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REVIEWS on AMAZON.COM of Challenging the Verdict
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Additions: March 10, 2003
Although my first book The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin With a Mythical Christ? attracted its share of negative reaction, with the publication of Challenging the Verdict I seem to have struck a nerve. Reviews on Amazon.com are currently running neck and neck between those who give it nothing but praise and 5-star ratings (occasionally 4), and those who have nothing but evil to speak of it and give it the minimum 1-star rating. Positive reviews often attack the negative evaluations, and vice-versa. You either love it or hate it.
Why is Challenging the Verdict provoking this kind of polarization and confrontation? For almost two decades, orthodox Christianity has perceived itself as under an unprecedented attack, much of it focused on the progressive work of the Jesus Seminar. The Seminar’s deliberations and radical conclusions have not only provoked a hostile reaction on the part of conservative scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson and N. T. Wright, they have reached the public eye and mind like no previous rethinking of Gospel traditions. The lay community, both Christian and non-believer, have developed an interest in the issues of this scholarly ‘civil war’ and with the advent of the Internet they have become intimate observers and participants in the ongoing debate on the reliability of traditional beliefs about Jesus.
In the face of a growing focus on the rational and scientific evaluation of the record, it was only a matter of time before someone in the conservative field attempted a ‘rational’ defense of Christian doctrine and orthodox interpretation of the New Testament aimed at the general believing public, to assuage its fears about a structural collapse of the edifice of the faith. Lee Strobel, in 1998, stepped into that breach and produced The Case for Christ. This was probably the best the conservative side could do in presenting a credible, reasoned case for continuing to believe in the complete reliability of the Gospel accounts and their picture of Jesus. Strobel’s book on Amazon has amassed hundreds of reviews praising his book and the testimony of his witnesses, the latter a mix of scholarly arguments and faith declarations on the part of all. The day, for so many, seemed to be saved, if only to judge by the current widespread championing of the book by clergy, conservative apologists and everyday people who have urged it upon friends, family, and the general non-believer as the last word in justification for the Christian faith in a modern rational world.
For someone to present a challenge to that book, and to have it declared as “devastating” Strobel’s case (as was happening on the Internet even before Challenging the Verdict was published as a book), was a threat not even The Jesus Puzzle had constituted. Arguing that Jesus never existed could be dismissed as a crackpot idea, not to be taken notice of. But a book that sets out mainly to demonstrate the deficiencies, fallacies, and the selective and misleading use of evidence found in The Case for Christ, undermining Strobel’s much-vaunted rescue operation, cannot be ignored, it seems. Negative reviews on Amazon of Challenging the Verdict have reached a new high (or low) in blind animosity and vituperation. Personal attacks on the author have been felt necessary in order to discredit the critique. What is notably missing, however, are specific criticisms that discredit the content and arguments of this cross-examination.
First the positive reviews, although the reader may proceed directly to the negative reviews by this link:
[*****] Loved it, not just liked it!, October 8,
Reviewer: Gern Blanston from Grand Rapids, MI
Unlike the author of the review by "A reader", I found Doherty's exemplary and devastating rebuttal of Strobel's often disingenuous and intellectually dishonest "case" to be engrossing and easy to read. In fact, it is one of the most accessible books of its kind largely _because_ of the author's use of the courtroom analogy as a guiding structural metaphor. "Forcing yourself" to read the book is the very LAST thing you need concern yourself with, as you will most likely find the book so captivating it's nearly impossible to put down! Doherty's fluid ease and comfortable facility with the facts and issues, combined with his very courteous yet rigorously truth-seeking "courtroom" demeanor, make this a positive delight to read; so much so that the "trial" is over and won so handily it's rather anti-climactic and seems to come too soon. Buy this book and enjoy one of the most accessible and rewarding examples of honest, thoughtful and eye-opening New Testament scholarship you will ever encounter!
[*****] Earl Doherty Completely Annihilates Lee Strobel,
October 15, 2002
Earl Doherty completely annihilates Lee Strobel's case for Christ in this thoroughly researched cross examination of the latter's ill written book that has been waved around by bible thumping Christians as the authoritative argument for so-called "proof" of Christ. Doherty leaves nothing unscoured, unshakingly knocking down Lee Strobel's straw man arguments, poorly researched subject matter and other logical fallacies with the hammer of logic and reason. Ranging from Thallus to Josephus, Doherty shows how all the very FEW documents hailed as "evidence" of Christ are inefficient and cannot possibly be considered unquestionable proof as well as why the canonical gospels cannot be regarded as accurate depictions of history. Being there is no contemporary secular history to parallel the gospels, it has no more basis in reality than the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians depicting Osiris and Set, as well as being written much later than supposed. Further, he points out how Christians borrowed much of their mythology from earlier pagan mystery cults whose theology revolved around a dying and resurrecting (oops, that’s a word that is copyrighted by Christianity, so I'll rephrase it with "reappearing") godmen who spent a lifetime full of traveling around the countryside performing miracles such as raising the dead and healing the blind. Take Tammuz, Attis, Dionysus, Asculepius and Apollonius of Tyana for examples. This critique of "The Case for Christ" is a damaging blow to Lee Strobel and Christianity in general. A mandatory read for Christians and non-Christians alike for any clear comprehension of the origins of Christianity as well as a brilliant light cutting through the darkness of modern day superstition and unfounded assertions propounded by those who would do anything in their power to keep the masses from closing their wallets and purses to their greedy grasp.
[*****] Honest scholarship, thoroughness, and
plain common sense, July 29, 2002
Reviewer: Roger Marcum from Galloway, OH United States
Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" was recommended to me by a family member and co-workers. As a Humanist, I was going to end up in everlasting torture if I didn't accept "Jesus as my savior" or some such thing, and if I was going to be convinced then Strobel's airtight case for Jesus would do it. I found the book, and I remember thinking about the obvious rebuttals to most of the so-called "evidence" as I read through it. But I was not expecting such a thorough examination and outright thrashing that Strobel's book endured in Doherty's "Challenging the Verdict"! What a wonderful combination of honest and fair scholarship, thoroughness, and just plain common sense! My next purchase will be "The Jesus Puzzle" so as to continue breathing this breath of fresh air....
[*****] It's obvious, May 23, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Tucker, Georgia United States
If it weren't clear from an open-minded reading of both "The Case for Christ" and "Challenging the Verdict" which of the two is more fair, accurate, logical, and honest, one could just about guess it from the reviews posted on this site. Those in favor of Doherty's book are precise and articulate; the negative reviews avoid specifics in their criticisms, choosing to attack Doherty's style or claiming they "never heard of him," as if that were a devastating incrimination. (Not to mention that some of them are simply grammatically clumsy and full of misspellings - and coming from people in the US, not foreigners using English as a second language.) I would suspect that most of those blasting Doherty's book are not objective reviewers but fundamentalist Christians who just don't like what he has to say.
The big difference between the techniques of the freethinkers like Doherty and the fundamentalists like Strobel is, of course, that the former look at all the evidence and come to logical conclusions, while the latter know up front what they want to conclude, and pick and choose and "interpret" to reach that end.
