Sunday, May 22, 2022

An Addendum to The Impossible Faith

Today I have a special guest piece by Samuel Breckenridge, which was inspired by our Impossible Faith material.


An overlooked piece of evidence for Partial Preterism specifically, but also Christianity as a whole even for a Futurist, are a series of overt displays of divine power shortly preceding the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Such signs had been promised by Christ in Luke 21, demonstrating that it was this destruction of the Temple that he was speaking of rather than that of a yet-to-be Third Temple. (Barring a "double-fulfillment" scenario, as J.P noted in his excellent introduction to Preterism.)

These overt displays of divine power, attested to as they are by every historical source that discusses the Jewish-Roman War at length, including our most esteemed contemporary non-Christian sources Tacitus and Josephus, provides us with an argument for Christianity itself as well. In a way, a mirror to the Impossible Faith argument. As The Impossible Faith demonstrates God's vindication of Christ and his chosen through the resurrection, this can be used to demonstrate His associated shaming of those who reject Him through the stripping of their honor.

Christ famously, in Luke 21, predicts for the Temple that "the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another". When asked "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?", he replies that preceding it will be "fearful events and great signs from heaven".

This particular part of his prophecy was fulfilled in a much more dramatic fashion than many realize, and we have the reports of our very best non-Christian sources for this period to prove that.

Firstly, Tacitus. J.P. has already covered Tacitus' absolutely stellar reputation for accuracy in his article on Tacitus against Christ-mythers, so the man needs no further introduction here. In Book 5, chapter 13 of his Histories, when discussing what took place in the leadup to the Jewish-Roman War that would see the Temple destroyed, Tacitus reports:

"Omens had indeed occurred…armies were seen running about up in the skies, their weapons shining red. The temple was illuminated with light from the sky. Out of nowhere, the gates of the temple suddenly opened.  A greater than mortal voice cried 'The gods are departing', and at that same moment there was a mighty disturbance, as if something was going out.  Some few interpreted these omens as fearful, but in most there was a firm persuasion… [that these signs meant that they] were to acquire a worldwide empire".

Josephus and his significance, similarly, needs no introduction for a regular Tekton reader. In Book 6, chapter 5, section 3 of his History of the Jewish War, he goes into detail on these signs, writing:

"They neither heeded nor credited the manifest signs that foretold the coming destruction, but, as if thunderstruck and bereft of eyes and mind, disregarded the plain warnings of God. So it was when there was a star in the shape of a sword which stood over the city...

So it was again when, before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, at the time when the people had come in great crowds to Jerusalem for Passover, on the eighth day of the month Nisan, at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone around the altar and the Temple that it appeared to be bright daytime; which lasted for half an hour…

At the same Passover also a sacrificial cow, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the Temple. And the gate of the Temple, which was of brass and vastly heavy...which rested upon a base reinforced with iron and had bolts fastened very deep into the stone foundation, was seen to open of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night.

A few days after this Passover festival, on the twenty-first day of the month of Iyar, a prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it…for, before sunset, throughout the whole country chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding the cities.

Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner court of the temple as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that…they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a voice like that of a great multitude saying 'Let us depart from here.'".

Having Josephus report these events is incredible enough, and there are several factors that add even more weight to this already tremendous report. Firstly, his report here is extremely early, written less than a decade following the Jewish-Roman War. We know this because Vespasian is noted as having read the work, and Vespasian died less than ten years after the conflict ended. In Book 1, section 9 of Against Apion Josephus writes: "I have composed a true history of that whole war, and of all the particulars that occurred therein...those that had the supreme command in that war, Vespasian and them I presented those books first of all". The Jewish-Roman War ended in 73 AD and Vespasian died in 79 AD, meaning Josephus must have written the work less than a decade after the war.

Josephus informs us in this same passage that a number of other notables attested to the accuracy of his work on the Jewish-Roman War, and the list reads as if it were taken from Who's Who That Would Know What Was Going On In First-Century Israel. In full, he writes:

"I have composed a true history of that whole war, and of all the particulars that occurred therein ...I was so well assured of the truth of what I related, that I first of all appealed to those that had the supreme command in that war, Vespasian and Titus, as witnesses for me, for to them I presented those books first of all, and after them to many of the Romans who had been in the war. I also sold them to many of our own men...among whom were Julius Archelaus, Herod, a person of great gravity, and king Agrippa himself, a person that deserved the greatest admiration. Now all these men bore their testimony to me, that I had the strictest regard to truth; who yet would not have dissembled the matter, nor been silent, if I, out of ignorance, or out of favor to any side, either had given false colors to actions, or omitted any of them".

