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rotorhead
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July 25, 2009 4:54 am  

JG,

The major problem as I see it is that you are trying to use a 1000 year old copy of a 2000 year old manuscript which supposedly documents what a third unknown party told the author. How can that be convincing proof of anything? Who other than christians willing to grasp at straws would believe that this is convincing?

This argument about Tacitus has been going on for years. Has any new evidence surfaced recently? Any new supporting documents? Who did Tacitus get his story from? Was his source reliable? Was it even his story or was it added to a later copy of the manuscript by a christian copier looking for proof that Jesus even existed? How will you ever prove it is the truth?

Christians can't even agree among themselves about the validity of the Tacitus manuscript. http://users.drew.edu/ddoughty/Christianorigins/persecutions/tacitus.html was part of a bible studies course at a christian university. Professor Doughty died earlier this year, his obituary is here. http://obits.nj.com/obituaries/starledger/obituary.aspx?n=darrell-j-doughty&pid=128257522 he appears to be qualified to critique the manuscript.

John

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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jogetz
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July 26, 2009 9:48 pm  

OK, Rotor.

Time to deal with your objection to Van Voorst’s statement that claims the “vast majority” of scholars see the text we are discussing (Tacitus’ Annals 15.44) as “fundamentally sound”.

Technically, what you are asking me to do is to prove a negative. Here’s why. Van Voorst’s statement is made on the basis of his experience that there are no incidents in the writings of the “vast majority” of Tacitean scholars in which they mention (let alone suggest) that Annals 15.44 is, or includes anything, unauthentic. You are asking me to prove that the vast majority of scholars did not suggest the non-authenticity of 15.44.

I could simply stop here and say “No one can prove a negative, so I don’t need to make any attempt to do so”. However, I’ll humor you this time, and proceed to what evidence it is possible at the moment to provide.

First, lets begin by getting a good idea of just who the scholars are that are considered to be authorities on Tacitus and his works.

Take a look at a typical Bio of Tactitus:

http://www.answers.com/topic/tacitus

As you scroll down through the page, you will note some of these names given as referenced authors who have studied and written about Tacitus and his works:

Syme
Mellor
Grant
Mendell
Dudley
Benario
Momigliano
Woodman
Goodyear
Hada, Church, Brodribb

Of course this in not an exhaustive list of all Tacitean scholars in existence, but it is most certainly a good sampling of the most authoritative and respected.

Now, the question is did “any” of these scholars even entertain the idea (let alone seriously suggest) that Tacitus’ Annals 15.44 was a forgery or an interpolation by a later copyist? The short answer is “no”. Now, of course, a “no” from me is only worth so much. It’s really no proof itself. Fair enough.

So, let’s take a closer look:

http://www.amazon.com/s/qid=1248635318/ref=sr_pg_3?ie=UTF8&rs=&keywords=Tacitus%20Annals&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3ATacitus%20Annals&page=3

This is Amazon.com with a search for “Tacitus Annals”.

Here you will see several pages of books (many by the authors whose names we saw on the Tacitus bio we just looked at.

Fortunately for our purposes, some of the books are search-able. We can actually look inside these books.

Now, scanning through the search-able books on Tacitus’ Annals, looking for the authors we found in the Tacitus Bio, we find the following:

M. Grant

R. Mellor

A.J. Woodman

Hadas, Church, & Brodribb

We also find 2 other search-able Annals books by authors not mentioned on the Tacitus Bio page, but who are worth consulting (remember I did say that the Bio page was not an exhaustive list of Tacitus scholars).

They are:

Barrett & Yardley

Nipperday

http://www.amazon.com/Cornelius-Tacitus-explained-Nipperdey-additional/dp/055465301X/ref=sr_1_83?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248574106&sr=1-83#

Each of these books is search-able. Using the search feature, and using the words “Pilate” or “Christian” (or whatever you like) as search criteria, you will find some various comments about 15.44 in Tacitus’ annals, but not a single instance where the author even suggests the idea that the passage is not authentic. The consistency is remarkable.

Now what of the other authors, who are in the Bio, and who have books that appear on the Amazon search, but which books are not search-able. The names, Ronald Syme, Donald Dudley, Herbert Benario, Arnaldo Momigliano, etc. It is a pity that their books on Amazon are not search-able, however, there is a second, though less direct way, to at least see if there is any evidence on the Internet for a view from any one of them that questions the authenticity of Tacitus’ Annals 15.44.

Of course I am speaking of Google here. Google any of these folks and you will find no reference attributed to them impugning the authenticity of Tacitus’ Annals 15.44. What you will find are some references to Tacitus’ reliability, style and methods and that is it. This is what you get when you hunt for something that does not exist

These authors are generally recognized as the authorities on Tacitus and, in some cases, the field of Roman history itself. They have no axe to grind when it comes to Tacitus 15.44, and unanimously they treat the passage as authentic.

Now you might ask: Have I surveyed each of these authors in person, or did I scan and post each one’s comments on Tacitus 15.44? No, I did not. Yet, the unanimity of the information that I have presented tells me I don’t need to. It speaks for itself. If someone wants to claim that there is a bogeyman hiding in their writings that says that Tacitus 15.44 is not authentic, then it is up to that person to produce the evidence for such claims.

I can now say that not only is Van Voorst’s statement about the “vast majority” of scholars true, it;s actually an UNDERstatement. I would like to go on record as saying that “VIRTUALLY ALL” scholars (and we are talking neutral, historical scholars here) accept the passage as sound.

You, however, did provide us two references (3 if we count the video guy) to support your contention that Van Voorst is incorrect (although it is not evident how 2 references give us any information about the “vast majority” of scholars). In my next posts (And I will most likely take one at a time), I will proceed on to these references and take a close look at both their credentials and their claims.

Best regards to you Rotor,

JG


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jogetz
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July 26, 2009 10:54 pm  

Rotor said:

"JG,

The major problem as I see it is that you are trying to use a 1000 year old copy of a 2000 year old manuscript which supposedly documents what a third unknown party told the author. How can that be convincing proof of anything? Who other than Christians willing to grasp at straws would believe that this is convincing?

This argument about Tacitus has been going on for years. Has any new evidence surfaced recently? Any new supporting documents? Who did Tacitus get his story from? Was his source reliable? Was it even his story or was it added to a later copy of the manuscript by a christian copier looking for proof that Jesus even existed? How will you ever prove it is the truth?

Christians can't even agree among themselves about the validity of the Tacitus manuscript. [users.drew.edu] was part of a bible studies course at a christian university. Professor Doughty died earlier this year, his obituary is here. [obits.nj.com] he appears to be qualified to critique the manuscript.

John"

Well, here is what I can say.

I think that the reason it is convincing is that Tacitus works are held in very high regard by the academic community which is occupied with the study of Tacitus and his works. It is simply not consistent to make an exception for the passage in Annals 15.44 when the rest of Tacitus's works are respected so much for their integrity. Of course if there is some reason why this passage can be questioned that is a legitimate reason, then that's another story. Much of what we know of Roman history comes from Tacitus. If his works are to be discarded as suspect, then we have to dump most of what we know of the history of that time period into the scrap heap.