Yes, it's true that the point of Doherty's previous book, "The Jesus Puzzle," is that there was no actual historical Jesus, but no, he doesn't make an issue of it in this book. He simply responds to the claims of Strobel's book in a courteous and logical manner, and dismantles each one. If anyone thinks he's being "unfair" by not allowing responses from Strobel's interviewees, despite the fact that he's consistently using their directly quoted statements from "The Case For Christ," consider the (negative) review here from a 17-year-old girl who expressed a desire that Strobel in his next book interview scholars from both sides of the issue. Sorry, young lady, it's a good idea, but it won't happen. Lee Strobel and his crowd don't work that way. That's the point. (BL, Tucker, GA)
[*****] Sound, Intelligent, Solid Truth,
May 17, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Claremont, CA United States
Doherty is amazing. A pioneer. A gift. A treasure. The fact of the matter is, millions and millions of people believe in a Savior who probably never even existed.
The New Testament Jesus: 1) the earliest writings such as those of Paul and other epistles don't speak of any of his miracles or sayings or any earthly, human reality. 2) The gospel miracles and sayings are drawn from Old Testament and pagan sources. I could go on and on - but Doherty is the expert and he has laid it all out in THE JESUS PUZZLE and now this gem.
The bottom line is: EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS DEMAND EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE. Sorry, but Christianity's extraordinary claims about their man-God don't come with convicincing evidence.
[*****] Must Read, May 4, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from deland, florida United States
I love the way the author totally demolishes strobel's "verdict". Ignore the desperate posts of those who live in denial of truth and buy this book.
My encounter with Earl Doherty's first book, The Jesus Puzzle, bent the rudder on my high-flying belief system causing me to flip over and crash. Naturally my Christian brothers and sisters were scandalized at the demise of a fellow true believer and let me know just how they felt about such wicked apostasy. However, I'm still intact and grateful that old friends at least decided to merely cut me off rather than resort to medieval torture-unto-death. But, damn it, truth will out! I do feel a depressive burden has been lifted and would invite any thinking Christian made uneasy by suspicious orthodox dogmas to re-examine the validity of pre-suppositions supporting such. However, be warned and on guard concerning this Catch 22: You cannot by logical reasoning correct a person of an ill opinion never acquired through reasoning. (Apologies to Sir Francis Bacon)
[****] Not the Final Verdict, January 6,
Reviewer: A reader from St.Paul, MN
I was nearly ready to accept “Case for Christ” as a 4-star last word in defense of Christ and Bibical events, but then I also read Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of the Case, by Earl Doherty, which exposes the Strobel bias point for point, and in a court room setting. How easily I could have missed this if I had not read further. I think Strobel means well but he sets up interviews to present the evidence he wants to hear so misses the bigger picture, and I almost did too. Don’t stop reading. Follow Strobel’s book with the easily read Challenging the Verdict, by Earl Doherty.
[*****] Interjects reason into a traditionally irrational
debate., December 16, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Kansas City, MO USA
I'm still unsure about the historicity of Jesus (it seems we may never 'know', simply because there is insufficient data to draw from), but I can say that books like this one will go a long way toward furthering our ability to make an informed, rational 'best guess'. Frankly, Mr. Doherty has done a real service with this book, and he has contributed greatly to the overall quality of the debate. I generally found his reasoning and arguments to be fair, thorough and sound.
[*****] Questioning the Foundation Myth, April
Reviewer: Thomas E. Fox, from Yuma, Arizona United States
Earl Doherty continues the scholarly liberation of us from Western society's founding myth, an historical Jesus Christ. Doherty's jaw-dropping premise, that Jesus never existed, won't be accepted overnight. Most of Christian study begins within faith and can hardly be expected to maintain a cold, dispassionate view of an Earthly Christ. Doherty's counterpoint dissertation springs from passion-for truth. Long into the future, American presidential candidates will probably have to mouth fealty to the Christian mythological founder. But "Challenging the Verdict" helps form a nucleus of work with profound implications for Christianity.
[Lest someone get the wrong impression, the idea that Jesus never existed is not original to me, of course, but has been around for over two centuries, most of it within academic circles. Perhaps in this Internet age, I have simply been able to reach a wider and more general audience.]
[*****] Finally, a breath of reason, April 14,
Reviewer: A reader
A friend of mine made me read "The Case for Christ" last year in an effort to convert me. Needless to say, it didn't work. The margins of my copy were full of questions and problems I saw in the evidence. In this book, Earl Doherty takes up most of the questions I had and the problems I saw. This book has been bashed by many other reviewers, and those that did so are probably Christians. I myself am a former Jew turned agnostic (who also holds a Ph.D in biology) and I enjoyed the book and agreed with it. If you have an open mind, and want to critically examine Christianity, then pick up this book. If not, don't bother, you don't get it.
[*****] Ahhh, the fresh breeze of rationality,
April 4, 2002
Reviewer: shadyoak from Ranchita , CA USA
It boils down to this: Are you interested in religion? the Christ myth? just curious? open-minded? rational? Do you question dogmas? Christian dogmas? the supernatural? If yes, then this book is for you....
....The book is not only informative, making you exercise those little grey cells, but it's lots of fun too. And by the way, this book stands on its own. Thanks to Mr. Doherty's recapitulations and presentation style, you don't have to waste your time with the Strobel tract to follow the argument. Mr. Doherty is such a good writer, and his scholarship runs such rings around that of his detractors, that they must be secretly green with envy. But you can see that for youself: you don't have to take someone else's word....And thank you, Mr. Doherty, for your persistence and clarity!
[*****] Christians should read this book, February
Reviewer: David P. Graf from Chicago, IL
As someone who has defended Christianity, it might be expected that I would praise Strobel's book and damn Doherty's. However, Doherty does a wonderful job of skewering Strobel's "The Case for Christ." Christians who read Strobel's book and then think they're ready to take on skeptics like Doherty are in for a rude disappointment. However, that's not to say that Doherty's book doesn't have a few problems of its own. For instance, I think it would be interesting to see how well other personages of ancient history like Socrates would fare if Doherty applied the same standards to them as he uses to question the historicity of Jesus. However, it is not my intention to use this review for a rebuttal. Instead, I would recommend this book to all thinking Christians who want to really understand why sincere and thoughtful skeptics disagree with us regarding Jesus.
[Now that's an open-minded Christian, and one who isn't afraid to investigate the opposing side and acknowledge that it has something to say. I think he overstates the danger of Socrates' non-existence, but if someone were to put forward a well-reasoned case for concluding it, there would be no reason not to give the idea a fearless consideration.]
[****] I've read Strobel and Doherty - Doherty is better,
March 1, 2002
Reviewer: Paul Doland from Houston, TX
Okay, much has been said about Doherty's style of using a courtroom setting. Yes, I understand it is a literary device. And yes, I know, he's poking some fun at Strobel's self-portrait of being a "tough, investigative reporter." Okay, I understand it, but I still don't care for it. [ED: That's Paul's prerogative, although I think he would have found it a dry read if I had simply stated, one after the other through 14 chapters, Strobel's points and offered my own rebuttal arguments to them, with no setting.] But while I don't care for the style, what is more important, to me anyway, is the material. And the material is good.
