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Kamil Gregor
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It's well known that the Gospels are anonymous and that names of their traditional authors (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) come from... well, tradition. But it's much less known how poor this tradition is. So where does the traditional gospel authorship come from anyway?

It is discussed by early Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History written around 320s CE. He mentions several earlier sources, mostly lost today. The earliest source he quotes is Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis who lived around 60-160 CE. Papias wrote Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord in five books, which is also lost.

Eusebius mentions that Papias identified Mark, Matthew and John as authors of the Gospels. There are some problems with this:

(1) At best, this is a fourth-hand account

Eusebius describes what Papias wrote in his lost book. But Papias himself didn’t claim to know the authors of the Gospels, Eusebius quotes him saying that he got his information from listening to “elders” (he mentions Aristion and a guy named John, although not the apostle). Even if these elders knew the Gospel authors personally, that makes it a fourth-hand account, but this telephone game might have been even longer.

This is where insisting on early dating of the Gospels bites Christian apologists in the ass – if the Gospels were written early, there must have been more intermediaries between their authors and Papias than if they were written late.

(2) At least one of the gospels Papias talks about is not the Gospel we have

Eusebius quotes Papias saying that the gospel of Matthew was “logia” (a collection of Jesus’ sayings) and it was written in Hebrew (which might have meant either Hebrew or Aramaic). The Gospel of Matthew we have today was written in Greek and it’s not “logia”, it’s a biography. This is important because “logia” was a technical term for a collection of sayings without an overarching narrative (an extant example is the Gospel of Thomas). If Papias had our Gospel of Matthew, he wouldn’t call it “logia”.

Eusebius even quotes Papias saying “each person interpreted them [i.e. the sayings] as best as he could,” suggesting that it was just a list of sayings without any surrounding narrative or commentary that would help with interpretation. This is in contrasts with the biographical gospels, where Jesus’ sayings are often further explained, usually by Jesus to the apostles.

This is a general problem in early Christian history. There are about 40 gospels we know of, a vast majority of them lost. It’s generally true that for every extant ancient book, there were many lost but known ancient books and for every lost but known ancient book, there were many lost and unknown ancient books. So there must have been many more gospels that are lost together with any mention of them.

When various early Christian authors mention the gospels by their traditional authors’ names, we don’t know if they’re talking about the same texts that we have today. Even if they quote from them and the quote sounds similar, we can’t know how the rest of the text looked. And I’m not just talking about textual variants covering a couple of passages like the Long Ending of Mark or the Story of the Adulterous Woman. Given what Papias reportedly said, it’s entirely possible there were multiple completely different gospels attributed to the same traditional author circulating at the same time!

(3) Other early Christians though Papias was an idiot (and they were probably right)

Papias was infamous among early Christian authors for being kind of dumb. Eusebius describes him as "a man of exceedingly small intelligence". Given how reserved early Christian authors were, this is a severe insult. His book was apparently filled with so much completely preposterous material that it made him a laughing stock. For example, here’s how Papias described the death of Judas:

"Judas was a terrible, walking example of ungodliness in this world, his flesh was bloated. For his eyelids were so swollen that he could not see the light at all, and his eyes could not be seen, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. When he relieved himself there passed through it pus and worms from every part of his body, much to his shame. After much agony and punishment, he finally died in his own place. And because of the stench the area is deserted and uninhabitable even now; in fact, to this day no one can pass that place unless they hold their nose, so great was the discharge from his body and so far did it spread over the ground."

(4) Papias’ book wasn’t preserved by later Christians (probably because he was an idiot)

A vast majority of ancient literature we have today was preserved by later Christian copyists. This means that at least at one point in time (but probably multiple times for each book), a Christian must have made a conscious choice to invest a lot of money into copying that particular book. It cannot be overstated how important this Christian bias is – we’re essentially looking at ancient literature through Christian-colored glasses.

These Christians were relatively very gullible (that’s why, for example, almost a majority of the books in the Protestant New Testament canon are forgeries). So if even these people decided not to preserve Papias’ book, it really must have been garbage.

(5) Other early Christians not mentioning the Gospel authors is significant

Material from the Gospels we have today was quoted prior to Papias, but these quotations never mention any author. Fast forward several decades later and quoting the Gospels with their traditional authors’ names is the norm. This is difficult to explain if the traditional authorship is correct – why the sudden change?

But it’s easy to explain if the traditional authorship is invented – in the earliest decades, a Christian community would only read from its own gospel, so it didn’t need an author’s name to distinguish it from other gospels. It was simply “the gospel” – “the good news”. The reason why the earliest authors don’t mention any gospel authors is because the gospels didn’t have any names attached to them at that time.

But at some point, it became convenient to start claiming apostolic connection to these originally anonymous texts to boost their credibility in sectarian conflicts. If my gospel comes directly from Matthew himself and yours was written by some anonymous rando, my version of Christianity is definitely true!

Any physicists here able to answer some questions about the delayed choice quantum eraser experiment and its possible violations of causality?

The experiment shows that pairs of particles can be entangled not only across space but also across time (other experiments have shown that it's possible to entangle particles that never co-existed). And what's amazing, it seems that this temporal entanglement can send information backwards in time - a present state of a particle can be dependent on a future state of its entangled partner.

Specifically, a stream of particles in fired through a double slit. The stream is then split into two streams so that each particle in the first stream is entangled with a particle in the second stream. The first stream either does or doesn't hit a particle detector and therefore either is or isn't observed. The second stream hits a screen and either produces an interference pattern or not, depending on whether the first stream is observed or not (this relationship between the two streams exists because particles in the streams are entangled).

