"The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (-John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

"Where the bishop is, there let the people gather; just as where ever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church". -St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca 110 AD)a martyr later thrown to the lions, wrote to a church in Asia Minor. Antioch was also where the term "Christian" was first used.

“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15

"This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." -CCC 811

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Fact of the Crucifixion: A Response to Ahmed Deedat, Part 3 by Dar al-Masih

Ahmed Deedat's published books attacking the Bible and the Christian Faith
Ahmad Deedat is one of the most notorious, if I may, Indian decent Muslim preacher proselytizers in the Middle East. His books were translated to many languages that targets those 3 million non-Muslim workers in the Middle East often robbed of his/her basic rights. I have read many of his books and I can categorically say his works are more of a an attack rather than apologetical, distorting the true meaning of the Christian Bible to suit his (ill) pupose-- where many poorly catechized Catholics and other Christians are made to believe and converting with a handsome cash prize. But what I noticed in his book was that he never address the internal problem of Islamic extremism and the fact that once you become a Muslim, THERE is NO EXIT door in Islam! -Catholic Defender

(Thanks to Dar al-Masih Blog of sister Salome Bintullah for this enlightenment)

By Dar al-Masih
The original link to Deedat's book "Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction?" doesn't seem to be working anymore. Here's a new link. In this and other posts responding to Islamic apologists, I am indebted to the excellent website Answering Islam.

In his third chapter, "Establishing God's Kingdom," Ahmed Deedat seeks to dismantle the authenticity of the four Biblical gospels. "Not a single one bears the signature, mark or thumb-print of its author in the so-called originals," he says smugly, conveniently forgetting to mention that none of the Qur'anic manuscripts bear the signatures of either Muhammad or Allah (the ultimate author of the Qur'an according to Muslim belief). Just because a copy of a manuscript does not have the signature of its original author, that does not mean it is unreliable. Let's say that I have a copy of the first Harry Potter book, but it isn't signed by J.K. Rowling. Should I therefore assume that the book in my hands is not written by J.K. Rowling? Of course not! Such an assumption would be ridiculous. Yet this is the conclusion to which Deedat's argument brings us.

But let's say that two thousand years from now an archaeologist uncovers a copy of this Harry Potter book. For whatever reason, the book does not have a byline (it doesn't say "by J.K. Rowling" anywhere on or in the book). The archaeologist can't determine who the author of the book was just by looking at the book alone. However, he has in his possession many documents (newspaper articles, essays, etc.) from the same time period and shortly afterward, all of which say that J.K. Rowling is the author of this Harry Potter book. Can he therefore reasonably conclude that this Harry Potter book in his hands was probably written by someone named J.K. Rowling two thousand years ago? Of course he can!

The reason I give the above scenario is to illustrate the weakness of Deedat's next argument. He knows that if there is good reason to believe that the gospels are very early documents, and that two of them were written by personal friends and followers of Jesus, Islam is done for. So he tries to salvage the situation by talking about how the identities of the authors are only "assumed." He wants his readers to think that Christians only guessed at the authors' identities and assigned a name to each gospel long after they were written. It is true that the identities of the gospel writers are assumed, but they are reasonable assumptions based on non-Biblical evidence. Here is some of the evidence for the authorship of the gospels.

Let's start with the gospel of Mark first, since it's usually considered to be the oldest, written around 65-70 A.D., though possibly earlier. St. Polycarp of Smyrna (70-155 A.D.) quoted a fragment of the gospel of Mark in his letter to several churches in Asia Minor. Here is an excerpt from a letter of Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis: "When Mark became [the apostle] Peter's interpreter, he wrote down accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of what the Lord had said or done." Papias wrote these words in 130 A.D., within living memory (100 years) of Mark's gospel being written. And Mark's gospel itself was written within living memory of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection!

The testimony of St. Irenaeus, who died in 203 A.D., supports Papias' words. Irenaeus wrote: "After their departure [of Peter and Paul to heaven], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter" (Against Heresies 3.1.1). (Please be aware that Irenaeus is writing this based on what Papias had said, and that Irenaeus isn't providing independent confirmation of Papias' testimony.)

St. Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165 A.D.) in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew refers to the gospel according to Mark as Peter's memoirs (Dial. 106.3). It is also reasonable to attribute the gospel to Mark, because he was not a well-known disciple of Jesus. If the gospel were truly historically unreliable, one would expect it to have been assigned to someone other than a no-name person like Mark! If you want people to believe that a document is true when it's not, then you'll say it was written by a much more authoritative figure. As you can see, all the evidence points us toward the reasonable assumption that the gospel according to Mark was written by Mark, a student and secretary of Peter.

The gospel according to Matthew is said to have been written by the apostle St. Matthew. At first glance this seems to call this gospel into question, given what I said above about authoritative figures being chosen as authors. However, even though Matthew was an apostle he was one of the lesser of the Twelve. He also used to be a tax collector. Tax collectors were particularly hated at the time because after they had collected the taxes required by the government, they were allowed to extract as much money as they liked from the hapless citizens in their jurisdiction and keep it for themselves. The knowledge that someone was a tax collector, even a former tax collector, inspired mistrust, disgust, and even outright hatred. Some Pharisees, a strict Jewish sect of the day, were horrified that Jesus frequently had dinner with "tax collectors and sinners." No, Matthew was not the ideal person to call the author of a gospel, even if he was one of the Twelve Apostles!

Like Mark and his gospel, Matthew is attested to as the author of the gospel that bears his name. Irenaeus of Lyons (again, he lived from c.120/140-c.200/203 A.D.) wrote of Matthew, "Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these. [...] Matthew proclaims his human birth, saying, 'The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham,' and, 'The birth of Jesus Christ was in this manner.' For this Gospel is manlike, and so through the whole Gospel [Christ] appears as a man of humble mind, and gentle" (Against Heresies, 3.11.8).

Eusebius of Caesarea (260-340 A.D.), in his Ecclesiastical History 3.39, quotes Papias of Hierapolis as saying, "Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew [i.e., Aramaic] language, and each one interpreted them as best he could." It cannot be said for certain that the gospel according to Matthew was actually written by the apostle Matthew in the language of the Hebrews (Jews), which was Aramaic. Only Greek copies exist today. Conservative scholars maintain, based on the distinctly Palestinian Jewish tone of the gospel as well as a number of alleged Aramaisms in the text, that the gospel was originally written by a Middle Eastern Jew (probably from Palestine) in Aramaic. Add to this the fact that early Christian writers all insist that Matthew wrote this gospel, and we can make a strong case for Matthew being the author. It should also be pointed out that it closely resembles the gospel of Mark in many passages, so much so that it has been said that the author of Matthew either "plagiarized" from the author of Mark, or else the two of them both had access to a theoretical much earlier ur-text dubbed "Q."

The gospel of St. Luke has always been considered to have been written by Luke the "beloved physician" and the companion of the Apostle Paul. Paul was not one of the original Twelve Apostles, but he was very closely acquainted with them. Luke thus would have had access to both firsthand testimony (the original Apostles and other disciples) and secondhand testimony (Paul). It has even been speculated that Luke got the account of Jesus' birth from the Virgin Mary herself. Irenaeus of Lyons was the first Christian writer known to have declared that Luke authored the gospel that now bears his name (Against Heresies 3.11.8). Almost all scholars, both liberals and conservatives, agree that the gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same author. Several times in the Acts of the Apostles when Paul is traveling with his companions, the narrator says "we" instead of "they" (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, and 27:1-28:16). It is extremely unlikely that this is a mere literary device, particularly since there is absolutely no precedence for such a device in any ancient literature. This "we" slips into the narrative far too subtly to be an attempt on the author's part to bolster his credibility. An examination of both the gospel and Acts shows that the author was a Gentile of Greek background who was writing for a Christian audience that was also of a Gentile background. The gospel contains many physical details about Jesus before and during the crucifixion, strongly suggesting that the author was indeed a physician. It is very reasonable to identify the author of these two works as Luke, a Gentile physician and companion of Paul who had direct access to firsthand witnesses, very possibly including Jesus' own mother.