When Doherty is able to demonstrate logic errors and circular reasoning in Strobel's work that I didn't catch myself when reading it, that to me lends credence to his work. One good example of this is where Doherty points out that Dr. Craig used the Gospel of Matthew's account of the guards at the tomb as an alternate-source verification of, well, Matthew's account of the guards at the tomb!
Another interesting point that Doherty makes is in the discussion of the medical evidence. Dr. Metherell portrays crucifixion being a form of torture to which even breathing is difficult due to the way the victim is hung. And yet the gospels portray Jesus as carrying on conversations, including with the bandits that were also being crucified. And Doherty also points out how the scene gets embellished from one gospel to the next.
There's a lot more than these couple of items I've pointed out. Get the book. If you read the other reviews of the book, you'll find that the negative reviews usually call Doherty "outlandish" or some such, but few seem to have any actual evidence to dispute him.
[*****] Doherty's Courtroom Setting Completely Fair,
March 7, 2002
Reviewer: A Reader
I’m dumbfounded by critics’ complaints of Doherty’s presentation, calling it “unfair”. Have you ever seen anybody present the opposing viewpoint? Of course Doherty presents his viewpoints, what else do you expect? Strobel presents the Christian viewpoint, Doherty presents the counter viewpoint. Doherty is no more or less unfair than Strobel.
In fact, Doherty is actually MORE fair than Strobel. You see, Strobel pretends to play the part of the skeptic and introduces some counter-arguments. But the counter-arguments that Strobel raises are mere straw-men that he knows his experts will knock down. So Strobel’s pretense of playing the critic is just pure deception. Doherty, on the other hand, accurately presents the Christian perspective as he quotes sufficiently from Strobel’s book to accurately represent the Christian perspective. If anybody deserves the criticism of being “unfair” it is Strobel!
Finally, people claim that had Doherty given Strobel’s experts the chance to respond, they would have shredded Doherty. But Doherty HAS given Strobel’s experts a chance to respond on his website, and they have not done so. Nobody has any real response to Doherty, they just slander him or ignore him.
[*****] A Compendium of Scholarship and Common Sense,
January 28, 2002
Reviewer: A. Berkshire from Minneapolis, MN USA
Lee Strobel in "The Case for Christ" organized his arguments in orderly fashion, dividing his
interviews with Christian scholars into neat categories relating to the Gospels and evangelists, the
manuscripts, Jesus' nature and personality, Old Testament prophecy, the resurrection, etc. But
because Doherty more or less follows Strobel step by step, discrediting just about everything
Strobel and his witnesses have put forward, this book is a very efficient compendium of
counter-arguments to many facets of Christian doctrine.
I also liked the Index, which is quite detailed, and identifies important sub-categories for each of the
pages listed under a main heading. It's easy to find your way around this book, and it's also a
delightful read, often amusing, due in no small part to Doherty's easy and clear writing style and his
colorful courtroom approach in which he dialogues with quotations from Strobel's book. I could
almost smell the wood of the judge's bench.
There's something on every page, and it struck me just how effortless it all seems. Rarely does
Doherty have to reach for a counter-argument, and everything makes a lot of sense. Of course,
Strobel and his witnesses, being extremely conservative, often leave themselves wide open, but I've
never seen the entire range of unreliable beliefs which Christianity has been saddled with so neatly
and effectively debunked.
Craig Blomberg, for example, declares confidently that we can trust in the identities and eyewitness
character of all four Gospel authors, but he himself admits that the first mention of all four can be
found no earlier than the year 180, and Doherty shows that there is little sign of any wider
knowledge of those Gospels' existence before the 150s. Doherty comes up with some fresh
arguments I'd never heard before to discredit the idea that Acts could have been written no later
than 62, as Blomberg claims, such as that "Luke" (or whoever was the author) would have had to
go to Paul himself for a lot of information, since traditions about Paul and his movements could
hardly have been circulating so early; but in that case why did he get so much 'wrong' when you
compare Acts' details to Paul's own letters? And if Luke, Paul's reputed companion, was the author
of the Gospel of that name, why doesn't he identify himself as such in the Gospel's Preface, or give
any hint that he had known Paul? The book is full of things like this which seem so sensible once
Bruce Metzger, a very respected scholar (perhaps Strobel's one stellar light) claims that we have
parts of New Testament manuscripts from "a couple of generations from the writing of the originals"
but Doherty points out that only a small scrap of John can be dated around the middle of the second
century, while everything else comes, in pieces, only after the year 200 and later, and in any kind of
complete form only after 300. Metzger should have known better than to set up sitting ducks like
But he's not the only one. William Lane Craig, that much-touted debater on the resurrection, is
caught out by Doherty in an outrageous circular argument in defending the historicity of Matthew's
guard at the tomb scene. And Gary Habermas doesn't fare much better in trying to skate around all
the contradictions in the various Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances. Doherty's writing
skills can conjure up the tone of the prosecuting attorney very well, and one can almost imagine the
sweat on the brow in cross-examinations like these.
Which is not to say that it's all a case of sitting ducks. Some of the exchanges Doherty sets up are
quite sophisticated and even subtle, such as his cross-examination of Gregory Boyd about
naturalism vs. supernaturalism, and the question of who might have borrowed from whom where
Christianity and the Greek mysteries are concerned. And his "God the Son" chapter with Donald
Carson shows that Doherty knows his stuff when it comes to Greek philosophy and how early
Christian faith in a divine, spiritual Son is dependent on ideas most people today have never heard
His chapter on Old Testament prophecy completely undercuts the fundamental Christian claim that
the Jewish Bible was a divinely-directed prophetic book about Jesus. Then there's Luke's universal
census under Augustus. Untenable. Matthew's slaughter of the innocents by Herod? The same. The
reliability of a genuine original in Josephus' Testimonium? Not a chance. Judas, Mary Magdalene,
Joseph of Arimathea: all literary inventions of Mark, more than likely. Demons and demon
possession, such as the Gospels portray in Jesus' healing exorcisms? Primitive and irrational.
Hell has to go, too, under Doherty's insightful observations about that deranged little dogma. This
sort of thing is the icing on the layer cake where Doherty occasionally discusses issues of rationality
and modern enlightenment, and the need for more of it in our society today. From what I gather
from his Jesus Puzzle website, he himself has published this book under the name "Age of Reason
Publications." A very apt name.
One comes away from Challenging the Verdict wondering how long it's going to take before we
come to our senses.
[Note: Where the following reviewer has gotten the idea that I am "very young" I don't know. I only wish it were true, but I am in fact getting on, and the copyright page of both my books reveals the full extent of it.]
[*****] Earl Doherty, the atheist champion, February
Reviewer: A reader
In some ways, I almost feel bad for Earl Doherty. At this point in his career, very young and very
fragile, he's almost the sole champion of the Christ-myth. A few others have popped up from time to
time, but only Doherty has shown clear, concise, and objective rational to his decisions and
information. Other Christ-myth books have thus far projected a lot of animosity towards
Christianity, and use sources that are so unreliable and questionable that it's clear the bias to destroy
the historical Jesus is stronger than scholarship or an objective viewpoint.
