Licona Replies to Acharya: Part 2

 In Blog

Thank you for emailing me your brief rebuttal to my paper on your book. I have also reviewed “A Rebuttal to Mike Licona’s ‘Refutation of The Christ Conspiracy‘” on your web site. Since the latter and more formal involves greater detail than your email, . . .

Thank you for emailing me your brief rebuttal to my paper on your book. I have also reviewed “A Rebuttal to Mike Licona’s ‘Refutation of The Christ Conspiracy’” on your web site. This reply shall be directed towards the later. Despite your references to me as a “used-religion salesman” and a “shallow apologist,” I’ll confine my reply to addressing the issues you have raised. I have listed these in the order you present them in your rebuttal. You may also find this paper as well as my initial critique of The Christ Conspiracyat

Personal Attack:

I am sorry that you interpret my paper as an attempt to attack your credibility. In academia, when you make an assertion, especially one as peculiar as your own, you should be prepared for unfavorable responses. The criticisms of others are not attempts to attack you personally. Rather they have drawn attention to the historical criterion you utilize in order to establish a point.

You claim that in my critique of The Christ Conspiracy, I constantly misrepresent statements from your book and web site in order to make you look ridiculous. Fortunately, you have provided a few instances where you believe I have done this. We will look at these as they arise throughout this examination of your rebuttal and learn whether my critique stands.

It seems to me that the difference between your method and my own is that, as a general practice employed throughout your book, you make an assertion and back it up by quoting several others who have made the same assertion, many of whom I consider questionable as scholarly sources and several are demonstrably wrong. As I stated in my paper, making an assertion and quoting those who agree with you is a long way from establishing your point. You must also provide reasons. Now I will grant that you do this on occasion. However, as we observed with your comparisons of Krishna and Buddha with Jesus, not only are you certainly incorrect, but we are left asking the question as does skeptic Robert Price, “Is there any basis to these claims, which Murdock just drops like a ton of bricks? Again she does not explain where they come from . . .”

I am sorry that you do not like my description of you as an “astrologer.” I accept your reasoning for rejecting that title and I am happy to change my description to “a skeptic with an interest in mythology.” I have adjusted my initial paper accordingly.


In your attempts to show that Judaism was strongly influenced by astrology (e.g., the 12 tribes of Israel represent the 12 signs of the zodiac), you endeavor to establish that the zodiac goes back much earlier than accepted by the majority of scholars. You state that “the Babylonians and the priestly caste of Chaldeans were expert astrologers centuries to millennia prior to the Christian era–denying that fact is beyond ridiculous! [ital. mine] But it does reveal the depth of dishonesty needed in order to shore up fables.”(1) In support, you quote from the writings of Robert Graves, Walter Maunder, and Edwin Krupp.

In my initial paper, I stated that “the Babylonians made the divisions in the fifth century B.C.(2) If this dating is correct, reading astrology into the twelve tribes is anachronistic, since Genesis was written approximately 1,000 B.C. and contains the story of the 12 tribes of Israel which would have occurred even earlier.”(3) Please show us where is “the dishonesty needed in order to shore up fables” of which you accuse me. Ms. Murdock, throwing unfounded accusations against others who disagree with you is an easy task. Research integrity is much more difficult and respected by others.

I emailed your comments on astrology and your citing of Graves, Maunder, and Krupp to Professor Nowel Swerdlow of the University of Chicago. If you will recall, Professor Swerdlow is the Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and has specialized in the study of how those in antiquity through the 17th century viewed the skies. I received this reply from him:

I read through the passage you sent me and it is so filled with errors about ancient astronomy and astrology that one barely knows where to begin. She simply repeats a lot of nonsense that is not taken seriously by any competent historian of ancient astronomy and astrology. And all she can do is quote modern writers, some of them very misinformed, and she seems to have no understanding of her own of the ancient evidence. What she writes is not history, but mere citation of authority. That may be all right in theology, but not in history. I will just add a few specific comments about her remarks:

In truth no one knows the origin of the zodiac. Claims to the contrary are nothing more than speculation unsupported by evidence, as in her citation of Robert Graves’s derivation from Gilgamesh, which is pretty and ingenious, qualities found in all of Graves’s work, which is always fun to read, but is not supported by ancient evidence. No one knows when the zodiacal constellations originated, but it is not as early as the third millennium BC. And while there were constellations of some sort at that date, little is known of them and there is no evidence for a group along the ecliptic, that is, the zodiacal constellations. There is certainly nothing in Aratus which indicates that the original zodiac existed in the late third millennium BC as she claims. Ask her to produce the passage.

Nor is there a scrap of evidence for knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes before Hipparchus (2nd century BC). Even for Hipparchus it was just one of different possible explanations for why distances of bright stars from the equinoxes did not seem to be constant, using observations of his own compared with those of Timocharis and Aristyllus in the early third century, evidently the earliest he had that were applicable to this. Much has been made in recent years of an early date for the equinox in Taurus, meaning among the stars of the constellation Taurus. But again there is no ancient evidence for this, and citing references to a bull is not evidence. Taurus is often referred to as a sign of spring, but this does not mean that the equinox is located among its stars, only that the sun is in Taurus in the spring, which is obviously true but trivial. There are also ancient sources, as referred to by Varro, that take the midpoint of Taurus as the beginning of summer, with Taurus here considered as a sign of thirty degrees. Does this mean that the summer solstice is located in Taurus? No, just that there is variation in relating agricultural seasons to the location of the sun in the zodiac. The location of the equinox among one or another zodiacal constellation, as the so-called Age of Aquarius or Age of Pisces, is something of concern to modern astrology, but is never mentioned as significant in ancient astrology. It is simply anachronistic to believe that what is important to twentieth century astrology was of importance to ancient astrology. To name another anachronism that appears to underlie her interpretation, the borders of constellations, between, say, Aries, Pisces, and Aquarius, are modern conventions of the International Astronomical Union, and there is nothing ancient about them. Ancient astrologers did not use Norton’s Star Atlas nor anything else that drew arbitrary lines between sidereal constellations.

