When an Argument from Silence Becomes Utterly Meaningless by Craig Blomberg

I will be posting a blog post this week on the skeptics abuse of the argument from silence in their approach to the historicity of Jesus. It never ends! In the meantime, here is a tidbit from Craig Blomberg on the topic. To see Craig’s article on what we can know about Jesus, click here:

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By Craig Blomberg

Not long ago an unsolicited e-mail asked me to comment on a skeptic’s blogsite that had posted a list of about twenty “historians” from the Jewish, Greek or Roman worlds of around the time of Christ. Not one of them ever mentioned Jesus, the blogger pointed out. Surely that should cast serious doubt on whether the Jesus Christians worship ever even existed.

It was an intriguing list. There were a few names I didn’t recognize that I had to look up, but most were indeed ancient writers from one of those three cultures. The trouble was that only about a third of them could be legitimately called historians. One was an ancient taxonomist who wrote about flora and fauna. A couple were writers on medicine or ancient science. Two were geographers. Several were poets and playwrights.

Of those who were truly historians, several did indeed live “around the time of Christ” but just a little bit before him. Gee, I wonder why they never mentioned him! Several others were actually second- or third-century writers not writing about life in Israel at all but about other parts of the Roman empire. In short, there wasn’t a single name on the list for which there would have been good reason for Jesus even to have been mentioned.

At least this blogger had the wherewithal to acknowledge that the first-century Jewish historian does twice refer to Jesus and that early second-century Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius do too. He obviously just had no idea who all these other folks were, and, in fact, acknowledged that he had taken the list from some obscure book published early in the twentieth century.

In our age of growing disinterest in history and classics (i.e., Greek and Roman language, history and literature) more generally, his faux pas isn’t surprising I guess. What is surprising to me, but perhaps it shouldn’t be either, are the number of people who ask why, even granted these late-first- and early-second-century witnesses, historians who wrote closer in time to Jesus’ ministry (probably 27 or 28 through 30 A.D.) didn’t refer to Jesus.

The question I always want to ask is “And which individuals are these who you think should have referred to Jesus?” The fact is that we no longer have in existence the writings of a single Jewish, Greek or Roman historian who wrote about life in Israel during the first third of the first century. And  even those whose names we know about, because later authors refer to them, are precious few in number, and we typically know little if anything of the contents of their writings. It’s hard for non-existent sources to reference Christ, or anyone else for that matter.

So why do so many atheists “buy” this meaningless argument from silence without even questioning whether sources exist in which we should expect to find something about Jesus but don’t. The only answer I can think of is that they really aren’t interested in learning truth, only in challenging it, and that without even being curious to find out what they don’t know that they don’t know!

G. K. Chesterton put it well a century ago. When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything!


2 thoughts on “When an Argument from Silence Becomes Utterly Meaningless by Craig Blomberg

  1. Arkenaten December 2, 2013 / 11:19 am

    Someone performs miracles, heals sick people, feeds multitudes, cast out demons, runs around preaching (what some regarded as) a seditious message for over two years. Eventually he builds up a huge following (multitude), gets hauled before Pilate, is tried on the eve of the most religious time on the Jewish calendar, is executed (during which dead people rise from the ground and go “Walkabout” as the Aussies say – or not as Mike Licona says) and then comes back to life and walks around and eventually floats into the sky and goes to heaven.
    And not a single contemporary writer makes even a note?

    Smile..It is a nice story.
    But of course, he could have been just one of a number of itinerant, eschatological preachers, and pretty much everything written in the gospels decades after he is supposed to have died is simply myth, and who would take notice of that?

  2. chab123 December 2, 2013 / 3:38 pm

    Al, like I said before, I don’t debate the existence of Jesus. But I will leave a few points in my response here:

    To start going down the road of assuming the NT is worthless and then punt to the demand for outside contemporary sources is just a poor method and based on pure ignorance.

    You can read through our resource page that I left in the last exchange between us.https://chab123.wordpress.com/what-can-we-know-about-jesus-resources-on-the-historical-jesus-and-historicity-of-the-new-testament/

    If you want to just dismiss it, then so be it.

    When you get to the place of where Ehrman and others are-Jesus lived, was crucified, and his followers think he rose from the dead, we can then talk about his deity.

    Think about this: you obviously are looking for a non Christian objective source that records that Jesus did miracles/rose form the dead. Obviously, we can’t have another Christian record it cause you cant trust them- they are lying or biased. So why would a non Christian/contemporary source record that Jesus rose from the dead? That would obviously mean they BELIEVE JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD.

    Also, why would someone like Crossan make this comment:

    Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” – John Dominic Crossan, Co-founder of The Jesus Seminar Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, pg 145

    Crossan was the co founder of The Jesus Seminar. As an historian, do you actually think he doesn’t know all the issues about looking for contemporary sources? Why would he say Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus are at least two contemporary sources? He knows all the issues about them/all the debates.

    Anyway, feel free to read James Anderson’s points here- #5 . Are there more non-Christian sources? https://bible.org/seriespage/did-jesus-even-exist

    That will be it for this discussion. As I said, I won’t go down the debate trail about the Jesus myther issue.

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