From Agrippa, the sitting king of Israel himself, to Julius Archelaus, king of the nearby country of Commagene, to Titus, who himself lead the siege and destroyed the Temple, those who attested to the accuracy of the report are all the absolute best-informed individuals on this war and its surrounding events. This is in addition to the hefty credentials that Josephus himself brings to the table. Josephus was a general on the Jewish side of the war as he he tells us in Book 2, chapter 20, section 4 of his History of the Jewish War. He also himself lived in Jerusalem at the time the signs were taking place as his autobiography makes clear and so would have personally been an eyewitness to the major signs such as the armies in the sky. Even if he had, say, slept through the light from heaven shining down on the Temple in the middle of the night lighting it up bright as day for half an hour, the very next morning it would have been all the town was talking about and a historian of his caliber could not have failed to gather the facts.

This factor is what allows us to definitively refute the most common counter-argument you will hear: that these events are fabricated, simply legends or lies. Our sources make clear that the largest of these signs were seen by everyone in the city and throughout the country, it is not possible for them to have been simply invented accounts when we have contemporary sources who are as early as Josephus and as skeptical as Tacitus. Unless everyone in Israel and Jerusalem got together and said "let's pull a fast one on the world by saying we saw all these things", the notion that these are simply lies does not work. Entire nations cannot get away with fabricating stories about what they've seen. For those familiar with the argument for Jesus' resurrection, we have here the case from the witnesses multiplied by a hundred thousand.

Those who would deny that these events occurred find themselves in a conundrum. If we cannot use multiple contemporary sources coming from opposite sides of a recent war with the accuracy and vigorous research of Tacitus, the esteem and connections of Josephus, the veracity of which were attested to by a laundry list of everybody involved with the events, which report events of a scale that should render them among the easiest things in all of history to check out...then how can any truth in history be established? Any consistent standard for determining historical truth must either accept the occurrence of these events, or else throw out any claims about even the possibility of learning historical truths from the time before HD video. (And as video editing software gets more and more effective at a lower and lower price, not even that will be tenable for long.)

So anyone hearing through the Impossible Faith argument about how God vindicated Christ and restored his honor through the resurrection should pay attention: as surely as The Impossible Faith proves that those obedient to God's promises will be vindicated and honored, the Jerusalem signs show that those who disregard His warnings will be condemned and shamed.

Samuel M. Breckenridge is a database manager with a lifelong passion for historical apologetics that started with Tekton. He is the writer of The Christian’s Arsenal.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Project Hindsight 2020

After a decade or more, any website will have a host of issues to address such as archaic third-party code (I have a load of that from YouTube) or broken links (plenty of those too). This gives me an opportunity to also read over old articles and see if I can (or need) to update them in terms of factual matter, new academic insights, and other miscellany (such as news of various opponents who have either quit the online field or are deceased).

I may as well have a name for this project: Project Hindsight 2020. Among other things, I will also be transferring items from other locations (like this blog, or the E-Block) into the main Tekton website, and I will also be asking guest writers for updates on their material. In some cases, if I no longer can get in touch with a guest writer, I will delete their material until I hear from them.

I expect Project Hindsight 2020 to occupy me through...well...the end of 2020. It's also all part of making sure that Tekton materials are ready for a transition to someone else's management at such time as that becomes needed -- probably not for at least another 20-30 years, but you never know.

Added 10/31: As part of this project, you will begin to see some old entries vanish from this blog as I transplant them to Tekton's website. 

Added 11/14: I have completed the process of transplanting all of my own writings from the Ticker (and Forge) to the Tekton website. Only a few items by me will remain on these blogs, as they were deemed more practical to keep here. I am now in the process of notifying guest writers of the option to review their material from here before I transplant it. Meanwhile, on the Tekton website itself, I have removed a few items for various reasons (such as the item I was responding to no longer being online) and fixed broken links. I will now begin the process of editing/updating articles.

Added 5/28/21: Editing and updating articles has become a far more mammoth project than anticipated. It is fair to say that I forgot the sheer volume of material that had been produced. I have been checking articles alphabetically by file name, and I am just now at the halfway point.