What little can be said of the origin of the zodiac is far more complex and uncertain. Which constellations does she mean? The zodiaca constellations, known from 700 BC to the Babylonian and from 300 BC to the Greek, are not exactly the same, although there is no doubt that the Greek are adapted from the Babylonian. There is no evidence for the zodiac in Egypt before the third century BC, and the ‘Egyptians’ who use it are Hellenistic Greeks in Alexandria. There is no evidence for the zodiac among the real Egyptians at an earlier date. The zodiac is definitely in use among the Babylonians by the seventh century BC and may go back somewhat earlier. But there is no evidence for its being much earlier. The cuneiform text MUL.APIN, from about 1000 BC, contains all of the zodiacal constellations, some under different names than they later had and not necessarily exactly the same stars. But, and this is important, they are not thought of as a single group aligned along the ecliptic, or the path of the sun, moon, and planets, but, along with many other constellations, divided among the three paths, of Enlil, Anu, and Ea, which are roughly northern, equatorial, and southern constellations. The twelve standard zodiacal constellations are never singled out as a group. Further, although the Babylonians recognize the twelve zodiacal constellations by the seventh century, taking twelve zodiacal signs as arcs of 30 degrees each is later, at the earliest the fifth century and perhaps not until the fourth. And counting them as arcs of 30 degrees beginning at the vernal equinox is later still, perhaps not until the time of Hipparchus or even later. Ptolemy, in the second century AD, explains the convention of counting from the equinox, with his reasons for doing so, as though it is not all that well known and must be explained. Whatever she may say about the origin and use of the zodiac, it is clear that she simply does not know the original sources that provide evidence. If she wishes to argue for an early date for the recognition of the twelve specific constellation or 30-degree signs of the zodiac, let her show from original sources, not from a few speculative modern writers, what the evidence for her claim is. As an example of her citations, Lockyer’s work was considered nonsensical when it appeared and is considered even more nonsensical today. She must not only cite Lockyer, she must prove that he is correct. Again, she quotes modern writers as though they are final authorities but knows nothing of the original ancient sources for what she says or quotes.(4)

Swerdlow states that some of the experts you appeal to are “misinformed” and that a lot of what they write is “nonsense” and “speculation unsupported by evidence.”

I am not suggesting that Swerdlow’s comments are gospel. However, he is a recognized scholar who has specialized in astronomy in antiquity. Therefore, his opinion does carry some weight. Of course Swerdlow’s additional comments will not mean much to you. After quoting Dr. Edwin Krupp in your rebuttal(5) you conclude, “So much for Licona’s ‘experts,’ who actually make quite erroneous assertions. A word to the wise: caveat lector when it comes to such ‘experts!'”

You may find it interesting that I emailed Dr. Krupp regarding Dr. Swerdow and your remarks concerning the age of Pisces. Following is my email:

I’m currently involved in a dialogue with someone on the topic of astrology. My opponent is more familiar with the topic than I and claims that as ancient myth developed, “it took the form of a play, with a cast of characters, including the 12 divisions of the sky called the signs or constellations of the zodiac. The symbols that typified these 12 celestial sections of 300 each were not based on what the constellations actually look like but represent aspects of earthly life. Thus, the ancient peoples were able to incorporate these earthly aspects into the mythos and project them onto the all-important celestial screen.”(6) Based on this understanding, she claims that Jesus, whom she regards as no more than a myth, recognized the coming of the age of Pisces; and thus, the Christian fish of antiquity was created.

I contacted Nowel Swerdlow, professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Univ. of Chicago and asked him about her position. Prof Swerdow responded with the following: “In antiquity, constellations were just groups of stars, and there were no borders separating the region of one from the region of another. In astrology, for computational purposes the zodiacal signs were taken as twelve arcs of 30 degrees measured from the vernal equinox. Because of the slow westward motion of the equinoxes and solstices, what we call the precession of the equinoxes, these did not correspond to the constellations with the same names. But . . . within which group of stars the vernal equinox was located, was of no astrological significance at all. The modern ideas about the Age of Pisces or the Age of Aquarius are based upon the location of the vernal equinox in the regions of the stars of those constellations. But the regions, the borders between, those constellations are a completely modern convention of the International Astronomical Union for the purpose of mapping . . . and never had any astrological significance. I hope this is helpful although in truth what this woman is claiming is so wacky that it is hardly worth answering. So when this woman says that the Christian fish was a symbol of the ‘coming age of Pisces’, she is saying something that no one would have thought of in antiquity because in which constellation of the fixed stars the vernal equinox was located, was of no significance and is entirely an idea of modern, I believe twentieth-century, astrology.”

May I ask you what your take on this is? Do you agree with my opponent or Swerdlow? Or do you have some separate thoughts? Thank you for your consideration.(7)

Dr. Krupp responded to me the same day with the following email:

Professor Swerdlow is well informed on the ancient history of astronomy and astrology, and his report to you reflects current scholarly opinion formulated by textual evidence. Although people have traditionally projected terrestrial concerns and priorities onto the sky in celestial myth, the detailed astrological mapping your opponent advocates is not supported by evidence and certainly cannot be tracked back two millennia or more as described.

Your own source acknowledges that Swerdlow is both “well informed” and that his opinion reflects “current scholarly opinion” based on textual evidence. It seems that your contempt for the experts I cite is in error, Ms. Murdock. Furthermore, I find it likewise noteworthy that Krupp disagrees with you concerning your assertion that the Christian fish is evidence that those in antiquity recognized the coming of the age of Pisces, commenting that what you advocate “is not supported by evidence and certainly cannot be tracked back two millennia or more as described.”