Remember back in this thread when Antiqueone said to you that Jesus was a verifiable historical figure just like Julius Caesar? You responded (and I am not quoting you exactly here) that Julius Caesar is a well documented historical figure. Well, most of that documentation comes from Tacitus. True there are a few others that add to the picture, but Tacitus and his works are the centerpiece of what we know about this period of human history. He is generally considered by scholars to be the most reliable and through of all our sources. (I will be touching on this in the next few posts).

The arguments about Tacitus have been going on for awhile, but I think you can trace the beginnings of the controversy to the time when Christians first began to point to it. Prior to that, virtually no one had questioned its authenticity. The truth is that in the scholarly community of Tacitean historians, the issue is a non-issue. The only place you find it is in discussions by those not in the field of Tacitean history. Christians are simply pointing to the works of those with no axe to grind and saying, if you don't believe us, then believe them.

I understand your concern about the age of the manuscript, and wanting more information about Tacitus sources. No problem with that. Its a legitimate concern. As I 've shown in my last post, it would seem that the entire field of Tacitean historians (neutral writers with no apologetic intentions) consider the passage to be no less authentic than the rest of his words. In their eyes, so far as I can determine in hours of research, they make not distinction between 15.44 in that respect.

The question of where Tacitus got his information is another legitimate concern. However, rather than guessing about it, we can learn much more about his research and methodology from what he says in throughout his works. We'll look at that also in my next few posts.

There are a few Christian writers who may question Tacitus' writings, but this is also the extreme exception. In the case of Doughty, we have some one with an extreme liberal bias not shared by most Christians. I will get to that when I review his statements on Tacitus statement. Of the references you give, his credentials are the best, but bringing the baggage that he does detracts strongly from what credentials he does have.

I am a bit surprised, Rotor. I was aware from what I had seen in your posts before we began our conversation that you objected to the Christian claim of miracles, but I was not aware that you objected to the very existence of Jesus.

Look, if you want to go on with this, I will be happy to do it. I will do my best to keep my zeal from getting in the way of having a good, meaningful discussion. However, I know we are both busy guys with lots of things to do. We can't spend all our time on this message board even if we would like to.

I am fine with calling it a draw at this point and ending the discussion if you'd like. If we never speak of it again, I will be content to call you my friend, for you have taken the time to engage my claims with an honest intent.

Your call. No winners or losers.

JG..


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stiphy
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July 27, 2009 5:32 pm  

Thanks TRW/Lizard/Rotor for the links.

Looking at the Wikipedia link for Cantwell v CT I don't see anywhere in there that mentions that the First Amendment is the justification for the tax exempt status of churches.

That link you posted TRW is very lengthy, so I may try and save it off to my wife's Kindle so I can read it offline, it looks interesting.

Sean


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stiphy
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July 27, 2009 7:41 pm  

To lighten things up a bit, here's a quick clip of the newborn at the Christening from this weekend:

Thankfully the church my wife attended growing up where we did the Christening is very "liberal." They don't believe in the whole "original sin" concept and the priest was hilarious during the ceremony, it was actually a fun time. When we had to answer the whole "do you promise to bring him up in the church" question I got chided for not being enthusiastic enough...if he only knew 🙂

Oh, and I REALLY had to bite my tongue at one point when the priest alluded that "free-will" is the cause of sin!

When the priest found out we lived in STX he instantly volunteered to come down and "bless the house." We exchanged info, ah the irony, I may end up with a priest as a houseguest! He was a really interesting guy and of course I'd welcome having him down, maybe even for some interesting discussion.

A small related story, the last time my wife and I went to church was after we found out she was pregnant, she wanted to say a little prayer etc. and was thankful that things were finally working out. We had a very difficult time conceiving and had to go the IVF route. We picked the wrong weekend to attend a Catholic mass I guess because it was the weekend the church harps on how evil abortion, birth control, and IVF are. The priest at the church we attended (which is the church we got married in near DC) is very "by the book" and my wife afterwards was so offended that she really lost all respect and desire to attend any services. I was amused that the end result of IVF was now being held up by a priest at a baptism.

Sean


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Lizard
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July 27, 2009 8:00 pm  

Stiphy,
You don't comprehend and understand what you read. So believe what ever makes you happy. You have already run out of sand in your sandbox! Oh and the correction was not on the spelling of You're and Your it was the meaning of Your statement would have changed if I accepted you're. Again Try to keep up. Congrats on the Baptism of your Baby! God Bless.


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stiphy
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July 27, 2009 9:14 pm  

Lizard,

This could continue on ad-infinitum. You clearly have no respect for me...too bad.

The Wikipedia article doesn't mention tax exemption's once.

There has still been no evidence provided that tax exemptions are a religion's first amendment right as interpreted by the courts. Or, to put it a different way, I have seen nothing that indicates that removing the tax exempt status of churches would violate the constitution.

If something pops up in the link trw provided I will post it when I get a chance to look at it.

Sean


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JE
 JE
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July 28, 2009 1:29 pm  

I have found this thread to be quite enjoyable and have always been interested in trying to understand why people believe what they do. While nothing I have read has altered my personal beliefs, I was surprised to discover how much it has affected my perceptions of some people who regularly post but I have never met. Certainly not due to their beliefs, as I believe people should be allowed to believe whatever they wish as long as it does not directly impact me or those that believe otherwise, but the manner in which they discuss their beliefs with others. For example, some that I once had a neutral or favorable impression of I now view as petty jerks. Of course, as I said, I have never met them and these are simply my general feelings I have when I see their name on a post. Perhaps if I could only keep up a little better I would see things differently....


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rotorhead
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July 28, 2009 7:42 pm  

JG,

There are a few Christian writers who may question Tacitus' writings, but this is also the extreme exception. In the case of Doughty, we have some one with an extreme liberal bias not shared by most Christians. I will get to that when I review his statements on Tacitus statement. Of the references you give, his credentials are the best, but bringing the baggage that he does detracts strongly from what credentials he does have

.

You say liberal like it is a dirty word. Some might think that conservative carries bad connotations. I attributed his differing opinion to the fact that his first degree was in nuclear engineering. All of the other authors are theologians or liberal arts history majors. He is the only skeptic in the group. If there is so much evidence to support the jesus story, why do the really intelligent people almost unanimously reject it and all other god stories?

I am willing to call it quits as well since it is obvious that neither of us is going to change his mind on this and I am much more interested in the science of today than in ancient mythology. There is no way that I can be convinced that something that defies reason occurred based on an ancient manuscript when there is no substantiation in modern times.

It is the equivalent of finding a manuscript by an ancient historian that contained a story that someone told him about "pigs flying" even if his story said that the person who told the story claimed that there were 500 witnesses. The concept of "pigs flying" is so far fetched that I would want to see modern proof. Would you accept a story like this based on 2000 year old hearsay?

To me, resurrections fall into the same category as "pigs flying". I would have to see it for myself before I believe it.

John

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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jogetz
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July 28, 2009 8:26 pm  

Rotor,

That's all fine and good.

However, I haven't even gotten to the point where I have even made an attempt to prove the resurrection.

I have only pointed to Tacitus as my first exhibit to make some very modest points about the fact that there was a person, executed by Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius in the province of Judea who was referred to as Christos (Christ) and whose followers (Christians) got their name from him. None of these points is anything like "pigs flying".

I can understand someone having a problem with admitting a resurrection, but admitting a few historical facts is hardly a concession to miracles.

