baptism taking off sins, etc., it's mighty hard to say Christianity got it from Mithraism.  Finally, again reflecting on the post hoc fallacy described above, the NT portrays baptism as coming from a Jewish context, such as the ministry of John the Baptist.  Judaism itself had long practiced the rite (see ICF, p. 42 for further Jewish examples).  Granted the basic non-existence of Mithraism in Palestine in the first century, and the NT's portrayal of Judaism as Christianity's womb, it makes far more sense to see water baptism in Christianity as coming from Judaism, not Mithraism.  Similarly, the sacrifice of a bull in Mithraism had a different meaning from what it would to Christians or Jews.  (Of course, the Christians did away with animal sacrifices entirely).  As Patterson explains:  "The bull was neither a sacrifice to Mithra, nor a symbol of him [vs. MB, p. 110].  The blood of the bull (which is the life) and its seed (which is the power of generation) gave new life to the earth."  Then saying the Christian Church Fathers borrowed from Mithraism becomes absurd when they condemn the very ceremony they supposedly borrowed‑‑after all, if they had the typical pagan mentality of tolerant non-exclusivism, of live and let live, they'd see nothing wrong in what they borrowed from.  Even Cumont himself suggests the reason for the similarity between the two religions stems from both originating in the same general Middle Eastern culture which may have had similar ideas of how to commune with the divine:  "Resemblances do not suppose necessarily an imitation.  Many of the resemblances between the Mithraic doctrine and the Catholic faith are explained by the community of their oriental origin."[118] 

 

HOW SOME BORROWING BY PAGAN RELIGIONS FROM CHRISTIANITY COULD HAVE HAPPENED

 

          Conder maintains that defenders of Christianity can't both deny important similarities exist between the pagan mystery religions and Christianity, yet say sometimes the former did borrow from the latter:  "If there are no similarities then there is no question of borrowing either by one or the other religion" (BGJ, p. 30).  Of course, with some slight qualifications, this objection can easily be disposed of:  While (say) 90% of the time Christianity differs from paganism, 10% of the time the two are similar.  Hence, at least some of the (superficial) similarities Conder sees (the "10%") between Christianity and paganism may have originated in the former.  In the fourth century A.D. especially, as Roman paganism sharply slid downwards in popularity, the non-exclusive, live-and-let-live philosophy of paganism could easily have manifested itself by adopting aspects of a powerful rival religion (in this case, Christianity).  Of course, actually proving this is difficult, since we can't interview today the person who (say) inscribed "taurobolio cribolioque in aeternum renatus" ("reborn for eternity in the taurobolium and criobolium") on a Roman altar in 376 A.D. about what he was thinking when engraving it and where he got this idea from (see ICF, p. 41).  But unless one can produce inscriptions or documents with such ideas written originally considerably earlier than 300 A.D. or even 100 A.D., it becomes hard to prove such pagan thinking could have influenced first-century Christianity, especially if the source isn't found or originally written in Palestine.  A similar problem comes up for a wall painting dated to the late second century A.D. taken from the Santa Prisca Mithraeum in Rome referring to being saved by the shedding of blood.  As Turcan properly observes:  "M. Simon has declared it as a mark of Christian influence, but this remains to be demonstrated."  Since today we can't get into the heads of these people to know their thinking, or how it evolved while Christianity spread and became a serious rival, there's no way to prove such influence occurred.  But the later the date for the similarity, as Christianity developed into a more serious competitor over the centuries, the more intrinsically plausible pagans borrowing from Christianity becomes, when we remember their non-exclusivistic mentality:  Christianity would be just another cult or religion to get ideas from about how to worship God/the gods.  Hence, the 391 A.D. inscription that connects Mithraism and rebirth proves nothing about Christian dependence on Mithraism's teachings, since by then the pagan cults were on a decline headed for doom due to (Sunday-keeping) Christianity's growth at that time.[119]

 

A CURIOUS CUSTOM OF THE ROMAN ARMY MISINTERPRETED

 

          Conder quotes from Marcus Minucius Felix and Tertullian to try to prove that:  "To me Eric, these statements [sic] sounds like your own Christian authorities are backing up my historical presentation that there were indeed crucified savior gods long before the time of Jesus" (BGJ, p. 29).  But once one looks up the references and the commentary on the first one, it becomes obvious neither Felix nor Tertullian were referring to the crucifixion of pagan gods, but to the practice of Roman legionnaires of nailing onto crosses or poles the clothes and/or equipment of vanquished enemies.  In context, the defender of Christianity in Felix's work is trying to point out the pagans use crosses as well, as against the pagan's charge that they used as an object of veneration "a man who was punished with death as a criminal and the fell wood of his cross."  Notice the military connection of part of Felix's statement Conder quotes:  "And, surely, your military ensigns, standards, and banners, what are they but gilded and decorated crosses?  Your trophies of victory copy not merely the appearance of a simple cross but that of a man fastened to it as well."  In his notes on Felix's work, G.W. Clark, the professor of classical studies at the University of Melbourne, commments: 

 

          These standards were apposite illustrations, as they were objects of military veneration, for examples see Tac. Ann. 1.39.7, 2.17.2 . . . Oathes might be taken by them, Livy 26.48.12 . . .  Trophies (see n. 388) also occur in Tert. Apol. 16.7, Ad nat. 1.12.14; Just. Apol. 1.55.  The "appearance" of a figure of a man would be the captured helmet, shield, greaves, weapons, etc. of the conquered enemy hung up on the monument; for the classic description, see Verg. Aen. 11.5 ff. . . . Note also Joseph. Antiq. 15.272 ff.:  Herod's trophies gave offense; the leaders said they were "images of men" and Herod ordered them to be stripped to the bare wood.[120]

 

To have a better feel for this custom, notice the extract Clark referred to from Virgil's Aeneid.  Although it's rendered in poetic and (now) somewhat archaic language by John Dryden, a careful reading of it shows this curious practice of the Roman army (here, projected into the mythological past by Virgil) doesn't involve a reference to a crucified God-Man:

 

          The pious chief, whom double cares attend/ For his unburied soldiers and his friend,/ Yet first to Heav'n perform'd a victor's vows:/ He bar'd an ancient oak of all her boughs;/ Then on a rising ground the trunk he plac'd/ Which with the spoils of his dead foe he grac'd./  The coat of arms by proud Mezentius worn,/ Now on a naked snag in triumph borne,/ Was hung on high, and glitter'd from afar,/ A trophy sacred to the God of War./  Above his arms, fix'd on the leafless wood,/ Appear'd his plumy crest, besmear'd with blood:/ His brazen buckler on the left was seen;/ Truncheons of shiver'd lances hung between; And on the right was placed his corslet, bor'd;/ And to the neck was tied his unavailing sword.

 

As one continues reading in Aeneid, it becomes obvious the dead Mezentius whose equipment was hung up on the stake was indeed a "sacrifice"‑‑as to "the first fruits of war."[121]  No feeling of worship or sacrifice for the sins of humanity is found here, but instead a sense of celebration over a vanquished enemy.  Again, similar to Conder's reference through Doane to Prometheus Chained, Conder's reference doesn't check out when examined and the context consulted.  But how many people who've accepted Conder's teachings ever bothered to go through that level of hassle to check any of his references?

 

HOW COULD LATIN AMERICAN INDIAN BELIEFS BE LIKE CHRISTIANITY'S?

 

          Conder asks:  "How, Eric, can you explain the great similarities between this religion [of the Latin American Indians] and the tenants of Christianity when it was found among a people who were cut off from Europe and the Middle East for at least 2,500 years?" (BGJ, p. 29).  First of all, since Conder's treatment of the similarities between Christianity and the Roman Empire's pagan mystery religions doesn't inspire confidence, it's likely he has similarly oversold the similarities between the Catholicism of the Conquistators and the Indian religions of the Aztecs, Mayans, and/or Incas.  The specifics of belief, not superficial similarities of some rituals, would have to be examined.  Furthermore, the Catholicism of the sixteenth-Europe had sucked up the pagan practices and/or beliefs of Europe for over a millennium:  For Conder to score points here, it's necessary to compare the beliefs of the New Testament and the first-century church to these Indian religions, not sixteenth-century Catholicism's.  But now it's necessary to reconsider McDowell's "pedagogy of God" argument (BGJ, p. 32).  Could have the pagans held onto some remnant primeval revelation from the time of the immediate post-flood patriarchs?  Many cultures have stories about some flood wiping out most of the human race, such as the Mandan Indians.  The latter even had a "Mystery Play of the Flood" in which "the only man" was saved in "the big canoe."  Surely these stories, or the Babylonians' The Epic of Gilgamesh, don't prove the book of Genesis' record about the Deluge Noah endured is false!  In the context of discussing recent anthropological studies of various primitive peoples and tribes, Henry Morris writes:  "Further, their present animalistic religious system can usually be shown to represent a deterioration from primitive monotheism and higher moral standards now only dimly preserved in their traditions."  Ackerman describes how anthropology and scholars before its existence as a discipline had a running battle over whether religion evolved upwards from animism and polytheism to monotheism, or whether it had degenerated from monotheism down to polytheism and animism, for primitive peoples.  For example, among the Australian aborigines, there were stories about a high god (the "All-Father") who had created the world and instituted human morality.  But then for some reason he was shunted aside, and had little influence on the world day to day.  Does this story invalidate the Pentateuch's description of God?  Andrew Lang, having once upheld the evolutionists' view, changed his mind, and became the chief defender of the degeneration view.  Lang devotes a chapter of one of his books to refuting fellow anthropologist Tylor's claims that missionaries/Christian influence caused primitive peoples to have high conceptions of God.  Although he initially says he won't defend the idea that among the American Indians there was a widespread belief in a "Great Spirit," he ends up effectively nearly doing that seemingly by citing the works by various explorers and/or missionaries and refuting the counter-explanations that the Indians just got these stories from Christian teachings.[122]  Hence, the resemblances Conder (BGJ, p. 29) says people saw between Indian religion and Roman Catholicism in Latin America soon after the conquest are possibly rooted in remnants of primeval revelation to the patriarchs.  

