Inventing Jesus

Thursday, June 3, AD 2010

Ross Douthat has a good post on his NY Times blog responding to Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker piece on the search for “the historical Jesus”.

James Tabor, a professor of religious studies, in his 2006 book “The Jesus Dynasty,” takes surprisingly seriously the old Jewish idea that Jesus was known as the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Pantera—as well attested a tradition as any [emphasis mine — RD], occurring in Jewish texts of the second century, in which a Jesus ben Pantera makes several appearances, and the name is merely descriptive, not derogatory.

The whole problem with two centuries worth of historical Jesus scholarship is summed up in those seven words: “As well attested a tradition as any.” Because obviously if you don’t mind a little supernaturalism with your history, a story about Jesus being a Roman soldier’s bastard that dates from the second century — and late in the second century, at that — is dramatically less “well attested” than the well-known tradition (perhaps you’ve heard of it) that Jesus was born of a virgin married to Joseph the carpenter, which dates from the 70s or 80s A.D. at the latest, when the Gospels of Luke and Matthew were composed. Bracket the question of miracles, and there’s really no comparison: Giving the Roman soldier story equal weight with the accounts in Matthew and Luke is like saying that a tale about Abraham Lincoln that first surfaced in the 1970s has just as much credibility as a story that dates to the 1890s (and is associated with eyewitnesses to Lincoln’s life).

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5 Responses to Inventing Jesus

  • I’m not holding my breath for the “New Yorker” hit piece on the historical Muhammed.

  • Good quote and good subject — it’s easily one of my favorites (which I think might be obvious).

  • People invent their own gods, so why not invent some history while they’re at it? 🙂

  • This of course all comes from the anti-Christian writer Celsus. Go to the link below to read all about it.

    This recycling of a hostile Jewish slur against Jesus, was of course something unknown at the time of Jesus because it was invented after the fact as Christianity converted many Jewish congregations, and ill-will became the norm between the two faiths.

    The Gospels relate many slurs against Jesus, including the charge that he was possessed by demons, so our earliest source materials do mention what adversaries were saying, without a hint of this being mentioned. Tacitus, a pagan Roman senator who mentions Jesus in his writings circa 118 AD, says nothing of this.

  • Here is another “as well attested a tradition as any” (related by Cassius Dion through Edward Gibbon) that academics ought to take seriously: Simon Bar Kokba.

    “During Roman times the Jews were exceptionally intractable. They were unable to endure contact with others not of their race. They reacted with extreme vigor and obsession with ‘purity.’ They feared death less than the profanity of idolatry. They violently revolted when forced to pay taxes to idolaters.

    “The possibly mythic Zionist arch-hero Barchachebas –’Simon Bar Kokba’ – led an infamous messianic revolt against Rome during Emperor Hadrian’s reign – circa 135 AD. Humanity was shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties they committed in Egypt, Cyrene, and Cyprus where they dwelt in treacherous “friendship” with the unsuspecting natives. They committed furious massacres: Cyrene – 220,000 dead; Cyprus – 240,000 dead, Egypt – uncounted dead. Mutilations and atrocities were recorded.” See Dion Cassius and Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Zeitoun Marian Apparition 40 Year Anniversary

Tuesday, November 24, AD 2009

April 2, 1968 A.D. the Blessed Virgin Mary began appearing on top of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Zeitoun District of Cairo, Egypt.  An estimated one million people were able to witness the numerous Marian apparitions that occurred during a two year stretch ending in 1971 A.D.

Both Christians and Muslims witnessed Our Lady of the Light appear on top of the domed church.  Even then President Nasser of Egypt witnessed it himself and ordered a complete investigation, intimidating and pilfering the church.  They came up with no evidence of any hoax.  In the end even he, a Muslim, admitted to this reality.

From my limited understanding, this is the only instance I can recall where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in front of largely non-Catholics.  In my humble opinion is that the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria was founded by Saint Mark the Evangelist, the one and only of the same gospel, and that many, many saints were buried beneath that church in Zeitoun, Egypt.

Hence the special importance of why the Blessed Virgin Mary chose that particular church, the Virgin Mary Church in Zeitoun.  Having an unbroken apostolic tradition with the blood of many martyrs sanctifying the beautiful church where these apparitions occurred.

(Biretta Tip: Canterbury Tales)


To learn more about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Zeitoun, Egypt, click here.

To learn more about the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria click here.  For the Wikipedia version click here.

To learn more about Saint Mark the Evangelist click here.  For the Wikipedia version click here.

