Nicholas Covington Reviews “The Case for Christ: The Movie”

Nicholas Covington, who blogs at Hume’s Apprentice, has recently written a review on Amazon of the new The Case for Christ movie edition. Covington’s review discusses issues such as the preponderance of post-mortem hallucinations in religious movements, the growing legendary development in the NT accounts of Jesus’ burial and empty tomb, and the broader Mediterranean context of resurrection and deification.

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I’ve discussed problems with the book version of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ on this blog before. Reading Strobel’s arguments, when I was getting my M.A. in Classics and Ancient History, was one of the first things that got me involved in counter-apologetics. As someone who was independently looking at historical methodology and ancient texts, I was appalled at how greatly Strobel dumbed down the critical issues, misrepresented scholarship, and gave false impression to his lay readers.

Check out Convington’s Amazon review for a detailed discussion of more problems with Strobel’s arguments: “Read this review to find out why Strobel can’t convince Atheists

-Matthew Ferguson

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Upcoming Interview with Michael Cain on the Freeligion Podcast

I am quite busy with dissertation work right now, so I will get back to my dialogue with Trevor Luke on the miracles of Jesus as soon as I can. In the meantime, I have an announcement to make about an upcoming podcast interview that I have planned. I will be interviewed by Michael Cain, who runs the Freeligion Podcast, on the subject of historical apologetics.

Cain served as the moderator during my panel debate in Riverside last year. We are still working out what topics we will discuss, but we may cover how to distinguish stronger historical apologetics from weaker ones. During that debate, for example, a number of arguments came up about trying to defend the Gospels as forensic, court documents, which is frankly bogus methodology. There is no precedent in Classical Studies for investigating a historian like Tacitus, for example, as we would a witness in court. Even minimal facts apologetics, which attempt to use historical methodology, are a far more valid approach to defending things like the resurrection than juridicial apologetics, which have no parallel in other areas of ancient history.

Right now, Cain and I are planning to hold the interview sometime later this year, and the podcast should be available shortly after that. Let me know in the comments if there are any topics relating to historical apologetics that you are also interested in us discussing!

-Matthew Ferguson

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Support Κέλσος for the Holidays Starting as Low as $1 a Month

To follow up on Michael Alter’s excellent blog exposing the disproportionate amount of money and resources in Christian apologetics–compared to far less numerous secular resources–I would like to ask readers of this blog to consider offering support on Patreon this holiday season for Κέλσος and Civitas Humana:

Donations start as low as $1 per month, meaning that you would only be paying the equivalent of a $12 a year subscription for the content on this blog. One-time donations can also be offered through PayPal:

I’ve been blogging for over five years now, and have built up a very large archive on this blog. When considering whether to pledge support for my blogging and academic work, here are some factors that are worth taking into account:

  • I did a word count on my two academic blogs recently, and the total amount for substantive posts (excluding announcements, etc.) was 508,198 words. That is the equivalent of roughly 2,032 double-spaced pages of content. That’s enough material for a multi-volume work. And since I hyperlink my citations, the bibliography would be much shorter, which factors in even more substantive material.
  • This blog recently exceeded over 400,000 thousand page views around the world. Considering that the average non-fiction book sells less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime, this is a much wider distribution of knowledge and material than is normally achieved through standard publishing. By just pledging $1 a month for a $12 a year subscription, you would only be paying a low price for a non-fiction book for all of the content on this blog.
  • Much of the information on this blog can be found nowhere else. For example, when I first started blogging here, I debunked an egregiously false apologetic statistic claiming that there were more literary sources from antiquity for Jesus than for the contemporary emperor Tiberius Caesar. I’ve recently documented that this false statistic has been circulated in eleven different apologetic publications, which span six different Christian publishers. And yet, the full refutation of this misinformation can only be found on this blog, and nowhere else.
  • What’s worse is that I’ve also discovered that, even after apologist Mike Licona conceded in 2013 that the sources for Jesus vs. Tiberius apologetic is wrong, Christian authors are still circulating the claim! Out of the eleven publications discussed above, five of them were published after 2013!
  • So even after apologetic misinformation has been debunked, and even been conceded to have been debunked by their own authorities, apologetic authors are still spreading the same misinformation like wildfire! And yet, to find the truth on such matters, this blog can sometimes be your only source.
  • Finally, to find secular answers to many apologetic arguments, you often have to track down secular scholars who are not widely known in atheist circles. On this blog, I don’t just cite popular New Atheist authors like Richard Dawkins. Instead, I always work to connect people to the best secular authorities on relevant issues in history and philosophy, some of whom only publish in books and journals that are not accessible to the public. Supporting my academic works helps me to continue to bridge the gap between mainstream academia and the public.

As Michael Alter has discussed on this blog, the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) can literally boast $1.8 billion in total annual revenue and $8 billion in total long-term investments.

