Agnosticism, Atheism, Bible History, Bible Study, Christianity, God

Family Ties: Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, and Nitocris

Regular readers of this blog may know that one of the first lines of evidence that caused me to begin questioning my Christian faith had to do with the Book of Daniel. There are a number of issues within the book that have led the majority of scholars to conclude that it was not written by a Jewish prophet living during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Cyrus of Persia, but that it was written some 400 years later during the Maccabean period. Over the last several days, a few of us have been having an in-depth discussion about those issues at this thread. One of the items we discussed had to do with a woman named Nitocris.

In Daniel 5, we’re told that Belshazzar is now king, and we’re given the impression that he is the son of Nebuchadnezzar. However, from a number of primary sources (some that even date from the Babylonian empire itself) we know that Belshazzar’s father was actually Nabonidus — a king who was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Christian apologists have suggested a couple of different ways to resolve this issue.

Succession

One is to say that when Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar are talked about as father and son, it simply means in the sense that Belshazzar is a ruler of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar was a former ruler of Babylon. It’s just talking about succession, in other words, not actual parentage. As an example, they point to the Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, which has a section that talks about “Jehu of the house of Omri.” That’s significant because Jehu was not related to Omri. Instead, he was a usurper that took the kingdom from Omri’s grandson. Presumably, Shalmaneser III’s court would have known that Jehu was not related to Omri; therefore, Daniel may not have been in error to refer to Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar as father and son.

However, the phrase “house of” is not quite the same as “father and son”. It’s important to note that it’s no accident Omri was still being referred to a couple of generations after his reign. As Omri’s Wikipedia entry states:

The short-lived dynasty founded by Omri constitutes a new chapter in the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It ended almost fifty years of constant civil war over the throne. There was peace with the Kingdom of Judah to the south, and even cooperation between the two rival states, while relations with neighboring Sidon to the north were bolstered by marriages negotiated between the two royal courts. This state of peace with two powerful neighbors enabled the Kingdom of Israel to expand its influence and even political control in Transjordan, and these factors combined brought economic prosperity to the kingdom.

Omri presided over a period of substantial growth for Israel, which caused many in the region to view Israel as Omri’s kingdom, even after he died. As the previous Wikipedia page goes on to say, even over 100 years after his death, Assyrian scribes were referring to Israel as “Omri-Land.” To me, that kind of situation seems rather different from the one we see in Daniel 5. “House of Omri” doesn’t sound as intimate as the words “father” and “son.” To help emphasize that a bit more, let’s look at how many times and in what ways the father-son connection is made in Daniel 5:

Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought — v. 2

There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father — your father the king — made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers — v. 11

The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah” — v. 13

O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. — v. 18

And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this — v. 22

As you can see, the father-son connection was not just some throw away line that was barely mentioned. Within 20 verses, that connection is mentioned 9 times. If the writer of Daniel really did think Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father, he couldn’t have said it any plainer. Belshazzar’s actual father, Nabonidus, is never mentioned in the Book of Daniel. What’s also striking is that the father-son connection is made by 4 different people in this chapter. Verse 2 is the voice of the narrator. The narrator had already written about Nebuchadnezzar in the first 4 chapters of the book, and he never wrote about Nabonidus. It seems strange to me that he would use the “father” description without more clarification, considering his audience wouldn’t likely know the actual relationships between these two individuals. In verse 11, Belshazzar’s mother (we presume) is speaking. She’s actually just referred to as “the queen,” so she could have been Belshazzar’s wife or Nabonidus’s. It’s possible that Nabonidus had more than one wife, so this queen might not even be Belshazzar’s mother. We really don’t know who she is, but she also makes the father-son connection, and she does so more emphatically than anyone else. In verse 13, we have Belshazzar refer to Nebuchadnezzar as “my father,” and in verses 18 and 22, we finally have Daniel make the reference as well. If the father-son connection weren’t real, but just a metaphor, it seems strange to me that all four individuals would use it.

Grandfather – Grandson

The other explanation is that Belshazzar’s mother is Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter. Initially, someone might object by pointing out that Daniel 5 says “father” not “grandfather.” But sadly, Hebrew apparently uses the same word for both. It’s a shame that God didn’t preserve his word in a language that would eliminate this kind of confusion, but there you go. It’s important to note that in the Bible this isn’t usually an issue, because lineage is either talked about in order (Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, etc), or a distant enough ancestor is named that it eliminates any confusion (like referring to “son of David” centuries after David’s death). I can’t think of another instance in the Bible where the words “father” and “son” are used for a grandparent relationship that are as ambivalent and misleading as what we see in Daniel 5, but perhaps there are some. Either way, the words here do technically allow for a grandfather-grandson relationship.

