Refuting the New Controversial Theories About Jesus – Program 1

By: Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2006
What important new information can we learn about Jesus from newly discovered or newly released books? How does the information they contain compare with the biblical Gospel accounts about Jesus, purportedly from eyewitnesses?

New View of Jesus: Five Books Reveal a Jesus We Never Knew


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, what about five controversial new books about Jesus that have been featured in specials on NBC, ABC, and the National Geographic Channel?

You know about The Da Vinci Code movie and book. We will include that in our discussion. But what about The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent, and The Gospel of Judas? Is there new information about Judas that we didn’t know? Is Michael Baigent correct in asserting Jesus didn’t die on the cross; that it was the greatest cover up in history? What evidence does he present?

Finally, what about the claims made in The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor and Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman?

To answer these questions and expose the historical errors in these books my guests are: Dr. Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia. Dr. Evans was selected as a member of the National Geographic dream team of scholars and asked to examine the Gospel of Judas. He appeared in the two-hour National Geographic special, and also appeared in the NBC special regarding The Jesus Papers. My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He is acknowledged as one of the leading scholars in the world on the resurrection. We invite you to join us today to find out the truth about these new controversial books.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Alright, we’re talking about five best-selling books that have all come out that are all attached to some of the television specials of NBC, ABC, National Geographic. And we want to help you with the information that you’re receiving. What is the difference between the facts and the buzz that is taking place with these books?
And today we’ve got two of the best, Dr. Craig Evans, who was one of the main scholars that was asked by National Geographic to look at the Gospel of Judas. He was called a super-sleuth on ancient manuscripts, part of the dream team they put together. And then we also have Dr. Gary Habermas, one of the leading scholars in the world on Jesus’ resurrection. And guys, I’m really glad that you’re here today.
And, Craig, let’s start with you. The fact is, you’ve talked about when you examine documents, you’ve got phony documents, you’ve got good documents. You’ve got real documents that are late, and you’ve got real documents that are early. And there’s a big difference in terms of how you interpret that stuff.
And you’ve got archaeological finds that are uncertain, some that are certain, but you don’t know how to place them in the historical context. Start us anywhere you want, you were one of the scholars that was picked by National Geographic to examine this new book, or this new gospel that was found, The Gospel of Judas. Tell us when it was found, when it was dated, and what’s the main message.
Dr. Craig Evans: The Gospel of Judas has sparked a lot of debate and a lot of misunderstanding, so I’m glad to be able to speak to that. A codex was discovered in an uncertain location in Egypt about 30 years ago. It went through a very long and circuitous history of trying to be sold and hidden away. And unfortunately, not well cared for. And so it deteriorated and was in very poor condition. A few years ago, it finally fell into the hands of competent scientists and researchers, and the text has been partially restored. Some pages are still missing.
Well, the scientific testing has indicated that this codex, written in the Coptic language – which, by the way, is Egyptian using the Greek alphabet – this codex dates to right around 300. There is no question about it. Analysis of the ink, Carbon-14 testing of the papyrus itself, it dates to 300.
The codex that we have has 66 pages. In those 66 pages are four documents. One of them, the longest, is the Gospel of Judas. The contents of this gospel agree with the description that the Church Father Irenaeus wrote down in his Against Heresies, dating to the year 180, where he describes a Gospel of Judas in which Judas is the best of the disciples and actually does what Jesus tells him, which is to hand Him over to His enemies for His death. That’s what the Gospel of Judas says. And so we infer then, from the data, that the original Gospel of Judas was written in Greek, probably in the year 150 or 160. That is true. It’s a real document.
However, I think we need to understand that this mid-second century story, this Gospel of Judas, is not a genuine reflection of the historical Jesus and the historical Judas Iscariot. It’s an interesting document, it tells us things about second century diversity in Christian thought, heresy, Gnosticism and so on. But it does not tell us anything about the actual historical Jesus and Judas. That’s where we need to be very clear.
Ankerberg: Yes. I think people need to realize, it would be like somebody today, in our time, writing about Abraham Lincoln, okay? So if you go back to Lincoln, around 1850, and we’re in 2006, this is approximately where the Gospel of Judas was written. So anything that somebody would say about a person 100, 150 years ago, is not going to be a true historical account. Now, it doesn’t even claim that, does it?
