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Historicity of Jesus
Posted: 16 July 2009 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 271 ]
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shiraz - 16 July 2009 01:08 PM

BTW, I agree that the passage is admissible prima facie evidence that somebody claiming to be the Messiah was executed in Palestine under Pilate and that early Christians some 30 years later claimed to be his followers. How far this goes toward a historical Jesus is another question.

This is the point I was trying to make. And yes, I would expect that Tacitus understood greek well enough to know that “Christus” or “Chrestus” meant “the anointed one”.

My understanding (from Ehrman, etc.) is that he would have used the greek name because the most dominant strains of Christianity among roman circles were greek speaking Jews, in particular in roman Egypt. E.g., Paul.

Re. supersition: this depends on how you think the sentence should be translated, no? The context is “exitiabilis superstitio”. As well, the romans did not agree with the Christians’ assertion that they could not pray to roman gods, nor to deified roman emperors. This was, to them, a form of false religious practice. And yes, being able to tell the truth vs. a lie assumes that they understand the distinction between truth and falsity.

Re. whether the Jewish cult of Christianity was a “major Jewish cult” in Tacitus’s time, fair enough, but contextually irrelevant. Compared to the dominant roman religion of the day, they were still a fringe group of a small religion in a distant part of roman territory.

[ Edited: 16 July 2009 01:56 PM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 16 July 2009 02:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 272 ]
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dougsmith - 16 July 2009 01:50 PM

This is the point I was trying to make. And yes, I would expect that Tacitus understood greek well enough to know that “Christus” or “Chrestus” meant “the anointed one”.

Of course Tacitus understood Greek - just a century before him Greek was the language of official communication in Rome - but “chrestos” doesn’t mean the same as “christos”, and moreover, knowing the linguistic meaning of “christos” is not the same as understanding it in context. Also, “Chrestos” was allegedly a somewhat common Greek name (I have never bothered chacking that claim).

Re. supersition: this depends on how you think the sentence should be translated, no? The context is “exitiabilis superstitio”. As well, the romans did not agree with the Christians’ assertion that they could not pray to roman gods, nor to deified roman emperors. This was, to them, a form of false religious practice.

“Exitiabilis” means “deadly” or “destructive”, which doesn’t help much with context - it is already obvious that Tacitus detested Christians. But did “superstitio” imply a factual falsehood in his time? My understanding is that it’s a later meaning, probably used by the medieval church to denounce “false” beliefs as opposed to “true” (i.e., Christian) ones. Could Tacitus meant something more akin to our notion of “cult” (in the sense of fervor and hostility to outsiders, not referring to the content of beliefs)? That would be much more in the spirit of the Roman Empire - generally tolerant to various religious beliefs, but not to any actions that tried to undermine the authority of Rome.

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Posted: 16 July 2009 02:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 273 ]
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shiraz - 16 July 2009 02:35 PM

“Exitiabilis” means “deadly” or “destructive”, which doesn’t help much with context - it is already obvious that Tacitus detested Christians. But did “superstitio” imply a factual falsehood in his time? My understanding is that it’s a later meaning, probably used by the medieval church to denounce “false” beliefs as opposed to “true” (i.e., Christian) ones. Could Tacitus meant something more akin to our notion of “cult” (in the sense of fervor and hostility to outsiders, not referring to the content of beliefs)? That would be much more in the spirit of the Roman Empire - generally tolerant to various religious beliefs, but not to any actions that tried to undermine the authority of Rome.

Fair enough, but you can’t seriously be suggesting that Tacitus couldn’t distinguish factual falsehood from truth, right? I mean, the romans did have a very sophisticated legal system, and one of the points of a trial, be it in Rome or Socrates’s in Greece, is to determine the truth or falsity of the claim presented before the jury.

I mean, it would beggar belief that someone from ancient Greece or Rome couldn’t distinguish between truth and falsehood.

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Posted: 16 July 2009 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 274 ]
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You know, sometimes the minority is ignored in favour of popular opinion.  Most of the U.S. is Xian, therefore, the majority of religious prof could be afraid to go against the status quo because they fear losing their jobs, but the minority opinion could be those who dare to be honest despite popularity.

I completely disagree with you, Doug, as to how you base legit scholars.  At one time they thought the earth was flat and because most scientists were afraid to go against those in power, they said the same, but one dared to go against the status quo in favour of honesty. Turns out, he was right.

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Posted: 17 July 2009 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 275 ]
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dougsmith - 16 July 2009 02:41 PM

you can’t seriously be suggesting that Tacitus couldn’t distinguish factual falsehood from truth, right?

Of course I am not suggesting that. Why do you keep claiming that I said something I didn’t? It’s getting hard to see the field from all the strawmen.

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Posted: 17 July 2009 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 276 ]
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Mriana - 16 July 2009 03:25 PM

I completely disagree with you, Doug, as to how you base legit scholars.  At one time they thought the earth was flat and because most scientists were afraid to go against those in power, they said the same, but one dared to go against the status quo in favour of honesty. Turns out, he was right.

If you are referring to whom I think you are, you should learn some history. Columbus was wrong, and idiotically so; the establishment scholars were right. Had he not stumbled upon a land he had no idea existed (and kept denying its existence for a while), Columbus and his crew would have died at sea. And (for him, not for the poor sailors) deservedly so.

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Posted: 17 July 2009 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 277 ]
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shiraz - 17 July 2009 08:48 AM
Mriana - 16 July 2009 03:25 PM

I completely disagree with you, Doug, as to how you base legit scholars.  At one time they thought the earth was flat and because most scientists were afraid to go against those in power, they said the same, but one dared to go against the status quo in favour of honesty. Turns out, he was right.

If you are referring to whom I think you are, you should learn some history. Columbus was wrong, and idiotically so; the establishment scholars were right. Had he not stumbled upon a land he had no idea existed (and kept denying its existence for a while), Columbus and his crew would have died at sea. And (for him, not for the poor sailors) deservedly so.

No, I was not referring to Columbus specifically, but now that you mention it…  Anyway, you read more into what I said than what I said.

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Posted: 17 July 2009 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 278 ]
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Mriana - 17 July 2009 01:20 PM
shiraz - 17 July 2009 08:48 AM
Mriana - 16 July 2009 03:25 PM

I completely disagree with you, Doug, as to how you base legit scholars.  At one time they thought the earth was flat and because most scientists were afraid to go against those in power, they said the same, but one dared to go against the status quo in favour of honesty. Turns out, he was right.

If you are referring to whom I think you are, you should learn some history. Columbus was wrong, and idiotically so; the establishment scholars were right. Had he not stumbled upon a land he had no idea existed (and kept denying its existence for a while), Columbus and his crew would have died at sea. And (for him, not for the poor sailors) deservedly so.

No, I was not referring to Columbus specifically, but now that you mention it…  Anyway, you read more into what I said than what I said.

I am glad if I was wrong, but then I wonder who is the “one” who “dared to go against the status quo” and “was right”.

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