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Atheist David Fitzgerald Wrong About John the Baptist

12 Nov

Do you meet all of the following conditions?
-under 35 years old
-an atheist
-debate Christians on the Internet
-have attended a talk put on by the Secular Student Alliance

If you answered yes to all four, chances are, you know David Fitzgerald. You might also know Dave if you are a Christian apologist who is involved with campus ministry. Apparently, William Lane Craig knows. David is the author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All? and promotes the Christ-Myth Theory, which claims Jesus Christ never lived.

I debated (informally) David on three different occasions in 2013. In our second conversation, he made a claim that John the Baptist was a failed Messiah. This claim came in the flow of an argument he was making about  Jesus (supposedly) not having the same amount of historical corroboration as so-called “loser Messiahs”. I asked Dave for evidence or a source for his take on J to tha B. He mentioned the Clementine Recognitions, saying it backs him up. Watch the debate here and note our dialogue between 12 and 13 minutes.

Next:
-pause the video
-read sections 155 and 160 of Book I of the Clementine Recognitions
(it’s pasted in below and I’ve underlined the most relevant lines but you can read more here)

 

1.54 — Jewish Sects.
“For when the rising of Christ was at hand for the abolition of sacrifices, and for the bestowal of the grace of baptism, the enemy, understanding from the predictions that the time was at hand, wrought various schisms among the people, that, if haply it might be possible to abolish the former sin, the latter fault might be incorrigible.
“The first schism, therefore, was that of those who were called Sadducees, which took their rise almost in the time of John. These, as more righteous than others, began to separate themselves from the assembly of the people, and to deny the resurrection of the dead, and to assert that by an argument of infidelity, saying that it was unworthy that God should be worshipped, as it were, under the promise of a reward. The first author of this opinion was Dositheus; the second was Simon.
“Another schism is that of the Samaritans; for they deny the resurrection of the dead, and assert that God is not to be worshipped in Jerusalem, but on Mount Gerizim. They indeed rightly, from the predictions of Moses, expect the one true Prophet; but by the wickedness of Dositheus they were hindered from believing that Jesus is He whom they were expecting.
“The scribes also, and Pharisees, are led away into another schism; but these, being baptized by John, and holding the word of truth received from the tradition of Moses as the key of the kingdom of heaven, have hid it from the hearing of the people.
“Yea, some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great ones, have separated themselves from the people, and proclaimed their own master as the Christ. But all these schisms have been prepared, that by means of them the faith of Christ and baptism might be hindered.”
1.60 — Disciples of John Refuted.
“And, behold, one of the disciples of John asserted that John was the Christ, and not Jesus, inasmuch as Jesus Himself declared that John was greater than all men and all prophets.’If, then, ‘said he, ‘he be greater than all, he must be held to be greater than Moses, and than Jesus himself. But if he be the greatest of all, then must he be the Christ.’ 
“To this Simon the Canaanite, answering, asserted that John was indeed greater than all the prophets, and all who are born of women, yet that he is not greater than the Son of man. Accordingly Jesus is also the Christ, whereas John is only a prophet: and there is as much difference between him and Jesus, as between the forerunner and Him whose forerunner he is; or as between Him who gives the law, and him who keeps the law. Having made these and similar statements, the Canaanite also was silent.
“After him Barnabas, who also is called Matthias, who was substituted as an apostle in the place of Judas, began to exhort the people that they should not regard Jesus with hatred, nor speak evil of Him. For it were far more proper, even for one who might be in ignorance or in doubt concerning Jesus, to love than to hate Him. For God has affixed a reward to love, a penalty to hatred. ‘For the very fact,’ said he, ‘that He assumed a Jewish body, and was born among the Jews, how has not this incited us all to love Him?’ When he had spoken this, and more to the same effect, he stopped.”

Re-listen to David’s claims about John as a failed Messiah – does the source (which is a late work falsely ascribed to Clement of Rome) match his claims?

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is an urban apologist and slam poet. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot.  Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone

 

Emperor Marcus Aurelius & Fronto vs. The Early Christians

8 Dec

CORNELIUS FRONTO 

An interesting account we have of early criticism towards Christianity has been preserved for us by Marcus Minucius Felix, circa 210-230 AD.  It can be read in the Ante-Nicene Fathers 4.02.01-04 and it is about a Christian named Octavius Januarius debating a pagan named Q. Caecilius Natalis. 