Added 11/7/21: I have completed updating all articles and have also created  companion vids for all the articles I believe I possibly can. I am now working on updating e-books.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Reconstruction in Progress

 I am working on moving the Tekton website to a new webhost, having become dissatisfied with the lack of service and lack of principle demonstrated by the former webhost. There are some minor technical issues (I think related to Javascript) that need to be worked out which I am discussing with the web designer who designed the site in its current iteration. Until these are worked out, access to various parts of Tekton may be limited. Hopefully it will not take long.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Stupidity Unmasked

There was a recent news item about a lawmaker in Ohio, Nino Vitale, who refused to wear a face mask under the premise that "we are all created in the image and likeness of God" and "(t)hat image is seen the most by our face." This news reflects a few thematic points.

The first theme is that utterly inane arguments like this one never die; they simply are resurrected repeatedly to serve newer and even stupider purposes. Vitale's rendering of the image language of the Bible is no different in essence than Mormon arguments which use the same passages to declare that God is a glorified human being -- arguments which I addressed and debunked in The Mormon Defenders back in 2001. (The sum of it: The language has nothing to do with physical appearance but with humans being designated authorities on earth. A mask doesn't change that.)

The second theme is that the resurrection of stupidity like this is a perpetual cycle which no amount of education can correct. A church that has gorged on Joel Osteen and messages and music designed to make themselves feel better will not be persuaded by facts or evidence when there is an agenda at hand to pursue. Apologetics is a practice for the sake of the dwindling few who are the exceptions to this -- and it is those I will continue to serve with this ministry.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Crowned with Viral Glory

The current crisis has not unexpectedly brought to light some darker corners of the church that had been better off remaining dark. A couple of examples:

Jim Bakker, whose reputation is so well known as to not require any further explanation, has been called down for promoting a fake toothpaste cure: 

Rodney Howard Browne has been arrested for violating public health orders:  People might not remember Browne, so a reminder may be in order. He was a leading voice in the “holy laughter” movement some years back.

For my part, I’ll just make a rather mundane prediction that for the foreseeable future, distance learning is going to become a much more popular way of teaching apologetics.

I’ll also take a guess that John Hagee’s next book with be about how this is the end of the world.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christian Behrend Doscher's $20,000 Promise

One of Christian Behrend Doscher’s most egregious attempts to deceive me took place in 2008 while he was posing as “spirit5er” on TheologyWeb. It took me until 2016 to find out the whole truth.

While I was engaging him in debate on TheologyWeb in 2008, Doscher challenged me to a debate in front of my church and said he would pay me $20,000 for that debate. Because of a crash, the TheologyWeb version of that thread no longer exists except for a bit of it in an archive. But Doscher preserved a version of those events on an atheist forum that same year. Here’s what he said in a message dated October 6, 2008:

I accepted Holding's $20,000 price tag for an oral debate at a location, date and time of his choosing, on a biblical subject of his choosing, in front of any audience of his choosing, then asked for the name and number of his pastor to facilitate the deal, guarantee his promise to debate and transfer the money. Nope. He refused to give the information on his pastor (like Holding really goes to church?!), unless I PM'd him with an electronic scan of my bank statement showing I had at least $20,000 in my account. When I objected that people sending bank statements to people they don't know on the internet is absurd, and they can be easily photoshopped anyway (bank statements being little more than letters, lines and numbers, how hard is that to alter?), he replied that he knows experts who can tell whether a scan that shows my name and money-amount, has been photoshopped or not. As if the prospect of meeting personally with his pastor to facilitate this deal upon his agreement to debate, was somehow more prone to deception and falsification than his ridiculous face-saving suggestions.

I had plenty of suspicions about “spirit5er” so I never told him a thing. I also strung him along about his offer of $20,000, knowing that it was likely to be false. I had no idea just how false it was until 2016, when I started collecting documents from Doscher’s old lawsuits in the midst of his libel lawsuit against me.

By way of background, in 2007, Doscher briefly worked for Swift Transportation, a leading trucking company. He resigned from that job on July 31, 2007, over an issue involving a traffic ticket and a refusal to drive his truck. In June 2009, he filed the first of a series of lawsuits related to these events. I won’t get into details on those cases here. What I want to highlight is this snippet from a document he filed in that case:

(Doscher v Swift, Motion for Summary Judgment, October 2010, p. 60)

So, let’s put the pieces together. In 2008, the same year he was often homeless and living in his car, Doscher was also offering me $20,000 to engage him in a live debate. This was in spite of the fact that he couldn’t even afford to spend the money for gas needed to turn the heat on in his vehicle in the dead of winter.

It’s kind of ironic. In 2008, he offered me $20,000 he didn’t have to pay me for a live debate. In 2016, a judge ordered him to pay me just over $20,000 to cover my attorney fees. One way or the other, he’s destined to pay me that amount someday. It just remains to be seen how.