Friday, May 15, 2015

Alexander the Great vs. Jesus

As you guys already know, I've already written extensively on how there is simply no extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus. It just doesn't exist. What we have instead are a bunch of obviously edited documents, or documents written by people living hundreds of years after the fact. The sort of “evidence” we do have is what historians call “interesting, but not indicative”. There's enough noise there to maybe justify a belief that there might have been some mortal man who, over time, got turned into the Jesus myth, but no evidence whatsoever that turns this speculative opinion into a fact.

No evidence at all.

Anyway, there are a lot of Christians out there that try to cover up the fact that they are believing in a fairy tale by shifting attention away from the lack of support for Jesus and onto other historical figures. They claim that, if we cannot rely on the post-chronicle exegiesis of Jesus, then we cannot establish an actual historical foundation of historical figures like Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Napoloeon Bonaparte, or even George Washington. Hell, I once saw someone try this trick with Thomas Edison of all people, despite the fact that Edison is a 20th Century figure of whom we have a mountain of photographic, film, and recording evidence.

This sort of claim is the height of dishonesty, and to be honest its insulting to actual historians.

The point being that there is a vast, canyon-like difference between these historical figures and Jesus. In the case of all of these people, we have physical artifacts confirming their existence. We have their writings in their own hands. We have eyewitness accounts for these people from people who saw, met, talked to, and knew them during their lives.

We have nothing like this for Jesus.

So why do Christians think they can get away with this bullshit? Actually its pretty simple: they're making assumptions. Take Alexander the Great, for example. The Christians are assuming that since Alexander lived so long ago (he lived from 356 BCE to 323 BCE) that there just couldn't be any written primary sources about Alexander that survived to the present day, especially given the lack of contemporary writings for Jesus (who, remember, the Christians see as a much more important person than some jumped up Macedonian king).

Thing is, this assumption is incorrect. We have, for one thing, the Babylonian Royal Diary a book that was kept for millennia, to the point that there are several copies that survive to this day. All of the copies mention Alexander. In fact, it is the fact that all the copies we have say the same exact thing (something that cannot be said about all the copies of the Bible... nearly all the copies of the ancient Biblical text we possess show clear evidence of alteration and editing) are why we believe the Diary is authentic in its accounts. The diary records Alexander's birth into the household of his father, King Phillip II of Macedon, and records the precise date of Alexander's death (which the Diary calls “the day the King died”).

The Diary is an almost day-to-day account of the historical events that happened in and around Babylon. It is not a narrative story (like the Bible) but reads more like a timeline of history. On this day, this thing happened. On that day, that thing happened. It is not fictionalized at all. And it talks about “The King, Alexander” at great length.

There is also an administrative document from Bactria, written in Aramaic, that records the day and date of Alexander's arrival in Bactria in pursuit of the main assassin of Darius III, an usurper and self-proclaimed “king” who is known as both Artaxerxes and Bessus. In fact, this same document also records the day and date that Artaxerxes arrived in Bactria, for that matter.

But even better, while very few documents written by the man himself have survived, do not for a moment imagine that “very few” means “none at all”. We have treaties and diplomatic letters signed by Alexander's own hand, bearing his name and his own words and statements. Alexander's letter to Chios, a Greek city whose leaders tried to get out from under Alexander's rule by allying with his Persian enemies, is even written in first person and signed with Alexander's name, not his seal of office.

We have letters from Alexander to his teacher Aristotle. We have letters from Alexander to his mother. We have letters from Alexander to allied kings. And all of them were written by the man himself, and bear the man's own name signed in his own hand. These sources are all indisputable in their authenticity. Unlike Jesus, we really do have direct evidence demonstrating his existence.

But even if there wasn't any direct, first-hand evidence, there is a literal mountain of secondary-source evidence. There exist over two dozen cities founded by Alexander and named after him stretching from Egypt to India. We have coins bearing his name and likeness, all of which date back to the period of his reign. We have inscriptions on walls and temples bearing his name and likeness that date to the time of his reign. We have the accounts of his generals, many of whom would go on to become kings in their own right and found important dynasties of their own. We have the fact that Greek culture was spread throughout the Middle East and Near Asia, leaving a host of archeological evidence as a direct result of Alexander's conquests. The amount of secondary-source evidence supporting Alexander's existence is simply overwhelming.

And here is where it really does get fun. You see, even the teriary and quadriary evidence (that is, the stuff that is basically “heard it from a guy, non-contemporary, non-direct” evidence... which is basically where the Bible would be were there any source outside of the Bible supporting it) is more historically convincing than the Bible when it comes to historical support.

Let's play a game real quick. Let's take any one of the gospels – or all four of them for that matter – and compare it to Arrian's history of Alexander the Great's campaigns. For the record, Arrian of Nicodemia was a Greek historian who lived from some time around 86 CE to some time around 160 CE (we don't have specific dates, but we know he was alive and writing during this period). This means his history of Alexander's empire was written some 400 years after the fact.

Ordinarily, this would be enough to toss the history out the window as useless. But – and this is mildly important – Arrian's methods of historiography are so superior to the methods used by the authors of the gospels (if they used any at all) that the two are barely comparable. For example, Arrian compares his sources, which consisted of eyewitness written accounts from Alexander's generals, and cites his sources by name and page. He tells us why he is choosing one written account of a certain event over another. He tells us why they hold more weight, in his opinion. All of which are practices used by modern historians.

Even better, many of his sources are cited by other historians in other words. Its not just Arrian, for example, citing Ptolemy's account; references to Ptolemy are found all over the place, and they all refer to the exact same statements using the exact same words. If we had this sort of evidence for Jesus, there would be no question at all that the man actually existed. No question at all.

Robert C. Webb, one of my constant antagonists in this argument, has pointed out to me that we shouldn't expect the same level of evidence for Jesus as we do for Alexander, because (Webb argues) Alexander was a great ruler while Jesus was just an itinerant rabbi.

While this is true, it raises the question of why anyone would attempt to compare the two in the first place.

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