You are way ahead of anything I have said so far. Please note my points that I was asking for your concessions on. Did any of them mention anything about a resurrection? The answer is no.

So, I am not basing my claim of a real resurrection for Christ simply on what Tacitus had to say. He is simply the first block of evidence for the entire case. I'm willing to end the discussion if you don't feel you have the time or interest in it. I can understand that.

You again use the term "ancient mythology". Of course you are free to use the term any way you like, but I would hope you have more reason to use it in reference to Christianity than simply habit. I am perfectly willing to change my mind about anything I hold as truth, if someone can give me a good enough reason why.

I would very much like the opportunity to at least answer the two references you gave me (Stein & Doughty), but if you choose to tend the discussion here, I would be happy to do so on another thread without addressing them directly to you. Probably the "Why do you believe thread". There is much to say in response to both of those guys, and I would rather not simply go silent as though they are unanswerable.

Based on your last post, I take it that I should end the discussion on this thread and make my final (unless, of course, someone else has questions) comments on the other thread, so I have no problem with that.

In the end, maybe I haven't proved a resurrection, or even that Tacitus has an authentic reference to Christ in his writings, but I think I have proved one thing quite clearly. One can indeed be a Christian and hold that position reasonably and rationally..

Best regards to you, Rotor. It has been most enjoyable to have this discourse with you.

JG.


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jogetz
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July 28, 2009 8:40 pm  

Whoops,

I only caught the tail end of your last post Rotor.

I missed this part, and I'll make my comments on this my parting post here:

Rotor-
"You say liberal like it is a dirty word. Some might think that conservative carries bad connotations. I attributed his differing opinion to the fact that his first degree was in nuclear engineering. All of the other authors are theologians or liberal arts history majors. He is the only skeptic in the group. If there is so much evidence to support the jesus story, why do the really intelligent people almost unanimously reject it and all other god stories?"

JG - By using the term Liberal, I am not speaking politically, or even morally. I am speaking of his position within what might be called the Christian community. In the post I will make on the other thread I will address this more so that it is clear what I am talking about. You mention all "other" authors as simply "theologians" (in fact none of them are Theologians, except, of course, your man Doughty), or "liberal arts history majors" . The authors I gave you from the Bio are universally recognized as THE authorities on Tacitean history. Yet, from your words, you think that not one of them is intelligent. It appears (sadly so) that you determine intelligence based on who is in agreement with your viewpoint, and then ask why no intelligent people disagree with you. Sorry Rotor, that is not even clever.

JG - Signing off on this discussion. Over and out.


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trw
 trw
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July 28, 2009 8:45 pm  

anyone here read about emperor julian?


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rotorhead
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July 28, 2009 9:12 pm  

JG - By using the term Liberal, I am not speaking politically, or even morally. I am speaking of his position within what might be called the Christian community. In the post I will make on the other thread I will address this more so that it is clear what I am talking about. You mention all "other" authors as simply "theologians" (in fact none of them are Theologians, except, of course, your man Doughty), or "liberal arts history majors" . The authors I gave you from the Bio are universally recognized as THE authorities on Tacitean history. Yet, from your words, you think that not one of them is intelligent. It appears (sadly so) that you determine intelligence based on who is in agreement with your viewpoint, and then ask why no intelligent people disagree with you. Sorry Rotor, that is not even clever.

JG - Signing off on this discussion. Over and out.

Your main Tacitus man.

Robert E. Van Voorst
Professor of New Testament
Education
B.A. Hope College, (Hope College is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America)
M.Div. Western Theological Seminary, S.T.M.,
Ph.D. Union Theological Seminary (New York)

Robert Van Voorst served for twelve years as the pastor of Rochester Reformed Church in Accord and
he was an interim pastor in four Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations.

If that's not a theologian! His entire education is religious.

I didn't pick the intelligent people because they agree with me. The National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Academy and the Nobel Committee picked them. And they overwhelmingly reject religious mythology.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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jogetz
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July 28, 2009 9:19 pm  

Sorry, Rotor.

Van Voorst was hardly my "main Tacitus man". I gave you a page of mutliptle authors. They are my main exhibit. Van Voorst was not among them at all. Apparently you missed the entire post.

I made a single quote of an observation by Van Voorst. My main Tacitus men are Syme, Mendell, Woodman, Mellor, etc. on the post I gave you. If anything, Van Voorst simply points you to them with his statement.

You are the one who dropped a theologian into the picture (Doughty) along with Stein the atheisti apologist as your ONLY 2 refererences.

Slim pickens I know.

JG.


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rotorhead
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July 28, 2009 9:30 pm  

JG,

How hypocritical can you be? Since you started the Tacitus discussion you have mentioned Van Voorst more than any other authority. In fact you only mentioned the others on the last page of this discussion.

John

PS. I guess you consider the NAS, RA and Nobel prize winners to be intelligent people?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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jogetz
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July 29, 2009 1:07 am  

Rotor,

I only mentioned him one time until you objected to him. Had you not screamed bloody murder about him, I probably never would have mentioned him again. Then I HAD to mention him again to respond to you. Are we now just going to determine whether he was my "main Tacitus guy" by counting how many times his name appears and not taking into account that I was repeating his name because of you, and you alone? You are making a mountain out of mole hill here.

I gave you an entire post with many names and Van Voorst's was not listed among them.

Come on Rotor, did you miss that entire post?

Excise Van Voorst's name out of my entire discussion here and it changes nothing. If you want me to go on record saying that Van Voorst is a bum and we should never mention his name in this discussion again, then fine. It doesn't change one iota of what I have said and demonstrated so far. You are trying to contest something that is simply inconsequential to the entire discussion. You want Van Voorst out, fine he's out. Tell me what that changes?

Look, I offered you an olive branch and gave you an "out" thinking that perhaps you were too busy to continue the discussion. Instead of taking it civily you chose to send it back to me with a few barbs attached for your satisfaction.

In that case, I am going to assume that the discussion is NOT over. As long as you choose to hurl insults, I am staying put right here. So hurl away. I don't care.

Next post - review of Gordon Stein on Tacitus.

JG


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jogetz
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July 29, 2009 2:07 am  

OK, Rotor.

I will now proceed on to a review of the two references you provided in regards to Tacitus.

We will take them one at a time, beginning with Gordon Stein’s piece.

First, let’s take a close look at a bio for Mr. Stein to examine his credentials and background so that we can determine what his qualifications are:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gordon_stein/stein-bio.html

I think we can consider this a legitimate bio since it comes from the same “neutral” source (www.infdels.org) as your reference.

Looking over the bio, we can see that Stein has 2 degrees. One is in Library Science Management, and the second in Physiology.

According to the bio, Mr. Stein died in 1996, but at the time of his death he was editor of “Free Inquiry” magazine. He also was involved in paranormal research and was director of something called the Center for Inquiry Libraries.

He is listed as editor of various atheist magazines and volumes.

I note in summary of the bio that there is a lack of expertise in historical studies and historical methodology. Mr. Stein does not write from a neutral position. His background comes across as one belonging to an apologist for atheism.

Still, a man’s words stand or fall on their own merit, so we will generously give Mr. Stein the benefit of the doubt and assume as we begin our review of his words that he was able to remain objective and neutral in his treatment of Tacitus.