 

ARE SOME ACCOUNTS OF VARIOUS PAGAN GODS SIMILAR TO THE NT ON JESUS' LIFE?

 

          In order to shore up his position against Vance Stinson and me, Conder maintains that in some versions of the myths stories like the New Testament's description of Jesus' life appear, even if in others they are very different:

 

          The unique history of mythology means that one can find, for example, that when the Egyptian goddess Isis became romanized, she had attributes far different from those found in ancient Egypt.  When Mithra came to Rome from Persia [This statement assumes Ulansey and Wikander are wrong and Turcan and Cumont are right‑‑EVS] he lost some of his Persian attributes and picked up some others from the romanized Greek myths of Adonis and Dionysus. . . . I say that if, as good Christians, these men [McDowell, Stinson, and Snow] are really concerned with truth, why not present the accounts of ancient savior gods [such as Osiris] whose stories are identical to the birth, life and death of Jesus? (BGJ, pp. 30-31).

 

Now, the challenge here is for Conder to prove, citing from standard printed primary sources of the myths available in English translation, that indeed such "identical" myths to Jesus' life exist for Osiris, Adonis, Attis, etc.  For example, above (footnote 22) the issue of Persian Mithraism's (or Zoroastrianism's) alleged accounts of a supposed Virgin birth weren't written down until the fifth century A.D.  Furthermore, so far as these two sources are clear, the women in question became pregnant due to sexual intercourse with a god, as opposed to being impregnated by the Holy Spirit.  The earlier story that circulated within the Roman Empire, as recorded by the Catholic Church Fathers Conder leans upon in other contexts, concerns Mithras being born from a rock.  This merely brings us back to the challenge made to Conder in ICF (p. 40) about citing from the primary sources the myths about Mithras in "according to the legends as circulated in or before the second century."  Unless we want to say Jesus was born from a rock, it certainly doesn't appear there's an "identical" story to Jesus' here!  Similarly, when I flip open my source book of documents helpful for studying the Gospels, I find the version of the myth of Hercules it has is Stinson's.  Written by Diodorus Siculus, this version appears to depend on a second century b.c. piece of writing by Matris of Thebes:  "When Zeus lay with Alkmene, he tripled the length of the night, and, in the increased length of time spent in begetting the child, he foreshadowed the exceptional power of the child who was to be begotten."[123]  Conder cites a secondary source, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, to assert some other version of the myth of Hercules exists in which the "consort didn't lie with her until after her Divine Child was born."  However, due to my experience in looking up Doane's citation of Aeschylus' play Prometheus Chained, I don't trust Walker to have cited it correctly and in context.  Knowing how Herbert Gutman and Company in Slavery and the Numbers Game and Reckoning with Slavery destroyed Stanley Engerman and Robert Fogel's Time on the Cross by (in part) noting the latter's misuse and misinterpretation of primary sources (especially probate records), I know full well even thoroughly respectable academics in secondary works can't always be automatically trusted to get things right.  (Fogel, for example, recently won a Nobel prize‑‑but that doesn't mean his interpretation of American slavery was even half right).  If Conder wishes to refute ICF's string of examples showing various myths about alleged "pagan sun god-saviors" that don't approximate the Gospels' description of the life of Jesus, then it's time to cite and quote from standard primary sources in English translation by Plutarch, Virgil, Ovid, Hesiod, Homer, Aeschylus, Diodorus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, etc. to prove that indeed the myths do resemble the Gospels, NOT FROM SECONDARY SOURCES SUCH AS WALKER, DOANE, OR ROBERTSON.[124] 

 

DID THE WORD "CANNIBAL" ORIGINATE IN PHOENICIAN OR IN CARIBBEAN INDIAN?

 

          By asserting that close ties exist between the Spanish and Phoenician languages, Conder defends Hislop's claim that "cannibal" came from "cahna" (priest) and "Baal," the Canaanite rain god (BGJ, p. 32).  He denies the correctness of the etymology found in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language that derives the word from Caribbean Indians.  This claim runs into major problems.  First, according to Merriam-Webster's, the word "cannibal" was first used in English in 1553.  This timing certainly fits the context of the Age of Discovery.  Was the word ever used in any language, including Spanish, before c. 1500?  If it wasn't, then the word almost certainly couldn't come from religious practices of some 2000 years earlier without leaving some detectable trace in-between unless a specific record of (say) some scholar coining it from these two words can be found.  Second, two encyclopedias deny Conder's interpretation.  Let's begin with The American Peoples Encyclopedia:  "When first brought into contact with Europeans, the Caribs were a fierce, restless people, marauders on the mainland, corsairs on the high seas, and undoubted cannibals‑‑this very word (cannibal) being a Spanish formation from Canib=Calib=Carib."  Then there's The World Book Encyclopedia:  "Spanish discoverers at the time of Columbus found that the Carib, an Indian tribe living in the West Indies, followed the custom of eating other human beings.  The modern word cannibal came from a mispronunciation of their name."[125]  Third, as a Indo-European language, Spanish is fundamentally different from Phoenician, a Semitic language.  Although this distinction doesn't prevent scattered loan words, etc. from crossing into one language from another (in this case especially, via Arabic when the Moors ruled at least some part of Spain for c. 700 years), seeing fundamental similarities between the two in grammar and syntax certainly looks a priori implausible.  Being firm monotheists worshipping the God Allah, it's not terribly likely the Muslim conquerors of Spain would have passed along the term "priest of Baal" to their Catholic Christian subjects.  Being familiar with how feminists routinely assert "history" came from "his story," a patent absurdity exposed the moment one bothers to consult a dictionary containing etymologies, I'm suspicious of people claiming unusual derivations for words, especially when the subject of British-Israelism has had more than its share of "crank scholarship."[126]

 

THE EARLY PAGAN REFERENCES TO JESUS BRIEFLY RESURVEYED

 

          Conder puts some effort into trying to undermine the validity of the evidence from several early ancient pagan writers about Jesus (see BGJ, pp. 35-36; cf. ICF, pp. 19-20).  On these issues as well as the Testimonium of Josephus, the interested reader is strongly suggested to turn to McDowell and Wilson's He Walked Among Us, pp. 35-54, which deals with various critiques skeptics use against these references.  For example, the passage in Tacitus is considered by top specialists in the field as authentic, as coming from the hand of Tacitus himself.  Conder's alternative theory, that it came from a work called Chronicle of Sulpicius Serverus (c. 403 A.D.), is inherently implausible because a passage from a later work isn't apt to be randomly dropped into another, earlier work, especially when the reference to Jesus is so uncomplimentary, by some nameless Christian scribe.  Even Wells, who Conder refers his readers to, concedes the passage is "Tacitan Latin," i.e., reflects his style, not someone else's.  Claiming it's unreliable because "the passage is not mentioned by any of his contemporaries," is our old friend, the argument from silence.  First, as Blaiklock systematically surveys what was written in the first-century that has survived (which isn't much), there isn't much one would think a priori that would mention Jesus.  Of course, since the barbarian invasions, etc. torched so much down through the centuries, such references easily could have been lost‑‑we don't even have all of Tacitus' works from the second century, let alone other ancient histories deemed of lesser merit.  The ancient Egyptian records have nothing about the Exodus or the Plagues at the time (c. 1446 b.c.) they occurred:  Does that mean they never happened?  The argument from silence annihilates the OT and the NT equally when used on both.[127]  Suetonius mentions "Chrestus" causing disturbances in Rome that led to Claudius expelling the Jews (an event that confirms Luke's accuracy‑‑Acts 18:2).  Although "Chrestus" was a fairly common name, it was a Greek, not a non-Hellenized Jewish name.  Since this name was recognizable to gentiles, they easily could have corrupted the similar sounding title "Christus," meaning "anointed" for it, when someone wrote down some (police) report about it.  They simply were unlikely candidates for familiarity with Jewish eschatology or prophecy.  Since the book of Acts records all sorts of riots and disturbances caused by Paul and others preaching about Christ and/or his message of the kingdom of God, it's not surprising someone in the early church in Rome could have stirred up a ruckus among the Jews by talking about Jesus being the Messiah.  Hence, the report of preaching about Christ plausibly got garbled into one "Chrestus" preaching in Rome.  Conder goes on to undermine Justin Martyr's value as a witness for the existence of public record(s) in Rome about Jesus' crucifixion under Pilate, forgetting for the moment how this argument similarly destroys the value of Justin's testimony to him about the similarity between Mithraism and Christianity in having a ceremonial meal (re:  BGJ, p. 28).  So why is Justin Martyr a reliable source about Mithraism's similarities to Christianity, but unreliable for his witness about public documents in Rome attesting to Jesus' crucifixion?  His statements about records on Jesus' death aren't phrased as "assertions . . . based on nothing more than hypothesis," as the Catholic Encyclopedia states.  Concerning Jesus' birth, he states:  "Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judea."  On the crucifixion, he states:  "And that these things did happen you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate."  As McDowell and Wilson plausibly state, this document could easily have been destroyed by a future imperial administration either to deny Christians from using the reference or just because it was deemed unimportant.[128]  Clearly, before accepting Conder's statements on this subject, the reader should consult what traditional Christians have to say about it, not just Michael Martin's The Case Against Christianity or G.A. Wells' The Jesus Legend.

 

DOES OLD TESTAMENT DOCTRINE ABOUT GOD CONTRADICT THE NEW TESTAMENT'S?