Because the grandfather-grandson connection is a cleaner fit for what we find in Daniel 5, this claim is made quite often in apologetics circles. It’s not uncommon to see it referenced as though it’s fact, without even giving a reference to the original source of the information (like here). But what evidence do we have for this view? Is it just speculation in an effort to rationalize Daniel 5, or are there real reasons for thinking that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar?

It turns out that the Greek historian Herodotus records information about a Babylonian queen named Nitocris. According to him, she completed a number of construction projects in and around Babylon. She was married to a ruler of Babylon named Labynetos, and her son (also named Labynetos) ruled Babylon when Cyrus came against it (Histories I, v. 185-188). For many years, the general consensus was that the younger Labynetos must have been Nabonidus, since he was king when Cyrus took Babylon, and that the older Labynetos must have been Nebuchadnezzar. However, we’ve since discovered that Nabonidus’s mother was not Nitocris, but Addagoppe of Harran. We also know that Nebuchadnezzar was not the father of Nabonidus, and we’ve discovered that Belshazzar was a real individual and the son of Nabonidus. Therefore, it’s much more likely that Nitocris was the wife of Nabonidus and the mother of Belshazzar. That means Herodotus’s older Labynetos is most likely Nabonidus, and the younger Labynetos is Belshazzar.

But what makes us think that Nitocris was related to Nebuchadnezzar? I finally found that most articles that make this claim refer to a book by Raymond Philip Dougherty called Nabonidus and Belshazzar, published in 1929. Luckily, a university in my area has a copy of this book in their library, so I was able to read portions of it for myself. On pages 46-51 of the book, Dougherty establishes that Babylon and Egypt had occasional trade, diplomacy, and military cooperation during Nebuchadnezzar’s lifetime. It’s also known that there was a Nitocris of Egypt who lived around that time as well. It is not believed that she’s the same individual as Belshazzar’s mother. However, both her father and brother served as Pharaoh, and she was a fairly influential person during her time. Perhaps the Babylonian Nitocris was named after her. Dougherty suggests 3 possibilities for the identity of Babylon’s Nitocris (pg 52). Nabonidus might have married:

  1. an Egyptian woman not of royal rank.
  2. an Egyptian princess from Pharaoh’s court.
  3. a descendant of an Egyptian princess who had become the wife of a Babylonian king.

Dougherty thinks the first option is unlikely, because Nabonidus was so ambitious. While he wasn’t royal, he was of noble descent and held a prominent place in the Babylonian government. I don’t know why he couldn’t have married an Egyptian noble, like himself, but that’s not an option that Dougherty addresses. He feels that the second option is also unlikely for the exact opposite reason that he dismissed the first: Nabonidus wasn’t of high enough station to marry an Egyptian princess.

Dougherty spends most of his time discussing the third option. He points to the conflict that Nebuchadnezzar had with Babylon in 605 BCE. A treaty of some kind was agreed upon, because the two nations seem to have had peaceful relations for decades after that incident. Dougherty suggests that Nebuchadnezzar may have picked up an Egyptian wife to solidify that treaty (pg 57). Belshazzar began serving as co-regent with his father around 560 BCE, roughly 45 years after the treaty with Egypt. Conceivably, that’s enough time for a grandchild from this supposed union between Nebuchadnezzar and an Egyptian princess to be old enough to help rule. Dougherty also refers to the descriptions of all the construction and defense projects that Nitocris performed, according to Herodotus, and suggests that her active leadership aligns with the fact that Nabonidus spent time away from Babylon toward the end of his rule. He also argues that a Babylonian princess would have incentive to conduct such projects. I didn’t find that particular point very convincing, though. Regardless of where she came from, a wife of the Babylonian king and mother of the future king would be very invested in the kingdom.