I ask you again, please tell us how you know that those in antiquity recognized the ushering in of the age of Pisces by observing the skies. As I pointed out in my initial paper, Noel Swerdlow as well as Jay Pasachoff, the Director of Hopkins Observatory, Chair of the Department of Astronomy at Williams College, and Encarta expert on astronomy have pointed out that the celestial divisions were not accomplished until the 20th century by the International Astronomical Union in 1928, rendering it impossible for the ancients to recognize an age of Pisces. Again, Ms. Murdock, do not merely make an assertion; please give us evidence. If my sources are correct (and yours!), you will find no sources in antiquity supporting your position. I also think finding sources is going to be especially difficult for you, since you reject second hand information (see your comments on Tacitus in The Christ Conspiracy, p. 51). This means you will need primary sources from the first century or before that support your contention that those in antiquity recognized the age of Pisces.

Moon Worship & Judaism

Was Judaism essentially “moon worship” as you claim? I answered you on pages 3-5 of my paper and you failed to respond to those criticisms. Your only response is a promise to substantiate your claims in your forthcoming book, Suns of God, by producing a number of experts who will prove your point. This is a tacit acknowledgement that you have failed to do so in The Christ Conspiracy. Perhaps in Suns of God you will do more than merely quote a few people who believe as you do. Perhaps you will be more careful to cite passages in their context in this forthcoming book, since you failed to do so in The Christ Conspiracy as I pointed out on pages 2-5 of my initial paper. It is not a matter of allegory being “above the heads of the vested believers” as you assert in your rebuttal. It is a matter of a responsible exegesis of the text, one that any interested individual can employ simply by reading the text in the cases you have cited.

In your rebuttal, you cite psychologist Theodor Reik on the matter of moon worship within Judaism. But do Reik’s reasons establish your point that the Jews of the first century and before were moon worshippers? Let us look at these one at a time. For the moment, I am granting that you have quoted Reik accurately and in context.

1) Reik appeals to Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 CE) who cites moon worship as “the religion of Adam.” Rabbi Michael Panitz disagrees by saying there in no extant literature to support this.(8) Panitz agrees that volumes of ancient near eastern texts have been recovered which speak of a very powerful moon-goddess in pagan cultures. Moreover, there certainly seems to have been syncretistic cultures within Judaism where a pure Hebrew faith was tainted by pagan influence, which was absorbed into the culture and retained for some time. However, the absorbing of pagan practices has been done by some adherents in all religions to some extent and is not indicative that Judaism had pagan moon-worship as its origin.

2) Reik claims, “The moon was the emblem of Israel in Talmudic literature and in Hebrew tradition. The mythical ancestors of the Hebrews lived in Ur and Harran, the centers of the Semitic moon-cult.” You then comment that Abraham’s father was a star-worshipper as was Abraham himself until he found the real God. The Talmud is 2nd century A. D. and beyond and does not support your point for 1st century or prior corroboration. Although some of the data in the Talmud originates in the first century, your task is to demonstrate that moon-worship belongs to that class. And you have not done that. Furthermore, you have not cited a single Talmudic reference in support of your view. Joshua admits that Abraham’s father served other gods (Joshua 4:2). However, this does not mean that Abraham was a moon-worshipper. There is no evidence that this was the case. Moreover, even if he was, you yourself comment that this was only until he found the real God. Abraham’s alleged practice of moon-worship before finding the real God no more indicates that he continued this practice after finding the real God any more than Paul’s prior commitment to a zealous Judaism indicates that he continued ritual sacrifices after his conversion to Christianity. You are employing non-sequitur reasoning.

3) Reik then states that Jewish astrotheology is reflected in Joseph’s dream where Jacob is called the sun, his mother the moon and his brothers the stars.(9) However, let us read these verses in their context:

Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” (Genesis 37:9-10, NASB)

It seems pretty obvious that, in the context of Joseph’s dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars are used in a very figurative sense. For me this is far from convincing that Joseph and his family practiced sun, moon, or star-worship.

4) You quote Reik:

The experts assure us that the observance of Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, was once a major holiday, more important than the weekly Sabbath. They also say that this festival was a reminder of the cult of the moon god.

Rosh Chodesh is a minor monthly Jewish holiday observing the new month. The Jews determine the date of this holiday based on the Jewish lunar calendar. Where are Reik’s experts who “assure us . . . that this festival was a reminder of the cult of the moon god”? Even if Rosh Chodesh has traces of paganism for any of a number of speculative reasons, that is not to say that Judaism had its origin in a moon cult any more than Christianity had its origin in paganism because many Christians decorate a tree at Christmas or tell their children about the Easter Bunny. Christians do not worship trees or pray to a gratuitous bunny rabbit.

5) Reik then asserts that Mount Sinai means “the mountain of the moon,” with Sin being the Babylonian moon god. Can Reik be so certain of what he states as fact? The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has the following introductory comments on Mount Sinai: “The origin of the name is uncertain; some have suggested that it is related etymologically either to Heb. seneh, ‘thornbush,’ or to Bab. Sin, the ancient Semitic moon-deity. Neither of these suggestions seems particularly satisfactory . . .”(10) The reasons for this are because both the mountain and the surrounding wilderness are called “Horeb,” with “a root meaning a ‘desolate region’ or ‘ruin.'” This is prominent in Deuteronomy and present elsewhere in the Pentateuch.(11) Moreover, “‘Sinai’ and ‘Horeb’ are used synonymously.”(12) These are the type of problems you run into when people who are commenting on subjects outside of their area of expertise are consulted consistently, a practice you follow frequently. I think this a good time to point out that this is a good example of what Robert Price said in his review of your book: “She is quick to state as bald fact what turn out to be, once one chases down her sources, either wild speculation or complex inference from a chain of complicated data open to many interpretations.”(13) Why do you uncritically accept Reik’s interpretation of Mount Sinai, which is at least questionable, while rejecting far better recognized data, such as Josephus’ mentioning of Jesus? You also do this throughout your book with the traditions of Krishna and Buddha. It should be of no surprise to you that Price goes on to comment regarding your book: “It is remarkable how and where some people’s historical skepticism comes crashing to a halt.”(14)