So lets now look at exactly what he said about Tacitus’ Annals 15.44.

Here again is your reference link:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gordon_stein/jesus.shtml

The full piece is actually a wider article on more subjects than just Tacitus, so we will focus on the section in which he deals specifically with Tacitus. Here is what he had to say:

“The next major ancient historian who supposedly mentions Jesus, and thus provides us with evidence that he was an historical character is Tacitus. Cornelius Tacitus wrote his Annals after 117 A.D. Their exact date of composition is not know, but we do know that it was at least 70 years after Jesus' supposed crucifixion. Jesus is not mentioned by name anywhere in the extant works of Tacitus. There is one mention of "Christus" in Book XV, Chapter 44, as follows:

"Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated by the people for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race." (D.R. Dudley's translation)

While we know from the way in which the above is written that Tacitus did not claim to have firsthand knowledge of the origins of Christianity, we can see that he is repeating a story which was then commonly believed, namely that the founder of Christianity, one Christus, had been put to death under Tiberius. There are a number of serious difficulties which must be answered before this passage can be accepted as genuine. There is no other historical proof that Nero persecuted the Christians at all. There certainly were not multitudes of Christians in Rome at that date (circa 60 A.D.). In fact, the term "Christian" was not in common use in the first century. We know Nero was indifferent to various religions in his city, and, since he almost definitely did not start the fire in Rome, he did not need any group to be his scapegoat. Tacitus does not use the name Jesus, and writes as if the reader would know the name Pontius Pilate, two things which show that Tacitus was not working from official records or writing for non-Christian audiences, both of which we would expect him to have done if the passage were genuine.

Perhaps most damning to the authenticity of this passage is the fact that it is present almost word-for-word in the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus (died in 403 A.D.), where it is mixed in with obviously false tales. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that Sulpicius could have copied this passage from Tacitus, as none of his contemporaries mention the passage. This means that it was probably not in the Tacitus manuscripts at that date. It is much more likely, then, that copyists working in the Dark Ages from the only existing manuscript of the Chronicle, simply copied the passage from Sulpicius into the manuscript of Tacitus which they were reproducing.”Mr. Stein does not waste time, He plunges right into his analysis of Tacitus ‘Annals 15.44 with a number of unsubstantiated claims such as:

Stein – “… we know from the way in which the above is written that Tacitus did not claim to have firsthand knowledge of the origins of Christianity. we can see that he is repeating a story which was then commonly believed,.”

JG- Stein makes this statement, but provides no explanation as to why we should know this. What is the “way” that the passage was written? Stein does not say, but expects us to agree with him nonetheless. He simply moves from the idea that Tacitus did not have “first-hand” knowledge of Christianity to the conclusion that he was uncritically just repeating what he had been told through this entire passage. Tacitus does mention that the sect or group of which he is about to write were “known” (common public knowledge) as Christians (actually “Chrestians”). However, there is no indication that the rest of his statement concerning Christos, Tiberius, Pilate, etc. is just a recounting of common public knowledge. In fact it appears that Tacitus is actually working to correct the error by the public here, since they call ChrIstos’ followers by the erroneous name “ChrEstians”.

Stein – “There is no other historical proof that Nero persecuted the Christians at all.”

JG – This is patently false. A contemporary of Tacitus (Suetonius) also mentions the persecution of Christians during Nero’s reign. When we move beyond our consideration of Tacitus to further evidence, we will examine this other reference, also.

Stein – “There certainly were not multitudes of Christians in Rome at that date (circa 60 A.D.).”

JG – Of course, as you have contended, Rotor, the word “multitude” is subjective. Stein has decided to interpret it as such a massive number that he can then conclude it cannot be true because there could not have been that many Christians in Rome by 60 A.D.

Stein – “In fact, the term "Christian" was not in common use in the first century.”

JG – Another statement with no substantiation from Stein. How does he know this? Stein does not say. He simply expects us to accept the statement with nothing to support it. I dare say, Rotor, if I was making statements like these without any support for what I was saying, you would be quick to point it out to me. You would be right to do so. Shouldn't’t you also make the same demands from Stein?

Stein – “We know Nero was indifferent to various religions in his city, and, since he almost definitely did not start the fire in Rome, he did not need any group to be his scapegoat.”

JG – While it is true that Nero was not generally concerned with the various religions in Rome, it does not rule out his selection of one to act as a scapegoat if he felt he needed one. Stein goes on to say that Nero wouldn't’t need a scapegoat because he “almost definitely did not” start the Rome fire. Here Stein tries to hedge his bets with an “almost definitely not”, leaving the door ajar to the fact that maybe Nero really did start the fire. Nevertheless, the reason Nero needed a scapegoat did not hinge on whether or not Nero actually started the fire, but rather on what was believed by the general populace of the city. Very conveniently, Stein has omitted the first few words of Tacitus’ Annals 15.44. Here is the part that was left out of the quote in Stein’s piece:

Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report ...”

Notice that, with the entire quote from Tacitus now in hand, we can see quite clearly that Nero was trying to address the belief by the populace that he had started the fire, whether he really had done so or not. This makes Stein’s statement that “Nero didn't’t need a scapegoat” a conclusion without support.

Stein – “Tacitus does not use the name Jesus, and writes as if the reader would know the name Pontius Pilate, two things which show that Tacitus was not working from official records or writing for non-Christian audiences, both of which we would expect him to have done if the passage were genuine.”

JG – Stein points to the fact that Tacitus uses the name Christos rather than the name Jesus as valid proof that the passage is not authentic to Tacitus. However, Stein plainly ignores the fact that Tacitus is explaining where the name “Chrestians” actually came from. What sense would it have made for him to say Chrestians are called Chrestians because they get the name from their leader, Jesus? Stein also says that Tacitus “writes as if the reader would know the name Pontius Pilate”. In what way does the writing imply this? Stein does not tell us. In fact, Tacitus actually makes an extra effort to give details to his readers to help them know who Pilate was. He mentions the office that Pilate held, and which Caesar (Tiberius) Pilate served under. Also, he mentions Judea as the place where Christianity had its beginnings and thereby implies that this is where Pilate served. With his confidence in these two unwarranted conclusions, Stein hastily proceeds on to the assumption that Tacitus must not have been working from official records or writings. Of course, an assumption that is the offspring of two invalid observations is hardly convincing.

(On the contrary, we will survey what the Tacitus bio scholars have to say about Tacitus practices and methodology in composing his works, and the survey will show decisively that Stein’s assumption here simply has no validity.)

Stein concludes his comments here with the idea that if Tacitus does not say what “we” would expect him to say, then the text in question must not be genuine. Stein is guilty here of dictating to Tacitus what he can and cannot say based on his own estimates of what Tacitus should say. The result is simply to impose one’s own ideas onto the writings of the historian (Tacitus) rather than letting the historian speak for himself. Stein does not tell us how he knows Tacitus so well that he can accurately anticipate what Tacitus would say and what he would not. Stein here is visibly reaching in a misguided attempt to support his speculations.