Dougherty’s arguments are interesting, but they don’t change the fact that the argument for Nitocris being Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter is shear speculation. No historical document tells us that Nebuchadnezzar ever had an Egyptian wife, nor is there a document telling us that he had a daughter named Nitocris. Furthermore, despite considering Dougherty’s three possibilities, we have no idea how Nabonidus got his wife. She could have been an Egyptian noble, an Egyptian commoner, or even a Babylonian or Canaanite woman whose family had some ties to Egypt. The possibilities are nearly endless. As one reviewer said, only a year after Dougherty’s book was published:

Anyone who likes arguments will follow with interest the process by which the author, after presenting a hypothesis which is at best merely possible, immediately proceeds to assure us that he knows his case is not proved and that a probability only remains a probability. Practically nowhere in the book does the author use a doubtful argument without warning the reader that the case is not proved. Thus a single section of the book might carry conviction. But the real trouble comes when all these probabilities are finally linked together. To one assumed conclusion is added another which is also more or less doubtful. The first two serve as the basis for a third assumption which in itself is not their necessary corollary; and so the house of cards goes up, ready to come down at the first little touch. (Chiera, pg 401)

And the apologists’ claim that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson through Nitocris rests solely on this “house of cards.”

It also occurred to me that Nitocris might create an additional issue within Daniel. Christians often point to the fact that Belshazzar offers Daniel the third place in the kingdom as evidence that the writer of Daniel knew that Belshazzar was only co-regent, since his father Nabonidus was still living. But if the queen in Daniel 5 is Nitocris, it’s evident from Herodotus that she carried a great deal of authority in the kingdom. So how could Belshazzar have offered Daniel third place? The top three spots in the kingdom would have already been filled by Nabonidus, Nitocris, and Belshazzar.

In the end, there’s no good, substantial reason to think that the father-son connection that Daniel creates for Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar can be resolved in this way. We have no evidence linking Nitocris to Nebuchadnezzar. And considering how often and in what ways the father-son connection is spoken of in Daniel 5, the most likely explanation still seems to be that the writer was incorrect and actually did think they were father and son.


Sources:

215 thoughts on “Family Ties: Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, and Nitocris”

  1. Christian apologists assure Christians that it is impossible that first century Jews would believe in an executed-resurrected Messiah unless they had truly seen and interacted with a literal, resurrected body. They base this belief on the assumption that since no Jew had ever heard of an executed-resurrected Messiah concept, no Jew would ever have believed such a concept without physical proof. The resurrection of Jesus had to have happened for Jews to believe this story! Therefore, Christian apologists scoff and snicker at the idea that the Resurrection belief could be based on vivid dreams, visions, or hallucinations.

    The problem is, however, the Bible itself gives proof that first century Jews could dramatically change their religious views based on nothing other than dreams, visions, hallucinations, or…trances:

    About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

    —Acts 10: 9-16

    Based on nothing but this “trance”, Christianity began telling devout Jews that it was no longer necessary to keep the Kosher dietary laws, a central teaching of historic Judaism. Not even Jesus had ever taught such a concept! Yet, based on this one trance, devout Jews began eating non-kosher food!

    The claim by Christian apologists that the early Christian belief in a bodily resurrection of Jesus could not have been due to vivid dreams, visions, hallucinations, or trances is proven false by the Bible itself.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s an excellent point, Gary! I hadn’t thought about it that way before.

    Of course, that “Jews wouldn’t have believed it…” argument always drives me nuts anyway. All of human history shows just how susceptible we are to believing nonsense.

    Like

  3. In regard to what’s historically acceptable, I think many apologists take the likelihood of certain characters and places as being historically accurate, and then running with that as a starting place for their giant leap to then say that each claimed event surrounding those characters and places are also just as accurate, which is of course quite a leap to make.

    We don’t do that with any other source. Many old books have historic figures and places, but we take many things with a grain of salt – even things that aren’t supernatural. Old military reports of number of enemies killed or number of friendlies killed are often viewed with skepticism as those numbers could be purposely embellished for propaganda reasons, etc. and then with supernatural claims, historians are even more skeptical – so why is it different with the bible, where now, all of a sudden, not only are people places historically dependable, but so are all the claimed events, no matter how supernatural or far fetched?

    It just doesn’t appear consistent to me.

    Like

  4. …and most Jews didn’t believe it. That argument is as dumb as saying Americans wouldn’t believe in Jim Jones unless he was actually who he said he was – or making the same argument for any religion.

    Some believed it, some didn’t and neither position lends any meaningful commentary on whether I find it believable it or not.

    It’s smoke and mirrors.