 

          Conder's arguments based on purported Old Testament theology against the New Testament's doctrine of God all have the stale air feel of a priori rationalizations.  They all implicitly assume God couldn't have revealed more about Himself than had been in the OT.  The argument about God not changing was already dealt with above as being taken out of context, as referring to God's dealings with Israel in particular.  The statement that Jehovah is "the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever" appears to be a citation of the New Testament:  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, yes and forever" (Heb. 13:7).  Does Conder still believe in the NT?  This is merely a generalization about (say) moral character, and it shouldn't be taken as literally true in every detail.  Otherwise, (one suspects) the soaring poetic language of David or Isaiah might similarly trip up believers if taken literally in every aspect.  Note the context when Jehovah states (Isa. 42:8):  "I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images."  Here the Eternal adds He will not allow praise to be given to graven images, with the classic refrain pattern of Hebrew poetry in full motion.  This strongly implies "I will not give My glory to another" applies to sharing it with false gods.  But if Jesus was God, indeed Jehovah Himself who spoke these words, for Jesus to gain back His glory from the Father is hardly contradictory (John 17:1), since Jesus then isn't "another" separate from God.  As for the sins of one man paying for another, this can't be done (cf. Eze. 18:20; Rom. 5:7), except if the man happens to be the Messiah (Isa. 53:10, 11, 12): 

 

          But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering . . . By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. . . . Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.

 

Furthermore, the animal sacrifices had the animal serve as a substitute paying the penalty for the human offering it.  For example, note Lev. 5:5-6, 13:

 

          So it shall be when he becomes guilty in one of these, that he shall confess that in which he has sinned.  He shall also bring his guilt offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering.  So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin. . . . So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sins which he has committed from one of these, and it shall be forgiven him.

 

This foreshadowed how the God-Man Jesus would expiate mankind's sins because since he was God, He had created the human race and so His life was worth more than all of its lives collectively, and as man, He could die and be raised to life again to pay for its sins.  Only God can forgive sins, indeed!  But if Jesus is God, He has the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-9; Luke 5:20-24).  Conder still doesn't deal with the issue of how God appears arbitrary with the consistent enforcement of His law by forgiving some sins and not others (see ICF, p. 29 and fn. 54).  As for the issue of not mentioning God Himself dying in the process, there's sufficient evidence from such texts as Isa. 9:6-7; Zech. 12:10; and Isa. 53 for a Divine Mournful Messiah who died for the sins of others.  It's asserted that God would have had to borrow "traditions from paganism to found Christianity," but that has already long been called into question (ICF, pp. 39-52)‑‑whatever similarities that can be found, they're superficial and/or borrowings from Christianity by paganism when (especially) the latter was on the downswing in the fourth century A.D.

 

THE DUALITY PRINCIPLE OF INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE DEFENDED

 

          Using the Old Testament alone (BGJ, pp. 36-37), can one find justification for the duality principle of interpreting Scripture?  The main, even exclusive, application for this principle is prophecy and fulfilled types, in which there's an earlier, lesser fulfillment, followed by a greater fulfillment later.  It's easy enough to find this principle in the New Testament, such as in Jesus' Olivet prophecy, which includes the prediction of Jerusalem's fall.  His language has application to both 70 A.D. and to His Second Coming (Matt. 24:1-3, 15-18; Luke 21:20-21, 24).  Jesus' prophecy that "Elijah is coming and will restore all things" yet "Elijah already came" (meaning, John the Baptist) is further proof of the duality principle for Christians (Matt. 17:11-12).  But what about using the Old Testament by itself?  Two cases can be mentioned:  The abomination of desolation and Israel's regathering to the Holy Land.  One can see the abomination of desolation occurring twice in Jerusalem, once when Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 B.C. desecrated the Temple of Yahweh by making a profane sacrifice (a pig) on top of the altar of burnt offering (see I Maccabees 1:54 in Catholic Bibles).  The second time occurred when the Roman legions torched Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 A.D.  Another, less disputable case, comes from the texts describing the regathering of Israel.  Of course, this occurs once after the Babylonian Captivity (Isa. 39:6-7; 44:28; 45:4; Jer. 25:9-12), but it also will happen in the millennium (although Conder would reject this term for God's kingdom on earth since it's based on the book of Revelation).  There is evidence for the view that the gathering of Judah today in Palestine is a preliminary fulfillment of the millennial prophecies about all of Israel returning from the Diaspora.  (Note Zech. 12:6-11‑‑Judah is already there when the Second Coming happens).  Such texts as Eze. 38:8; 37:16-28; Deut. 28:64-68 point to the future millennial gathering.  But Jer. 50:1-10, 17-20+  certainly seems to be more ambiguous, admitting to some dual application to the return from Babylon and also at the beginning of the millennium.[129]  Hence, even using the Old Testament alone, there's good evidence for the duality principle, at least for prophecy and fulfilled types.  Applying this principle outside non-prophetic, non-typical statements in Scripture is hazardous‑‑It's unlikely the Gospels, Acts or Paul's Letters have many dual applications, since they mostly aren't prophetic, with some exceptions. 

 

WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL READING IN PSALMS 22:16?

 

          As a warm-up to critiquing my analysis of Ps. 22:16 (BGJ, p. 37), Conder maintains all of Eze. 31 is prophetic in nature, in order to defend his principle that if one verse of a chapter is a prophecy, then all of it is.  Of course, one could call it all "prophetic" in the sense that the example of Assyria is used as a warning to Egypt.  However, verses 3-9 don't contain any predictions about the future, but a description of Assyria's glory in the past.  In this narrow sense, it isn't "prophetic."  Jer. 36 appears to violate this principle, since it describes the cold reception some of Judah's leaders gave some of Jeremiah's prophecies but also gives specific prophecies in vs. 7, 29-31. 

 

          Conder complains about my citation of McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict concerning this chapter, but fails to give a verse by verse rebuttal of the points ICF makes about it.  For example, he makes no attempt to prove crucifixion was practiced in the Middle East or Palestine in (say) 1000 b.c.  His fire is focused upon a key part of v. 16:  "They pierced my hands and my feet."  Interestingly, while attacking the LXX as corrupt for this verse, he fails to deal with any of the evidence from the Hebrew for this reading.  Although the standard version of the Masoretic text (MT) has the intrinsically unlikely reading "like a lion," the LXX's version is known to appear in some Hebrew manuscripts.  As ICF (p. 62) notes, according to the Ginsberg and NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament, "some mss." or "other scrolls" contain this reading.  It appeared in the first three mechanically printed editions of the Hebrew text, and Rabbi Nehemiah in the thirteenth century commented on Ps. 22:16 in the Yalkut Shimoni (687) using this reading.  Furthermore, and most devastatingly for Conder's position, it evidently appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  After having analyzed the Qumran sect's manuscript remnants, Peter Flint writes in The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls (1997) that "pierced" is the preferred option.[130]  Although Conder properly asserts the word as found in the standard MT is "(ka)ari," (#738), this ignores the likelihood of scribal error:  Change the final letter by omitting a vertical descending stroke, from vav to a yod, and it becomes #1856, "kaaru."  Hence, "Christian ministers [didn't] put 'Jesus' into Psalms 22 by changing the meaning of a word" (BGJ, p. 38), but have made a textual correction based upon others versions (the LXX, Vulgate, Syriac) and the minority reading in the Hebrew that involves changing one letter to another. 

 

          As for Conder's question about the MT being judged reliable by me (BGJ, p. 38), the issue is that while overall it's by far the most reliable form of the OT available today, mistakes do occur in it.  Using the OT to illustrate standard types of transmissional errors, Gleason Archer in Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties illustrates problems in the MT that could be corrected by using the principles of textual criticism, including analyzing other versions to clarify problems in the MT.  But notice, the MT is the foundation from which he proceeds, not the LXX or some other ancient version.[131]  My response to Conder's question is that while the MT is usually reliable, exceptions do arise (such as I Sam. 14:41 and Judges 16:13-14).  To even ask this kind of straw man question in this context illustrates an "all or nothing, black/white" mentality which can't appear to accept exceptions, subtleties or shades of gray on various subjects.  (This was already encountered above dealing with the controversy over paganism borrowing some ideas from Christianity).

 

WAS THE SEPTUAGINT RELIABLY TRANSLATED AND TRANSMITTED FOR THE PSALMS?

 

          The issue of the LXX's reliability was already considered above in part:  If such a careful, reverent man as Origen used the Hebrew (or other Greek) texts to correct the Greek translation from it, and inserted textual critical marks to note the changes that future scribes were supposed to copy, instead of leaving them out entirely, he isn't a plausible candidate a priori for perverting the word of God.  Although varying through the OT books in literary style or in the original Hebrew text being used as different men translated what became the LXX, this doesn't prove Christians perverted it.  Furthermore, excellent evidence exists for the LXX being finished by c. 100 b.c.  Soderlund notes several facts of interest for the questions Conder raises about the LXX.  First, "the discovery in the Judean desert of a Greek leather scroll of the Minor Prophets from the 1st cent. B.C. or A.D. has significant implications for the question of LXX origins."  Among the poetic books, he notes that "the Psalms are the best section and constitute a fairly faithful rendering of the Hebrew," unlike the paraphrasing [perhaps like a Targum at points?] often encountered in the other books of the Writings.  Earlier, he notes that by far the most common LXX mss. are those of the Psalms, so there's more material here to study potentially.  The prologue to the apocryphal book Sirach (c. 132-100 B.C.) gives some external evidence for most of the LXX being translated by the late second century b.c., since it mentions the prior translation of "the Law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books."  Citing Ronald Harrison as their source, McDowell and Wilson state:  "At least by 117 B.C., the entire translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek had been completed."[132]  However, if Peter Flint's work above asserting that the Dead Sea Scrolls' readings favor "he pierced" withstands scrutiny, this whole discussion about the Septuagint's reliability is rendered moot, since it was in the Hebrew then.

