Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Christ Bowl

I recently received an e-mail concerning the discovery of an ancient bowl that might refer to Jesus. Ben Witherington has written about it here and here. I'm skeptical that it refers to Jesus Christ, but I think that the bowl has little significance even if it does refer to Him. It would add weight to some conclusions that are already well-supported by other evidence. Even if it would be the earliest extant reference to Jesus as a magician, we already know that such interpretations of Jesus were circulating early on.

If the bowl is referring to Jesus Christ, it may be another example of an early non-Christian attempt to explain His miracles. The early Christians and their enemies didn't disagree over whether Jesus performed apparent miracles. What they disagreed about was how He did so. Josephus, the Talmud, and other early non-Christian sources explain Jesus' apparent miracles as Satanic, sorcery, or trickery, for example. Arnobius commented that the enemies of Christianity "commonly" (Against The Heathen, 1:43) made the charge that Jesus was a magician.

A few years ago, I wrote two articles on the uniqueness of Jesus' miracles: here and here. Glenn Miller has written a series of articles on evidence for Jesus' miracles, including one about some of the early references to Jesus' miracles in non-Christian sources. Apollonius of Tyana is often cited as a parallel to Jesus, but there are many problems with that argument, as discussed here and here. Regarding the apparent corroboration of the darkness at Jesus' crucifixion in Thallus, see here, here, and here.

"Christians claimed that the miracles of Jesus proved he was the son of God. The most obvious way for Celsus to respond to such a claim was to deny that Jesus had performed the wonders attributed to him. But he did not take this approach. He was willing to grant that Jesus actually did the things the Gospels record, 'cures or resurrections or a few loaves feeding many people, from which many fragments were left over, or any other monstrous tales...related by his disciples' (c. Cels. 1.68). Celsus did not dispute that Jesus performed miracles. What he wanted to know was: by whose power was he able to accomplish such wonders?" (Robert Wilken, The Christians As The Romans Saw Them [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984], p. 100)

"He [Julian the Apostate] allows that Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus, at the time of the taxing made in Judea by Cyrenius: that the Christian religion had its rise and began to be propagated in the times of the emperors Tiberius and Claudius. He bears witness to the genuineness and authenticity of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles: and he so quotes them, as to intimate, that these were the only historical books received by Christians as of authority, and the only authentic memoirs of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and the doctrine preached by them. He allows their early date, and even argues for it. He also quotes, or plainly refers to the Acts of the Apostles, to St. Paul’s Epistles to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. He does not deny the miracles of Jesus Christ, but allows him to have ’healed the blind, and the lame, and demoniacs,’ and ’to have rebuked the winds, and walked upon the waves of the sea.’ He endeavors indeed to diminish these works; but in vain." (Nathaniel Lardner, cited in Philip Schaff, History Of The Christian Church, Vol. 3, 2:9)

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