    Like

  5. Check this out, my Rational, non-Theist Friends:

    As I mentioned above, it seems like everyone and his uncle in first century Palestine was receiving messages from God in dreams, visions, trances, or by angelic appearances. And it is very clear that first century Jews took these dreams, visions, trances, and appearances very seriously. Joseph, the husband of Mary, for instance, has a dream in which an angel tells him to marry a woman who is pregnant by someone else. So he marries her! A couple years later, in another dream, an angel tells Joseph to move to a foreign country, in the middle of the night. And he does it!

    And I mention above regarding the passage in which Peter “sees” a floating sheet full of non-kosher animals; unclean animals which God told him to kill and eat, that first century Jews were willing to abandon traditions that the Jewish people had observed for over a millennia, based on nothing more than a dream, vision, or trance. So the idea that all first century Jews needed hard evidence to accept a radically new teaching is contradicted by Peter’s “trance”. And the idea that first century Jews could distinguish a dream from reality is also called into question by Peter’s confusion over this “trance”. Was it a trance? Or was it a real experience, a “miracle”, performed by God? Peter wasn’t sure.

    But there’s more.

    Let’s look at another alleged “miracle” involving first century Jews confusing reality with visions, dreams, and trances: The Stoning of Stephen.

    When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.[a] 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

    There is zero indication in this passage that Stephen was asleep, dreaming, or in a trance. However, how do we now that this passage cannot be a statement of reality? Answer: Stephen claims to see Jesus standing at the right hand of God! This directly contradicts other passages of the Bible that specifically state that “no man has ever seen God”.

    Even many Christians assume that this statement by Stephen was a vision. But no where in the passage does it state that this was a vision. This passage shows that first century Jews (at least a small group of them) could assume that a vision was reality, or, it demonstrates that the writers of the Gospels (the author of Acts was also the author of Luke) were willing to retell a vision without mentioning that it was a vision. They wrote the story of a vision using language as if it were reality.

    All this demonstrates that it very possible that the early Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus was originally based on visions, vivid dreams, trances, or hallucinations. It also demonstrates that just because the Gospel author does not expressly state that the “appearance of Jesus” occurred in a vision or trance, that doesn’t mean it didn’t. Thirdly, it demonstrates that some first century Jews could be convinced simply by a vision, dream, or trance to believe radically new teachings that directly contradicted a millennia of Jewish teaching: such as eating non-Kosher foods and believing that a human being could see God.

    What does all this evidence tell us, folks? It tells us that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was most probably based on dreams, visions, trances, or hallucinations. And the evidence for this probability can be found in the Bible itself. Stop listening to the spin of Christian apologists who try make the obvious seem so much more complicated than it really is. You don’t need scholars to see the simple truth, folks. Use your brain and good ol’ common sense: This is a tall tale by ancient, gullible, superstitious people.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Actually, if you read the passage, Stephen (allegedly) saw Jesus and God the Father while he was still being interrogated by the Sanhedrin. It was only after he made this claim that they dragged him outside to stone him, so this experience cannot be blamed on head trauma.

    Bottom line: This passage shows that the authors of the Gospels were more than willing to describe an event which happened in a vision or dream as if it had happened in reality. So the Christian argument that the authors of the Gospels knew the difference between dreams/visions and reality, and would never confuse (intentionally or unintentionally) the two in their description of the events surrounding the alleged Resurrection, is proven false!

    The original story most probably involved disciples claiming to have seen Jesus in a dream, vision, or trance. When the authors of the Gospels wrote down these stories decades later, either the oral story had dropped the words “dream, vision, or trance” by that time, or, the authors themselves left these words out, possibly to better serve their theological purpose: evangelization of the uneducated and gullible masses!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. @Unklee

    After all, when it comes to the NT, we have secular historians more on our side than against us,

    What an absolute load of unsupported pig swill.

    Once again, you are simply making yourself look like a complete arse.
    Genuine secular historians consider the claims of the New Testament a load of utter tosh!

    Really, you’re comments and assertions are getting beyond a joke, I’m afraid.

    Like

  8. Ah, Unk’s famous, ‘most scholars’ ploy again – without actually naming them. Wears thin quickly.

    Like

  9. “After all, when it comes to the NT, we have secular historians more on our side than against us,”

    You also have to ask yourself, “What the hell does this even mean?”

    Like

  10. I am just surprised he is not laughed out the park with this nonsense.
    It’s about time the notion of what secular historians really believe is made clear once and for all:
    And it’s quite simple, they do not believe the New Testament.

    Like

  11. “You also have to ask yourself, “What the hell does this even mean?”