 

WHY OTHERS SHOULD AVOID READING MYSTERY BABYLON

 

          Conder complains at various points about my warnings to others against reading what he has written or against the writings of various higher critics (BGJ, pp. 4, 6, 27, 40).  Isn't this close-minded of me?  During the controversy over the "The Last Temptation of Christ," the movie's defenders said one shouldn't condemn something without seeing it first.  To this reasoning, Pat Buchanan replied it's not necessary to lift up a manhole cover to know the sewer stinks.  At the price of appearing intellectually arrogant (although that's not my intention),[133] to explain why I believe this is good advice, it's necessary to consider the analogy made in Eph. 4:11-16 and I Cor. 12:12-27 between a human body and the church.  Different people in the church have different functions.  Since I have never been married or had children, I wouldn't be the first person for a young family man or woman to ask for advice on raising children or solving marital problems.  But I have more education than most in the COG in history (M.A. and B.A.), and have worked with historians at a secular university when writing what initially was the longest M.A. thesis two of the long-time professors on my committee had ever seen.  (Three-fourths of it was eliminated for reasons of length, not quality).  Giving me a practical idea of how historians writes historical monographs, I have worked with primary sources in the subject of American slavery and English farmworkers.  Since I also have a B.A. in philosophy (from a secular university), I also have a practical knowledge of the basic logical fallacies, the means for judging the soundness of arguments, and how interpretive assumptions work within arguments as they clearly influence the conclusions drawn from the facts or evidence (premises).  I have immersed myself for years in the works of Christian apologetics and scientific creationism, so I know the standard arguments and facts used to defend Christianity against various attacks by unbelievers, or else know where to find them.  So when I read and carefully critique such a work as Mystery Babylon and the Lost Ten Tribes in the End Time, and conclude it's spiritual poison and biased polemical nonsense often based upon similar sources that make its pretenses to scholarship ring hollow, using arguments that would trash the Old Testament if consistently applied, why should others in the Body of Christ put a lot of effort into reading it and refuting it privately (without publishing anything about it)?  It's spiritually foolish to go out seeking experiences and things that can tempt us into sin.  We have better things to do with our time than to read what others reliably have exposed as nonsense or false.  Of course, some in the COG have to read and deal with Mystery Babylon out of a sense of spiritual duty to aid others as brethren.  It's certainly not as something fun to do, since it's so tedious. 

 

          This then leads us to the advice our late pastor general (or rather one of his ghost writers) once gave concerning reading dissident literature years ago, although he didn't totally prohibit reading it in the same Personal:  If you go around eating out of garbage cans a lot, you're apt to get sick.  When you read the works of higher critics, many could easily become doubtful and/or deceived, since people doing this don't necessarily have extensive knowledge of Christian apologetics or what scholarly critics of the liberal scholars have said on the latter's theories.  As a practical example, while I never accepted the moral theories of the philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand, who attacked self-sacrifice as immoral, I never had quite managed to shake an occasional inward memory of her arguments when I'm told about my Christian duties to help others, including the poor.  Hence, I would recommend to others in the COG to avoid reading her novel Atlas Shrugged due to its shrill atheism, its attacks on religious belief, and its attacks on Christian morality.  Why should we be encouraged further to act in our own self-interest by her arguments against Christian ethics, when that's rarely a serious problem anyway?  There are any number of attacks available on any number of our beliefs, political and religious:  Is it our duty to read them ALL to show we aren't "close-minded"?  Finally, the "close-minded" response of automatic rejection some may feel against some teaching may be how God protects some or even many people from apostasy or heresy.  I was the one who listened to Pasadena's arguments about the nature of God, listened to a few of Dr. Stavrinides' tapes, and even went out and bought a book by an evangelical that was supposed to persuade people to believe in the Trinity.  Due to uncritical reading that assumed the folks in Pasadena could be trusted to know what they were doing, and not really checking out uncited Scriptures that contradicted the new teaching, I ended up being deceived into Trinitarianism.  Those "close-minded" individuals who simply "mindlessly" rejected this teaching had better spiritual discernment than me, perhaps because they weren't trying to intellectualize something a lot that didn't need to be.  (It also was because of long-standing lurking doubts over the "God Family" doctrine and (at least subconsciously) a quest not to be seen as a cultist at some level (i.e., seeking respectability) as well).  True, some people have to sit down and systematically, intellectually critique the heresy in question in order to rebut it, such as Roderick Meredith, Raymond McNair, and Gary Fakhoury have done on the nature of God issue, or I have for Mystery Babylon.  But does everyone have to slog down the same rough road, facing the perils of deception?  Why shouldn't others read Mystery Babylon?  Because there's no need for most others to lift up the manhole cover for themselves to make sure that, yes indeed, the sewer does stink.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION:  HOW INTERPRETING THE FACTS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE FACTS THEMSELVES IN THIS DEBATE

 

          As surveyed above, few of Conder's counter-attacks against "Is Christianity a Fraud?" hold any water.  He frequently uses a higher critic methodology that undermines his own (presumed) arguments in favor of belief in the Old Testament, such as incipient Humean skepticism about historical records of miracle accounts and attacks on the Christian Church Fathers' basic reliability, which would destroy their testimony on the pagan mystery religions and Simon the Sorcerer for his cause.  He attacks the bibliographical test as it relates to the New Testament's reliability, ignoring how this also undermines defenses of the Old Testament.  He uses extreme or straw man formulations of his opponents' arguments, creating artificial contradictions or obvious absurdities within them that can be easily removed, such as for the discussions of the pagan mystery religions borrowing from Christianity and how reliable the Masoretic text is compared to the Septuagint.  A sense of historical amateurishness appears when he apparently confuses citing the original manuscripts (autographs) with citing printed primary sources in English translation, and confuses the date of original writing (authorship) with the earliest surviving manuscripts.  He complains about someone citing copies of original documents made centuries later, forgetting he does the same.  He also misconstrues a denial that the Catholic church's hierarchy determined the canon for a denial of the Sunday-keeping church generally ascertaining the canon.  The contrast between the references in Mystery Babylon and such a work as James L. Price's The New Testament:  Its History and Theology (an apparently liberal work) can only stamp the former as a polemical work using the biased scholarship and/or polemical works of others relevant to the study of the New Testament.  He mistakenly thinks the higher critics represent impartial scholarship, somehow lacking any biases of their own against Christianity (or Judaism).  Excepting my mistake about first-century manuscripts of the New Testament existing (which still a minority of scholars still believe in), there are few significant statements in "By-gosh Josh" attacking "Is Christianity a Fraud?" that can't be thoroughly blunted, even totally refuted.  The evident similarities between Afrocentrism's and Conder's mode of argumentation are embarrassing, since both purportedly trace the diffusion of ideas from one culture to another.  Note Lefkowitz's description of the former in the hands of one of its exponents (George G.M. James' Stolen Legacy), and compare it to the latter:

 

          James introduced a new school of historical research, by demonstrating in Stolen Legacy that anyone can claim anything about the past.  The first step is to downplay contradictory evidence; then to deduce from the limited facts one has assembled only those conclusions that support one's central thesis, or (if necessary) to invent evidence that suits one's own particular purposes [cf. much of Conder's discussion of Simon Magus as the real founder of Christianity].  In order to establish similarity, one needs to begin from the assumption of a direct connection, and then make the evidence fit the facts, by omitting details and by overlooking signficant differences.  The only problem is that the result of such efforts is not history, but a kind of hybrid between myth and history, a myth about history.[134]

 

At this point, impartial readers should remember the crucial importance of assumptions and interpretative principles in this debate.  Outside the facts concerning whether scholars believe first-century fragments of the New Testament exist, whatever quotes and citations Conder may be able to dredge up from printed primary sources of the myths of paganism, and some other loose ends, this debate is no longer about "facts" but how to interpret the evidence.  Should you ever embark to read further works of Darrell Conder or some high critic he recommends, such as Dr. Burton L. Mack, it must be remembered the assumptions used to interpret the facts largely determine the outcome, whether they are explicit or implicit, not the facts themselves.  Using such principles as the argument from silence, knee-jerk skepticism about everything in a historical document that's in question, Humean skepticism about miracle accounts, and anti-supernaturalistic assumptions, Conder's mode of argumentation can only lead to the elimination of the Old Testament as the word of God, assuming he takes these principles to their logical conclusion.  So then, will the passengers of Locomotive Conder unwillingly find one day their fearless leader pulling them into a station of a town named "Deism" or "Atheism"?  Time will tell.

 

 

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Endnotes:



    [1].........Throughout this rebuttal, the 74-page edition Servants' News distributes is cited from, not the original 129-page format.  All emphasis in quotes is original to the author's, unless otherwise noted, excepting Scripture.  The time-honored practice of capitalizing or decapitalizating the first word of quotations has been followed. 

    [2]........."Is the Bible the Word of God?  A Rational Defense of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures."  (about 82 pp., in the WordPerfect 5.1 version with regular-sized fonts for the endnotes).

    [3].........My essay "The Changing Views of the WCG on Christian Apologetics:  The Rise of Fideism and More Liberal Views on Evolution" (25 pp.) details evidence for HWA's position and the WCG's move away from it.  It's largely a rewriting of two letters I sent in to Pasadena that critiqued these changes.

    [4].........See Commonwealth Catalog, autumn 1997, p. 35.

    [5].........Darrell Conder, director, Commonwealth Books and Publishing, July 4, 1996, letter, pp. 1, 2, 3.

    [6].........Henry Morris, ed., Scientific Creationism (El Cajon, CA:  Master Books, 1985), p. xii.

    [7].........For this characterization of Robinson, see McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 128-29.

    [8].........My emphasis, Pagans and Christians (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), pp. 21-22.

    [9].........See Robert Ackerman, J.G. Frazer:  His Life and Work (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 11, 31, 164, 167-72.  This is a standard scholarly biography of Frazer.  After citing an excerpt from the preface of the second edition of The Golden Bough, Ackerman notes:  "He does not seem to understand, however, that his highminded obligation as a historian to follow the facts wherever they may lead is not merely in conflict with what he learned in his pious home but also with his partisanship as a determined enemy of religion."  Frazer traced the Book of Esther and its "characters" to "Babylonian originals," claiming Purim was "yet another member of the family of Near Eastern holidays of misrule [like Carnival and the Mardi Gras] that were founded in agricultural magic and in their original form contained a human sacrifice."  He then equates Jesus' condemnation and Barabbas' deliverance at the Passover to Haman and Mordecai's fate, maintaining these two "were really two aspects of the same god, one considered as victim and the other considered as risen."  Clearly, after surveying this tissue of conjectures that later got demoted to a footnote in the third edition, Frazer shouldn't be trusted to restrain his unbelief in his work. 