Stein then moves to crown his analysis with the idea that Sulpicious Severus, a 4th century writer must be the source of this information about Christians that was later inserted into Tacitus’ passage to make it look like Tacitus actually wrote it. Stein goes so far as to say that this evidence is the “most damning” of the authenticity of Tacitus’ Annals 15.44. He says that the Tacitus passage is present in Severus “almost word-for-word”. Of course, Stein does not provide for us a quote from Severus so that we can see for ourselves whether or not what he is claiming is really true. His readers are simply expected to believe it because he says that it is so. Here is the section from the writings of Sulpicious Severus to which Stein refers:

“In the meantime, the number of the Christians being now very large, it happened that Rome was destroyed by fire while Nero was stationed at Antium. But the opinion of all cast the odium of causing the fire upon the emperor, and the emperor was believed in this way to have sought for the glory of building a new city. And in fact, Nero could not by any means that he tried escape from the charge that the fire had been caused by his orders. He therefore turned the accusation against the Christians, and the most cruel tortures were accordingly inflicted upon the innocent. Nay, even new kinds of death were invented, so that, being covered in the skins of wild beasts, they perished by being devoured by dogs, while many were crucified or slain by fire, and not a few were set apart for this purpose, that, when the day came to a close, they should be consumed to serve for light during the night. It was in this way that cruelty first began to be manifested against the Christians. Afterward, too, their religion was prohibited by laws which were given, and by edicts openly set forth it was proclaimed unlawful to be a Christian. At that time Paul and Peter were condemned to capital punishment, of whom the one was beheaded with a sword, while Peter suffered crucifixion.”

http://www.textexcavation.com/tacitustestimonium.html

Again, in the quote of Tacitus 15.44 we find in Stein’s work, he has conveniently also left out the last portion of 15.44, and it is this portion that he apparently is referring to as almost “word-for-word” the same as Severus’ writing. Here is that missing piece of Tacitus 15.44:

“Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good but rather to glut the cruelty of one man that they were being destroyed.”

Comparing the two writings, it is true that there are some parallels, but the claim that the passages are “word-for-word” mirror images of one another is a great exaggeration of fact. In my view here, Tacitus’ description of Nero’s persecution has more detail and description to it, while Severus seems to offer a brief summary of the events, much like what you or I might summarize if we had Tacitus work in our hand and were offering, in our own words. a condensed version of what Tacitus had written. Stein is sensitive to the idea that Severus is using Tacitus as a reference in his own writings. It is the most natural assumption to suppose that a later writer used an earlier writer to obtain information. Stein, however, says that “it is highly unlikely that Sulpicius could have copied this passage from Tacitus”. And what is his reason for saying this? He says it is unlikely because “none of his (Severus) contemporaries mention the passage”. But what kind of a proof is this? First, we have very few copies of Tacitus work available today. There is nothing to say that there were more than a few copies available in Severus’ time as well. Severus may have had access to a copy that his contemporaries simply did not have. Further, Severus and his contemporaries were not making carbon copies of one another’s writings. For this argument to have any force, Stein would have to show us that this is the only thing that Severus writes that his contemporaries do not mention in their works. Stein does not do this, nor does he admit any other possible arguments contrary to his own.

Instead, he is eager to get to his assumed conclusion:

Stein - “This means that it was probably not in the Tacitus manuscripts at that date. It is much more likely, then, that copyists working in the Dark Ages from the only existing manuscript of the Chronicle, simply copied the passage from Sulpicius into the manuscript of Tacitus which they were reproducing.”

JG - On virtually no support, Stein erects this concluding bit of speculation. Look again at Severus’ and Tacitus’ writings. Does it really look like one is “simply copied” into the other? Stein would have us believe it is so, but facts are tenacious things.

As further support and against Stein’s view, we may also cite, for example, Momigliano (one of the names from the Tacitus Bio page) commenting on the Tacitus / Severus connection thus:

“Sulpicius Severus uses Tacitus elsewhere, and this particular passage shows traces of Tacitean style under the early fifth-century veneer. It is therefore reasonable to conclude with Bernays that Sulpicius Severus depended on Tacitus. His conjecture has indeed been generally accepted.”

http://spiritrestoration.org/Church/Research%20History%20and%20Great%20Links/Tacitus%20Fragment.htm

Further still, please notice what is not found in Severus. Severus makes no mention of “Christos” or of Pilate, or of Judea, or of the execution carried out by Pilate. And are these not the very points in question in our discussion?

In summary of our survey of Stein’s words, it would seem that what we have here is little more than a jumble of speculations, unwarranted conclusions, and unsubstantiated statements that we are asked to swallow whole. Further, the credentials of the author (Stein) are extremely weak, and his neutrality is under significant doubt. Such a reference is neither impressive nor convincing.

It will do us well to view claims such as Stein’s with skepticism, and to avoid simply taking them on faith as "true" merely because the author presents them to us as such.

Next post – bio & Review of D. Doughty.

Best regards to you, Rotor.

JG


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rotorhead
(@rotorhead)
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July 29, 2009 3:07 am  

Let me see if I can summarize where we are on the Tacitus document.

The document is thought to be a 1000 year old copy of a document that was written by Tacitus in 110 ce. Many experts think that since the document is written in the style of other Tacitus documents it therefore might be authentic. There is no proof that this is authentic, since we do not have any copy older than 1000 years.

Tacitus is relaying a story told to him by an unnamed source. Annals was written in 110 and the story took place in 64, Since the story was written 46 years after the event supposedly took place we don't even know if the person who told the story was a witness or simply relaying a story which he had heard from someone else. So the story could be second order hearsay. The story might have been based on written accounts and incorporated into annals by Tacitus. We do not know the source of the story.

Then to top that off, the copy that we have shows signs of modifications. Have there been other modifications to previous copies of the document which were incorporated into this one? How can historians know without an original copy.

This document can only serve as proof of the death of christ if you accept this document as authentic and factual and I think that you are a long way from proving that. So unless you have proof that the document is authentic and factual I think we are done with Tacitus.

At best this could be evidence for the theory of the death of christ. Certainly not fact.

Final Tacitus questions.
1) Do any of these historians have proof that the 1000 year old copy is a faithful reproduction of the original?
2) Do any of these historians have proof of the reliability and integrity of the source of this story.

I am sure that christians will jump at this as proof but skeptics want something a little more reliable. I remember a few years ago when the christians were all jumping on the Shroud of Turin as proof of the crucifixion. It has since been proven to be a middle-aged forgery. There were a lot of christian forgeries in the middle ages.

So the question that I have is when are all of the religious people going to stop pointing to the distant past as proof of the validity of their religion and start coming up with contemporary proof? Have your gods all died or are they afraid to come out and show their faces?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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jogetz
(@jogetz)
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Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 65
July 29, 2009 3:33 am  

Rotor,

You said:

"So unless you have proof that the document is authentic and factual I think we are done with Tacitus."

Could you please tell me what you would accept as proof that the document is authentic and factual. Rather than play hit or miss, what do you want to see?

On your other points:

Re what were Tacitu's sources:

I can proceed on to an examination to the methodology and practices of Tacitus, and put Doughty on hold for now. This area should be touched on before we move beyond Tacitus.

Re "modifications of the text:

We have proof that a single letter was changed by a scribe probably attempting to correct a perceived spelling error. There is simply no evidence for any "modification" beyond that.

JG


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rotorhead
(@rotorhead)
Trusted Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 2452
July 29, 2009 4:24 am  

Rotor,

You said:

"So unless you have proof that the document is authentic and factual I think we are done with Tacitus."