The amazing thing is that the first stream hitting the detector can be delayed so that it occurs after the second stream hits the screen. And the second stream seems to "know" in advance whether the first stream will hit the detector in the future or not and either does or doesn't produce an interference pattern accordingly.

So my question is this: As far as I understand, the experiment has always been set up so that the decision on whether the first stream will be observed or not had been made before the experiment. Would it be possible to delay the first stream hitting the detector so much that it's actually possible for the physicists to decide whether they'll turn the particle detector on or not after the second stream has hit the screen but before the first stream fit the detector (e.g. by having the first stream bounce between the Earth and the Moon for a couple of minutes)?

If yes, has anyone done that? What were the results?

+Solamon Grundy has brought up an excellent objection to the cosmological argument that I haven't considered before. It specifically deals with the assertion that an infinite sequence of past moments is impossible, which is often a part of a justification for the first premise.

The objection points out that God's actions are in a temporal sequence (i.e. one act of God occurred earlier in history than another act). The question then is "was it possible for God to act earlier than He acted?" If yes, then an infinite sequence of past moments is possible - for every moment when God did actually act, there's an infinite sequence of past moments when God could have possibly acted.

The alternative is to insist that God could not have possible acted before He did act. But that means God is not omnipotent since He cannot perform an action that entails no logical contradiction.

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Jesus mythicism in the mainstream

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Many theists find theism appealing because it offers an explanation for various things that might possibly be true. These theists often seem to be satisfied with that and don't investigate whether the explanation is question is actually true.

This is baffling to me. If I'm presented with a possibly true explanation, I still need to know whether it's actually true to accept it. Otherwise I land on not knowing in order to avoid accepting an explanation that is actually false.

What do you think? Is a possibly true explanation preferable over not knowing?
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Possibly true explanation > not knowing
Not knowing > possibly true explanation

Should we reject all of ancient history supported by worse evidence than the apotheosis of Julius Caesar?

I'm going through an interesting discussion between +Bert Poole and +shamos999 about historical reliability of the New Testament

shamos plays the old alarmist apologist card and claims that if we reject historical reliability of the New Testament, we should kiss all of ancient history good bye and that any method producing a "global historical skepticism" of ancient history should be rejected.

Generally, the claim is something like "if we reject a claim X supported by ancient historical sources, we should reject all claims supported by worse ancient historical sources" (worse in terms of criteria of historical reliability).

This is obviously the prosecutor's fallacy (the fallacy of ignoring the prior probability) combined with an appeal to adverse consequences (rejecting all of ancient history would make us sad and we don't want to be sad). It's trivially easy to come up with a reductio ad absurdum of this line of reasoning.

Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the supernatural claims in the New Testament are better attested than almost all other claims in ancient history, so are many other supernatural claims.

For example Suetonius writes about the apotheosis of Julius Caesar. Caesar died in 44 BCE, about 165 years before Suetonius wrote his biography. If we reject the claim that Caesar actually ascended into heavens and became god incarnate supported by Suetonius' account, then by this line of reasoning, we should reject all claims from ancient history supported by worse historical sources than that.

Let's take the Roman history by Livy. Livy finished writing between 9 BCE and 17 CE and the extant books of his history cover events before 167 BCE. A vast majority of claims he makes are only attested by him or by later sources derivative of him. Should we reject all these claims because they're supported by worse historical evidence than the apotheosis of Julius Caesar?

Wtf is the End Times? I read the Book of Revelation multiple times, but I don't know if you noticed, but it's kind of hard to follow. Plus, it seems that when you asked five different Christians, you get six different eschatological views.

So i'd like to ask Christians two questions: First, could you please give me a timeline of specific events that will transpire in the "End Times", ideally as bullet points in a chronological order?

Second, what's the point of it? It seems to be that in the Christian worldview, the metaphysics of the world already works pretty well - Jesus has died for our sins, people who accept him as the Lord and Savior go to Heaven, people who don't go to Hell (and that's perfectly just). So why not continue this indefinitely? Or, if time needs to end for some reason, why not just end it? What's with all the locusts, heavenly hosts, Kingdoms of God etc.

If the truth is out there, does that mean the lie is in here ?

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This will be good.

A question for Christians (particularly for +TheIdolSmasher since he appears to be one of the few remaining Christians in this group who engage in apologetics):

Could you please explain what (according to your Christian worldview) happened to souls of the following people after they died? Particularly, where do you think they ended up (Heaven, Hell, a Medium Place)?

- a pagan vs a Jew who both died 50 years before Jesus died
- a pagan who died 50 year before Jesus died vs a pagan who died 50 years after Jesus died
- a pagan who died on a remote Pacific island 10 years before first information about the existence of Christianity arrived vs a pagan who died 10 years later

These questions obviously allude to the following problem:

Let's assume Christianity is true. Jesus didn't die for sins of humanity immediately after sin entered the world, he decided to wait for several thousand years.

Given this, there must have obviously been a system of how the afterlife operates in place before Jesus was born (e.g. who's soul goes where and based on what conditions). Accepting Jesus as your Lord and savior obviously could not have had been one of the conditions for going to Heaven because Jesus had not been born yet. So what was the system? And was the system flawed in any way or was it already perfect?

If it was somehow flawed, how was it flawed and what was Jesus' reason for permitting a flawed system to operate for several thousand years rather than dying for sins of humanity immediately after sin entered the world?

If it wasn't flawed, how could have Jesus' sacrifice improved a system that's already perfect? If a perfect system of how the afterlife operates was in place even before Jesus died, why not continuing it until the end of the world?
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