Evans: No. What it claims to be is a secret revelation of private teaching between Jesus and Judas. And the interest is very much on the, well, the act of betrayal and showing that it wasn’t really betrayal at all, it was an act of obedience. So it’s a fanciful tale. And the reading public, and certainly Christians need to understand that the Gospel of Judas most certainly does not overturn the gospel story that we have in the New Testament.
Ankerberg: Alright. We’re going to keep coming back to that. Gary, there’s another one that has come out. It’s called The Jesus Dynasty, by James Tabor. This is a fellow that’s an archaeologist, University of North Carolina, works with Bart Ehrman there. And the fact is, he’s got a very interesting book about Jesus, The Jesus Dynasty. Gary, tell us about this.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, unlike some of the other things that are coming out right now, James Tabor is a scholar. He’s a University of Chicago grad, department head at UNC Charlotte. And this book is an interesting mixture of archaeology, exegetical work, some sociological distinctions, traveling here and there putting pieces together. And almost like a sleuth, you know you’re going to be kind of taken through this book to different settings.
I think some of the major claims of this book that are going to hit the TV and radio waves are that, first of all, he is going to separate the early Christian tradition from a James-and-Mary, basically family of Jesus tradition that goes this way, and then later, in sort of a 19th century German theological path, that hasn’t been a whole lot traveled until recently. The other divergence is Paul. Now Paul writes so many things in the New Testament, is so influential, and makes his way around so much of the Mediterranean world, he actually becomes the more influential of the two. And Paul’s tradition kind of slams the door of the James-Mary-Jesus’ family tradition.
Ankerberg: Yes, in Jesus Dynasty, the fact is that He didn’t say that He was God. He wanted to erect this dynasty, and He passes the baton to James.
Habermas: Right. It’s almost a genetic dynasty, hence the title of the book.
Ankerberg: Yes. He’s sure that Jesus died…
Habermas: Absolutely.
Ankerberg: So he contradicts some of the other books we’re going to talk about. But he’s sure that Jesus died.
Habermas: Right.
Ankerberg: But then he says that the body was moved by, and then he speculates who it was. He says, he comes back to the mother of Jesus.
Habermas: Mary and some of the other ladies in particular moved the body. And what gets them past holy Saturday, so to speak, this day of despair and despondency and “We thought He was the one who would save us from the Romans,” kind of view, is this rah rah rally the troops, and the bloodline that He passes on.
And then on the other side, here comes Paul later, and he wants to divinize Jesus, and so you have two tracks: Paul, the culprit, you know, the pure tradition of Jesus’s family, and the corrupt tradition of Paul.
Another one of the key themes in that book is that possibly – and he’s careful to say “could be,” but he spends so much time on it you get the idea he thinks this – that Jesus has a father, and it’s not Joseph, it’s a man named Pantera who is a Roman soldier and an acquaintance of Mary. Who knows, was this a rape? Was it a willing thing? He says, “I don’t know. We don’t know how to put this in there.” But he tracks a Pantera, a Roman soldier, up to Germany and says, “We have his gravestone here.” And kind of tracks him back to Sidon, in the Middle East, and says, “Hey, you know what? When Jesus goes to Sidon, and it says that He wanted to be quiet about this, guess what, maybe He was going to see His father!” So this whole father tradition, the Pantera thing, which, by the way, it seems to me a very tenuous mixture of archaeological “here’s a tomb with words,” could be this, could be that, could be this city, and then it almost becomes, now he doesn’t say this, but it almost becomes a “could be,” later becomes a “well, sort of is, not quite, but sort of.” But you’re left with this “Jesus’s father’s name is Pantera, and when He visits Sidon, [whisper] He’s going to see his father.” You know, so it’s this kind secret theme.
Ankerberg: Let’s talk about Jesus’ death and His resurrection. What’s the evidence from the traditional view that basically is going against this?
Habermas: I think the most troubling thing about the death of Jesus and the Tabor book – now, you said that he’s very clear that Jesus died on the cross, and death by crucifixion; you don’t get away from this, and we’re sure – and he is right in mainline theology with that kind of conclusion. Virtually no one raises questions about that today.
But his point, he takes a theme that was almost never voiced in 200 years of theology. And the idea is, the pre-crucifixion Jesus has such an exciting, magnetic personality, and is so good at rallying the troops. And then, of course, what he adds is, He passes the baton, and so that when He dies, throws Himself on the wheel, so to speak in Sweitzerian fashion, reviving that theme of Sweitzer (to whom, I believe, the book is dedicated, to the memory of Albert Sweitzer). As He throws Himself on this wheel, almost as if to force God’s hand to bring in the kingdom, not in a political sense, but in the religious sense, and thereby overthrowing the Romans.