Could you please tell me what you would accept as proof that the document is authentic and factual. Rather than play hit or miss, what do you want to see?

On your other points:

Re what were Tacitus's sources:

I can proceed on to an examination to the methodology and practices of Tacitus, and put Doughty on hold for now. This area should be touched on before we move beyond Tacitus.

Re "modifications of the text:

We have proof that a single letter was changed by a scribe probably attempting to correct a perceived spelling error. There is simply no evidence for any "modification" beyond that.

JG

To answer your questions.
To prove that the document is authentic you would need a copy which dated to the period in which it was written; not 1000 years later. You would also need other documents by the same author to prove that the handwriting is the same. Otherwise all you have is opinion and speculation. Another contemporary writer referencing this story in Annals would help.

To prove that the document is factual you would need corroborating evidence from multiple reliable sources. Otherwise all you have is hearsay.

Tacitus' methodology and practices does not tell us anything about the reliability of the source. where did this story originate. Name the source of the story so that it can be determined whether or not the source has a bias when relaying the story.

As for the modifications. All of the researchers agree on the one modification, some think that there are more than one. So we have proof that the 1000 year old copy was modified but what about the earlier copies on which this one was based. There was no printing press, are we to assume that all of the missing copies for 1000 years were faithful reproductions. That is a huge leap of faith since we have no idea who was making the copies and whether or not "corrections" were introduced.

John

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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jogetz
(@jogetz)
Advanced Member
Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 65
July 29, 2009 2:22 pm  

Rotor:

You said:

Rotor - "To answer your questions.
To prove that the document is authentic you would need a copy which dated to the period in which it was written; not 1000 years later. You would also need other documents by the same author to prove that the handwriting is the same. Otherwise all you have is opinion and speculation. Another contemporary writer referencing this story in Annals would help.

To prove that the document is factual you would need corroborating evidence from multiple reliable sources. Otherwise all you have is hearsay."

And Rotor, if I did provide all that you ask here, then tell me what would prevent you from then asking me to prove the following:

I have a copy of Tacitus from the time Tacitus lived.

- Potential questions;
"How can I prove that it was from the same period that it was actually written"?
"How can I prove that Tacitus actually wrote it and not someone else using Tacitus' name fictitiously"?

I have other documents proving the handwriting is the same.

- Potential questions ;
"How can I prove that the other documents are really in Tacitus' writing"?
"How can I prove that Tacitus wasn't writing fiction?"

I have a writing of a contemporary of Tacitus who corroborates the story in Annals 15.44

-Potential questions:
"How do we know this contemporary is reliable, and how do we know he he did not know Tacitus personally, and that he was not just repeating what Tacitus had told him?"
"How can we prove that this contemporary work was not altered to agree with what we see in Tacitus? After all, the same copyists passed on both works?"

You also say,

Rotor - "To prove that the document is factual you would need corroborating evidence from multiple reliable sources. Otherwise all you have is hearsay."

A couple of things can be said in response to this:

-You mention the need for multiple "reliable" sources. What constitutes a "reliable" source? and why?
-In truth, we have Suetonius, a contemporary of Tacitus, who does corroborate the fact that Christians were indeed persecuted during the reign of Nero. One can argue that it is not a "word-for-word" corroboration, but of course if it was then one can argue that they are too similar and one must just be copied from the other. This can go on and on.
- We also have several sources (I'm, of course speaking of the Gospel's here, but I am sure you would object that they are "unreliable" ) that all actually pre-date Tacitus and which corroborate what he says regarding Pilate, Tiberius, Christos, etc. in 15.44.

The truth is that even if I did provide all of this, would it really clear the charge of "hearsay"?

The definition of hearsay is:

"something one has heard but does not know to be true; rumor; gossip"

http://www.yourdictionary.com/hearsay

What is there to say that all the multiple sources and corroborating contemporaries were not reporting the same unproven rumor? And even if they did state their sources, how do we know they are telling us the truth about those sources? Even if Tacitus was reporting some that he claimed that he had seen with his own eyes, it could still be argued that he was mistaken, or that he only imagined it, etc., etc.

My point is that even if I gave you all the "proofs" you ask for, it wouldn't prove the authenticity of Tacitus any more than it has been proved already. This is a bigger issue than just "what can we know about Tacitus' writings". Its more like "how can we KNOW anything about anything?" (epistemology).

Do you make the same demands for everything you consider to be true, or only if it involves the claims of Christianity?

Skepticism in the pursuit of truth is a good thing. However, skepticism merely for the sake of skepticism makes all things unknowable. Nothing can be proved adequately.

Now I'm not saying that if I did provide all the evidence to show that Tacitus is authentic and trustworthy that you requested that you would not then accept it as proof. What I'm saying is that I don't see where you would be consistent in doing so. I don't see where such evidence would provide any more proof than we already have for Tacitus writings.

I am simply being reasonable here. I accept the consensus of Tacitean and Historical Scholars that Tacitus' Annals15.44 is just as authentic as the rest his Annals. They apparently have found no reason to doubt its authenticity, nor have I. I am perfectly willing to reconsider this position if I am presented with a good reason to do so. I see its authenticity as "innocent" until proved "guilty". I cannot worry about "what might be", I am only interested in "what is". I will not base my view of Tacitus' (or that of any other writer) on "what if's" or "perhap's".

Whether I have convinced you or not of anything about Tacitus' words, can you honestly say that my position is unreasonable or irrational?

You also say:

Rotor - "Tacitus' methodology and practices does not tell us anything about the reliability of the source. where did this story originate. Name the source of the story so that it can be determined whether or not the source has a bias when relaying the story."

True, his methodology doesn't explicitly tell us anything, but a brief survey of how he reports his information is very enlightening as to how critical and careful he is in his reporting. It also tells us where he routinely gets his information from, and even where he on occasion rejected information from. When this is taken into account, a strong case can be made that it is very unlikely that Tacitus would simply and uncritically incorporate information into writings having his name on them without looking into their validity first.

I think a brief examination of Tacitus' practices and methodology will bear this out, and I will present such a survey. Now, it seems at this point you want to move beyond Tacitus. I do also. However, when I wanted to move on before, you requested that we stay a little longer on him because you wanted to present your objections. Before we go on I would still like to address just 2 more things: 1.) Tacitus practices and methodology (as I mentioned above), and 2. a response to Doughty. Beyond these two things, I have very little more to say on Tacitus. Will you humor me to allow me to present these two points? (Or at the very least, the first one? I do think you make a fair objection here, and it really needs to be addressed).

Regarding the "modification" issue, yes all do agree that there is evidence that 1 letter (the first "I" in "Christians" was changed from "e" to "i" ). However, the only person I have seen that claims there was any other letter changed in the manuscript was the video guy you posted. Perhaps there are some who do think there were other changes that I am not aware of. Who are they and what is their basis for thinking this? The real leap here is to extrapolate from the change in the spelling of a single word to the idea that there "might have been" other changes amounting to insertions of entire sentences and paragraphs. The burden of proof is on the shoulders of those who make such claims. Without proof, these claims are nothing more than unsupported speculations. As I have mentioned several times already, Tacitean scholars do not seem to be much impressed by these theories.

