Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Bible and Skepticism: Example of Irrational Double Standards (Barabbas and the Privilegium Paschale and The Betrayal Book)

I received this question from a friend and member of the Coming Home Network Forum:

I've been reading a lot of fiction lately regarding Jesus life.  I've always enjoyed fiction from that time period, especially books written from the female perspective. Anyway, this latest one was called The Betrayal by Kathleen O'Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear.  Apparently they are archeologists who don't believe that Jesus was resurrected. 

My main question is from their foot and end notes.  When Pilate offers the Jews either Jesus or Barabbas to be released they indicate that this was not the custom of the day.  It's just a made up idea to fit the gospel accounts.  Not until 367 is there a law regarding releasing a criminal for Easter. They are calling it 
privilegium paschale and claiming that there is no record of this custom anywhere else.  Can you verify that for me?  Was it an established custom??

Interesting question. I looked around a bit and apparently it is true that it can't be found outside the New Testament. My argument back would then be to say "so what?" It is irrelevant if something is not attested outside the NT because there is no necessity for that to be the case in the first place.

And there is no necessity or requirement for that because we know that the NT is exceptionally reliable in historical matters, and has been proven to be such many many times, by means of historical and archaeological investigation. If something is reliable, it
is! A=a!  The only reason that skeptics question its reliability (i.e., in light of the overwhelming "secular" evidence of its profound historicity) is because of their prior hostility to Christianity and because the Bible is a religious book and therefore, supposedly untrustworthy by that fact alone (which is mere prejudice).

But that doesn't follow. Why can't a document be religious and historically reliable, too? Of course it can, and the Bible
is. So it's really a non-issue, based on the following two fallacies or errors (the second building upon the falsehood of the first):

[Error] 1) The Bible has not been confirmed in its historical accuracy by non-biblical "objective" fields of inquiry (historiography and archaeology).

[Fallacy] 2) Therefore, everything referenced in the Bible must be found also 
outside the Bible or it is automatically historically questionable.

Folks like this love to cleverly force us into accepting their false premises, in order to get us concerned and worked up about fallacious arguments that they build upon false premises; but we need to go right to the root of the problem, and attack the fallacies they are assuming and foisting onto us. This is a classic example.

It turns out that this book is the same old historical hogwash as we saw in The Da Vinci Code (refuted many times by Christian researchers: one / two / three / four / five / six). A glance through the more negative reviews of the book on amazon reveals why. Here is one:

This is a review of the interview at the end of the book. I read it today in a bookstore. I probably won't read the book (heck, maybe I'll get it at the library, but I don't want to give them my money to read it). I found several errors just in the interview. 
Both authors are archaeologists, Kathleen studied Biblical Archaeology. They are highly trained but they put out some incredibly big whoppers in their interview at the end....mistakes that are very easily refuted: Clement of Alexandria and Origen were not bishops of the Church; the Council of Nicaea in 325 did not create a canon for the New Testament; the primary purpose of the Council of Nicaea was not to "throw out controversial books, to accept certain versions of the Gospels, and establish official Church doctrine."....well one out of those three ain't bad (no, wait, it's a failing mark). The Council of Nicaea was convened to combat the heresy of Arianism, determine the proper dating of Pascha (Easter) among other things (including good Church order).

The Booklist review cited on the amazon page notes that "many of the basic plot elements draw on The Da Vinci Code." And we get this further enlightening tidbit as well: "This is a unique and creative telling of a vital story . . ."--Lewis Perdue, New York Times bestselling author of The Da Vinci Legacy.

I would strongly urge any Christian to avoid this sort of material. It is one of a long line of Christian-bashing or specifically Catholic-bashing books like The Last Temptation of Christ, The Da Vinci Code, and (in some ways), The Shack and the Joshua series. We are what we eat. If we start taking in lots of heretical nonsense (even if appropriately skeptical at first), we may start believing it; one can never know. Every heresy or apostasy starts with one little change of belief in a wrong direction. One step onto the wrong path in a fork in the road, can lead to ending up hundreds of miles away from where one would have been on the other path (the narrow way). 

There are plenty of orthodox Catholic books on the life of Christ, without having to delve in to agenda-driven heterodox nonsense. Here are some:
Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI 

The Lord, Romano Guardini

Life of Christ, Fulton Sheen

Jesus and His Times, Henri Daniel-Rops

Jesus: The Man Who Lives, Malcolm Muggeridge

Life of Christ, Giovanni Papini


romishgraffiti said...

Occasionally even otherwise faithful Catholics can get sucked into this reasoning when they say, "X saint never existed." No. What you mean is that there is little to no primary historical documentation that can verify a saint's existence. That doesn't mean they didn't exist.

Maureen said...

Heck, even if it was just Pilate's custom to keep Jewish people off his back, or some other secular custom, that wouldn't have to have lasted very long to be regarded as the custom when Jesus got whacked.

Indeed, if it hadn't been the custom very long and died out soon afterward, that would be a very good reason for the Gospels to have mentioned and explained the custom.

The major question is why anybody would lie. Why tell some story about Barabbas getting released instead of Jesus, unless Barabbas got released instead of Jesus? Very minor story point. Very long way to go around, to put it in.

Maureen said...

Oh, and yes, the Gears are archaeologists who write historical fiction. But they're also, and first and foremost, science fiction and fantasy writers who like to write about the occult and arcane. Heck, they dragged gnosticism and Kabbalah into an sf story about alien invasion -- with a straight face. So of course they'd throw in crazy what-if points to "improve" this novel, especially when it's well known that Bible dissent = sales.