    Hi Ken, thank you for taking an interest in what I wrote. I’d hate to leave you wondering, so please allow me to explain, with references. (I’m sorry Nate, but this is going to be a long one.)

    I was talking about NT historical scholarship, and I will try to explain what I meant with seven statements.

    1. Scholarship is based on evidence.

    1.1 I wasn’t talking about my opinions or beliefs, but about the conclusions of the best historical scholars. After we establish facts, THEN we can discuss.
    1.2 The basic facts about Jesus require understanding of language, culture, archaeology, documents, and history generally, of the first century Roman and Jewish scene. Since I don’t have expertise in those areas, and I don’t think you do either, we must rely on experts to give us the basic facts.
    1.3 Experts disagree. If we are going to be evidence-based, we need to read across a subject, getting a range of views (including ones we don’t “like” so much) and try to establish the broad consesnus.

    These things I try to do. In the explanation below, I refer to some of the most respected scholars in the field, and I reference non-believers more often than believers (though that shouldn’t matter – we are dealing with peer-reviewed experts mostly working in secular institutions.)

    2.The Gospels are the main sources of Jesus’ life.

    The experts accept that Josephus and Tacitus made references to Jesus, and these add to the many Biblical sources. Bart Ehrman mentions a number of these sources and says: “[Jesus] is abundantly attested in early sources …. early and independent sources indicate certainly that Jesus existed”. Maurice Casey (in his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, p61-99) says Mark, Matthew and Luke are the most reliable historical sources we have, and though he doesn’t think we can accept everything in them, he says Mark’s sources were “literally accurate accounts”.

    3. We can be confident the documents we have are very close to the originals.

    There are so many copies of NT documents that we can identify copying errors, far better than for any other ancient documents – there are on average 4 variant readings in every 10 pages, which isn’t bad for hand copying. Helmut Koester: “Classical authors are often represented by but one surviving manuscript; if there are half a dozen or more, one can speak of a rather advantageous situation for reconstructing the text. But there are nearly five thousand manuscripts of the NT in Greek… The only surviving manuscripts of classical authors often come from the Middle Ages, but the manuscript tradition of the NT begins as early as the end of II CE; it is therefore separated by only a century or so from the time at which the autographs were written. Thus it seems that NT textual criticism possesses a base which is far more advantageous than that for the textual criticism of classical authors.”

    In his book ‘Misquoting Jesus’, Ehrman says the text has been changed “radically”, but the main examples he gives are 9 NT passages that a problematic – two larger passages are footnoted in most modern Bibles as being doubtful, two smaller passages (2-3 verses) look like interpolations, and the remaining 5 are minor difficulties about a word. That is about the extent of the “problems” he raises in detail. So he can also say: “To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.”

    4. The gospels are based on eye-witness accounts.

    The synoptic gospels are generally believed to be written 30-55 years after Jesus, but based on written and oral sources passed down. Casey says Mark used “literally accurate accounts of incidents and sayings from the life and teachings of Jesus” (p97) and concludes that some of Matthews’s gospel came from accounts written down at the time by the tax collector Matthew. Many scholars don’t agree here, but many do. On the more sceptical side, Ehrman says none of the authors were eyewitnesses, and thinks many of the stories were edited on the way through, nevertheless he says (‘Jesus Interrupted p144’) that: “the Gospel writers received most of their information from the oral tradition, stories that had been in circulation about Jesus by word of mouth from the time he died until the time the Gospel writers wrote them down”.

    Richard Bauckham (in ‘Jesus: a very short introduction’) says recent scholarship has investigated oral transmission in oral societies and shown that, commonly, important oral traditions are passed down by guardians who oversee the retention of the important detail, although allowing for flexibility in telling the story. In these societies, oral transmission may be as good as written.

    Furthermore, virtually all scholars now accept that the gospels belong to the genre of “historical biography” (see Richard Burridge: ‘What are the gospels’), a genre that required accurate reporting of the main details obtained from eyewitnesses, but allowed some creativity in the presentation of details.

    Finally, it is now recognised that while John contains much later theology, it has a strong eye-witness core (see Urban von Walde’s paper in ‘Jesus and Archeology’ edited by J Charlesworth).

    5. Scholars therefore believe we can know lots of information about Jesus.

    Here is a sample of quotes (more in Quotes on Jesus as a historical person):

    EP Sanders: “Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain. Despite this, we have a good idea of the main lines of his ministry and his message. We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. ….. the dominant view [among scholars] today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.”