Consider what you can do to help the far less numerous resources for secularism by supporting this blog, starting at as low as $1 a month.

-Matthew Ferguson

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“Follow the Money”: Guest Blog by Michael Alter on Faith-Based Education and Publishing

81aZyu05ClLBelow is a guest blog by Michael Alter, author of The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, which is a 912 page tome offering one of the most important contributions to challenging historical apologetics for the resurrection. During his research, Alter learned a great deal about the vast amount of resources that are invested in Christian apologetics–spanning universities, organizations, and publishers–which eclipse the scattered authors and handful of organizations that engage in counter-apologetics. In this post, Alter provides a researched summary that offers just a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg for how much money and resources are invested in Christian apologetics. 

I’ve been talking about problems with how faith-based universities distort critical biblical scholarship for years now, due to doctrinal statements that their faculty are required to sign, which force them to adhere to predetermined conclusions that are friendly to Christian dogma. As someone who works in Classical Studies, researching ancient texts from the same historical period, written in the same ancient languages, and using the same historical methodology, I am not aware of any Classics department or university that requires professors to sign doctrinal statements asking them to affirm tenets of Pagan theology or Greco-Roman religion. The fact that the Christian religion is treated in an abnormal manner in this regard is very disturbing, therefore, and a bad sign for the health of higher education.

As a note, while the essay below discusses faith-based universities with doctrinal statements, not all institutions of higher education that have a Christian affiliation fall into this category. While the University of Notre Dame has a Catholic affiliation, for example, the school still fosters a secular research environment and its religious affiliation is more traditional. While I do not think that a religious affiliation is beneficial for the structure of any university (even if it can be relatively innocuous), it should not be assumed that a loose religious affiliation based on a school’s history implies that it belongs to the apologetic-type campuses discussed below.

The phrase “Follow the money” or “Follow the money trail” (the later was a catchphrase popularized by the 1976 drama-documentary motion picture All The President’s Men) is a credo that has been popularized in movies, politics, investigative reporting, and political debates. The sage advice to “Follow the money” is also true in the arena of religion. Yes, it is about the money. The objective of this article/blog is to discuss the importance of those “silver shekels” as related to Christian evangelism, and more specific, apologetics. Opponents of Christian apologists, whether they be theists, agnostics, or theists of other faiths face definite challenges. And, as previously stated, the odds are often stacked against these skeptics, regardless of the theistic aisle they find themselves.

TOPIC I: Apologetic Grad Programs

Let’s assume that you are a committed Christian and you want to seek a graduate degree in apologetics. Where would you go to earn that degree? What type of degree could you earn? How much would it cost to earn an appropriate degree? What can you do with your earned degree? One partial source of information that discussed some of these issues was located at This organization states:

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Dialogue with Classicist Trevor Luke on Roman Imperial Ideology and the Miracles of Jesus: Part 1

About two years ago I met Classicist Trevor Luke (Associate Professor of Classics, Florida State University) at the Society for Classical Studies national annual meeting in San Francisco. Luke was presenting a paper at the time on his research regarding the healing miracles of Roman emperors. It is a common misconception that only the emperor Vespasian was associated with an isolated incident of healing a blind and crippled man in Alexandria (Suet. Vesp. 7.2-3). But Luke’s research demonstrates that there were actually several Roman emperors who were reputed to have performed miracles. As Luke explains (“A Healing Touch for Empire,” pg. 78 n. 5):

“Titus attempted to end a plague (Suet. Tit. 8.4). Pliny the Younger (Pan. 22.3) writes of sick people’s belief in Trajan’s healing power. Hadrian ended drought in Africa (SHA Hadr. 22.14) and healed two people (ibid25.1–4). Marcus Aurelius was credited with lightning (SHA Marc. 24.4) and rain miracles (Dio Cass. 71.8.10; SHA Marc. 24.4).”

In addition to the miracles discussed above, it should also be noted that the emperor Augustus, like Jesus after him, was attributed with a divine conception (which Luke discusses further in the blog post below). Likewise, Roman emperors were associated more broadly with the ancient Mediterranean trope of divine translation after their death, which likely influenced the formation of the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection, as Richard Miller discusses in Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity.

What follows is the first post in a dialogue that Luke and I will be holding as part of a blog series to explore why Jesus gained a reputation as a miracle worker, and how this repute was influenced by Roman imperial ideology, as well as both Jewish and Greco-Roman motifs about miracles. I’ll be writing the next post in this exchange, in reply to Luke’s observations below. One of the points that I will be incorporating is a response to Craig Keener’s observation that Jesus, in comparison to Roman emperors like Vespasian, has a greater number of miracles attributed to him (something that I discuss in this previous book review here).