    [10].........John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Springdale, PA:  Whitaker House, (1874, original publication)), p. 28.

    [11].........The point in dispute here concerns how objective a translator Ferrar Fenton was, and whether it's legitimate to cite his translation in some point and reject it for another.  Fenton plainly reads his evolutionary philosophy into Genesis 1, by translating this part of it thus:  "By periods God Created that which produced the Suns; then that which produced the earth. . . . This was the close and the dawn of the first age."  As cited by Benjamin Wilkinson in David Otis Fuller, ed., Which Bible?, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Grand Rapids International Publications, 1975), p. 309.  Incidently, since many NT Greek-English interlinears are available, there's little need to cite Fenton's translation to note the word "Sabbaths" appears in a literal plural in Matt. 28:1.

    [12].........Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention:  A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1992), pp. 41, 44.

    [13].........See Josh McDowell, More Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA:  Here's Life Publishers, 1981), pp. 68-72.  About half of this book is devoted to defending the Old Testament against claims by various higher critics.

    [14]........."Confession of a Professed Atheist:  Aldous Huxley," Report, June 1966, p. 19; as cited in Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? (New York:  Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1967), p. 130.

    [15].........John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Springdale, PA:  Whitaker House), p. 27.

    [16].........Stanley L. Jaki, The Origin of Science and the Science of Its Origin (South Bend, IN:  Regnery/Gateway, Inc., 1978), p. 46.  Most of this book is devoted to exposing the unbelieving biases of scholars when examining the history of the development of science.  A rude awakening awaits those who caricaturize Roman Catholicism (based on Galileo's showdown with the Inquisition over geocentrism) as the main roadblock to the development of science should they read this book.  (Compare the comment on BGJ, p. 27 based upon Graham and/or the Encyclopedia Britannica).  Jaki is a Roman Catholic philosopher of science and Distinguished Professor at Seton Hall University.

    [17].........Conder's statement that he cites Asimov only four times in MB is mistaken (BGJ, p. 6).

    [18].........Ackerman, J.G. Frazer, pp. 2, 37, 45-48, 82, 99, 105, 123, 167-68, 225, 256, 306-7, 328.  In his introduction, while explaining why he chose to do a biography on him, Ackerman notes (p. 3):  "As I was not an anthropologist, the dismal state of his reputation made him, if anything, rather more interesting than otherwise."  On p. 4, he comments:  "I am aware that the revolutions undergone by anthropology mean that Frazer's approach to religion is virtually meaningless in terms of contemporary practice.  Not only are his answers superseded, but more important his questions likewise are not longer relevant."  Although some time ago I had bought The Golden Bough (in a reprint of the first edition) because of C.S. Lewis' admiration of the work, I read almost nothing in it until my local pastor dropped Mystery Babylon on me for a critique.  Since Conder mined Frazer's work for examples of pagan/Christian parallels, I used it largely only because he did, to check up on his references some and counter-attack his arguments.  I was somewhat uncomfortable using Frazer's work as I wrote ICF, because I didn't know the current scholarly climate of opinion on this book.  (I basically only knew what C.S. Lewis thought about it).  I did notice that Nash's The Gospel and the Greeks didn't refer to it even once.  Ackerman's biography is a "must read" for those who wish to use Frazer's work knowledgeably.  Andrew Lang's Magic and Religion (London:  Longmans, Green, and Co., 1901) devotes two-thirds of its length to a close, sustained, scholarly yet polemical refutation of The Golden Bough's second edition that some may find worth hunting down.

    [19].........In this context, Ackerman mentioned that Frazer when he considered doing a commentary on the OT.  Despite his expertise as a classical scholar, in 1906 he was a mere beginner here:  "By 1907 he had read the Bible in Hebrew exactly once, and of the critical literature as yet he knew nothing.  Far from being steeped in the text or the history of its scholarship, he was only a first-time scholarly tourist in the vast landscape of biblical studies."  J.G. Frazer, p. 186.

    [20].........Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks:  Did the New Testament Borrow From Pagan Thought? (Richardson, TX:  Probe Books, 1992), pp. 9-11, 119-21.  Josh McDowell cites from this book under another title and publisher:  Christianity and the Hellenistic World (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1984).  Having heard about these charges years ago, through reading H.G. Wells and C.S. Lewis, I bought Nash's book some time before I ever heard of Mystery Babylon, when I happened to see it on a bookshelf in a traditional Christian book store.  But I read little of it before (surprise!) my pastor dumped Mystery Babylon on me for a critique.  Needless to say, no one should commit themselves to accepting Conder's beliefs without reading Nash's book first.  Incidently, Ronald Nash is not a mere "Christian minister," (BGJ, p. 24) but the former head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University, and has edited or written 13 books on religion and philosophy.  McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 176.

    [21].........my emphasis, Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought:  From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon, vol. 1 (Nashville, TN:  Abington Press, 1970), pp. 56-57.  A Yale University Professor, Roland H. Bainton, wrote the preface for this book, so it shouldn't be casually dismissed.  Now it does appear specialists in Mithraism and classical paganism still willingly draw parallels between Christianity and Mithraism.  See Eberhard Sauer, The End of Paganism in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire:  The Example of the Mithras Cult (Oxford, England:  Tempvs Repartvm, Archaeological and Historical Associates Ltd., 1996), pp. 76-78; Celsus, On the True Doctrine:  A Discourse Against the Christians, R. Joseph Hoffman, trans. (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1987),  pp. 15-16.  But as is seen below from the work of the French scholar Robert Turcan and due to other considerations, these similarities are much more superficial than substantiative.

    [22].........For example, consider the stories about Mithra having a virgin birth and being worshipped by shepherds (MB, pp. 33).  First of all, the earliest versions of the myths about Mithra as they circulated in the West according to various Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.), Commodian, Firmicus Maternus, John Lydus, and St. Jerome, all refer to Mithras being born out of a rock.  Only in a tradition recorded later, in fifth-century Armenian writers, has Mithras being the son of the god Ormuzd.  His birth was not at all clearly "virgin."  Elisaeus Vartabed, an ancient Armenian historian, reported the answer Armenian bishops gave to Viceroy Mihr-Nerseh:  "Thou [a Zoroastrian presumably] hast said, that God was born from a woman:  thou shouldst feel neither horror nor scorn at it . . . There is a thing still more curious:  the god Mihr being born of a woman, as if one could have intercourse with one's own mother."  Another Armenian writer put it similarly, mentioning Ahriman accusing the god Ormuzd of not being able to make light:  "Now if he were wise, he would have intercourse with his mother, and he would have a son, the Sun (Miher); and he would likewise have intercourse with his sister, and the Moon (Mah) would be born."  In neither case was this a virgin birth, in which by the Spirit of God, instead of sexual intercourse with a god, a woman is impregnated (cf. the story about Zeus impregnating Alkmene, who later gave birth to Hercules).  The inscriptions the past leading historian of Mithraism, Cumont, cited to say shepherds witnessed the birth of Mithras from a rock or just afterwards are not terribly close to what Luke describes either.  See L. Patterson, Mithraism and Christianity:  A Study in Comparative Religion (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1921), pp. 12-14.

    [23].........Used commonly as texts in college history classes, source books gather together long extracts from various primary sources to supplement the second sources the professor may be using.  For example, Lacey Baldwin Smith and Jean Reeder Smith, eds., The Past Speaks to 1688:  Sources and Problems in English History (Lexington, MA:  D.C. Heath and Co., 1981).  Conder may find this collection of interest:  David R. Cartlidge and David L. Dungan, eds., Documents for the Study of the Gospels (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1980).

    [24].........F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1988), pp. 270-71, 286.

    [25].........For the record, I believe the Tkach administration correctly changed at least the following doctrines or practices:  (1) saying a Christian using human medical science did not reflect a weakness of faith  (2) legalizing interracial marriage and dating (3) legalizing make-up (4) de-emphasizing prophecy from HWA's overkills on the subject.  Later changes I support include:  (5) promoting the idea of personal and local evangelism (6) the denial of exclusivity, that true Christians can be in other physical corporate organizations separate from our own.  HWA's approach to church government in his latter years (one-man rule through a human hierarchy and extreme centralization) was wrong as well.

    [26].........For a copy, write Alan Ruth at P.O. Box 310208, Detroit, MI 48231 or ARUTH88521@aol.com or visit his website, http://www.biblestudy.org, where it should be available.

    [27].........David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Indianapolis:  Hacket Publishing Co., 1977 (original publication, 1748)), section X, "of miracles," pp. 76-77.

    [28].........Those interested in researching this subject further should consult the following two works:  C.S. Lewis, Miracles:  A Preliminary Study (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co., 1960); Colin Brown, Miracles and the Critical Mind (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984).  Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson briefly but effectively survey this topic in He Walked Among Us:  Evidence for the Historical Jesus (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), pp. 262-77.

    [29].........Lewis, Miracles, p. 102.

    [30].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 264.

    [31].........Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith (San Bernardino, CA:  Here's Life Publishers, 1980), as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 265.

    [32].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 267.

    [33].........Origen, Origen Against Celsus, book I, ch. 28; Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers:  Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951), vol. 4, p. 408; cf. Fox, Pagans and Christians, p. 482.

    [34].........as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 10, 275, 241, 343.

    [35].........Tosefta:  Hullin 2.22ff; cf. Babylonian Talmud, Adorah Zarah 27b; Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbath 14d, Adorah Zarah 40d, 41a; as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 64-66.  The point of such a citation is to give evidence for Jesus' bare existence and his ability to do miracles as conceded by his enemies.  The rest of the "Panthera" legend need not be accepted (note BGJ, p. 32).

    [36].........Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 104b; Tosefta:  Shabbath 11. 15; as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 275, 343. 