    Craig Evans: “Research in the historical Jesus has taken several positive steps in recent years. …. the persistent trend in recent years is to see the Gospels as essentially reliable, especially when properly understood, and to view the historical Jesus in terms much closer to Christianity’s traditional understanding”

    Bart Ehrman: “We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.”

    6. What the scholars conclude we can know covers most of the main details of Jesus’ life

    Here are some more quotes (for more see Jesus in history):

    EP Sanders (‘The Historical Figure of Jesus, p10-11’): “I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)

    • Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
    • he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
    • he was baptised by John the Baptist;
    • he called disciples;
    • he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
    • he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
    • about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
    • he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
    • he had a final meal with the disciples;
    • he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
    • he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.”

    Many other scholars (e.g Wright, Grant, Ehrman, Casey, Bauckham) would endorse that list, and more. Scholars such as Ehrman, Stanton, Casey, Wright, Sanders believe Jesus was known as a healer and exorcist, though of course they differ about whether and how he did such things. Most accept he taught the kingdom of God and redemption.

    Sanders also says: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” Many other scholars agree (e.g. Casey, Jesus Seminar).

    7. These historical conclusions form a strong set of facts from which to make judgments about Jesus.

    So now you can see what I meant. I have provided about a dozen quotes from eminent scholars and referenced a dozen more. Based on the conclusions of the best secular scholars, we have evidence (contrary to many atheists on the internet) that most aspects of the stories and teachings of Jesus are well based historically. Individual details are sometimes highly arguable, but discard half the miracles stories, half the teachings, etc, and you still have substantially the same core.

    None of this addresses the question of whether Jesus was divine or was resurrected, etc, it just provides historical evidence for a judgment on those matters. Anyone who values expert evidence should accept conclusions something along these lines. There is no way sensible discussion can occur until facts are settled.

    All this will possibly be a little surprising and shocking to you, but NT study has undergone a lot of change in the last 40 years, and scholars are increasingly confident about the historical basis of the Jesus story. J Paget talks of “a growing conviction among many scholars that the Gospels tell us more about Jesus and his aims than we had previously thought”. Many internet sceptics base many of their views on outdated scholarship, and you’ll therefore read a lot that is poorly based.

    I hope that helps you understand, even if we don’t agree on the beliefs we draw from the evidence. Best wishes.

    Like

  12. From my own research, I’d have to say that unkleE’s synopsis seems pretty spot-on. I think the one statement he makes that probably draws the most controversy is this one:

    Based on the conclusions of the best secular scholars, we have evidence (contrary to many atheists on the internet) that most aspects of the stories and teachings of Jesus are well based historically.

    I wouldn’t say it that way, but I get what he means. I think we non-believers are often exasperated that so many people assume the claims about Jesus are true (specifically, the supernatural ones), so statements like unkleE’s raise alarms. We want to cry “nuh-uh!” because we’re aware of the issues that most people aren’t.

    That being said, I don’t think unkleE is trying to be misleading with that statement — he’s talking about all the elements of the gospels, including the mundane: that Jesus lived, he was from Galilee, he had a following and taught specific things, etc. And in those things, he’s right about the consensus (as far as I know).

    In other words, I think Christians and non-Christians just hear different things in a statement like that, kind of like the phrase “transitional fossils.”

    Like

  13. “Hi Ken, thank you for taking an interest in what I wrote.”

    unkleE, I actually took an interest in what you didn’t write. 🙂 Now that I’ve read your 7 point statement, I would tend to agree with Nate’s response but will offer my own response later as I find time. Have you read Bart Erhman’s latest book, “Jesus before the Gospels” ?

    As you stated earlier, “All this will possibly be a little surprising and shocking to you, but NT study has undergone a lot of change in the last 40 years, ”

    And as I am reading Erhman’s latest book, it appears his previous thoughts and opinions are going through a little change as well. I will elaborate more later.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. sure, but aren’t we discussing the divinity of Jesus? Isn’t that the point that religion is based upon?

    So I can’t help but feel like saying, “the majority of secular scholars are on the side of Jesus” is misleading, whether intentional or not, especially when holding a discussion on the merits of religion. The scholars may mostly agree that Jesus was a real guy, but that’s not the same as saying that Jesus was really the son of God and actually performed miracles, came back to life and flew into heaven.