6) Finally, Reik takes us to the Old Testament where he claims that “traces of ancient moon-worship” exist. In support, he cites Deuteronomy 33:4, “Moses charged us with a law, a possession for the assembly of Jacob” (NASB), and Psalm 12:16. It is difficult to see how the former supports moon-worship even when the surrounding verses are considered and the latter reference does not even exist! He also appeals to Jeremiah 8:1-2: “‘At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘they will bring out the bones of the kings of Judah and the bones of its princes, and the bones of the priests and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem from their graves. They will spread them out to the sun, the moon and to all the host of heaven, which they have loved and which they have served, and which they have gone after and which they have sought, and which they have worshiped. They will not be gathered or buried; they will be as dung on the face of the ground'” (NASB). Does this prove that moon-worship was an orthodox belief of Judaism rather than a cult to which some strayed? I’ll grant you now that Jeremiah attests that moon-worship was practiced by some high-ranking Jews. However, the Old Testament is filled with accounts of the Jewish nation and some of its kings straying away to other gods. Jeremiah certainly indicates that there were times when certain kings, princes, priests, prophets, and inhabitants of Judah worshipped the sun, moon, and stars. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that this is what is being condemned in the Hebrew Scriptures, not approved! You can assert all you like that the commands in the Hebrew Scriptures’ against moon-worship is “a veil of allegory that was mistaken for ‘history.'”(15) But you provide no reasons for us to believe this to be the case and further demonstrate the accuracy of Price’s statement who is bewildered at how your historical skepticism comes crashing to a halt.


Regarding Masonry’s influence on the origin of Christianity, in support of your view that Masons were involved in the invention of Christianity, you provide a quotation from Thomas Paine who does not say, at least in your quotation of him, that Christianity had its origin from Masons. He merely claims that both “are derived from the worship of the Sun,”(16) a claim that is certainly wrong. Consider the following:

And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. (Deut. 4:19, NASB)

If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the LORD your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, by transgressing His covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death. (Deut. 17:2-5, NASB)

If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the LORD your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, by transgressing His covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death. (Job 31:26-28, NASB)

Then He brought me into the inner court of the LORD’S house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun. He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly?” (Ezek 8:16-17, NASB)

In the presence of these references, Paine had a lot of further explaining to do in regards to how the first Christians who were Jews went from sun-worship to Jesus, when sun-worship was forbidden in Judaism. You then cite Manly Hall, a 33rd-degree Mason who claims that religion is based on astrology. Yet, does this support your view that Masons were responsible for the origin of Christianity? You have not made a case worth our serious consideration in my assessment.

“God’s Spell”

In your answer to my point concerning the absence of scholarship in your definition of “Gospel,” you say that I have “no sense of humor or imagination.”(17) Your remark reminds me of Solomon’s proverb, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘Was I not joking?'” (Proverbs 26:18-19, NASB). Let the readers of your book read your statement in context and judge for themselves whether you were joking or if you made an academic blooper:

In reality, the contradictions in the gospels are overwhelming and irreconcilable by the rational mind. In fact, the Gospel was not designed to be rational, as the true meaning of the word “gospel” is “God’s Spell,” as in magic, hypnosis and delusion. As Mack says: “The narrative gospels can no longer be viewed as the trustworthy accounts of unique and stupendous historical events at the foundation of the Christian faith. The gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian mythmaking.”(18)

Upon further review of your statement in context, it still does not appear to me that your statement regarding the meaning of gospel is anything but a statement of fact. Even in your second defense of this definition, you indicate that you truly are holding on to that meaning of the gospel, defending that “the basic etymology of ‘gospel’ as provided by The Concise Oxford Dictionary English Etymology” supports this view.(19) But again and as I stated in my paper, “it does not matter what the English word means. What matters is what the word means in Greek, something Murdock does not even bother to consider.”(20) Again this seems to me a very odd mistake by someone who claims to be a scholar of the Greek language or, for that matter, any language.

Textual Criticism

You state that I exhibit “sloppiness” when commenting on your “reporting of the claim that the New Testament has some 150,000 ‘variant readings.'” You say that you are “quoting someone else,” the “influential German theologian Griesbach (1745-1812).” Moreover, you say that I have “not bothered to inquire as to why this figure had been reached but immediately assumes it’s incorrect.”(21)

Let us look again at your statement in context:

As noted by Otto Schmiedel . . . “If the Synoptists are right, the Fourth Gospel must be rejected as a historical source.” In fact, as Wheless says: “The so-called ‘canonical’ books of the New Testament, as of the Old, are a mess of contradictions and confusions of text, to the present estimate of 150,000 and more ‘variant readings,’ as is well known and admitted.” In regard to these ‘variant readings,’ Waite states: “Of the 150,000 variant readings which Griesbach found in the manuscripts of the New Testament, probably 149,500 were additions and interpolations.” In this mess, the gospels’ pretended authors, the apostles, give conflicting histories and genealogies.(22)

It is clear by what you write that you are in support of Wheless and Waite in terms of the 150,000 variants. Therefore, I see no problem in asserting, “She says that there are about 150,000 variants in the manuscripts of the New Testament.”(23)

Regarding your second contention that I have not asked you how this figure was arrived at, I believe it is clear that my assessment is what is going on. You are aware that the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament provides some of the most comprehensive information in terms of the textual apparatuses, which discuss the textual variations in the New Testament. This text lists the manuscript variances for most verses in the New Testament. A few instances exist where variations are not recorded. This is because they are so minor and insignificant that our attention is not merited due to their insignificance and that the matter is considered solved without dispute by textual critics.(24) There are 683 pages in this Greek New Testament. If 150,000 variant readings existed in any other sense than what I presented in my paper, there would be an average of 220 variations per page! One quick glance throughout the comprehensive textual apparatuses will reveal that this is certainly not the case, since a page loaded with variations contains only about 10. As I stated in my critique of your book, once the principles of textual criticism are applied in the consideration of these variations, we arrive at a text that is virtually pure. It is important to note as well that any unresolved differences caused by the variances do not change a single doctrine of the Christian faith.(25)

With this in mind, Ms. Murdock, you have the proper forum now. Tell us how this figure was reached if I am incorrect.