One of your closing thoughts is:

Rotor - "There was no printing press, are we to assume that all of the missing copies for 1000 years were faithful reproductions."

There actually wasn't a printing press for another 300-400 years after the date of the manuscripts we have.

Date of our earliest Tacitean manuscripts containing Annals - 9th to 12th century (800 to 1100 A.D.)

"Important manuscripts of Tacitus are the Codex Mediceus (I), dating from the ninth century and containing a part of the Annals; and the Codex Mediceus (II) of the eleventh or twelfth centuries, containing what remains of the other books of the Annals and the Histories."
http://www.dromo.info/tacitusbio.htm

The printing press was invented by Gutenberg around the 15th century (circa 1440 A.D.)

"In 1440, German inventor Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press process that, with refinements and increased mechanization, remained the principal means of printing until the late 20th century."
http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/printpress.htm

In the 300 - 400 years between our earliest Tacitean manuscript and the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg, Tacitus' writings continued to be copied by hand. One can look in vain for any modifications during this period. There are none beyond the normal spelling errors that inevitably crop up in this kind of manual manuscript transmission. Also, from 1440 A.D. (and Tacitus' manuscripts were not the first thing Gutenberg put on his press by far) until the present, there is no evidence for any "modifications". Therefore, we have a span of almost -900 years (1100 A.D. to 2009 A.D) in which we have both the earliest and latest copies of Tacitus' manuscript, and there are NO changes.

Why then should we leap to speculate that the first 1,000 years of the document fared any differently? As I said, the burden of proof is on the shoulders of those who would claim otherwise.

JG


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rotorhead
(@rotorhead)
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Posts: 2452
July 29, 2009 9:04 pm  

JG,

You ask a lot of good questions. I am not sure what it would take to convince me that a 2000 year old document was in fact the truth. And yes, I think that I am skeptical of all ancient stories like this one.

Take for instance the story of Atlantis. Even though the story is attributed to Plato, I do not believe that Atlantis actually existed. Maybe it did and maybe it didn't. I feel the same way about the Jesus stories. Until some hard evidence is discovered for either one of these claims I will remain a skeptic.

I also do not believe in all of the things in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey even though many of the facts about the war with Troy seem to be true based on archaeological evidence. Many parts of the epic poems are too far fetched to believe, especially the parts about the gods and monsters.

The Tacitus story has several problems that I have not seen good explanations for. If in fact the information came from the roman archives then why is Jesus called Christus. The romans would never call him that they would refer to him by his name Jesus. They considered christianity a superstition just as I do. And why would Tacitus who does thorough research and uses the roman archives much of the time get Pontius Pilate's rank wrong, he was a prefect not a procurator? The people who want to believe make up excuses but to me it just sheds more doubt on the true origin of the story.

And just so you know, I do not have it in for christianity. I am an equal opportunity atheist. I don't believe in any supernatural beings. And I consider all ancient god stores to be mythology. Christian mythology, muslim mythology, jewish mythology and hindu mythology are all the same, ancient unprovable stories of gods that only exist in the minds of their followers.

John

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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aschultz
(@aschultz)
Advanced Member
Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 254
July 30, 2009 6:28 am  

Good job rotorhead I am still reading. What they don't under stand is we try to help them see the light.


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jogetz
(@jogetz)
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Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 65
July 31, 2009 1:53 pm  

Rotor,

Sorry for my silence lately. Work, household plumbing problems, and a trip to the dentist have all eaten into my free time over the last few days.

You said:

Rotor – “You ask a lot of good questions. I am not sure what it would take to convince me that a 2000 year old document was in fact the truth. And yes, I think that I am skeptical of all ancient stories like this one

Take for instance the story of Atlantis. Even though the story is attributed to Plato, I do not believe that Atlantis actually existed. Maybe it did and maybe it didn't. I feel the same way about the Jesus stories. Until some hard evidence is discovered for either one of these claims I will remain a skeptic.”

JG – I also am skeptical of those ancient stories like the Atlantis story. And that is the point. Tacitus’ Annals and Histories are nothing like Plato’s Atlantis.

Tacitus is a critical and objective reporter of fact. He frequently reports various items that he ends up debunking via his own personal investigations. Nowhere does he write of monsters, unknown places, or machinations of the gods. You will find nothing that smacks of the supernatural in his works. His writings are running summaries of the various Caesars and their reigns, or bios of important figures in the Roman world. The Annals and Histories are not “stories” but rather more akin to editorial reports.

Plato, on the other hand, does quite the opposite. His story of Atlantis is at worst a writing of fiction, and at best a recounting of a bit of folklore with which he was familiar. He specifically says in the beginning of the writing (Timaeus) in which the story of Atlantis appears that the entire account was relayed to him by someone named Solon. Plato offers no independent verification of the tale, nor does he subject it to any analysis at all. There are references throughout to things that “the god’s” did or said.

Just compare some typical excerpts side-by-side:

Plato:

"The tale, which was of great length, began as follows: I have before remarked, in speaking of the allotments of the gods, that they distributed the whole earth into portions differing in extent, and made themselves temples and sacrifices. And Poseidon, receiving for his lot the island of Atlantis, begat children by a mortal woman, and settled them in a part of the island which I will proceed to describe.”

http://ascendingpassage.com/plato-atlantis-timaeus.htm

Tacitus:

“The first crime of the new reign was the murder of Postumus Agrippa.
Though he was surprised and unarmed, a centurion of the firmest
resolution despatched him with difficulty. Tiberius gave no
explanation of the matter to the Senate; he pretended that there
were directions from his father ordering the tribune in charge of
the prisoner not to delay the slaughter of Agrippa, whenever he should
himself have breathed his last. Beyond a doubt, Augustus had often
complained of the young man's character, and had thus succeeded in
obtaining the sanction of a decree of the Senate for his banishment."

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/tacitus-annals.txt

We are talking Harry Potter vs the New York Times here.

Most telling, however, is the fact that archaeology and historical research has born out the reliability of Tacitus above virtually all other sources that we have from that era. This is true to the extent that:

Mellor (one of the names from the Tacitus Bio) can say:

"(Tacitus') passionate opinions should not obscure the fact that he is the most accurate of all the Roman historians." (Mellor, Tacitus, P.40).

Grant (another of the bio historians) echos the words of Mellor by writing:

"(Tacitus') interpretation of facts...whether unconsciously or through deliberate fervid intention, is often invidious, but the actual facts which he records are generally accurate - so accurate that they involuntarily contradict his sinister innuendoes." (Grant, Annals of Imperial Rome, P. 20).

This is a high pedigree for Tacitus. Virtually every point in Tacitus’ writings that we have had an opportunity to verify has been found to be accurate.

You continue:

Rotor - “I also do not believe in all of the things in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey even though many of the facts about the war with Troy seem to be true based on archaeological evidence. Many parts of the epic poems are too far fetched to believe, especially the parts about the gods and monsters.”

JG - Again, I would agree with you here. Though archaeology has shown a few parts of Homer’s works to be legitimate historical references, the works as a whole have never been considered legitimate historical accounts. They are at best pseudo-historical, epic adventure tales.

Here’s a sample of Homer’s Illiad:

“Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.”

http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.1.i.html

Does this really look anything like Tacitus’ writings?