    I believe Jesus was a real guy, and I believe that the gospels have some truth in them, I just also believe that the gospels were fictions based on reality or at least highly romanticized and embellished historical fictions.

    I haven’t counted, but i’d have a hard time believing that the majority of scholars believed there was adequate evidence for the divinity or Christ or that would vouch for the supernatural events claimed in the NT or OT.

    But if we’re all in agreement on this now, i’m glad it was clarified.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. We know stuff-all about the character Jesus of Nazareth.

    Tacitus’ reference is considered hearsay… by historians.

    The trope about a core of the TF is not accepted as hard evidence by historians these days.
    Every single scholar has the same source – the bible. And that is it.
    There is not a single shred of contemporaneity evidence for the character Jesus of Nazareth.
    And I’m going on record and state that Ehrman is soon going to change his tune regarding mythicism and you, unklee like every other apologist are eventually going to be left with egg all over your face.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Maurice Casey (in his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, p61-99) says Mark, Matthew and Luke are the most reliable historical sources we have

    That’s very likely true, and it serves to point out just how little evidence there is to prove that he ever existed. As you doubtless know, the Gospels were all written from 40 to 75 years after the events they were written to depict were purported to have happened, by men who never met Yeshua and had no idea what he did or said except through multiple-hand hearsay information. To make matters worse, ‘Matthew’ copied roughly 90% of his stories from the book of ‘Mark,’ yet a further indication that he wasn’t there and that his observations were not first-hand. ‘Luke’ copied roughly 65% of his gospel from ‘Mark’ as well – only ‘John,’ writing between 95 CE and 105 CE writes a relatively independent gospel, but by ‘John’s’ time it is clear in his writing that the apocalyptic, ‘Jesus is coming back any day now‘ is gone, or removed into the distant future (we’re still waiting –).

    The experts accept that Josephus and Tacitus made references to Jesus

    It didn’t take long to get to Unk’s famous standby: “experts accept,”authorities agree” – in this instance, ‘authorities agree that the reference in Josephus was interpolated by a scribe (Josephus: The Essential Writings – Page 265 Paul L. Maier – 1990: “scholars have long suspected a Christian interpolation, since Josephus would not have believed Jesus to be the Messiah“, and Carrier insists that that was the case for Tacitus (written in 116 CE) as well.

    RE Ehrman’s, “the Gospel writers received most of their information from the oral tradition, stories that had been in circulation about Jesus by word of mouth from the time he died until the time the Gospel writers wrote them down” – I don’t suppose you’ve ever played a game of ‘Telephone,’ have you?

    virtually all scholars now accept that the gospels belong to the genre of ‘historical biography’

    And there we go with the ‘all scholars accept’ thing again – I would be more inclined to call it, “Semi-historical gossip.”

    These historical conclusions form a strong set of facts from which to make judgments about Jesus.

    I’d be more inclined to agree with EP Sanders, above: “Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain.

    Who is ‘J Paget’ – I can’t find him/her anywhere —

    You’re really desperate to prove this, aren’t you Unk? – to whom are you attempting to prove it, yourself?

    Like

  17. One thing that is never offered when people like unklee waffle on is evidence.
    And just what evidence do we have for the character Jesus of Nazareth?

    One single piece of contemporary evidence that we can point to and say unequivocally:
    ”Yeah, that confirms it. Jesus of Nazareth existed.”

    Well?

    In fact there is nothing.

    And if unklee feels confident to offer such a piece of evidence I will publicly apologise.

    Not what ”scholars say”, not a smarmy retort about the historical method ( which biblical scholars who are religiously inclined generally do not follow) but a piece of evidence I can look at , research or read of.

    One piece.

    The floor is all yours, unklee

    Like

  18. em>Bart Ehrman: “We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.”

    What evidence for the gods” sake?

    Like

  19. I wish we could settle this Zoolander style with an Ark and UnkleE walk-off.

    The real tragedy is that David Bowie isn’t around to judge.

    Oh what troubling times

    Liked by 2 people

  20. The degree of desperation of facing up to the truth of this issue – Jesus was a narrative construct no different form Abraham, Joseph or Moses – makes the maneuvering by apologists like unklee almost pitiable.

    If such people state it is simply faith then one could happily let dogs lie.
    Nobody gives a rat’s arse over Thor or Odin yet Yahweh/Jesus has to be afforded some special dispensation?

    Why?

    Answer this question and maybe the character Jesus of Nazareth could be cut some slack.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s