THE GOD WHO WASN'T THERE: REBUTTAL TO CRITICISM AND FAQ
ABOUT CHRISTIAN HISTORY
Weren't the Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- written by actual disciples of Jesus?
No. This is a traditional belief in Christianity, but it is not supported by evidence. The Gospels were written anonymously, starting 40 years or more after the supposed death of Jesus, and the names were tagged on to the Gospels much later. Christian leaders generally do not share this information with their flocks, but it is known to virtually anyone who attends seminary. The false assumption that disciples wrote the Gospels is one of many that Christian leaders allow their congregations to believe out of convenience or a concern that average Christians cannot handle the more complicated truth.
Did Christianity exist before the Gospels were written?
Yes. The Gospels were written well after Christianity got its start as a small cult. The earliest Christianity we know of appears not to have had a human, Earth-dwelling Christ at its center. The human Christ is an idea that appears in Christian tradition decades into its development. Before the Gospels were developed, Christ appears to have been a mythical figure in a spirit world in Christian literature. This theology would have been consistent with the competing religions of the time.
How could Christianity appear without a real Jesus to get it started?
At the time, most religions did not have a real human god figure. Broadly, the theme of death and renewal at the heart of Christianity also lies at the heart of many religions that preceded it. More specifically, the "salvation cult" was a very popular form of religion, with a central god character whose suffering in a spirit realm gave meaning and deliverance to initiates in the salvation cult. Early Christianity appears to have been a Jewish-influenced salvation cult -- an unremarkable development in that time and place.
Does The God Who Wasn't There claim that the Jesus story was plagiarized wholesale from another god's story?
No. The Jesus story is the product of many influences, literally over the course of centuries. Like the stories of most other god figures, it has no exact duplicate in a previous time. However, there is no single element of the Jesus story that does not appear in a previous god or hero story. Virgin births, miracle working, blood sacrifices and ascensions to Heaven -- to name just a few -- have a rich history in tales that came long before the Jesus story was developed.
Does everyone in the movie claim that Jesus is most likely fictional?
No. Only Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty and Robert M. Price make claims in this area. Others in the movie -- including Sam Harris and Alan Dundes (as well as Richard Dawkins on his audio commentary track) -- express no opinion on the historical status of Jesus and are interviewed for their perspectives in other areas.
THE GOD WHO WASN'T THERE: REBUTTAL TO CRITICISM
The God Who Wasn't There: Refuted? Hardly. Below are some of the key questions raised by critics, with their answers. (Note: Virtually all of the published criticism of The God Who Wasn't There is from fundamentalist Christians. Some of that criticism depends on supernatural belief -- i.e., we know that the Bible is true because God would not allow errors -- and this FAQ will not bother addressing criticism of that variety. Rather, we'll address the main lines of attack critics have made on the film's claims and arguments from a non-supernatural angle.)
Does The God Who Wasn't There support its claims?
Yes. Most claims in the film are made by the experts who are interviewed, and their sources are either mentioned by the experts themselves on screen or are listed in the end credits or the supplementary material on the DVD. Most claims made by the narrator are similarly supported or enjoy such strong consesnsus among scholars (for example, the dating of the Gospel Mark to after AD 70) that verification is available from a number of sources. Additionally, The God Who Wasn't There DVD presents numerous pointers to reliable books written for the lay reader that have sent a great many viewers on a journey of discovery. While it is condemned as heretical by Christian apologists, The God Who Wasn't There stands up to scrutiny. The documentary separates fact and speculation, and it shows you where you can learn more about every claim it makes, bar none.
Does The God Who Wasn't There rely on the book The World's 16 Crucified Saviors by Kersey Graves?
No. No expert in the film cites this work or depends on it in any way. For a perspective on why the work is not considered reliable by scholars, read this review by Richard Carrier. Some less-than-ethical critics of The God Who Wasn't There have suggested that Kersey Graves' work was a source for the argument in the film, but it was not. In fact, when Graves' work is mentioned at all (in the DVD's special features), it is to warn the viewer to be wary of that work and to check its claims.
But doesn't the film make claims about a figure associated with Graves' work named "Beddru"?
No. No claims about "Beddru" are made in the film, and no expert in the film even mentions this figure. Further, there is no argument in the film that could even remotely depend on Beddru. However, while probably 99% of viewers never notice, the word "Beddru" appears briefly in a background graphic that was employed in the film. This minor graphic element escaped notice until it was pointed out by sharp-eyed Christian critics of the film, who have seized on this error as a main point of criticism. Some critics have even gone so far as to falsely suggest that the film claims Beddru was part of the basis of the Jesus tale. However, no such claim can be found anywhere in the film or the DVD's special features. The inclusion of the background graphic element was simply an oversight. Beyond Belief Media regrets its error. (Note: Author Acharya S makes the case that "Beddru" is a typographical misspelling error in Graves book here.)