    [37].........Antiquities 18. 3. 3 (63-4); as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 40.  Using the loaded example of pretending I was on trial for a capital offense, Conder criticizes my citation of this passage since its authenticity has been hotly disputed (BGJ, p. 35).  Conder here forgets that the standards of proof in a criminal trial are intentionally so high that much evidence gets intentionally excluded, but thoroughly respectable historians operate by significantly lower standards.  For example, criminal trials exclude most types of hearsay testimony, of one person repeating what another told them.  Yet much journalism, of what is reported in solid respectable newspapers that people rarely question the facts they relate (not necessarily the interpretation of them, i.e., editorials), is hearsay.  Consider what happens when a reporter writes that the police say such-and-so happened at an accident scene or that a press secretary reports such-and-so occurred on the battlefield in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War without having personally visited either.  The next day, we read it in the newspaper, and believe it happened:  We are then relying on hearsay evidence.  Many business, investment, and personal decisions people routinely make are based on information less reliable than what appears in New York Times on any given day.  Should we presumptuously demand of God so much more proof for belief in Him and His religion than we use for deciding who to marry or what career to engage in?  We may rise the bar so high we logically couldn't believe in anything else, if we consistently applied the same standard to other beliefs/knowledge we have.  Furthermore, Conder doesn't deal with any of the stylistic/linguistic reasons favoring this passage as having been partially written by Josephus originally, as found in ICF, pp. 20-21 and its references.  A tenth-century Arabic work cites a fourth-century version of the Testimonium which largely preserves it intact.

    [38].........Mary Lefkowitz, Not Out of Africa:  How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1997), p. 138.  Having noted this description, the question then becomes:  Does The Book of the Dead even mention Osiris or his "resurrection"?  Page number please!  Ultimately, Mystery Babylon has little better basis for its major claims than Afrocentrism does for its.

    [39].........Cartlidge and Dungan, eds., Documents for the Study of the Gospels, pp. 85, 92-93; see also McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 99, 281.

    [40]........."All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial" (New York:  Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1983), pp. 301-303; See also F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1988), pp. 161, 165, 174, 183, 185, 188, 194, 198-203, 209-12 for some description of how some books later rejected some in the church had accepted earlier.  The 200 figure, which presumably includes epistles and other apocryphal literature, is in MB, p. 20.  The main books debated at least some before finally and decisively appearing in the canon were Hebrews, James, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation, but they compose only a relatively small part of the NT.  See McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 92.

    [41].........C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 133.

    [42].........Ibid., p. 107.

    [43].........C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, Walter Hooper, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), pp. 154-55; as cited by McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 134-35.

    [44].........J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City:  A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1987), pp. 136-38.

    [45].........Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pp. 146-47.

    [46].........Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, vol. 1, pp. 126-27.

    [47].........See Immanuel Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos:  From the Exodus to King Akhnaton, vol. 1 (Garden City, NY:  Doubleday & Co., 1952), pp. 12-39.

    [48].........Gary R. Habermas and Antony G.N. Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?:  The Resurrection Debate, Terry L. Miethe, ed. (Harper & Row, Publishers:  San Francisco, 1987), pp. 20-21.  This section is laced with some 12 footnotes, so anyone could easily look up Habermas' references.

    [49].........Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA:  Here's Life Publishers, 1981), pp. 77, 79, 93, 99.  Again, he provides specific references here.

    [50].........Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1 (San Bernardino, CA:  Here's Life Publishers, 1979), pp. 232 (Anderson quote), 238, 255.  The record of the early Catholic Church Fathers, along with Jewish medieval literature, externally confirms Matt. 28:11's statement about the disciples stealing the body being a standard and ancient counter-explanation for the resurrection.  (See BGJ, p. 10).

    [51].........Paul L. Maier, First Easter (New York:  Harper & Row, 1973), p. 122; William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2d ed. (Baltimore:  John Hopkins Press, 1946), pp. 297, 298; as cited in McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 81.

    [52].........Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pp. 152-54; See also John Ross Schroeder, "Carsten Peter Thiede:  When Was the New Testament Written?," Good News, Nov./Dec. 1997, pp. 27-28.  Despite not being a conservative scholar, John A.T. Robinson's Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1976) contains a similar argument that maintains all the NT was composed before 70 A.D.:  Nowhere does the NT mention the fall of Jerusalem as a historical event.

    [53].........James Martin, The Reliability of the Gospels (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1959), p. 103-104; John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity (Downers Grove, IL:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1964, p. 37; both as cited by McDowell, More Evidence, pp. 212-13; Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, p. 156.

    [54].........See McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, p. 62.

    [55].........Due to dying out, a major break in the history of the Welsh bards came in the 17th-18th centuries.  See Prys Morgan, "From a Death to a View:  The Hunt for the Welsh Past in the Romantic Period," Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 49-51, 56-57, 62-66.

    [56].........Geza Vermes, Jesus and the World of Judaism (London:  SCM Press Ltd., 1983), p. 19; as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 129-30.

    [57].........Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pp. 142-44; McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 164-65, 171.

    [58].........Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pp. 141-42, 144-46.

    [59].........Christopher Dawson, The Dynamics of World History, John J. Mulloy, ed. (New York:  New American Library, 1956), p. 327.  Although Conder could counterattack by saying Dawson is a Catholic, he bolsters his judgment by citing Gibbons' non-Christian editor, J.B. Bury:  "Neither the historian nor the man of letters will any longer subscribe, without a thousand reserves, to the theological chapters of the Decline and Fall, and no discreet enquirer would go there for his ecclesiastical history."  Not a man guilty of sympathy for fundamentalist Christianity, H.G. Wells states:  "Gibbon was strongly prejudiced against Christianity, and here [on the Roman emperor's Diocletian's persecution of Christians] he seems disposed to minimize the fortitude and sufferings of the Christians."  The Outline of History, Raymond Postgate, ed., (Garden City, NY:  Garden City Books, 1956), vol. 1, p. 435.

    [60].........As Grant explains elsewhere, Eusebius would paraphrase from his sources at points, such as from Tertullian in a poor Greek translation from the Latin, before quoting from him directly.  For a careful, close, scholarly examination and critique of Eusebius as a church historian, Grant's work is an excellent place to begin.  Robert M. Grant, Eusebius as Church Historian (New York:  Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 63-64.  Bruce, Canon of Scripture, p. 198.  Bruce states in the footnote:  "One must recognize his habit of extracting from their contexts just so much of the passages quoted from earlier writers [note‑‑this isn't oral testimony!] as suited his immediate purpose.  But J. B. Lightfoot's emphatic witness remains valid:  'In no instance which we can test does Eusebius give a doubtful testimony' (Essays on 'Supernatural Religion', p. 49; his italics)."  Instead of having an odor of forgery about him, Eusebius appears to be merely uncritical in his use of sources.  In a dual Greek/English version of The Ecclesiastical History, the introduction notes on the letters between Abgar and Jesus:  "According to H.E. i. 12. 3 ff. Eusebius made use of material in the Archives of Edessa. . . .  It is not certain whether Eusebius had himself seen this archive or made use of it only at secondhand through the writings of Julius Africanus, but in any case there is no reason to doubt the statement that the apocryphal story of Abgar Uchama was found in the archives at Edessa, which is also the probable source‑‑direct or indirect‑‑for most of the information contained in Eusebius as to the history of Christianity outside the Roman Empire in the region of Mesopotamia and such details as the story of Mani."  Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, Kirsopp Lake, trans. (London:  William Heinemann, The Loeb Classical Library, 1926), vol. 1, pp. xxxix-xl.

    [61].........Fox, Pagans and Christians, pp. 607-8.

    [62].........as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 47-48.

    [63].........John Foxe, Foxe's Christian Martyrs of the World (Uhrichsville, OH:  Barbour and Co., 1985 (original publication 1563), pp. 11, 13.

    [64].........Fox, Pagans and Christians, pp. 425-27.

    [65].........Those interested in a brief write-up on contradictions between and within the LDS church's special scriptures compared to the Bible may wish to read my essay, "Problems with the LDS Scriptures:  Do Contradictions Exist?"

    [66].........Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), pp. 280-81.

    [67].........Hershel Shanks, James C. Vanderkam, P. Kyle McCarter Jr., and James A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Scrolls After Forty Years (Washington, DC:  Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991), p. 35.

    [68].........See "Carsten Peter Thiede," Good News, Nov./Dec. 1997, pp. 26-28; Hershel Shanks, "The Battle Against Junk 'Scholarship,' Biblical Archeology Review, Jan./Feb. 1997, p. 18; Carsten Peter Thiede and Hershel Shanks, "Queries and Comments  Junk Scholarship  Thiede Defends His Claims on New Testament Fragments," Biblical Archeology Review, May/June 1997, pp. 8, 10-11.

    [69].........C.L. Blomberg, "Text and Mss of the NT," Geoffrey W. Bromiley, gen. ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBN) (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), p. 815.

    [70].........Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New York:  Meridian Books, 1956), p. 52; as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 109; McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 46-47.  Ironically, the oldest NT fragment is for the Gospel traditionally dated as being the latest canonical one written.  As Bruce Metzger remarks:  "Had this little fragment [of John] been known during the middle of the last century, that school of New Testament [higher] criticism which was inspired by the brilliant Tubingen professor, Ferdinand Christian Baur, could not have argued that the Fourth Gospel was not composed until about the year 160."  Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 39; as cited by McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, p. 46.  As an example of "liberal dating," McDowell cites (p. 62) Baur as placing John at 170 A.D.  Conspicuously, largely contradicting the theory of NT origination found in MB, the "liberal dating" scheme by Kummel still places most of NT in the second half of first century, not later.

    [71].........F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1960), pp. 16-17.

    [72].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 135-36.

    [73].........Excepting a secondary reference citing Hippolytus and Irenaeus, Conder cites no sources on the life of Simon in his gratuitous fantasy mislabeled, "Epilogue  A True History of the Christian Church" in Mystery Babylon, pp. 131-42.  However, what the earliest Catholic Church Fathers and others wrote about him is usefully summarized by D.E. Aune in "Simon Magus," Bromiley, gen. ed., ISBE, vol. 4, pp. 517-18.  The Gnosticism that Justin Martyr and Irenaeus' writings indicate when describing Simon's theology is sufficient proof Simon couldn't have been the true founder of Sunday-keeping Christianity.