It’s an alluring kind of tale, until you find out that somehow you need to get these guys past some pretty heavy despair, depression, despondency, on what’s called holy Saturday. Because if He’s their best friend, they’ve been following Him for years, He’s the one, indeed, who they kind of secretly hope is going to overthrow the Romans, and put them on the right and left side in key positions. And then, in the Gospels He says several times, “I’m going to die,” and they’re, “Yeah, right, right! You’re going to die. We’re here, you know, we’re your bodyguards.” And then, all of a sudden He does die! What’s this for me and my family and my kids and the kingdom and the… ? Psychologically, I mean, leave out the gospels if you want to, psychologically, you can’t explain this without kind of hitting rock bottom.
And Mary, who moves the body, is going to rally the troops? She’s the one who knows where the body is, but she’s going to rally the troops? If you want a technical footnote here, Rudolf Pesch made a thesis like this in the early 70s, and he said the pre-crucifixion Jesus gives us enough impetus to explain the history of the church. And he was jumped on. It’s a huge discussion in the German literature. And Stillmacher and Hengel and some really big names jump all over him, and Pesch sort of repents and changes his theory and says, “You guys are right. You cannot have the church without a resurrection.” And he postulates appearances. I think that’s what’s missing in the Tabor thesis. Now, I should add, he thinks Paul, he does postulate Paul’s spiritual appearance. But Paul’s like the guy who comes lately and who confuses Christianity itself.
Ankerberg: Alright. We’re going to hit that a little bit more. We’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to keep talking about Da Vinci Code is coming, we want to comment on a few things there. But we also have Michael Baigent’s book, The Jesus Papers, and you were in that special, Craig, and we’ll talk about that. And we also have Bart Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus, which attacks the traditional view of the Bible in terms of inspiration and inerrancy from a textual critic’s point of view. And you’re the expert on that. So we’re going to take a look at that in a moment. Stick with us, we’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back and we’re talking about some of these best-selling books that are also on television specials across the country and NBC and ABC and National Geographic. And here’s one that Craig Evans participated as one of the expert scholars. It’s called The Jesus Papers, and it’s put out by Michael Baigent, the same fellow that wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and that theme was taken over into The Da Vinci Code. And so his deal here is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross. He was drugged, and then He was a traveler. And Craig, tell me about this one.
Evans: Well, I found Baigent’s latest book, The Jesus Papers absolutely breathtaking in naivety and gullibility. And I don’t know how else to put it. We are asked to believe that on the basis of Baigent’s seeing two letters written in Aramaic, a language that Baigent cannot read, two letters which were shown to him by a murky, mysterious figure who collects antiquities and supposedly found these two letters, papyrus letters, buried beneath a house in Jerusalem, we are asked to believe that these letters actually were written by Jesus some years after He supposedly died. And so Baigent wants us to believe that this is proof that Jesus did not die on the cross, but, in fact, had perpetrated a fraud with the help of Pontius Pilate. So this gets even better.
Ankerberg: Right.
Evans: And now has deceived His disciples and they think He’s alive. And so goes the rumor: maybe Jesus died and was resurrected, and so forth. And you have Christianity growing out of what is, in essence, a fraud.
Well, I can’t think of anything more ridiculous. Who else has seen these letters? How can two pieces of papyrus survive buried beneath a house in Jerusalem? A lot of people don’t understand that. They think, “Well, the Holy Land. Don’t we find old documents there all the time?” No. You find documents in the arid, very dry, warm climate of the Dead Sea. Or you find documents buried in the dry sands of Egypt. You do not find 2,000 year old documents buried under homes in Jerusalem, which gets rainfall every year. This story is unbelievable!
On what basis should anyone take Michael Baigent’s claims seriously? Earlier we talked about the Gospel of Judas. That’s a real document. It really does exist. It did circulate in the second and third centuries. Irenaeus talks about it. It’s a real document that doesn’t tell us any real history, but it’s a real document.
Ankerberg: Right.
Evans: These papers that Michael Baigent is talking about, they’re not even real.
Ankerberg: Yes. And we’re going to talk about it more, because he hooks that up to some of the theories spun by The Da Vinci Code, and saying that when Jesus didn’t die on the cross, He actually kind of escaped and went down to Egypt with Pilate’s help. And, of course, that kind of formed the basis of what the Gnostics were actually writing, second century. His teachings kind of filter down there, and then, of course, He escaped up to France and that’s the royal line that’s up there.
Well, it all falls in, if there’s no proof. And he’s got no proof, he’s got no evidence on that, and he’s asking you to believe a pig in a poke here in the sense that he says, “I’ve seen it, but I can’t read the language, but trust me; here’s what it says.”