Lighten Up

I admonished you at the beginning of this reply that, in academia, you must be prepared for criticisms that challenge your views. In your rebuttal, you write of me and those whom I quote, “To these suspicious detractors, I say, why don’t you just ask me where this information, research, etc., comes from, instead of writing polemics and ad hominems against me? Why are you taking my dissection of Christianity so personally that you are getting personal with me? There are obviously some unresolved psychological issues, and the behavior is childish. [sic] As well as macho, blustering, pompous, arrogant, conceited, etc. Probably even sexist”(26) and “Their knee-jerk reactions without inquiring of me or my research–even recommending a snooty, sophomoric and obnoxious response of ignoring me at all costs–are a sign of a personality problem, not of their cleverness or erudition.”(27) Spiteful rock-throwing at those who disagree with you does not change a thing. On the one hand, you constantly boast of how well you have documented your points by how many endnotes are contained in your book. Yet on the other hand you desire us to ask you where your information comes from. We see where it is coming from, Ms. Murdock, and we are saying to you that we find it unconvincing and lacking in academic quality.

Atrocities Committed in the Name of Christ

You write, “And why are these men attacking me . . . over . . . an ideology that has been responsible for the torture and slaughter of millions of people worldwide? How can any honest person with any integrity defend this ideology, with its bloody past, or its supposed founder, on whose omnipotent shoulders ultimately rests the responsibility for the management of the world and, thus, its endless atrocities?”(28)

You cannot judge a philosophy by its abuse. Jesus would not have condoned the crusades and the numerous inquisitions initiated by the Catholic Church. Jesus would not have said to kill people in his name. Indeed, He told Peter to put his sword away(29) and that Christians should love their enemies.(30) It was only later that the Catholic Church, motivated by its political ambitions, used religious rhetoric to sanctify its goals of domination as well as provide an aggressive defense against an even crueler and conquering Islam. You cannot judge a philosophy by its abuse.

Have you forgotten the evils committed by atheists? In the 20th century alone, more than 17 million people were killed as a result of atheistic movements (Stalin: 7 million; Hitler: 9 million; Khmer rouge: 1.2 million). By contrast, about 500,000 people or less were killed as a result of the crusades between the very end of the 11th and 16th centuries (about 400 years), although most consider the crusades to have ended by the beginning of the 14th century.(31) Even if you add those tortured and killed by numerous inquisitions conducted by the Catholic Church, it is not even close to the tens of millions you claim.(32) Now of course we did not have the weapons of mass destruction in the Middle Ages that we have today, so the comparison only goes so far. A more accurate comparison might be with regards to consciously religious states such as Iran, Iraq, and Israel verses nationalistic states such as Germany, Russia, and Cambodia. Even considering the Islamic states of Iran and Iraq as well as the deaths caused by Islamic terrorists in the 20th century, including the recent attacks on our country, these hardly compare with the deaths caused by nationalism during the same period, even though a great many national causes dress themselves up in religious jargon just as they have used terms like freedom (e.g., Vietnam and Lenin). Do these atrocities committed by atheists invalidate atheism? I think not, because you can not judge a philosophy by its abuse.

Lest you plan on responding that Hitler was a Christian as you do in your book,(33) let me address that now. I grant that at the beginning of his political career, Hitler used the German Church for political propaganda purposes by utilizing Christian jargon. However, this does not by any means make him a Christian. Not only do his fruits prove otherwise, but we have his personal conversations. You yourself admit, “Whether or not Hitler was a ‘true’ Christian is debatable.”(34) In a book respected by historians titled Hitler’s Secret Conversations 1941-1944,(35) Hitler states that religion is an “organized lie [that] must be smashed. The State must remain the absolute master. . . .it’s impossible to eternally hold humanity in bondage and lies. . . . [It] was only between the sixth and eighth centuries that Christianity was imposed upon our peoples. . . . Our peoples had previously succeeded in living all right without this religion. I have six divisions of SS men absolutely indifferent in matters of religion. It doesn’t prevent them from going to their death with serenity in their souls.”(36) These are not the words of a Christian.


You are upset with my criticisms of your statements concerning Josephus. You write, “Licona makes outrageously false statements that reflect how shallow is his knowledge of his chosen vocation: E.g., his claims about the passage in Josephus called the “Testimonium Flavianum” (“TF”). No, the “overwhelming majority of scholars” do NOT believe the TF to be authentic, but what can you expect from someone trying to sell such a bogus fable? As I will show in Suns of God, many very well-known and erudite scholars have dismissed the TF in toto as being a forgery. In fact, it is quite obviously a forgery to those with common sense. In the meantime, readers may find quite a bit of debunking of the TF at”

I have pointed out in my initial paper that your claim is not only unsubstantiated; it is false.(37) I have listed several well-known and respected scholars who acknowledge Josephus’ mentioning of Jesus in TF. What do the majority hold regarding this passage? I intend on conducting a survey of all the scholarly literature written on the authenticity of the passage during the past 70 years. In the meantime and in lieu of this, I can share with you that the prominent Josephus scholar, Louis Feldman, who is not a Christian, shared the following with me in an email: “My guess is that the ratio of those who in some manner accept the Testimonium [to those who reject all of it as an interpolation] would be at least 3 to 1. I would not be surprised if it would be as much as 5 to 1.”(38) This Josephus scholar has written extensively on the subject (e.g., Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata, eds. Josephus, The Bible, and History [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987], 473 pages; Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata, eds. Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989], 448 pages; Josephus and Modern Scholarship, 1937-1980 [Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1984], 1,055 pages. In the latter, Feldman notes more than 100 scholarly discussions on this passage during that time period. Feldman was also the translator for the works of Josephus for Harvard University Press’s Loeb Classical Library.). So please understand why I do not believe you when you claim “the ‘overwhelming majority of scholars’ do NOT believe the TF to be authentic.”(39) And even if you present “many very well-known and erudite scholars who have dismissed the TF in toto as being a forgery,”(40) something you have yet to do, this does nothing to substantiate your claim that the “overwhelming majority of scholars” reject the authenticity of the Testimonium. If Feldman is correct in his hunch, there are three to five times more scholars who grant that the Testimonium mentions Jesus.