Earl Doherty is much different than that. Earl shows a logical, sequential, and unbiased progression
through the mud and obfuscations that Strobel's researchers have put up. In many cases, it is just
mud that they throw up to get us to accept their reasonings. The book by Strobel shows a clear
amount of ghost-writing done in it, in such a fashion that the book is written so that:
1.) It starts by examining the easiest objections, by saying that the New Testament documents are
reliable, and have been accurately transmitted down to us.
2.) Then it seeks to reinforce the believers that the New Testament is correct, by showing historical
and archaeological evidence for the New Testament.
3.) Then it seeks to destroy counter-arguments by using the Bible, which the previous two points
should have proved "irrefutable", and the Bible is the complete Word of God.
4.) Finally, it says that you can trust the Bible completely, so don't worry about any objections that
those silly liberal Christians and secular researchers may put up.
The manner in which the book is constructed is clearly intended to first convince, then reinforce that
conviction, and finally by taking on any dissenting views, squelch any doubt.
However, Doherty destroys their foundation down so that the four step process of conviction
doesn't happen anymore. As Doherty gains fame through the printing of books like this, the
Christ-myth will become more and more popular,...
The bottom-line is that Doherty is a fantastic scholar who will hopefully be writing books for a long
time to come. His thorough and exhaustive work is a joy for any secular reader, or even a Christian
who wants a real look into the Christ-paradigm.
[*****] 21st Century Thomas Paine, January 8, 2002
Reviewer: Barnabus T. Jones from Rochester, MN
Whenever I see a book pertaining to Christian apologetics in which the reviews are either one-star or five-star, my interest level soars. Why? Because, the author has hit somebody's hot button. The five-star reviewers consider the book a gem and the one-star reviewers are furiously trying to find some basis on which to appear objective in refuting it. The prospective book buyer can simply read the reviews, decide which viewpoint is intellectually appealing,and act accordingly.
In my view, Doherty's book is a simple straight forward refutation of fundamentalist Christianity's shining lights of alleged scholarship. Doherty has no need to use ad hominem slurs to which the one-star reviewers resort. The author's logic and honesty exposes the intellectual dishonesty of Christian apologists in their search to find some rational basis for belief in their savior-god, Jesus of Nazareth.
If someone is looking for a quality intellect to recommend Doherty's book, consider the words of deist Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet "Common Sense" helped inspire the American Revolution: "The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not any thing can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing." -- Thomas Paine
For an objective overview of Christanity's bankrupt foundations, Doherty's books are a "MUST READ"!
[*****] A Demolition of Christian Apologetics,
December 13, 2001
Reviewer: Bill Paulson from Minneapolis, MN
Another resounding triumph of reason over faith is presented in Earl Doherty's excellent book, 'Challenging the Verdict'. It is a chapter-by-chapter, point-by-point rebuttal of Lee Strobel's popular book, 'The Case for Christ'. Strobel traveled around the country to interview some highly regarded Christian apologists and put together what I presume is just about the best case that can be made for the credibility of the Christian faith.
Doherty's 14 chapters correspond exactly with those in Strobel's book. Complaints of other reviewers notwithstanding, the format ('cross-examining' Strobel's 'witnesses' in a courtroom setting) is perfectly reasonable—and makes for fun reading! Doherty responds to arguments with which he disagrees, cites opinions of those who support him, and as the author, gets in the final word. In other words, he does exactly what Lee Strobel and thousands of others have done. Please note that 'Challenging the Verdict' is designed for open-minded people. If you are faithful, rather than honest, you won't like it.
Doherty begins in chapter 1 by refuting the incomprehensible claim (by Strobel and Craig Blomberg) that the authors' names attached to the New Testament gospels are reliable. Forging names to give a document authority was common practice in those days, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all extremely authoritative to the early Christians. No reputable scholar today attaches credibility to these names. This chapter sets the tone for Strobel's book. If evidence were a life form, he'd be in prison for abusing it.
Strobel, Blomberg and others make a game effort to show that the NT gospels constitute valid history, a proposition which is insulting to the intelligence. We don't call documents history when they are religious in nature; report events highly improbable in nature; are brought to us by an organization (the Roman Church) which stood to profit immensely by their acceptance as history; and which have hopeless contradictions among themselves.
We also see the classic Christian argument that hostile witnesses were around who would have exposed the Christians for telling falsehoods. Doherty notes that the upheaval of the Jewish War limited this possibility, then adds (p. 35): 'And it's a bit naive to imagine some kind of network of watchdog groups, keeping a close eye on those mischievous Christians. . . . Or to imagine that such a protest would have been heeded.'
Earl Doherty is better known for 'The Jesus Puzzle' website and book by the same name, where he demonstrates that Jesus is a fictional character. The complete ignorance of Jesus' earthly life in the entire corpus of NT epistles and so many other early Christian writings means that Jesus, to them, was an entirely divine being, just like all the other gods in all the other religions of the day. Later, the author of the gospel of Mark brought this Jesus down to earth. Matthew, Luke, John and others followed suit, the concept gradually caught on, and the rest is history. Check this out if you haven't already! It's the most enlightening theological reading you'll ever do.
Doherty brings his mythical Jesus thesis to 'Challenging the Verdict', but it doesn't dominate the book. He refutes Strobel's arguments both with and without a historical Jesus.
Chapters 6 and 8 are wonderful. Doherty puts into eloquent words what all honest people know but can't always concisely convey: it is naive to accept stories with supernatural events as reliable history. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the gospels don't come close to making the grade. Doherty annihilates Gregory Boyd and Gary Collins in these chapters.
Elsewhere in chapter 6, when discussing the similarities between Christianity and the competing mystery religions, Boyd suggests the pagans were copying the Christians, when the evidence indicates the opposite was far more likely. Chapter 10 addresses the notorious Christian tactic of taking Old Testament passages completely out of context and saying that Jesus fulfilled prophecies.
The later chapters cover the resurrection, where Doherty exposes the fundamental mistake of letting the gospel picture of Jesus dominate people's minds and reading this into the epistles, most of which were written earlier. Thus, the argument that the stories spread too fast to qualify as legends is simply inapplicable.
William Lane Craig refers in chapter 12 to the later apocryphal gospels, which add 'flowery narratives' to the basic story. Doherty observes that Matthew, Luke and John do the same, adding fanciful details to Mark's original. A major point he drives home is that the gospels are literary invention. Not history, not biographies, not even biographies embellished with myth. And also not lies, any more than the adventures of Tom Sawyer or Robinson Crusoe are lies. They are myths; stories with teachings and lessons for the community. And they feature the common Jewish theme of what modern critical scholars call 'The Suffering and Vindication of the Innocent Righteous One'.
Earl Doherty is a fine writer—very polite and professional. He makes a few weak arguments on minor points, but on every substantial matter, he demolishes Strobel and his interviewees. Probably the weakest aspect of the book is that he sometimes UNDERstates his case!