    [74].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 75-76; for their weaknesses, see pp. 72-73.

    [75].........Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma 82b-83a, Sotah 49b; as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 207, 216, 236; The possible statement by Bar Kokhba is found in Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "The Languages of Palestine in the First Century A.D.," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 32 (1970), p. 514; as cited in John E. Stambaugh and David L. Balch, The New Testament in Its Social Environment (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1986), p. 87.

    [76].........Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 307-8.

    [77].........S.K. Soderlund, "Septuagint," Bromiley, gen. ed., ISBE, pp. 401, 408.

    [78].........See also McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 229-30.

    [79].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 207, 245.

    [80].........Herbert Lockyer Sr., gen. ed., Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), p. 15.

    [81].........J. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 51; as cited in James L. Price, The New Testament:  Its History and Theology (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987), pp. 128-29, 303; see also McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 166.

    [82]........."All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial", p. 198; see also McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 166.

    [83].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 237, 238.  For the first statement, they cite Robert L. Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark, 2d ed. (Jerusalem:  Dugith Publishers, 1973).  The second is backed by loads of specifics cited in the same chapter.

    [84].........The Bible:  God's Word or Man's (New York:  Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1989), p. 40.

    [85].........Some of the external evidence indicating Luke wrote Luke is rehearsed in William G. Most, Catholic Apologetics Today:  Answers to Modern Critics (Rockford, IL:  Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1986), pp. 48-52.

    [86].........A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1963), p. 189; as cited by McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 117.

    [87].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 204-5.

    [88].........Conspicuously, Conder spends no time trying to rebut any the specific points raised in ICF against his claim Luke misdated the census.  He quotes out of context my mention of his dependence on Isaac Asimov because the subsection this quote came from concerned whether how the census was conducted was absurd or not, not its timing.  (See ICF, p. 19; cf. BGJ, p. 22; MB, p. 36).  Conder's complaint here about how I supposedly implied his whole discussion of the census' timing was based on Asimov merely obscures how he has been decisively refuted concerning whether or not this census was absurd in how it conducted.  Partial evidence that the census occurred while Herod was alive involves how Joseph and Mary, in order to report to Bethlehem for the census, didn't have to cross any provincial boundaries since Herod ruled the whole area.  If the census had occurred in 6 A.D., they would have had to leave Galilee, ruled by Herod Antipas for Judea, now directly ruled by Rome since Archelaus had just been disposed of.  Only by assuming these boundaries could be ignored when reporting to home towns for registering and doing more than once province (etc.) at once can this point be evaded.  See Wayne Brindle's argument in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 201-2.

    [89].........Soderlund, "Text and Mss of the OT," Bromiley, gen. ed., ISBE, vol. 4, pp. 810-11.

    [90].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 126-128.

    [91].........C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History (New York:  Macmillan Co., 1952), pp. 143+, as cited in Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter (Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, 1977), p. 47.

    [92].........J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 16; as cited by McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 113.

    [93].........Blaiklock, Jesus Christ:  Man or Myth?, p. 10; as cited by McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 33.

    [94].........Origen, Commem. in Matt. (xv. 14), as cited by S.K. Soderlund, "Septuagint," and Soderlund, "Text and Mss of the OT," Bromiley, gen. ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, pp. 405, 813.

    [95].........This is ironic for someone who accuses others of questioning the reliability of sources on the pagan mystery religions (see BGJ, p. 29).  The Christian Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Hippolytus, are a major source of information on the mystery religions such as Mithraism.  Why are they reliable sources on paganism but not on Christianity's origins?

    [96].........Hodges and Farstad, The New Testament According to the Majority Text, p. xi.  On pp. xxiii-xxxii they make an excellent case for the original author of the Gospel of John writing John 7:53-8:11, the case of the woman caught in adultery.  They note how John 8:6, 10, 11 contain stylistic constructions like those found in the rest of the Fourth Gospel.

    [97].........David Otis Fuller, ed., Which Bible?, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Grand Rapids International Publications, 1975).  Conder questions the authenticity of the last eleven verses of Mark (BGJ, p. 38), but advocates of the received text have made excellent arguments for its authenticity.  As Alfred Martin explains (pp. 168-69), although Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (fourth century) omit them, they appear the second-century Old Latin and Syriac versions, and are cited from by Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, among the earliest traditional Christian writers.  In the third century, they appear in the Coptic and Sahidic versions made then.  Hippolytus, Vincentius at the seventh council of Carthage, the "Acta Pilati," and the "Apostolic Constitutions" in two places cite from them.  For the fourth century, a slew of names can be noted as citing from them, including Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Ephraem, Leontius, Epiphanius, Didymus, Aphraates, Marcarius Magnes, and even Eusebius (who made statements both for and against their reliability).  Cureton's Syriac and Gothic versions have them, as well as the Syriac Table of Canons and the Syriac "Acts of the Apostles."  They appear in the vast majority of (later) manuscripts that form the corpus of the received (Byzantine) text, as well as even "A," the fifth-century Alexdrinus codex whose readings outside the Gospels normally line up with the critical text's.  Furthermore, Vaticanus undercuts its own testimony against these verses by leaving a blank column at the end of Mark, signifying the scribe knew something was missing.  Much of it being older than the two major manuscripts usually cited for omitting these verses, this textual evidence indicates they were in the original, especially given the a priori implausibility that Mark would break off at verse 9 for his ending.  Plainly, it's absurd to put Mark 16:9-20 in the same category as I John 5:7's spurious Trinitarian interpolation, which only has as textual evidence for it two very late Greek manuscripts witnessing for it besides the Latin Vulgate (from which it is still missing from its earliest copies).

    [98]........."Does The New Covenant Do Away With the Letter of the Old Testament Law?:  Recent Changes in WCG Doctrine Reconsidered" (42 pp.) is distributed by The Servants' News, P.O. Box 220, Charlotte, MI  48813-0220; email:  75260.1603@compuserve.com.

    [99].........In this context, Conder attacks the historical accuracy of the works by Herman Hoeh and Dugger and Dodd on the history of the Sabbatarian churches.  Judging from the evident historical problems in Mystery Babylon, it's not wise to accept these statements on faith, without further proof.  For those interested in alternative sources of information on the history of Sabbatarian churches not mentioned by Conder, consider consulting the following works:  Ivor C. Fletcher, The Incredible History of God's True Church (Altadena, CA:  Triumph Publishing Co., 1984); B.G. Wilkinson, Ph.D., Truth Triumphant:  The Church in the Wilderness (Brushton, NY:  TEACH Services, Inc., 1994); Richard Nickels, History of the Seventh day Church of God, vol. 1.  See also "Six Papers on the History of the Church of God," offered by Giving & Sharing, P.O. Box 100, Neck City, MO  64849.

    [100].........See the old WCG reprint article, "How to Reckon the Day of Pentecost" (1975).

    [101].........J.C.D. Clark, English Society 1688-1832:  Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice During the Ancien Regime (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 133.

    [102].........For general points on this subject used above, see Aid to Bible Understanding (New York:  Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1971), pp. 37, 640-41; Lockyer, Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, pp. 20, 410-11.

    [103].........R.T. Anderson, "Samaritans," Bromiley, gen. ed., ISBN, vol. 4, pp. 304, 307; Lockyer, ed., Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 943; David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries:  Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 5 (map).

    [104].........Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor:  American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (Cambridge, MA:  Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 377.

    [105].........For a practical example of this, see the debate over the influence of German big business and the rise of Nazism between David Abraham and his opponents Henry Turner (Yale) and Gerald Feldman (Berkeley) over errors in the former's book/Ph.D. dissertation.  Peter Novick, That Noble Dream:  The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 612-21.

    [106].........James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance:  Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 1990).

    [107].........Additionally, it must be noted in this context that even if one could cite pagan thoughts or rituals in books originally written in the first century or later, that still doesn't prove necessarily their thinking influenced early Christianity's doctrinal content.  A standard logical fallacy is (in Latin) called:  "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc," meaning, "After this, therefore because of this."  The mere fact something happens after something else doesn't prove the first thing caused the second to happen, otherwise I could assert the noise my alarm clock makes in the morning "caused" some kid in school to throw a paper wad at me.  Being successive in time does not prove some earlier object's nature influenced some later thing to change.  An expression of pagan thinking that started among (say) first-century B.C. Chinese is irrelevant to discussions of what influenced primitive Christianity or the NT's content since geography places the two too far apart.  For this reason, it's far more sensible to seek the origins of water baptism in the practices of contemporary Judaism, such as among the Qumran Dead Sea Scroll community, than in the pagan taurobolium ceremony (which isn't known to be practiced before the second century anyway), since Christianity represents itself as originating out of Judaism, not paganism, in the NT.

    [108].........Of course, assuming these writings were accurately transmitted doesn't prove the information in them is necessarily true.  For example, it appears the Christian Church Fathers only knew their information about the mystery cults at least second hand, having not been involved in them personally themselves.  The Church writer Firmicus Maternus (fourth century) can't be trusted to always be right about the Mysteries, because sometimes his information contradicts what is known from other sources for certain (cf. BGJ, p. 28).  Turcan says you can't hardly place your confidence in him, because he imputes to Mithraism the belief of a double fire in feminine and masculine form as part of his integrated theory of the four elements.  Mithra et le Mithriacisme, pp. 93, 145.  (Helping to make it attractive to Roman legionnaires, Mithraism was an emphatically masculine religion, having no place for women in its theology or secret rituals).  A similar problem appears as he describes the teachings of the cult of Attis and Cybele since it "appears inconsistent with known elements of the cult" at least at times.  Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, p. 141.

    [109].........The equinoxes occur around March 21 and December 21 each year, when the days and nights are equal in length.  Due to the earth "wobbling" like a top slightly, the location of the path through which the sun appears to cross the sky gradually changes over the centuries.  As a result, the precession of the earth causes the North Star to change since the North Pole points towards a different star very gradually.  The North Star has not always been Polaris.