In your rebuttal, you refer us to Earl Doherty’s treatment of the Testimonium on your web site. This is not the place to critique his article. However, Doherty is not a Josephus scholar and one source does not constitute an “overwhelming majority of scholars.” Citing a few scholars who totally reject Josephus’ mentioning of Jesus will not do. You must support your claim that “these ‘references,’ [i.e., the two occasions in Josephus that mention Jesus] they have been dismissed by scholars and Christian apologists alike as forgeries”(41) and that “the ‘overwhelming majority of scholars’ do NOT believe the TF to be authentic.”(42)


In your book you state that the passage in Tacitus’ Annals 15:44 cannot be used to confirm the existence of Jesus. Your reason for making this assertion is because Tacitus was not born until about 25 years after Jesus’ death and, therefore, his information is secondhand.(43) In my paper, I responded that such thinking is medieval in terms of historical criticism and that if this approach is adopted we could know very little of history.(44) Indeed, no one today could write an accurate history of the American Civil War.

In your rebuttal, you state that “interested parties, however, should read Cutner’s Jesus: God, Man or Myth and the sources he cites, such as Hochart, Taylor and Ross. Licona’s tactic in “refuting” me and my work seems to rest on his presenting my claims very superficially and making it seem as if I don’t back them up.”(45) Before looking at this article you have recommend, it should be noted that in your book, The Christ Conspiracy, you do not back up your claims, except to say that no one mentions the passage prior to the 15th century.(46) As with your treatment of Justin, are the readers of The Christ Conspiracy supposed to know to go to your web site in order to receive information you should have documented in your book?

In Jesus: God, Man or Myth, you repeat your arguments from The Christ Conspiracy that the reference of Jesus in Tacitus is not mentioned by anyone prior to the 15th century and, even if genuine, is not an eyewitness account. However, I answered these in my paper and you never responded to my critiques.

Let’s look now at your article, which is a summary of Cutner’s work and the new arguments you present against the authenticity of this passage. Cutner’s reasons are presented in italics with my responses following:

1. If there had been a Neronian persecution, why in heaven’s name has so remarkably little been found concerning it elsewhere? Authors write on the subjects of their choice. Ms. Murdock, are you aware that Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, or Nero are never mentioned in any of the writings of the apostolic fathers? Does this exclude the existence of these emperors? Are you aware that Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon (49 B. C.), an event that forever changed the course of Rome, is mentioned only by Caesar himself (48 B. C.), Vellieus (after A. D. 30), Appian (2nd century A D), Plutarch (after A. D. 70), and Suetonius (A. D. 115)?(47) That is only two sources within 100 years of the event. Moreover, considering your criteria of needing to be an eyewitness, there is only Julius himself and the earliest manuscript we have of these writings are 1,000 years removed from the alleged originals. Why not argue that these, too, are late and forgeries as you seem to do with Tacitus and deny the existence of Julius Caesar and his crossing of the Rubicon?(48) You would be laughed out of court. Should it be of no surprise to you then that no scholars are taking your work seriously?

2. Why was the passage never quoted by Tertullian (who often quotes Tacitus) or Eusebius or any other early Christian apologist? All Tacitus affirms in his mentioning of Jesus is that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate and that his followers did not abandon him after his death. What benefit would this passage have played in an apologetic, if no one in the time of the author was questioning the existence of an historical Jesus? Not one of the writings from the early opponents of Christianity such as Celsus seemed to have questioned the existence of Jesus. It appears as though you expect Tertullian and Eusebius to address issues that apparently did not exist. I ask you, Ms. Murdock, provide us with references in Tertullian and Eusebius or any of the early Christian apologists you mention where these words of Tacitus would have been beneficial for them to use.

3. Tacitus does not mention Christ, Christians or Christianity anywhere else in his writings. Tacitus is a secular historian writing of Roman history. Where would bringing up Jesus have helped his objective in writing? Please provide an example in order to support your point.

4. This entire work of Tacitus known as Annals was unknown until the 15th century, when it was “discovered” by Poggio Bracciolini. In 1878, WJ Ross attempted to prove that Bracciolini himself had forged the Annals. With his expertise in Latin, Ross was readily able to demonstrate that the Annals differed in style from Tacitus’s genuine writings. Indeed, some of the phrases match those employed by Bracciolini in his own writings. I have not read Ross’ book on Tacitus. However, if Ross’s thesis on Tacitus is so compelling, I find it interesting that no scholars who specialize in Roman history today acknowledge it that I know of. Rather, as I pointed out in my paper, several contemporary scholars use expressions like “feeble attempts” and “pure speculation” to describe writings like Ross’s.(49)

5. It is obviously only a report from believers in “Christ.” How is this “obvious,” Ms. Murdock? In The Christ Conspiracy, you likewise refer to Tacitus’ mentioning of Jesus as “an interpolation and forgery.”(50) Where is your data in support of this? You have not provided any in your book or your article. It remains an unsubstantiated assertion on your part.

I think at this point it is quite clear that you have failed to support your position that Tacitus does not acknowledge the historical Jesus. Moreover, you failed to answer any of the reasons I provided for why the passage in Tacitus is genuine. Therefore, the critical New Testament scholar, John Meir’s conclusion still stands, “despite some feeble attempts to show that this text is a Christian interpolation in Tacitus, the passage is obviously genuine. Not only is it witnessed in all the manuscripts of the Annals, the very anti-Christian tone of the text makes Christian origin almost impossible.”(51)


Regarding Justin’s knowledge of the Gospels, you are correct that I was unfamiliar with your article on your web site. However, as I pointed out regarding Tacitus, this does not excuse you from the lack of documentation in your book regarding this matter. Let’s now look at your article, since you claim to have “gone into great detail regarding the purported references in Martyr” in this article. You write, “A number of the purported passages in Justin that correspond to New Testament scriptures come from a text called ‘Memoirs of the Apostles,’ which, Cassels shows, is a single book by that title, not a reference to several ‘memoirs’ or apostolic gospels.”(52)

In support of this you cite Cassels who claims this volume is in contradiction many times with the four Gospels. However, as I pointed out in my paper, Justin elsewhere refers to the Memoirs as the Gospels: “For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them.”(53) I pointed this out to you in my paper, but you completely ignored it.