What about the use of an ancient amulet showing Orpheus nailed to a cross?
This amulet is also used only as a graphic element, for eight seconds, sharing the screen with text as well as other representations of ancient god figures. No claims about this amulet are made in the film, and it passes by so quickly that most viewers of The God Who Wasn't There who are reading this probably don't even recall it. The ancient amulet has been used in other works along with the claim that the artwork itself predates Christianity. Christian critics of the film have disingenuously implied that The God Who Wasn't There also makes these claims, so as to falsely associate the documentary with works that are unrelated. However, the documentary makes no claims at all about the amulet or its dating. It is merely an illustration of one of many ancient gods. It should be obvious that the case made in The God Who Wasn't There depends in no way on this graphic element.
To see both of these graphic elements as they are presented in the film, view this QuickTime movie.
Why would Christian critics make such a stink about these two things if they are nearly irrelevant to the case made in the film?
We invite the reader to judge the quality of the Christian criticism of The God Who Wasn't There by its focus on minor graphic elements rather than the claims actually made in the film. It should be noted that those writing in fundamentalist Christian publications know that most members of their readerships will not be seeing The God Who Wasn't There itself. If these writers can misrepresent the film in a review, that's all that most of their Christian readers will ever learn about it. In the authoritarian culture of fundamentalist Christianity, providing ready-made interpretations and steering the flock away from source material is a common strategy. The God Who Wasn't There takes the opposite approach -- it steers the viewer to source material.
Critics of the movie also say you rely on the works of other writers who appear not to be involved in the film. Do you endorse every writer on the subject?
No. There are many writers on the subject of the mythical Christ. No endorsement of any writer by the makers of The God Who Wasn't There should be assumed if the person is not in the film. The experts featured on the Christ myth theory in The God Who Wasn't There include Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty and Robert M. Price. Beyond Belief Media endorses the work of these scholars and strongly encourages the curious to explore that work. No endorsement of any other writer on the subject should be assumed.
In the movie, there are several "on the street" interviews with Christians. How were these Christians chosen and why are the interviews in the movie?
"What do average Christians know about their religion?" is a running theme in The God Who Wasn't There. To answer the question, Beyond Belief Media hired a practicing Christian (a Presbyterian lay minister) to conduct interviews with other Christians outside a Billy Graham revival in Pasadena, California. This minister told each Christian the nature of the questions he wanted to ask, and got permission to use the Christians' responses in the documentary. These interviews are presented in the movie only to illustrate the knowledge that average Christians have about their religion. Their responses are of course not representative of what Christians scholars would know about the religion, and their responses are never represented as such in the film.
Does Jesus really order his enemies to be killed in Luke 19:27, or does this verse have a different meaning in context?
Jesus does make this statement. In The God Who Wasn't There, Luke 19:27 is held up as an example of Jesus' attitude toward those who disagree with him. In this chapter of Luke, Jesus is responding to his audience's impression that Christ's Kingdom would be coming immediately. In the parable Jesus tells to address their desire for a Kingdom now, the King character (which obviously is meant to be Jesus) ultimately says to his followers, "But these mine enemies, that did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and slay them before me." Jesus is clearly reassuring his disciples that their enemies will be killed -- he's only saying that it will not be happening immediately. Some critics of The God Who Wasn't There have alleged that because Jesus uses a parable to make this statement, he wasn't making this statement. But Jesus often spoke in parables, and the meaning of this one is abundantly clear from the text.
Does Hebrews 8:4 really say, "If he [Jesus] had been on earth, he would not have been a priest at all?"
Yes. Christian tradition has altered translations of this passage to be more consistent with Christian doctrine. But the most plausible interpretation from the original Greek is this translation. Beyond Belief Media stands by its decision to use the most plausible translation, not the translation favored by Christian tradition.
Scholar and author of The Jesus Puzzle Earl Doherty responds to some other criticism of the film here.
Did director Brian Flemming "trick" school superintendent Ronald Sipus and ambush him during the film's final interview?
No. Brian Flemming told Ronald Sipus ahead of time, in writing, that he was going to focus the interview on school policy as laid out in Village Christian's handbook, and that he was going to ask challenging questions. Sipus also had clearly done his research on Flemming and knew who Flemming was. Flemming never deviated from the mutually agreed-upon subject of the interview, and Sipus was given every opportunity to justify school policy. He simply failed to do it. Brian Flemming offers insight into the Ronald Sipus interview on his person blog here. Sipus claimed he was going to take legal action against Flemming, but this turned out to be an empty threat.
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