[*****] Defending Rationality on the Gospels, December
Reviewer: Greg Singer from Ottawa, Canada
This book scores on two counts. It contains solid arguments that discredit the shallow, selective, misleading and self-serving presentation of Lee Strobel and his very conservative scholarly witnesses. And it's an entertaining read, mostly because of the format Doherty has adopted: addressing Strobel's arguments as though he is cross-examining them in a courtroom.
There are those who complain that this approach is somehow dishonest, or unfair to Strobel and his witnesses, but this is a red herring. If Doherty had not adopted such a format, but simply offered an academic piece in which he itemized the arguments for Gospel reliability found in Strobel's book, and then gave his counter arguments against them, no one would have any grounds for complaint. That's just what Challenging the Verdict does, it offers that opposing view and backs it up with detailed scholarly arguments and references. The courtroom setting is simply something that gives added color and vitality to those counter arguments. No matter what the format, the author could hardly have given Strobel's scholars some kind of rebuttal opportunity.
In fact, one of the complaints against Strobel himself is that he gives no voice to anything but his own confessional point of view, since he did not interview New Testament scholars who were more liberal and critical than the conservative and evangelical line-up he offers. At least Doherty has that conservative side on view in his book. He lays it out, and he counters it with the more liberal viewpoint.
While Doherty does offer arguments in support of his theory that no Jesus existed, he also argues from a position as if there was such a man, leaving it to the reader to choose, or not, from either vantage point. The no-Jesus theory, by the way, is very well argued in his previous book, The Jesus Puzzle, and is being championed by more and more people today.
I was also struck by the extra-biblical comments Doherty sprinkles throughout the book, espousing rationalist views. His comments on the whole blood sacrifice basis of Christian salvation, the section on hell (which ought to discredit any belief in that horrific doctrine), and his little homily at the end of the Final Summation are some of the most insightful things I've read in support of rationality, something Strobel's book is very short on. I particularly liked his debunking of the whole prophecy of Jesus business in the Old Testament.
It's to be expected that some reviews of this book are going to be critical, especially those that are obviously reacting from a position of faith, but it would be nice if they would all have the integrity to identify themselves. Doherty certainly has.
[*****] Sitting in the Jury Box, December 11, 2001
Reviewer: Richard Macdonald from Toronto, Canada
This is the most effective debunking exercise I've seen in a long time. Want to get rid of superstition in your life? Want to free yourself from 2000 year old fantasies about a man walking out of his tomb, about being God and the only avenue to salvation, while everyone who doesn't believe in him gets to go to some eternal punishment you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy? These are only some of the ideas defended by Strobel and his scholars which Doherty puts in his sights and demolishes, as he dismantles the reliability of the Gospels and their dogmas.
I only wish we could really have a courtroom hearing of this nature, invite the world's media, and put all these doctrines on the stand before a judge and jury. I never fully realized just how deficient and antiquated they truly are. Doherty points out all the holes in the arguments, all the contradictions, all the irrationalities, and gives us much more reasonable alternatives about how Christianity came to believe what it does. And it doesn't have to depend on there being no historical Jesus, which Doherty argued very convincingly in his first book, The Jesus Puzzle. In this one, he shows how none of it is reliable even if there was such a man.
Someone claimed that the "tektonics organization" has already refuted Doherty "point by point". That's like saying papal officials refuted Galileo's telescope observations by pointing to passages in their holy book. Doherty's telescope is just as revealing.
[*****] A devastating refutal of biased Christian apologetics,
December 29, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from New York, USA
Apparently, Lee Strobel's 'The Case for Christ' represents the best arguments that modern-day born-again evangelists have to offer. And considering how utterly deficient and unconvincing it is, that's pretty sad.
However, Strobel is slick. A reader unfamiliar with the facts in the Jesus debate might well be snowed under by the subtlety with which he delivers his logical fallacies and the artfulness with which he conceals inconvenient counter-evidence.
Fortunately, we have real scholars like Earl Doherty to clear the air. His first book, 'The Jesus Puzzle', was a well-crafted and powerfully delivered argument against the historicity of Jesus Christ. Now, with 'Challenging the Verdict', he takes Strobel to task by systematically destroying the testimony of the theologians he quotes, dissecting their arguments one by one to reveal the inconsistencies, circular reasoning and missing evidence inherent in each of them, and taking no prisoners in pointing out the embarrassing inconsistencies and other problems in the gospel accounts that Strobel would prefer to quietly gloss over. (For example: How is it that any of the gospels describe anything Jesus said or did in the garden of Gethsemane? All the disciples were asleep! Who was recording this?) It's not necessarily the best book when it comes to refuting Christianity in general, but if you've read 'The Case for Christ'—or even if you haven't—and want an opposing view, this is the book you want to see.
Most of the critics of this book complain about how Earl Doherty quotes Strobel's theologians to refute their arguments without giving them a chance to respond. But this charge is a monumental hypocrisy considering that Strobel himself only interviews people—conservative and evangelical scholars—who support *his* predetermined position. 'The Case for Christ' gives no space to even liberal Christian scholars, much less atheists and others who are skeptical of the whole Jesus story. Of course, this is hardly surprising considering that any knowledgeable non-believer could punch dozens of holes in Strobel's flimsy mythology, exposing his numerous logical fallacies and selective use of evidence, which would rather ruin the book's intended purpose as an instrument of evangelism; but then Strobel's partisans should not complain when Doherty counters him on the only grounds he is willing to argue. If Strobel gave equal space to both fundamentalists and their critics, then these people might have a valid point in charging Doherty with unfairness. As it is, they're merely hypocrites, and they don't have a leg to stand on.
[*****] Fundamentalism challenged and beaten, December
Reviewer: Hass Gunda
This book is one of the the best refutations of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity that I have ever seen. It is definitely up there with the secular web's Jury project (which responds to Josh McDowell's 'Evidence that Demands a Verdict'). J.P.Holding, who seems to think that every Jesus Mythicist just writes one book and then continues to repeat his arguments in subsequent works (he holds the same—completely unjustified—opinion of G.A.Wells' six books), is flat out wrong. For what it's worth, Doherty does not push his Jesus Myth theory in this book... instead, he takes conservative apologists to task. The only part where I felt that he had not done an exceptional job was his cross-examination of J.P.Moreland ... but despite that it's an excellent effort.
[*****] Case Dismissed, December 18, 2001
Reviewer: otis duncan from Santa Barbara, CA United States
Earl Doherty has written an unusual kind of commentary. He looks at Lee Strobel's 'The Case for Christ' chapter by chapter, isolates the main points Strobel makes in each chapter, and convincingly rebuts them. Doherty, unlike Strobel, is a scholar, and he has encountered the authorities Strobel brings in as expert witnesses in their own books. And he has in earlier work taken their arguments fully into account. So this is not a mere review, it is a devastating critique of a distinctly mediocre piece of trendy journalism.
Along the way, Doherty brings out some of the main arguments of his own earlier study, The Jesus Puzzle, which the interested reader should consult for a full exposition of the thesis that there was no historical personage corresponding to the Jesus of Nazareth of the gospels.