We have not been informed by you, Cassels, or Keeler who you likewise appeal to of any meaningful contradictions with the Gospels. You quote Keeler who writes, “There is almost invariably some difference, either in sense or construction, showing that Justin’s book was different from our Gospels. Moreover, he [i.e., Justin] quotes from it things which are not in our Gospels.”(54) Where are these differences in the Memoirs, which Keeler asserts distinguish them from the Gospels? We are never told. If contradictions between the Gospels and the Memoirs really exist, please point them out to us. Do not leave us merely to accept the words of your sources. This should not be difficult for you to research, since I have listed all of Justin’s 14 references to the Memoirs of the Apostles in my paper.(55) However, you will find that not one of Justin’s citing of the Memoirs contradicts the Gospels. Keep in mind that in these passages, Justin uses Old Testament verses, the Gospels, and his own commentary. Why did you not check these out, Ms. Murdock?

Other than these additional comments from your article to which you have referred us, I see nothing in it that adds anything to what you claim in The Christ Conspiracy. Therefore, you have not addressed and refuted my critiques as you claim.(56) Justin certainly refers to the Gospels in his writings, which places their composition earlier than you have claimed.


In your rebuttal you write, “Nor did his “experts”–who are evidently completely unaware of this debate–apparently bother to read the excerpt, or they could not have so shamelessly impugned my character with their puerile remarks.” Ms. Murdock, they were aware of your excerpt. Appropriate portions of your article and book were quoted to them verbatim. Regarding your “Christian sources,” Lundy and Georgius, even if you are correct, Lundy and Georgius write of their contemporary experiences with present-day Hindus. This does nothing to support your position that Hindus in antiquity worshipped a crucified Krishna. Hindu traditions on the life of Krishna come from the Bhagavata Purana and the Harivamsa, which as I pointed out in my paper, both post-date the rise of Christianity and, therefore, do nothing to support your thesis.(57)

If you desire to convince us that the experts to whom you defer like Barbara Walker, who writes on issues concerning women and who produces tarot cards is more acquainted with Hinduism than the professor of Hindu Studies at Rutgers who has devoted his career to the subject, you must do more than simply claim that my sources “are unable to do research into anything ‘new'” and that they are “completely unaware of this debate.” Please provide us with clear evidence that refute their contention that you are misinformed. Do not merely quote the opinion of others. Tell us which ancient manuscripts contain stories of a crucified and resurrected Krishna and Buddha and provide us with a dating of these manuscripts in order to demonstrate that, even if they exist, the stories precede the Christian account and are not copying from it.


In your rebuttal and citing your own words from The Christ Conspiracy, you write of, “this non-historicity and of the following characteristics of the Buddha myth, which are not widely known [ital. yours] but which have their hoary roots in the mists of time . . .”(58) We still have yet to learn from where you get your “not widely known” information. You simply quote others who many times turn out being terribly wrong and unscholarly in both their exegesis and reasoning.

In reading the article to which you refer us, I saw no striking similarities or much in support of the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity that you claim in your book. Granted, the Hindus have worshipped gods over time. No one would ever dispute this. However, the mere worship of God or a son of God does this prove your overall thesis that your alleged fabricators of Christianity borrowed from Hinduism or even Buddhism? Your article does nothing new to support this thesis. In fact, your research method is still evident: You seem to think that merely quoting someone who states the position you hold provides evidence for the truth of your view. Furthermore, you quote someone, for example, Abbé Huc, who obviously quotes someone else quoting him, indicating a secondary source—and do not bother to inform us who it is you are citing. Your interaction with primary sources is extremely rare. Moreover, when we go to those primary sources, on numerous occasions we learn that they are wrong.

What of the Rest of Your Book?

You inquire of me what I do with the remaining of The Christ Conspiracy that I have not commented on. My intent was not to provide an exhaustive critique on the entire volume. What I have commented on should be sufficient for the interested reader to conclude that poor scholarship permeates your book and articles. Even in this current follow-up to your rebuttal, we have seen that you appeal to scholars who write on subjects outside of their field and consequently misinterpret the Bible,(59) uncritically accept improbable meanings(60) and statements by others,(61) cite verses without regard for context,(62) and mistake allegory for history,(63) something you yourself admit that people do.(64) You continue to exhibit naïveté regarding Josephus scholarship(65) and hold irrational historical criteria, which no professional historian holds and of which your own positions cannot stand up to.(66) Nothing quite strains and kills an otherwise interesting argument like the facts. If you are interested, you may find a more detailed critique from Dr. Robert Price in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Higher Criticism, a journal for skeptics. I am told this review will be much more detailed than what he wrote for Free Inquiry.

Regarding atheist Dr. Price, whom I cite as a critic of your book, you ask if I “agree also with the rest of his thesis, that Christ is a fiction [sic]” and question his stability and credibility because he converted from being a Christian to an atheist.(67) I do not agree with Dr. Price that Christ is a fictitious character. However, the point I am making in my initial paper is that when someone who is a noted scholar and who accepts the same conclusion as you, i.e., that Christ is no more than a myth, and who stands to benefit if your arguments are sound, yet points out numerous bloopers and blunders with them to the point of calling them “outright looney,”(68) the red flags must raise in the head of the rational person that something may very well be wrong here. Although I am saddened that Price abandoned his faith in the past, I see no reason to question his stability and credibility as a result. On the other hand, I am optimistic that as an astute scholar, he will continue his consideration of new presentations of the evidence and perhaps some day return to the faith I am convinced is true.