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15 Responses to Zeitoun Marian Apparition 40 Year Anniversary

  • If this happened in 1968-71, then wouldn’t it be the 40-year anniversary?

  • You are correct!

    Just fixed it.

  • Dear Tito:

    Maybe I am missing something here…

    Your explanation is interesting…but I am curious: why would Our Lady appear over the dome of a Schismatic Church – unless it was to tell them to stop following there false pope and accept the authority of the true descendant of Peter? Perhaps she delivered that message, and the folks who created the website you linked to missed it. Otherwise, I have to agree with this fellow, who came to what I believe to be the only logical conclusion if this was truly a Marian apparition:

    “The apparition of the Virgin has consolidated the Orthodox creed. Had we been in the wrong, the Virgin would not have made Her apparition for a whole year over the domes of an Orthodox church. THE MOTHER VIRGIN HAS THUS MADE HER APPARITION OVER THE DOMES OF THE CHURCH THAT HAS PRESERVED FAITH FOR US! ”

    In Christ,


  • The Pope of Alexandria is not a false Pope; the term “Pope” was given to the Alexandrian Patriarch long before it was used as a title for the Roman Patriarch. Rome recognizes the succession of St Mark leading to the current Pope of Alexandia; while political schism is indeed an important issue, we must not use that to limit the work of God (and become like Donatists). The respect Rome has for Alexandria itself is great; indeed, the Coptic Christians have suffered greatly for the faith through the centuries, and their monastic witness continues to be an inspiration to Christians all around the world today.

  • Henry K. is correct.

    The term “Pope” has long been used by the See of Saint Mark before the See of Peter did.

    From what my Egyptian Catholic friends tell me, many Coptic families in Egypt have both a portrait of Pope Shenouda III and Pope Benedict XVI because of the great love and respect they have for both.

    They certainly need our prayers as the extremist Muslims continue to persecute them in their own homeland.

  • Dear Henry and Tito:

    Regarding the use of the expression “false pope” – mea culpa. I saw these titles for “His Holiness” on one of the websites you linked to:

    * Father of Fathers.
    * Shepherd of Shepherds.
    * Hierarch of all Hierarchs

    Surely you can understand my misinterpretation of the situation; however, you both missed my point. Perhaps this discussion is not even worth having – but what message does it send to Coptic church if Our Lady graces them with Her visible presence for over 1 year without offering any advice or encouragement regarding their “political schism” (I do not understand the use of this expression regarding the Coptics. In fact – I really don’t understand the expression at all…forgive my ignorance)? In answer, I would re-direct your attention to the conclusion drawn by the individual whom I quoted above:

    “The apparition of the Virgin has consolidated the Orthodox creed. Had we been in the wrong, the Virgin would not have made Her apparition for a whole year over the domes of an Orthodox church. THE MOTHER VIRGIN HAS THUS MADE HER APPARITION OVER THE DOMES OF THE CHURCH THAT HAS PRESERVED FAITH FOR US! ”

    Again, maybe I missed something.


  • Antony,

    No biggie!

    Hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving!


  • Why? This occurred to me: maybe so that this community of believers will survive, bear witness, & eventually in God’s time, reunite with the Western Church.

  • Edwardangelo,

    I agree. I also think it means to remind them to continue in witnessing their faith and in due time the Muslims will revert back to the True Faith and make Egypt a proud and great Christian nation once again.

  • did you ever consider the possibility this was a projected hologram?

  • Ralph,

    And the moon is made out of cheese.

    I’ll believe the moon part before I take your point seriously.

  • Ralph: I worked in Egypt last year and visited the Zeitoun Church, then searched on the net. From what I remember or was told (it’s all becoming vague now, so maybe you may choose to follow it up), at the time of the apparitions Egypt’s leadership under Nasser was heavily atheist and socialist, dependent on Soviet aid & advisers. No way were these apparations to their liking. It had to be proven a scam so the government + advisers checked out the whole area and surroundings for electronic or similar causes, and came up blank much to their dissatisfaction. Then they tried to block access into the area but it didn’t work. Now this is the part I like (I hope it’s true): the apparitions stopped when the authorities started to charge admittance to get near the church.

  • I found this page while googling, but did anyone realise that she appeared again in many different coptic orthodox churches in a similar fashion just a few days ago. On December 10-12 and again on 22 in other churches. Also a golden luminous dove was seen flying around the church. Search youtube for St Mary Warraq or St Mary Apparitions.

  • I’ve been reading that the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing in Al-Warrak!

    That is wonderful.

    I hope she brings peace to the Copts because of their continuous persecution under the Muslims.