How serious Doherty is may be indicated by the fact that no more than once or twice does he take advantage of elementary lapses of logic or simple misinformation in Strobel's book. Nor does he point to obvious omissions, such as Strobel's failure to note the discrepancies between the two New Testament accounts of the nativity and immediately subsequent events.
The reader reviews of Strobel that I looked at put considerable emphasis on his breezy journalistic style, which presumably makes his book a 'good read.' I beg to differ. If the topic is as serious as Strobel claims, then something like the serious, albeit accessible, style of Doherty is more appropriate.
Just in case Doherty leaves you with lingering doubts as to the cogency of his argument, you would do well to look at some other recent books that support him very strongly: G. A. Wells, The Jesus Myth; Alvar Ellegard, Jesus One Hundred Years before Christ; Robert Price, Deconstructing Jesus; Harold Leidner, The Fabrication of the Christ Myth.
[*****] Wonderful Book!, December 17, 2001
Reviewer: Scott J. Lohman from Minneapolis, Minnesota United States
Doherty does a great job of doing a book length review and critique of the arguments that Lee Strobel uses in 'The Case for Christ.' Doherty effectively shows that Strobel is only speaking for one end of the religious spectrum. Doherty shows that Strobel gives his experts easy questions, avoids follow-ups and that Strobel stacks the deck in his own favor. Doherty points out that Strobel does a poor job of being a “skeptic” by only consulting with experts from the fundamentalist end of the spectrum, rather than asking experts from other traditions. Strobel is even billed as a “journalist” rather than a preacher for a church. While Strobel’s 'Case for Christ' is a good summary of conservative, evangelical Christianity’s apologetics, Doherty easily shows the short comings of that approach as well as a proper skeptic’s approach.
The second thing to note is that none of these reviewers attempts to refute any of the arguments and counter-positions offered in Challenging the Verdict. If the book is indeed “amateurish,” “bizarre,” “insipid and poorly executed,” containing “outrageous methodology,” “historical misstatements and corruptions of logic,” it should have been an easy task to give at least a few examples of such deficiencies and even offer counter arguments. (Reviewers have up to 1,000 words to work with.) Instead, the book and its author are regaled with insults, unqualified condemnation and personal attack. The infamous J. P. Holding (a pseudonym) offers nothing more constructive or illuminating of his own position than to label Challenging the Verdict as “Funnier than a Three Stooges Video.” If such ‘reviewers’ can bring nothing more sophisticated and substantial to the defense of their position than rants like these, it is small wonder that such a gulf exists between believer and skeptic, and that their position is so vulnerable to question and refutation.
Most of these reviewers are particularly hung up on the approach my critique adopts. The courtroom cross-examination format may be a measure of the book’s effectiveness, but it has almost universally incensed those who are not sympathetic to its message. They cannot seem to understand that the courtroom setting is simply a literary device. No book can offer rebuttal opportunities to those it is questioning or to the positions it is putting forward. Strobel himself hardly does so. While a true courtroom proceeding would no doubt unfold differently, no one reading this book should fail to realize that mine is an artificial device not to be taken literally, and that the process of itemizing the positions stated by Strobel and his scholarly witnesses, and then giving my own positions in response, would be a far more “tedious” exercise (for writer and reader), especially over such a length, if it were not provided with some color and interesting setting. Perhaps I am guilty of making that setting too realistic. In any case, I have offered a forum on this website to any of Lee Strobel’s interviewees who would wish to interject a comment or rebuttal at any point in my cross-examination, and I will post such an exchange here. (See Age of Reason: Court in Session.) I will even supply a complimentary copy of the book to any of them who so wish to engage in a more extended discussion. [Note: This offer has been withdrawn, due to a lack of response after three months, but if anyone wishes to engage in such rebuttal at any time in the future, I will of course renew the invitation and reconvene the court.]
The ultimate personal attack in a situation like this is always upon the “credentials” of the writer. I have made no secret on this website of the fact that my university degree is in ancient history and classical languages (Greek and Latin), a not unrelated field, but that in biblical studies per se I am self-taught over a period of two decades. This, of course, will not satisfy my detractors, but it is hardly realistic to demand that I should somehow have been the product of the training and mindset that I am seeking to question and even overturn. If one definition of a “scholar” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary) is “one who engages in advanced study and acquired knowledge in a special field,” then private scholarship is a legitimate proposition—and a common practice—and may even be necessary when the research involves unorthodox and unpopular dimensions. Mainstream scholarship on the New Testament has traditionally been apologetic in nature, not neutral. It has been the almost exclusive domain of Religion departments of academic institutions, not History departments. In any case, many of the positions I adopt in Challenging the Verdict are no more extreme than those of critical scholars in the field itself, such as the Jesus Seminar, and some reviewers’ equal condemnation of such liberal scholarship shows that their criticism of me and my methods as allegedly having no legitimate academic base is simply a red herring. Their ire is directed at anything which questions established orthodoxy.
Arguments based on a rational evaluation of the evidence and the application of scientific principles should stand or fall on their own, regardless of the background of the author or the particular letters after his name. Attacking supposedly invalid credentials is a poor substitute for an honest and reasoned grappling with those arguments. I invite further readers and reviewers to choose the latter course. (I also invite readers of Challenging the Verdict who feel it is worthy of support to post their own reviews and ratings on Amazon.com.)
I will make a few further comments following some of the individual reviews.
[*] The Case for Ignoring this sad case,
February 13, 2003
Reviewer: Kerry B. Colling from Victor, New York
I was asked by a popular apologetics organization to help work on a response to this latest attempt at discrediting the Gospels and in turn the very foundations of Christianity.
What perhaps troubled me more than Doherty's work was the way in which many Christians responded. After reading Challenging the Verdict I can confidently say to all those alarmed Christians "calm down." With all due respect to Mr Doherty and all those who took this attempt so seriously it is just not worth it. I would recommend this book to NO ONE -Skeptic or believer. It is not only dry but drab. Doherty advocates an extreme view which even the majority of unbeleiving scholars do not hold. It is a tiring read and the writing style is horrendous. Doherty would have gained more respect if he had personally interviewed the scholars Strobel had. Christians seemed more upset that Doherty chose to attack one of their latest apologetic "stars" rather than with the arguments themselves.
I debated even bothering writing this review. Sorry to bore you even more than Strobel or Doherty already has.
Although Mr. Colling doesn't say who this "apologetics organization" is that asked for his assistance, he has apparently failed to give them anything of substance to allay their fears. Once again, the response to my arguments in Challenging the Verdict is not a rational discussion of the evidence and my own reasoning based on that evidence, but a litany of insult and dismissal. Even in the face of an obvious plea from those who are disturbed at the content of my book, not a single counter-argument has been put forward. I don't know who Mr. Colling is, or why others would turn to him for succor, but the above review is simply, to put it bluntly, a cop-out.
[*] Amateurish, December
Reviewer: William Becker, Los Angeles, CA
As a lawyer, it took me a split second to recognize Doherty's unfamiliarity with legal principles (e.g., admissibility of hearsay, validity of circumstantial evidence, etc.) and thus view his entire argument as, to use a term of art, lacking foundation. It's rhetorical appeal is amateurish and does not parallel the correct application of legal reasoning applied so forcefully in Strobel's magnificent book. Those possessing no litigation background may be won over, but for those with even a little legal education, don't waste your time with this silly tripe. Or read it as confirmation of the strength in Strobel's arguments.