After reading your rebuttal, Ms. Murdock, I find myself further disappointed with your claims as well as the spirit in which you have responded to criticism. For the reasons elaborated on above, I cannot accept your thesis.

In the beginning of your rebuttal, you ask, “just what are Licona’s motives in attempting to fob off this fairytale . . . [of Jesus’ resurrection], one must wonder.”(69) Since you ask, it is because after observing the evidence, I do not believe that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a “fairytale.” Indeed, I believe there is a strong body of evidence in favor of Jesus’ resurrection as an event that occurred in space-time, although this is not the place for a discussion on it. Antony Flew, considered by many to be the most influential living philosophical atheist, commented:

So I think you could argue that it was entirely rational for all these people [i.e., disciples and Paul] to believe this is so [i.e., Jesus’ resurrection] and, of course, for Christian believers now to be . . . rational, to take this as a miraculous thing. But it isn’t for me.(70)

Flew thinks that, given the belief in the Judeo-Christian God, it was rational for the first Christians as well as it is rational for Christians of today to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Flew does not believe in the existence of God, so he does not feel compelled to accept Jesus’ resurrection, although he does not have any opposing theories to account for the data.(71)

The oldest kerygma tells of Christ’s message that eternal salvation from a life filled with darkness is available to all who come to him for it. This indeed is great news and I am, of course, interested in everyone learning of it. What they do with the message is up to them. I guess I feel the same compulsion to tell others what I regard as the truth, just as you seem to feel that same compulsion. The obvious difference is our view of what is the truth.

Footnotes. . .

1. See your rebuttal to my paper, “A Rebuttal to Mike Licona’s ‘Refutation of The Christ Conspiracy,'” (henceforth referred to as “Rebuttal”), p. 2.
2. Rebuttal, p.2.
3. Ibid.
4. In a personal email correspondence dated 12/01/01.
5. Rebuttal, pp. 3-4.
6. The Christ Conspiracy, pp. 151-152.
7. In a personal email correspondence dated 11/28/01.
8. In a personal telephone conversation dated 11/29/01.
9. See your rebuttal to my paper, “A Rebuttal to Mike Licona’s ‘Refutation of The Christ Conspiracy,'” (henceforth referred to as “Rebuttal”), p. 4.
10. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Four (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), pp. 525-526.
11. Ibid., p. 526 where Deut 1:2, 6, 19; 4:10, 15 and Exodus 3:1; 17:6; 33:6 are listed as examples.
12. Ibid., p. 526. For examples, see Exodus 31:18; 34:29; Deuteronomy 9:8-11; 1 Kings 8:9 and Exodus 19:18-20:19; Deuteronomy 18:16.
13. Robert M. Price, “Aquarian Skeptic” in Free Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Amherst: The Council for Secular Humanism, 2001), pp. 66-67.
14. Ibid.
15. Rebuttal, p. 5.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid., p. 6.
18. The Christ Conspiracy, pp. 45-46.
19. Rebuttal, p. 6.
20. Paper, p. 18.
21. Rebuttal, p. 7.
22. The Christ Conspiracy, p. 41.
23. Paper, p. 10.
24. In a personal telephone conversation with New Testament exegete, Professor Ronald Sauer 11/ 29/01.
25. Paper, p. 10.
26. Rebuttal, p. 7.
27. Ibid., p. 9.
28. Ibid., p. 7.
29. Matthew 26:52.
30. Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28, 35.
31. In a personal email correspondence with Professor Skip Knoll of Boise State University on 9/10/2001.
32. The Christ Conspiracy, p. 11.
33. Ibid., pp. 2-3.
34. Ibid., p. 3.
35. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young.
36. Ibid., p. 117.
37. Paper, pp. 12-14.
38. In a personal email correspondence dated 11/26/01.
39. Rebuttal, p. 7.
40. Ibid.
41. Paper, p. 12.
42. Rebuttal, p. 7.
43. The Christ Conspiracy, p. 51.
44. Paper, p. 15.
45. Rebuttal, p. 8.
46. The Christ Conspiracy, p. 51.
47. James Sabben-Clare. Caesar and Roman Politics 60-50 BC: Source Material in Translation (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1971).
48. In “A review by Acharya S of Jesus: God, Man or Myth? by Herb Cutner” you make the following two statements: “Again, this text, if genuine, would date no earlier than the early second century, so it is not an ‘eyewitness account’ of the existence of Jesus Christ” and “In any event, these ‘references,’ even if genuine and/or referring to Christ, are nothing more than hearsay long after the fact.” In your book, The Christ Conspiracy (p. 51), you write, “the historian Tacitus did not live during the purported time of Jesus but was born two decades after ‘the Savior’s’ alleged death; thus, if there were any passages in his work referring to Christ or his immediate followers, they would be secondhand and long after the alleged events.”
49. Paper, p. 15.
50. The Christ Conspiracy, p. 51.
51. John P. Meier. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume One (New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 90.
53. Paper, p. 7. Justin’s First Apology, ch. 66.
55. Paper, p. 7.
56. Rebuttal, p. 8.
57. Paper, p. 6.
58. Rebuttal, p. 9 or The Christ Conspiracy, p. 109.
59. Ibid., p. 5.
60. Ibid., pp. 5-6.
61. Ibid., p. 13.
62. Ibid., p. 6.
63. Ibid., p. 5.
64. Ibid.
65. See this current paper, pp. 10-11.
66. Ibid., pp. 11-12.
67. Rebuttal, p. 10.
68. Free Inquiry, Summer 2001, p. 67.
69. Rebuttal, p. 1.
70. John Ankerburg Show: Habermas-Flew Debate, p. 20.
71. During this debate with Habermas, Flew initially proposed grief hallucinations on the part of the disciples and a conversion disorder for Paul in order to account for their beliefs that they had experienced an encounter with the risen Jesus. When Habermas answered these opposing theories, Flew abandoned both of them.

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