    [110].........Ulansey, Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, pp. 3, 8-15, 45, 67, 82-85, 88-89, 93, 111 and in passing.  Of course, not all scholars necessarily agree with him.  Maintaining Ulansey's theory hasn't explained everything or fully correlated the constellations with Mithraic stone reliefs, French scholar Robert Turcan obviously still traces Mithraism back to India, Persia and the latter's religion of Zoroastrianism.  Robert Turcan, Mithra et le Mithriacisme (Paris:  Les Belle Lettres, 1993), pp. 9, 12-17, 107-8.  Still, to appreciate how brilliant Ulansey's theory is, you'd have to read his book, for certainly he does have evidence favoring his conclusions.

    [111].........Omitting the accent marks, here's the original French for the specific quotations:  "Ce qui ne veut pas dire qu'il existe alors tel que l'exprimeront les monuments epigraphiques et figures du IIe siecle ap. J.-C." (p. 29).  "En fait, aucun temoignage ni archeologique ni litteraire ne confirme directment cette hypothese" (p. 31).  "claire et nette . . . protecteur de leur pouvoir" (p. 42).  All translations mine, Turcan, Mithra et le Mithriacisme, pp. 19, 29, 31-42.  Turcan is a professor at the Sorbonne ("France's Harvard") in Paris, so his scholarly credentials are unquestionable.

    [112]........."L'art mithriaque est comme un livre d'images dont le texte serait perdu" (p. 93).  "La difficulte majeure tient au fait que les premiers ne concordent pas toujours avec les seconds, qui sont indirects et de seconde main, puisqui'ils ne procedent pas d'authentiques mithriastes practiquants" (p. 93).  "Mithra n'est pas un dieu mort et ressuscite" (p. 109).  "Le salut qu'il donne est d'abord la sauvegarde physique des etres vivants" (p. 109).  "'la Terre feconde . . . '  . . . 'gardien des fruits' . . . du souci majeur qui anime les mithriastes:  preservation de la vie, vigilance envers la vie" (p. 109).  "Dans le monde, avec la creation d'Oromasdes.  Le probleme du salut individuel et extra-terrestre ne se pose pas.  Il s'agit d'un salut bio-cosmique" (p. 110).  "Car Mithra ne meurte pas.  N'etant pas descendu du ciel (mais tout au contraire issu du roc terrestre), il n'a pas besoin d'y remonter pour affirmer son triomphe sur la mort, apres ses exploits dans le monde et pour le monde" (p. 111).  Turcan, Mithra et le Mithriacisme, pp. 93, 109-111.  Nash maintains the idea of rebirth was a late addition to Mithraism, and that its conception of time was linear, not cyclical.  The Gospel and the Greeks:  Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? (Richardson, TX:  Dallas, 1992), p. 147.  But if Ulansey is right, and Stoic philosophers caused Mithraism to exist, the idea of the "Great Year," with its conception of history ultimately always repeating, had to be its view of time from the beginning.  Evidence for a non-linear view of time in Zoroastrianism can be found in L. Patterson, Mithraism and Christianity:  A Study in Comparative Religion (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1921), pp. 60-62.

    [113].........My emphasis, Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, p. 182.

    [114].........Ironically for Conder's assertions about Christianity's dependence on paganism, rabbi H.G. Enelow describes a point of contention between Jewish and traditional Christian scholars:  "Jewish writers have tried to prove that anything taught by Jesus may be found in Jewish literature, and that therefore he could not be called original; while Christians have deemed it necessary to defend Jesus against the charge of borrowing or reproducing from Jewish sources, lest his originality be impugned."  A Jewish View of Jesus (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co., 1920), p. 14; as cited in McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 241.

    [115].........By comparison, consider the similarities between various Masonic rituals and Mormon Temple ceremonies.  It's no coincidence some are highly similar, because many of the top leaders of the early Mormon (LDS) Church were Masons, including Joseph Smith himself.  Other Mormon leaders who were Masons include Brigham Young (the second President of the LDS Church), Sidney Rigdon, W.W. Phelps, Heber C. Kimball, and Newel K. Whitney.  Hyrum Smith, Joseph's brother, was admitted to the Masonic Lodge at about the same time Joseph supposedly received the plates to translate the Book of Mormon from.  Indeed, so many early Mormons joined the Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo, IL that the Masonic hierarchy decided to expel them to keep Joseph Smith from eventually becoming Grand Commander.  In this case, causation for the similar ceremonies can clearly be proven, since those in one religion (Masonry) were members of another (the Mormon Church).  See Dave Hunt and Ed Decker, The God Makers (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1984), pp. 122-28.

    [116].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 247.

    [117].........Ibid., pp. 207, 245.

    [118].........Turcan, Mithraism et le Mithriacisme, pp. 79, 144; Patterson, Mithraism and Christianity, pp. 36-37, 49-52.  Only once in the Avesta of Zoroastrianism is Mithra called "the bull," and as Patterson notes:  "Bulls can only have been sacrificed to Mithra when the original meaning of the rite had been forgotten."  After all, it's Mithra who kills the bull in the stone image of the tauroctony, so he can't be sacrificing it to himself as symbolizing his own death!

    [119]........."M. Simon y a decele la marque d'une influence chretienne, qui reste a demonstrer," Turcan, Mithra et la Mithriacisme, p. 103; Nash, Gospel and the Greeks, p. 176.  It's assumed that the quote from the Santa Prisca Mithraeum's wall painting has the date Nash describes, although Nash's mention doesn't seem to refer to what it says correctly, or is referring to another quote from the same painting or another in the same Mithraeum.  For a discussion of this quote not in French, see Sauer, The End of Paganism, p. 77.  On this point, Nash references his information to H. Betz, "The Mithras Inscriptions of Santa Prisca and the New Testament," Novum Testamentum 10 (1968): 52-80.

    [120].........Marcus Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Marcus Minucius Felix, trans. G.W. Clarke (New York:  Newman Press, 1974), pp. 64, 106-7, 330-31.

    [121].........Virgil's Aeneid, John Dryden, trans. (New York:  Airmount Publishing Co., 1968 (original publication, 1697), p. 286.

    [122].........Henry Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1984), pp. 402-3; Ackerman, J.G. Frazer, pp. 149-53; Lang, Magic and Religion, pp. 15-45 (generally).

    [123].........Cartlidge and Dungan, Documents for the Study of the Gospels, p. 135.  Another problem faces the user of Diodorus, Herodotus, and perhaps other ancient Greek writers when tracing cultural influences, as Lefkowitz explains:  "But evidently he [Diodorus] followed Herodotus's example in imagining that any similarity was proof of direct connection, rather than a sign of indirect influence, or simply a coincidental occurrence.  Like Herodotus, he seems eager to discover correspondences [between ancient Greek and Egyptian culture], with such zeal that he takes the most superficial similarities as a sign of borrowing."  Not Out of Africa, p. 73.  It sounds like Diodorus anciently was making the same mistakes as Conder has recently, only the former constitutes a primary source with the same problem, which undermines its soundness for proving the cultural diffusion of religious ideas.

    [124].........For an example of how Frazer's work can't be treated as infallible, note what P.W. Graebelein, Jr. wrote concerning the supposed relationship between various "pagan savior gods" that has been rebutted by another scholar:  "It is important to stress that the dictim of J. G. Frazer (Adonis, Attis, Osiris [1906])‑‑"under the name of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis, the peoples of Egypt and Western Asia represented the yearly decay and revival of life, . . . which they personified as a god who annually died and rose again from the dead"‑‑though it enjoyed widespread scholarly acceptance for about half a century, has been invalidated by later material, as admirably set forth by O. R. Gurney."  "Tammuz," Bromiley, gen. ed., ISBN, vol. 4, p. 726.  The reference is to O.R. Gurney, Journal of Semitic Studies 7 (1962), 147-60.  Note the implications for MB, p. 66, for this new information.

    [125]........."Carib Indians," Franklin J. Meine, Editor-in-Chief, The American Peoples Encyclopedia (Chicago:  The Spencer Press, Inc., 1952), 4-859; The World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago:  Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1960), vol. 3, p. 142.

    [126].........In this connection, I think of Prys Morgan's essay dealing with the cranks investigating and preserving (supposedly) the culture and history of Wales.  He mentions offhand the belief that Welsh was related to Hebrew (p. 67).  See "From a Death to a View," in Hobsbawm and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, pp. 67-74.

    [127].........E.M. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ:  Man or Myth?  (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), pp. 13, 16; as cited by McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 25-27; Tim Williams, "The Jesus of the Gospels:  Fact or Fiction?  Tacitus Reference to Jesus," Masada, Spring 1997, p. 43.  McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 48-51, powerfully rebut skepticism about the historical value of this passage.

    [128].........McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 84-85.

    [129].........For a quick discussion of this subject, although it's hardly mistake free, see Hal Lindsey with C.C. Carlson, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), pp. 32-47.

    [130].........See Kevin D. Miller, "The War of the Scrolls," Christianity Today, Oct. 6, 1997, pp. 42-43.

    [131].........Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 32-44.

    [132].........S.K. Soderlund, "Septuagint," Bromiley, gen. ed., ISBN, vol. 4, pp. 403, 404, 408; Ronald Kenneth Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969), pp. 228+; as cited by McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, p. 228.

    [133].........I do apologize if anything written in this essay sounds intellectually prideful or arrogant.  As a writer of letters to the editor, I long tried to exercise the courtesy of trying to avoid mentioning the writer of what I was attacking more than once, in order to focus on his ideas and not his person.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of BGJ, this was virtually impossible, since my personal beliefs and even motives became the focus of attack (note especially pp. 5-6), and because my reply had to be similarly focused, to help ensure Conder or one of his followers couldn't say I was attacking beliefs he didn't believe in.  As a result, I ended up having to speak a lot more in the first person in this essay than I like doing (compare this essay to ICF in this regard).  I've had to unveil my academic credentials in order to show I know something about the subject of history writing, the differences between primary and secondary sources, how historians operate, etc. in order to give some backing for judging Conder's work and methodology negatively.

    [134].........Lefkowitz, Not Out of Africa, p. 153.

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