> If the writers of the Gospels were trying to
> build a case for a new religion, then it would
> seem implausible that they would write a
> mythical town into the script. How would you
> answer this?
Your question direction is appropriate. Can reasonable explanations be made for the Gospels based on the hypothesis that the writers made the story up to build a case for their new religion? I think reasonable explanations can be made. Early Christian converts didn't have the wherewithal to test the assertions (like whether Nazareth existed). When a city of that name later sprang into being then the need to prove Nazareth's existence during Christ's day appeared unnecessary.
Evidently, Christianity was a mystery religion that was based on Judaism and a belief in a virgin-born, crucified savior like others of the time period. Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire when the Emperor Constantine thought it was politically beneficial partly because the religion successfully taught its members to accept misery in this life in exchange for a better afterlife.
Christianity is to blame for the Dark Ages. If I were God and sent my son to the world it would become a much better place, not a worse one.
In Zindler's essay, he points out that Origen, one of the earliest Christian apologists assumed Nazareth and other places were mythical because Origen lived in the area, but didn't know where these places were physically. Neither the Old Testament, the Koran, Josephus, or geographers of the day knew about Nazareth.
Zindler points out that there were common beliefs in virgin-born, crucified saviors believed by various Pre-Christian religions. When the Gospel writers wanted to outdo them, they were motivated to make up a more believable savior named Jesus of Nazareth. Gospel writers who did the best job had their works canonized. The inferior myths were rejected.
> You can not deny the existence of Christ,
> without in the same breath, denying the
> existence of Ceasor.
Of course I can. Our knowledge of Caesar (Augustus, for example) is not based on the dubious New Testament. In fact, the known existence of individuals like Caesar Augustus, Herod, and Pontius Pilate was used by the Gospel writers to make their mythical history more believable.
I accept that Caesar Augustus, Herod, Pontius Pilate, and even Saul/Paul of Tarsus existed. I don't think Augustus ordered an empire-wide census/tax that required everyone to return to their birthplace. Consider how impractical that would be even today! No historical evidence for this amazing decree exists other than in the dubious New Testament. I don't think Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents, otherwise historians of his day would have included this terrible order in their list of grievances against him. I don't think Pontius Pilate would allow the people to decide which death-bound prisoner would be freed as that could allow unrestrained subversion by an agent of the rebellion without fear of punishment. Paul was probably the earliest Christian we know much about. His beliefs about Jesus, however, were quite different from those of the Gospel writers who came later. The Gospel writers changed things.
Acceptance of Jesus Christ is different. To accept his existence as described in the New Testament would require someone to suspend their natural skepticism of what is unnatural. Belief in a miracle-performing Jesus Christ forces the scientist to partially separate mentally religious convictions from the rest of their thinking brain.
I'm grateful that the Catholic rewriters of history were not skilled enough to make their case for Jesus strong.
> In the past, denying the existence of Christ
> was in vogue as grounds for skepticism.
> Increasingly though, the skeptics are finding
> themselves out on the proverbial limb, having
> to resort to simply denying the miracles of the
> Gospel [which is easy scince no one has seen
> one] or confining their arguments to
> peripherial issues such as this.
I hope it wasn't in vogue just in the past, but still considered acceptable today. Evidently, the skeptics who don't debate His historicity don't realize how weak the evidence for Christ is.
Thanks for mentioning the nonexistence of modern miracles. I consider it an important argument against their previous existence. If miracles occurred then and people are as faithful and worthy today, why don't we see them today? I don't believe in miracles partly because I figure that if I were God you'd see as many or more miracles today than were related in the Bible. If I would be a better God than the God people believe in, what good is He?
I think Zindler's essay does a good job. If you can find faults with his conclusions, I'd be interested in hearing them.