Posts Tagged “ancient history”

Easter brings the stupid comments about Christianity and its origins out of the woodwork, it seems. I noticed the following insipid tripe, served up by Ben Witherington III at Beliefnet. The number of logical leaps and anachronistic assumptions in his post is high. I will address just a few of them:

By all accounts, Jesus died by crucifixion — the most shameful and public way to die in antiquity.

While crucifixion was a shameful way to go, to call it “the most shameful” is a subjective value judgement. Many “shameful” means of execution were used in the Greco-Roman world. In the Near East especially, stoning was considered very shameful. So too was dismemberment. As for which of the three was “‘the most’ shameful,” that’s just too subjective a determination to make, even at that time. To make it now, is even more invalid and anachronistic.

No evangelistic religion in its right mind, operating in a highly patriarchal world, would make up the idea that the chief witnesses to the heart of their creed (death, burial, empty tomb, risen Lord) were women.

This assertion is exceedingly anachronistic, and is based solely on modern misconceptions about the ancients. It also betrays Witherington’s screaming ignorance of ancient history. It is certainly true that women were not treated well in Greco-Roman culture, compared to current occidental standards, but to claim that women could not possibly have figured prominently in a religion unless it were factually and historically true, is just stupid. Many religions involved female figures; the Isis/Osiris cult, for example, had as its main heroine Isis, consort of Osiris and mother of Horus. Most of the traditionally-Greek mystery religions had as prominent figures Demeter (Roman Ceres) and her daughter Persephone (nicknamed κορη or koré, meaning “maiden”). A list of prominent female figures in classical religion is far too extensive for me to provide here. Suffice it to say that Witherington is flat wrong on this score.

In the context of early Judaism, resurrection meant something that happened to a body. It was not seen as a purely spiritual or visionary matter, which is one reason why the Gospel accounts stress that the risen Jesus could be touched and could eat.

Actually, Witherington is a bit ahead of time on this one. The Christian notion of “resurrection” developed over the first couple centuries of Christianity. There was, in fact, no “accepted” Judaic notion of what resurrection should be, in the 1st century CE; in the Second Temple period the notion was not even accepted by all Jews (e.g. the Sadducees rejected it). Witherington’s comment here, then, is anachronistic; he claims that 1st century Christians made a value judgement which, in fact, they could not really have made in the way he says they did, at the time they made it.

It’s unfortunate that believers in Jesus assume themselves to be well-educated in ancient history merely because they are believers in Jesus. I’m not sure how or why they believe they possess this credential. Their bald assertions about what ancient Greco-Romans “would have done” or “might have thought,” only expose them as historical ignoramuses.

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