My legal knowledge is not sufficient to enable me to label Mr. Becker's argument correctly in courtroom terminology, but there is a simple term in the field of rationality to identify it: fallacious. It hardly renders my "entire argument as lacking foundation" that I have not followed the strict rules of legal procedure in the matter of hearsay and circumstantial evidence. This is not a judicial case, and in any event I make my own disclaimer in the Introduction to the book that I am not adhering to official courtroom rules. (Although I do know enough to say that phrases like "silly tripe" used by a courtroom attorney would certainly provoke a remonstrance from the judge as unbecoming of proper decorum and legal debate.) Regardless of the setting adopted for literary purposes, the arguments in Challenging the Verdict are based on principles of rationality and need to be addressed on that level, rather than dismissed through the red herring of erroneous legal procedure or failing to provide rebuttal by the 'witnesses' being cross-examined. Such rebuttal is open to anyone who wishes to indulge in it, including Strobel's scholarly interviewees, and I have even offered a forum for it on this web site; to date I have not been approached by a single individual with an attempt at reasoned discussion of anything put forward in Challenging the Verdict.
[*] I'm not sure why this book was written, January
Reviewer: Michael Paul Maupin, Corydon, IN
Instead of taking time to debunk and talk about why Doherty's book is sophomoric and, at best, destined to end up finding a less-than-scholarly place along side copies of Weekly World News and other inane works of drivel, I would like to comment on the book it's opposing: The Case For Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus.
Strobel clearly goes out of his way to talk to leading experts in many different fields, including Medicine, Anthropology, History, Forensics, Psychology, et. al. and succeeds in making a water-tight case for the Messiah.
Doherty embarrassingly tries to build a case against the "experts" interviewed by Strobel citing that they aren't reliable because they are professed Christians. What Doherty doesn't understand, or refuses to admit, is that the people interviewed by Strobel are Scholars; men who have built their entire lives on education and the pursuit of pure thought and reasoning. Impressive are their qualifications. Any attempt to dig their intellectual prowess by Doherty ends in futility on his part.
Doherty's tome proves a point I have believed for many years: Give a monkey a pen and you might just get a publishable work. In Doherty's case, give a monkey a pen, lace a banana with LSD and then whack that same monkey over the head several times with a cast iron skillet and you get "Challenging the Verdict".
Like so many others, Mr. Maupin's 'defence' of The Case for Christ fails to offer any concrete counter-argument but is based solely on the time-honored and fallacious "appeal to authority." Since the people interviewed by Strobel are "Scholars" their word is to be taken at face value and with no challenge. If all human research and endeavor were to be approached from that viewpoint, we'd still be in the Stone Age. Much of Challenging the Verdict is an attempt to demonstrate that the claims of Strobel's "experts" are in fact not to be relied on, regardless of their qualifications. The reason "why this book was written" was precisely that: to show that in all things, and especially in the field of dogmatic belief which excludes and condemns the very application of reason to itself, we need to examine established doctrine and the received wisdom of authority. Otherwise, we commit intellectual suicide, and in this case condemn ourselves to be forever mired in ancient superstition.
This reviewer's over-the-top diatribe is similar to the approach adopted by a well-known Internet apologist who is quoted below. It becomes neither of them, though it is unfortunately the signature language of too many who find fault with work like my own. To try to ensure that society's laws, ethics and beliefs are not to be governed solely by this kind of mindset is another reason why Challenging the Verdict was written.
[*] Don't be surprised, April 24, 2002
Reviewer: mlls55 from Selma, AL
This book doesn't surprise me at all, never forget the devil masquerades as an angel of light!! If people want to jump on this bandwagon and disregard the ton of evidence that has been accumalated from many sources including archeologist and even scientist, then let them!!
This is one reason why Jesus says he will come like a theif in the night, he will catch millions thinking, doing, and believing everything except the right thing!! This book is clear evidence of that!!
[*] Question: When is a trial not a trial?, March
Reviewer: M G Passantino from Costa Mesa, CA United States
Answer: When the prosecuting attorney doesn't let any of the witnesses respond to his cross-examination. By that cute (but totally prejudiced) trick, Doherty may have won a few "converts" to skepticism in his abysmal challenge to Lee Strobel's best-selling The Case for Christ. Even if one didn't have the interest, time, or skill to carefully and objectively examine every main point made by Doherty, common sense and a few over-arching principles should give anyone concern that Doherty's case AGAINST Christ (Strobel and Strobel's expert witnesses' presentation of Christ) is less than honest.
Compare the two books: Strobel's qualifications are clearly identified and the experts he "calls to the stand" in his defense of the historic Christian view of Christ are well qualified in their respective fields of academic achievement, whether it be history, literature, theology, etc. Doherty doesn't give any hint about any academic or legal proficiency on his part at all, and by and large the "expert" skeptics he calls to his side in disputing the Christian truth claims are either Jesus Seminar members, who are recognized by most even liberal scholars as far on the liberal fringe, or those like Robert Funk who once told me that his interpretation of Jesus as a first century cynic sage Jewish standup comedian was based on nothing more than his subjective "experience" of the New Testament. No kidding! I asked Funk, "If the New Testament text we have led you to discover this Jerry Seinfeld Jesus, what kind of text would there have to be for you to discover a Son of God, Resurrected Jesus Christ?" After my husband and I went back and forth asking the same question a couple of different ways until he finally got it, he responded, "The exact same text we have already." No kidding! "But," I pressed, "If the same text can give some readers a divine resurrected Christ and others a human rabbi comedian Christ, then you're saying either interpretation is completely subjective -- based only some 'inner experience' and not on any scientific, historic, linguistic, or rational investigation or standard." In so many words, he agreed. "After all," he concluded, "This isn't science. It's literature. It can mean all things to all people."
Well, post-modern deconstructionism may have earned a few people Ph.Ds for novel ideas, but such "scholarship" based on mere subjective, blind faith can't come close to the historical, linguistic, and rational evidence Lee Strobel and his experts amass so compellingly in The Case for Christ....
Ms. Passantino's review degenerated into a rant at this point. I gather that she has published some comments on my book on some other forum, as "Jack B.", another unsympathetic reviewer on Amazon (not posted here) made this comment: "...My conclusion is consistent with the one reached by Bob and Gretchen Passantino of Answers in Action, who thoroughly analyzed "Challenging the Verdict" and came to this conclusion: 'The book is littered with logical fallacies, misstatements of fact, faulty interpretations, pseudo-scholarship, and wholesale ignorance of history, literature, and philosophy.' To borrow a word from Jesus: 'Amen!' "
Well, I haven't seen the review of Answers in Action, but I find it curious that neither Jack nor Ms. Passantino, despite the latter's "thorough" analysis of the book, bothered to quote a single example of my litter of logical fallacies, misstatements of fact, and so on. Instead, the Passantinos apparently rely on a priori assumption, that Strobel's scholars are "well qualified in their respective fields," meaning that there is no reason to question their views, and that "common sense and a few over-arching principles," no doubt founded in orthodox dogma, are all that is needed to dismiss Challenging the Verdict. Ms. Passantino's remark that "even if one didn't have the interest, time, or skill to carefully and objectively examine every main point made by Doherty," seems to be an admission of some sort.