One argument that I will be proposing is that it actually makes a lot of sense that Jesus has more miracles attributed to him than Vespasian. A Roman emperor like Vespasian had a large resume upon which he could boast his reputation, which included such feats as quelling the uprising in Judea and bringing a victorious conclusion to the Roman civil war of 69 CE. For Vespasian, therefore, a couple of miracles were only a fraction of his propaganda. For Jesus, however, without his miracles, he would have been a nobody, itinerant peasant in the small region of Galilee who ended his life ignominiously by crucifixion. One or two miracles attributed to him wouldn’t have cut it, therefore, to demonstrate why the early Christians should have transferred their loyalty from Caesar to Christ.

A whole range of miracles needed to be claimed about Jesus, especially ones which modeled him on Jewish figures like Moses, Elijah, and Elisha, in order to demonstrate that the Christian Messiah had fulfilled promises in the Old Testament. Likewise, by fashioning Jesus as a miracle worker on steroids, the Gospels could depict him as a figure above and beyond that of Roman emperors, which suited their apologetic purposes of promoting a counter-cultural movement quite well. Finally, whereas Vespasian was a figure in the public spotlight, for whom it would have been more difficult to invent stories that could be fact-checked, almost nobody in the broader Greco-Roman world knew anything about Jesus. The authors of the Gospels had far more creative license, therefore, in getting away with whatever miracle stories they wished to tell about Jesus, which could have very easily inflated the numerical count of miracles that are attributed to him.

I’ll be discussing these points further in my next post. For now, Trevor Luke’s first blog in starting our exchange follows below:

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Posted in Classics, Guest Blogs, Historical Jesus, History, Miracles, Religious Studies, Resurrection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Guest Blog by Michael Kok: The Tradition about the Apostle and Evangelist John

Below is a guest blog by Michael Kok (Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield) on the topic of his new book regarding the identity and reception of the “Beloved Disciple” in the Fourth Gospel, and how the text came to be associated with the apostle and evangelist John in the centuries following its composition.

Kok is a friend and colleague of mine, whom I first met in person two years ago at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta. Kok is a Christian, and although we don’t always share the same views, I’ve found his research on the authorship, reception, and canonization of the NT Gospels to be highly relevant to my own studies. Kok also runs an academic blog–The Jesus Memoirs–which you should all check out!

Thanks to Matthew Ferguson for the invitation to discuss my book The Beloved Apostle? The Transformation of the Apostle John into the Fourth Evangelist. The content below is reproduced by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

PrintThe Galilean fisherman John dropped his fishing nets and got out of his boat to become a disciple of Jesus. He was part of the inner circle of Jesus’s twelve apostles and a “pillar” of the Jerusalem Christ congregation (Mark 1:19–20; 1:29–31; 5:37–43; 9:2–9; 13:3–4; 14:33; Acts 3:1, 3, 4, 11; 4:1, 6, 13, 19; 8:14, 17, 25; Galatians 2:9). The religious establishment heaped scorn on John as an untrained layperson (idiōtēs), as literally “unlettered” (agrammatos) in Acts 4:13, but the church tradition enshrined him as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” who published the Fourth Gospel and four other New Testament writings. In my work, I have attempted to answer the following questions about the church traditions:

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Guest Blog by Tyler Huson: Jotham’s Fable or Aesop’s Fable? A Discussion of Textual Relations

I’ve been pretty busy teaching in the UC Irvine Humanities Core this academic quarter, and so I have been soliciting a number of guest blogs from friends and scholars, in order to keep up regular posting activity on Κέλσος. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, shoot me an email to let me know. I welcome posts on related topics in both history and philosophy, as well as book reviews.

Below is a guest blog by Tyler Huson (an alumnus of Claremont School of Theology), on the topic of literary inter-textuality between the Book of Judges and Aesop’s fables. Since my own dissertation topic deals with generic parallels between the NT Gospels and the Life of Aesop, Huson’s research is highly relevant to my own. I greatly appreciate Huson’s contribution, and hope that readers of this blog will find it interesting and informative.

First I must say I am very pleased to contribute to this blog! I came to know Matthew Ferguson while conducting research on Dennis R. MacDonald, my NT prof at Claremont School of Theology. When googling some reviews on MacDonald’s work, Matthew’s was one of the first names that google search showed me. Matthew’s blog invited people to add him on Facebook, so I did. I appreciate Ferguson’s critiques of MacDonald because of his background in classics and his work on Greco-Roman biographies.

Although my primary research interest is Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, I have a heart for Greek literature as well. MacDonald introduced me to the world of classical literature and showed me the importance of having a Greco-Roman lens when reading the Bible. This is commonly accepted and expected with the New Testament, but it is a much more controversial for the Old Testament since the narrative within the Old Testament ends during the Persian era and the original language of the OT is Hebrew and not Greek.

Today I would like to share with you a unique case where there are clear parallels between Judges 9 and one of Aesop’s fables called “The Trees and the Olive.”

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