Marcus Cornelius Fronto (100-166 AD) was a Latin rhetorician and a tutor of Marcus Aurelius. Most scholars agree that we have a fragment of Fronto’s words on Christianity preserved in Minicius Felix’s Octavius (31.1-2; cf. 9.5-6), via the anti-Christian speeches from the character named Caecilius.

It is a brief piece of slander that claims Christians feast once a week until the “flame of impure lust and drunkenness has been lit”. Then, Fronto via Caecilius claims those gathered entice a dog that has been tied to a lampstand to “jump and dance by a little cake tossed beyond the area of its tether”. This has the intended effect of extinguishing the light and then people of all ages – including family members – have sex with the first person they bump into in the dark. As Fronto reports, they “embrace one another in their unspeakable lust as chance brings them together and … all alike are incestuous…”. In the second century, the charge of incest was a common one against Christians and could even be found on the lips and pens of educated Romans.

Caecilius accused Christians of all sorts of mischievous behavior: secret signs, clandestine meetings, arrogance, ignorance, exclusivity, gullibility, anti-social tendencies, boorish, uncultured, rude, sexually promiscuous, drunken party animals, infant killers and cannibalism. The following are notable: “I hear that they adore the head of an ass” and “some say they worship the genitals of their priests”, although he does admit he is unsure if these rumors are true. Caecilius even used a primitive form of Hume’s “wicked or weak” argument against the Christian god in light of human pain and suffering (especially amongst the Christians themselves!).

Caecilius made fun of the idea of resurrection and was especially annoyed with the idea of this nosy and bossy (omnipresent and omniscient) god. Many of these critiques were nothing new; for similar arguments were most likely found in the now lost works of Fronto (see Edward Champlin, Fronto and Antonine Rome. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980, 64-66).

More basic were Fronto’s put downs (again, via Minicius Felix’s character Caecilius) towards Christians as people “who lack education and culture, and are crude and ignorant”[Octavius 12] and who propagate “sick delusions”, a “senseless and crazy superstition”, and an “old-womanly superstition”. The crucifixion also finds its way into Fronto’s critical cross-hairs: “To say that their ceremonies center on a man put to death for his crime and on the fatal wood of the cross is to assign to these abandoned wretches sanctuaries which are appropriate to them and the kind of worship they deserve” [11.1; 13.5; 9.4.].

FOR THIS SECTION, I AM INDEBTED TO STEPHEN BENKO’S CHAPTER ON “PAGAN CRITICISM OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY AND ETHICS”, 140-162.
-For great overview of this narrative, cf. Henry Wace and William C. Piercy A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography: A Reference Guide to Over 800 Christian Men and Women, Heretics, and Sects of the First Six Centuries (Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 727-730 and for a commentary on this literature, see G.W. Clarke, The Octavius of Minucius Felix (NY: Newman Press, 1976), especially pages 1-14.
-For a helpful discussion on a terminus a quo on Octavius, see Michael E. Hardwick, Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius Brown Judais Studies 128 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), pages 20-23.

MARCUS AURELIUS

Fronto’s former pupil, Marcus Aurelius, became emperor in 161 AD. He reigned until 180 AD. Marcus was a Stoic philosopher critical of Christianity.  There are a few citations against Christian practices in his Meditations (1.6; 3.16.1; 7.68; 8.48; 8.51.2; 11.3) but Meditations 11.3 is the most explicit. 

Marcus begins by saying it is “admirable” for the soul to be ready when facing death. He says “this readiness must come from its own decision, not from mere opposition like the Christians, but rationally, religiously, and so as to persuade others, without dramatics”. Marcus admires the person who looks death calmly in the face – but not out of sheer force of will but despises the Christian who dies with excessive flair out of an irrational and contrarian compulsion. His view of Christian martyrs was they were “playing the tragedy-hero” and in doing so “are immature and insincere” (Robert M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century. Philadelphia, Westminster Press: 1988, p 78). Marcus thought the reason Christians faced death with such eagerness was non-sensical, unattractive, and done more out of the rebellious nature of their religion than of any individualistic determination.
Marcus persecuted the church during his reign. He probably witnessed his fair share of martyrs. It is likely he was annoyed by the bible verses, prayers and preaching that often came before the Christian’s last breath.

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is an urban apologist and slam poet. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone
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