Sunday, February 6, 2011

News Flash: Nazareth Really Did Exist!

According to a story by the Associated Press, there really was a Nazareth when Jesus was alive.
Archaeologists on Monday unveiled what may have been the home of one of Jesus' childhood neighbors. The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood.
This may not come as much of a surprise to you, since this fact is chronicled in the 1900-year-old texts of New Testament and has generally been accepted since that time. But the New Atheists, like Frank Zindler, editor of the American Atheist, have their doubts--rather, they have their certainties, and one they seem to enjoy pulling from the carpet bag from time to time is the idea that Jesus' Nazareth simply did not exist.
Zindler's argument relied on the fact that no contemporary texts beyond Luke's gospel mention the little town, and that no archaeological evidence had been uncovered--until now, that is.

Ah, well, most likely Zindler and his Ultrabright friends will jettison this little bit of con artistry with nary a mention. There will be no retraction, no "oops," no perturbance of any kind. Their vast assurance will continue to sail on through time and space with a machine-like lack of self-awareness. But it is instructive for the rest of us--those who are actually interested in an honest assessment of our peculiar existence here--to look at how Zindler went wrong, because the style of argument is common to many Ultrabright sophistries.

The salient feature of these canards is that the speaker exist at a knoll of perfect acuity, from which he can look down on the ignorance of prior eras. This kind of parochialism is fraught with intellectual risk, but especially when one's arrogance extends, not just to the past, but to the future as well. Consider the general format of the argument to see what I mean:
  1. We haven't found archaeological evidence [for some Biblical claim].
  2. We haven't found a second textual source [for that claim].
  3. Therefore, we know that the Bible is wrong.

In order for this argument to make sense, you must assume that the phrase "and we never will" has been lopped off the ends of statements 1 & 2. You must, in other words, accept that we know all there is to know about the subject, and that we have made all the discoveries that will ever be made about it, almost as if history has come to an end with us. That sense of being at the culmination of human history has ever bedeviled utopians and megalomaniacs, and the Ultrabrights often display characteristics of both.

We should also note that this style of argument would never be made in the reverse direction. No other ancient text would be considered invalid just because it does not find support in a second source. Normally only multiple contradictory sources would cause you to dismiss a text. But the Bible is just as special for the Ultrabrights as it is for the most credulous fundamentalist. The book must be considered false until corroborating evidence confirms it.

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