The gospel according to St. John is the latest gospel, and the most different from the other three, although it is not necessarily unhistorical. Of the four gospels, it is the only one said to have been written by one of Jesus' three closest apostles (the other two being Peter and John's brother James). It is also the only one about which Christian writers have been uncertain about authorship. However, it is important to note that the confusion has to do with "which John" wrote the gospel - John the apostle, or a different disciple whose name also happened to be John? Most of the early Christian writers say that it was John the apostle. Irenaeus is explicit that the author of this gospel is John the apostle. He says this on the authority of his teacher St. Polycarp, who was a student of John himself. It is important to remember, however, that the gospel according to St. John is, for lack of a better word, very "literary," carefully arranging certain events for symbolic significance as well as attributing speeches to Jesus that are probably in many instances a summary of his teachings. As I said, it is not unhistorical, but neither does it have the same straightforward historical approach of the synoptic (first three) gospels.

I cannot adequately refute Deedat's several brief sentences intended to discredit the witness of the gospels; entire books could be and have been written on this subject. Nonetheless, I believe I have written enough to refute Deedat's allegedly humble claim that "such unattested documents would be thrown out of hand, in any Court-of-Law, in any civilised country, in just two minutes." I will now move on to his attempt to further undermine the gospels' eyewitness credibility by citing Mark 14:50: "And they all forsook him, and fled."

As always, let's look at the verse in context. Here is Mark 14:32-52 (Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition):

And they went to a place which was called Gethsem'ane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I pray." And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt." And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard." And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, "Master!" And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." And they all forsook him, and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

Okay, so this Scripture passage says that "they" (presumably Jesus' apostles and any other disciples with him) ran away at the time of Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, as I will demonstrate, they came back later. So Deedat's citation of Mark 14:50 only proves that the disciples ran away at one particular point in time. This does not say anything about what happened later.

Deedat makes a big deal about asking whether or not the word "all" really means all. The irony is that the word does not always mean "all" (just like when we say "everyone's doing it" we don't literally mean that every single human on the face of the earth is doing it). Still, this is irrelevant to the issue, because like I said the disciples later returned.

Deedat crows that because he has debunked the notion that the Gospels are eyewitness testimony (or so he believes), they are unreliable. Nonetheless, he is willing to accept the assumption that they are "duly attested."

Deedat lists a number of cherry-picked Bible verses to support his next outrageous claim: that Jesus intended to establish an earthly kingdom and that his triumphal entry into Jerusalem was supposed to set this imperial plan in motion. Let's analyze just one of these verses, Luke 19:27. This verse says: "But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me."

As always, let's put this verse in context. Here is Luke 19:11-28:

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, "A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, `Trade with these till I come.' But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, `We do not want this man to reign over us.' When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. The first came before him, saying, `Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.' And he said to him, `Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.' And the second came, saying, `Lord, your pound has made five pounds.' And he said to him, `And you are to be over five cities.' Then another came, saying, `Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.' He said to him, `I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?' And he said to those who stood by, `Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.' (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!') `I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.'" And when he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

Jesus is telling a parable. He's not saying that he's going to physically kill his enemies here and now. This is a very interesting parable, but we should fully analyze it another time. Sufice to say that it deals with the heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one. Deedat, like many Jews of Jesus' time, can only see the Messiah as an earthly king.

Most Muslims will be just as surprised as Christians to read Deedat's theory of Jesus as a failed military leader. This belief is an innovation that has no roots in mainstream Islam. Jesus was always determined not to get involved in political matters, telling people to pay what they owed to the authorities (Luke 20:19-26) and even running away when people tried to make him king by force (John 6:15). Hardly the actions of an aspiring generalissimo!

I actually agree with Deedat's next claim: that Judas Iscariot turned Jesus over because he wanted to "force Jesus' hand." Of course, I disagree with both Deedat and Judas that Jesus intended to establish an earthly kingdom. This claim is directly contradicted by the Gospels and other documents, and is completely unsupported by Islamic teaching. Deedat is spinning fairy tales that both Christians and Muslims should object to.

Visit and read more interesting articles answering Islam at DAR AL-MASIH BLOG!

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