Fact Checking Dan Barker (atheist apologist) on historicity of Jesus

3 Aug

From Dan Wallace’s blog:

Fact Checking Dan Barker: From our Recent Debate June 6, 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Justin W. Bass regarding his recent debate with well-known atheist, Dan Barker. The debate topic was “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?”

“I discovered that there is no evidence for Christianity” –Dan Barker (Losing Faith in Faith, 69).

Dan Barker wrote these words in 1992 in his first book Losing Faith in Faith recounting his de-conversion from a fundamentalist Christian pastor to a promoter of atheism and free-thought.

Dan first came out publicly as an atheist on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1984. Since that time he has been a preacher of atheism and free-thought as a kind of “reverse penance” (Losing Faith, 10), he says, for all the years he proclaimed the gospel.

At 15, he accepted a calling from God to live and preach for Jesus Christ. He was a self-admitted fundamentalist from the beginning believing “every word in the Bible is God-inspired and inerrant” (Losing Faith, 28). He was also taught that liberal and atheist writers were “evil servants of Satan attempting to distract believers from the literal truth of the Bible” (Losing Faith, 29-30). He describes a fundamentalist (himself at the time) this way: “A true fundamentalist should consider the English version of the Bible to be just as inerrant as the original because if we admit that human error was possible in the translation, then it was equally possible in the original writing.” (Losing Faith, 176-77).

Dan ended up attending Azusa Pacific College majoring in Religion. He describes Azusa Bible College as a “glorified Sunday school” (Losing Faith, 22). In the one apologetics class he took, he admits, “I don’t remember that we delved very deeply into the evidences or arguments for or against Christianity” (Losing Faith, 22).

Although Dan states it was the lack of evidence that convinced him Christianity isn’t true, it seems, from his own admission, that he was not exposed to Christianity’s hard “evidences or arguments” before he turned to atheism.

Dan and I debated the topic: “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?” on June 6th of 2015 sponsored by The Bible and Beer Consortium. After that 3+ hour debate, reading all of Dan’s books, and watching at least 40 of his other debates, I have come to the conclusion that Dan is still rejecting the same “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity that he rejected over 30 years ago.

I am grateful to know Dan; I’ve found him to be kind, brilliant, and an experienced articulate speaker. I appreciate his willingness to come to Dallas to debate. We had a great time at dinner together the night before the debate. We asked our waitress who she guessed was the atheist and who was the Christian. She thought Dan was the Christian and I was the atheist!

While I like Dan as a person, for over 30 years he has been fighting against a fundamentalist caricature of Christianity and misrepresenting many of the facts surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and one of the primary purposes of this article is to correct many of those misrepresentations.

Dan’s “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity is highlighted throughout his arguments in Losing Faith in Faith (1992), Godless (2008) and his most recent book Life Driven Purpose (2015). Just for a moment, let’s consider the sources he cites in these books.

In his discussions of Jesus and Christianity, Dan cites only two scholars who are credentialed and professionally teaching in the field of early Christianity: R. J. Hoffman and Bart Ehrman. In contrast to these two sources, Dan questions Jesus’ existence. He parts ways again with Bart Ehrman, arguing that the Jesus story was cut from the same cloth of pagan religions.

In writing on Jesus and Christianity, Dan cites only these other sources: John Remsburg, J. M. Robertson, W. B. Smith, Barbara Walker, G. A. Wells, Randall Helms, John Allegro, Hugh Schonfield, Earl Doherty, Robert Price and Richard Carrier. A review of their credentials quickly reveal that the majority of them are inadequate sources for Jesus and early Christianity.

Just to give one example: Barbara Walker is included in Dan’s “other scholars” (Godless, 270-72) and is his primary source when arguing in Losing Faith and Godless that the Jesus story is a fanciful patchwork from other pagan religions. Walker though only has a degree in Journalism and publishes other books on knitting. In fact, James White challenged Dan in their debate on using Walker as one of his chief sources on Jesus and Dan agreed he would remove her from later editions of Godless.

That was very honest of Dan to admit that he erred in using Walker as a source, but why did Dan not cite anywhere in his books James Dunn, E. P. Sanders, John P. Meier, N. T. Wright, Paula Fredricksen, Dale Allison, Martin Hengel, Richard Bauckham, or really any of the other 6000+ scholars professionally teaching in relevant subjects of early Christianity?

With sources like the ones Dan relies on, you can see why so many facts get misrepresented in his writings and speaking regarding Jesus and ancient history.

Let me just give 7 examples from our debate where Dan got his facts wrong about Christianity and/or ancient history. I have provided clips below for the relevant exchange for each one of these 7 examples. I recommend watching the exchange first and then reading my comments.

1.) Did Nazareth Exist during the Lifetime of Jesus?

Debate Exchange 1 (1:19:41–1:25:44)

From the beginning of his opening speech, Dan stated that the city of Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus, to support his case that Jesus was a legend. Dan also made this argument back in 1992 in Losing Faith in Faith (p. 191) that Nazareth didn’t exist before the second century. However, archaeological discoveries have definitively proven that Nazareth did, in fact, exist at the time of Jesus. Bart Ehrman says, “Many compelling pieces of archaeological evidence indicate that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day and that, like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built. For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a farm connected with the village, and it dates to the time of Jesus… Jesus really came from there, as attested in multiple sources” (see morehere and in Did Jesus Exist? 191-97).

The first argument Dan made that Jesus is legend was completely at odds with the facts.

Read the rest

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