I agree that we should not give any credence to Homer’s far-fetched stories of gods and monsters. Yet, isn’t it this very issue that underlines the difference between Plato & Homer on the one hand and Tacitus on the other. I don’t see any of these far-fetched tales in Tacitus Annals 15.44, or in ANY part of Tacitus’ writings. Such things simply are not there because Tacitus was not writing fiction or folklore. Plato & Homer were. 15.44 simply states that a person known as “Christos” was executed in Judea during the reign of Tiberius, by a roman official named Pontius Pilate. There is nothing unusual or far-fetched about that. People were executed by Roman officials all the time. You mention the “Jesus stories”. I don’t know what stories you speak of here. We are talking a about Tacitus, correct? I cannot see how a brief reference by a credible roman historian could be in any way considered a “story”.

The bottom line here is that it simply does not follow that because Homer included a few historical references in his fictional accounts of Gods and monsters that we must, therefore, doubt Tacitus’ simple statement about a person being executed by a Roman official. I can no more justify that than I can justify doubting the accuracy of the Encyclopedia Brittanica’s article on the state of New York because Washington Irving mentioned the “Catskill mountains” in his fictional tale of Rip Van Winkle. These are two different types of literature, and you cannot use fictional to cast doubt upon the factual..

You continue with some key question points:

Rotor – “The Tacitus story has several problems that I have not seen good explanations for. If in fact the information came from the roman archives then why is Jesus called Christus. The romans would never call him that they would refer to him by his name Jesus. They considered christianity a superstition just as I do. And why would Tacitus who does thorough research and uses the roman archives much of the time get Pontius Pilate's rank wrong, he was a prefect not a procurator? The people who want to believe make up excuses but to me it just sheds more doubt on the true origin of the story.”

JG – The Christos / Jesus issue was one that Stein mentioned in his piece and which I dealt with in my review of it. The simple answer to it is that you can’t ignore the context of what Tacitus is saying. He is identifying the source of the name “Chrestians”. It would make absolutely no sense for him to have written that the name “Chrestian” is derived from the founder of the movement, who was called “Jesus”. How would a reference to the name “Jesus” serve to explain to anyone where the name “Chrestian” came from? The very fact that the general populace called these people “Chrestians” and not “Jesusites”, or some other such thing, indicates that the name “Christos” had become almost a second proper name for Jesus and was often used instead. Notice that Tacitus uses it in precisely this way. He does not refer to “the Christos” (as a title, i.e. the messiah, etc.), but simply to “Christos” (as though it were simply a proper name). Further, it seems that Tacitus, in his normal critical style, is actually pointing out the error of the roman populace in giving to the followers of Jesus the name “ChrEstians” even though the founder of the movement was actually called “ChrIstos”.

It is true that the Romans referred to Christianity as a “superstition”. But, what exactly did a Roman mean when he used this term? Remember, Tacitus was not an atheistic rationalist. Though he did not allow his beliefs to intrude into his writings, he was as much involved in the worship of the Roman gods as any other good Roman citizen.

A look at his career bears this out:

“The early stages of this career cannot be followed in detail, but Tacitus reached the praetorship in 88, by which time he had also become a member of one of the important priestly colleges which controlled the official religion of the Roman state.”

http://www.answers.com/topic/tacitus

So, when Tacitus uses the word “superstition”, he is not using it the same way that you do, Rotor. Behind his use of the word is the idea of a non-Roman religion that had no official recognition by the state as legitimate. He is not making a comment on whether or not the claims of Christians are scientifically provable; he is simply saying it’s an alien movement which has not been sanctioned by the Roman state.

Your final point involves the issue of what title Tacitus gives to Pilate in Annals 15.44. You say that the passage is suspect because it calls Pilate a “procurator” even though he was actually a “prefect”. Therefore, it does not appear that Tacitus was taking this information from the official roman records (or worse yet, that Tacitus didn’t really say this at all, but rather someone else who did not know the correct title for Pilate must have forged it in later), or else he would not have made this mistake. A fair question.

There is a simple answer. Pilate was both a “Procurator” (a caretaker of the emperor’s interests) and a “Prefect” (one who has been given charge of something, especially the direction of soldiers). In the early part of the 1st century, in the edges of the empire where conquest and subjugation of territories was still in process, it was common to refer to these provincial governors using the more military title of “Prefect”. However, by the time of Tacitus’ writings (circa 110 A.D.) many of these areas of the empire had become more stable and the provincial governors were seen more as those looking after the emperors best interests in terms of conducting taxation, maintaining judicial order, providing reports to the government in Rome of local developments, etc.

For confirmation, see Woodman (another name from the Tacitus bio page), “The Annals”. Pages 359-360.

Search the book using the word “Pilate”. You will be on page 360. Go back one page and begin reading at the bottom of 359.

Therefore, in Tacitus’ time the “Procurator” title of the local governors was the term most commonly used to refer to them. In using this term, Tacitus was simply using the title that was most recognizable to his readership at the time. There might also be a subtle jab Tacitus makes at the Christians by pointing out that their leader was executed by a low level Roman bureaucrat (Pilate) in a backwater province (Judea).

You mention that you consider answers like this “excuses” made up by the “people who want to believe”. However, this is simply not the case. Take a look at this statement that takes the same position that I have on the “Procurator” / “Prefect” issue:

“Doherty repeats Wells' mistaken claim that "procurator...was the title of [Pilate's] post in Tacitus' day, but in the reign of Tiberius such governors were called prefect" (p. 202). A few years ago, correspondence with Wells on this point inspired me to thoroughly investigate this claim, and my findings will eventually be published. But in short, this sentence is entirely wrong. It seems evident from all the source material available that the post was always a prefecture, and also a procuratorship. Pilate was almost certainly holding both posts simultaneously, a practice that was likely established from the start when Judaea was annexed in 6 A.D. And since it is more insulting (to an elitist like Tacitus and his readers) to be a procurator, and even more insulting to be executed by one, it is likely Tacitus chose that office out of his well-known sense of malicious wit. Tacitus was also a routine employer of variatio, deliberately seeking nonstandard ways of saying things (it is one of several markers of Tacitean style). So there is nothing unusual about his choice here.”

You won’t trace these words to any “want-to” believers on Christian web sites or in Christian books. This is actually the position of the noted skeptic Richard Carrier, an oft quoted fellow on one of your reference sites “Infidels.org”. And that is exactly where you will find the quote. Here is the link:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html

You will find it in the appendix at the bottom under footnote #10.

Still think this answer is just a contrived excuse by those who are desperate to believe?

You close with:

Rotor - “And just so you know, I do not have it in for christianity. I am an equal opportunity atheist. I don't believe in any supernatural beings. And I consider all ancient god stores to be mythology. Christian mythology, muslim mythology, jewish mythology and hindu mythology are all the same, ancient unprovable stories of gods that only exist in the minds of their followers.”
Just 2 things to say to that.

First, do you maintain the same skepticism toward things that you don’t consider myths as well, or only to the things that you first have decided fit under that label?

And, second, remember its only a “myth” if it didn’t happen.

Best regards to you, Rotor.

More later.

JG


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rotorhead
(@rotorhead)
Trusted Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 2452
July 31, 2009 4:48 pm  

A new product for true believers. I'm not buying this one!

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/apple_claims_new_iphone_only

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They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young.
BJ


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