Evans: Sure. And he’s got supporting documents also that he hasn’t seen, which rumor has it were bought off by the Vatican. This is bogus scholarship. This isn’t scholarship at all. This is just sensationalism. And I have to view it with the gravest misgivings.
Ankerberg: Alright. This is one of your buddies, Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus. You went to school with him. Was it Princeton?
Evans: We overlapped at Princeton one year. I was a visiting fellow and he had just finished his Ph.D. there at Princeton.
Ankerberg: Alright. He takes another tack. He’s got a lot of stuff on the Gnostic gospels and diversity of Christian groups in the second century and so on, but this is more of his own personal story. He went to Moody Bible Institute, went to Wheaton College, then he went to Princeton, studied under Bruce Metzger. He was an evangelical Christian. And along the way he started to doubt his own ideas about the Bible. And he says one of those is, the fact is, if you believe in inerrancy, you’ve got to have a perfect script. You have to have a perfect script, and we don’t have it. We’ve got 25,000 plus manuscripts that have different little twists in them, and he says that’s a problem. We can’t get back to what the original script was.
Evans: I’m very troubled and, frankly, I’m baffled by Bart’s view there. I don’t understand what the problem is. Everybody who goes to seminary,… he would have learned this at Moody Bible Institute, and he certainly would have learned it at Wheaton long before going to Princeton and studying with Bruce Metzger.
Of course there are manuscript errors. There weren’t printing presses in antiquity. These manuscripts, biblical manuscripts, were handwritten. There are always mistakes that are made. And sometimes they are intentional. But, as you said, we have thousands of manuscripts. We compare them. The Greek New Testament that we have extracted from these manuscripts, we are confident we have 99 plus percent of the original form of the text.
So this whole problem about scribal errors or textual corruptions as a cause of the collapse of his faith, I don’t see it. I find it completely unnecessary. The Bible is very well preserved. There’s no question that we have Jesus’s message. There’s no question that we have Paul’s letters, 99.9 percent. And there is no doctrine of any significance impacted by these scribal errors. And I have a real problem with Misquoting Jesus for that reason.
Ankerberg: Yes. I’ll just give you an old illustration, I remember studying the classics, and you had Catullus, the poet. And the fact is that there’s only two manuscripts that have survived. And there are 1000 years in between where we’ve got nothing, okay? There’s no classical scholar I know that says what we have in Catullus isn’t what he actually wrote, okay?
But, let’s say that you, for the people that are listening, I want you to recognize, if we gave a class of 40 kids, you’ve got A students, B students, C students, and my friends in my class, okay, and you gave them the Gettysburg Address and said, “Copy this,” and it was perfect. And they copied it. And then you took the perfect ones and you just threw them away. And then you said, “Okay, we’re going to try to get back to that perfect one with these 40 kids.”
Now, if you had two kids, and they were D students, you might have a real challenge. But if you’ve got 40, they don’t all make mistakes in the same spot, and so when you compare the documents, you can say, “Well, you know, if 38 kids had the word in there and two don’t, we’ll keep it in there.” And this is how textual criticism comes down. You want more manuscripts. If you’ve got 25,000 versus two for Catullus, okay, the fact is, we can get back to what is pretty close to that perfect manuscript.
Now, there’s other things, and we’re going to talk about those. Gary, we’ve got one more, The Da Vinci Code. You’ve been lecturing on this, this is coming out. It’s like a tidal wave coming over us. Give me something about this that bothers you.
Habermas: Dan Brown says that the deity of Christ, some of the other things were, a) stolen from other ancient mystery religions; and b) Constantine becomes the anti-hero here, or the hero, depending on your view. He invents everything. The comment in there by one of the professors that Jesus was a mortal man, nothing more, until Nicaea in 325. Nobody thought He was any more. We can’t get any earlier than that, no more claims.
The New Testament, Constantine chose the New Testament books, he shoved the ones that he wanted, he just wholesale burned the rest of them. More than 80 gospels, we’re told. Just some rather non-factual claims as opposed to that “fact” page right there at the beginning after the title page.
Ankerberg: Yes, because the truth is, the Gnostic texts that he’s talking about, that he says have the real story, they’ve got more of a divine Jesus than a human Jesus. And the New Testament actually has a human and divine, all the way through all of the writers in the New Testament.
Habermas: Yes. And the Gnostic gospels are not the friends of… he wants Jesus, he says Jesus is the first feminist. Well, you’ve got Thomas 114 that says Mary could become a man so that she could enter the kingdom. I mean, this isn’t the friend of feminism.
Ankerberg: Yes. Alright, we’re going to continue this in our next program. And we’re going to go back through these books again, because we want to look at the death of Jesus Christ. Pilate is completely different in each one of these books, and what he does. And we want to look at the resurrection. You’ve got lots to share with us, so please join us next week.

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