I find Ms. Passantino's anecdote about an exchange with Robert Funk illuminating. If accurate (and I doubt that the tone, if nothing else, is so), it indicates one admission which the Passantinos have not fully comprehended. Any interpretation of the New Testament which is based on personal orientation and wishful thinking is indeed going to be "completely subjective," and "based on some 'inner experience'." I regard both the orthodox interpretation championed by the Passantinos, as well as the new radical (by orthodox standards) interpretation put forward by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, to be, in their own ways, equally subjective and unreliable. Essentially, I would have to disagree with Funk, if he said that "This isn't science. It's literature. It can mean all things to all people." The Gospels may indeed be literature (and we have lost sight of that), but they can be subjected to scientific analysis and evaluation, and objective historical judgments about them, along with the rest of the Christian record, can be arrived at. The Jesus Seminar has done this to some extent, but at the end of the day they too have brought their own personal needs and commitments to the investigation, producing yet another Jesus which reflects the spirit of the times, albeit in liberal circles. As for the Passantinos' counter-claim about the orthodox position, the purpose of Challenging the Verdict was to point out that Strobel's case is anything but "scientific, historical, rational and compelling," or free of the influence of "subjective, blind faith."
The complaint (yet again) about my courtroom cross-examination format has been addressed several times elsewhere (as for example in the following review's comments), including by some of the positive reviewers quoted in the first part of this page.
[*] Okay, let me get this straight, March 3, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Los Angeles
Let me see if I've got this right. This "scholar," who puts forth no academic credentials in this book by a publisher I can't seem to locate, and whose credibility has already been lost due to his fringe position that Jesus never even was born, now "cross-examines" Christian scholars but does not even give them a chance to answer his questions or correct his misstatements and mischaracterizations. His historically dubious challenges in reality were only posed to these professors in his own vivid imagination and not in a single instance were they raised in an actual conversation in which the challenged individual was able to offer any kind of a response. That's supposed to be a valid exploration of these issues—to taunt scholars with your inflated allegations but gag their mouths so they cannot set the record straight? This is supposed to be a credible book that for the first time in 2,000 years has been able to dismantle Christianity? Uh, I don't think so.
Instead of denting Lee Strobel's book "A Case for Christ," this challenge falls flat—deflated by its lack of credibility and its refusal to even open itself to other (and more reasonable) viewpoints. All it succeeds in doing is winning the enthusiastic support of others who need some reason—ANY reason, no matter how poorly supported—to maintain their conclusion that Jesus was a mere myth who somehow has hoodwinked millions of people for two millennia. I found this book incredibly frustrating to read because at the end, you have nothing but random attacks on the historical record and you lack the responses of those who are in the best position to give the other side. Something is not true because a person says it and doesn't allow the other side to be expressed. At least in Strobel's book he challenges scholars with objections of skeptics and then let the reader decide whether their answers were sufficient. . . .
Okay, let me get this straight. Challenging the Verdict is an invalid, dishonest exercise, because I didn't send manuscripts of the book before publication to each of Strobel's interviewees, asking them to insert their rebuttal comments at appropriate points. Nor can critiques be written of published scholarly opinion unless the author personally interviews those he is critiquing, just to make sure that they were properly quoted or whether they might have something further to say in answer to the critiquer's objections. Moreover, an author who has taken a position that some readers don't like, namely that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, is automatically discredited, and ditto if he is published by a publishing house that the reader "can't locate." Those scholars I have challenged have been "gagged," presumably because they have no way on their own to become aware of my challenges and no forums in which to respond to them. Nor have I allowed "the other side to be expressed" despite numerous quotations from that other side in Challenging the Verdict itself, and the promulgation of that other side in countless books, debates, and other public media.
Strobel does allow a very limited expression of the "objections of skeptics" in his book, but in no case does he interview anything remotely resembling a liberal scholar. In Challenging the Verdict both sides are on view, and it is indeed incumbent upon the reader to decide which one makes the better sense. One of the objects of my critique is to demonstrate not only how extremely selective is that skeptical expression in Strobel's presentation, but that whole areas of contradiction and inconsistency, illogical and unsupported conclusion, misuse of evidence, are simply ignored in the "case" for Christian doctrine and the complete historical reliability of the Gospels.
I have discussed the question of my "credentials" in my introductory comments above, and elsewhere.
[*] The overall picture, February 27, 2002
Reviewer: A. Lesley
Wow, after reading the editorial review and the many different reviews of this book, I am deeply saddened by what is going on here. It is so easy for scholars to pick apart the works of others. It would not matter if Lee Strobel interviewed God in person, someone like Earl Doherty would come along and convince many that it was all a lie. The overall picture is this: if you don't want to accept the gift of salvation offered by God through Jesus, then you will find any excuse available to deny it. However, don't use Doherty or anyone else's theories to keep you away from Jesus. If you TRULY seek to know God, He will reveal Himself to you - that's His promise to all of us.
I think Mr. Lesley's comment needs turning around. If one is committed to believing in something and is unwilling to question its reliability or basis, one will find any excuse to reject the contrary evidence. And many people today claim to have "interviewed" God in one way or another. At least I can go to Strobel's scholars to check if they indeed answered his questions in the way he says they did. Unfortunately, no one can check with the Deity, or on the many claims made in his name. (Going to the bible is simply a case of circular reasoning.)
[*] Not even fair, February 8, 2002
Reviewer: A Reader from Burnsville, MN
All right, let's look at this book from a logical standpoint: Earl Doherty constantly bombards us with his "facts" without giving any of the scholars (those with which he is "refuting") a chance to respond! This is ridiculous at best. I have no problem with him acting like an atheist, but the LEAST he can do is let someone else make their case. No wonder his material is so "convincing"--it's completely one-sided! Lee Strobel's "The Chase [sic] For Christ" is fair and balanced, whereas Doherty states his reasoning and just automatically assumes that it's correct. If the Biblical scholars had been given the opportunity to debate Earl's arguments, they would have grilled him, plain and simple. This book is a fairly well organized attempt at discrediting Christianity, but one that ultimately fails.
This "reader" posted his review long after several others which defended my cross-examination format as a legitimate literary device, something which apparently made no impression on him. Other reviewers have also pointed out that Strobel is anything but "fair and balanced." In fact, the typo in the Strobel title above is ironically apt, in that the book's argument is essentially a circular one, evidence chosen and engineered in order to support a predetermined conclusion, as in the expression "chasing one's tail."
[*] An amateurish attempt at historical revisionism,
December 20, 2001
Reviewer: dfleming19 from New York City
This odd book is an example of how far critics need to take their faith in order to try to rewrite history. The author pretends he's objective while critiquing Lee Strobel's book 'A Case for Christ,' but his biases are evident from the beginning. He starts with an anti-supernatural presupposition and the absurd belief—rejected by reputable historians—that Jesus never existed. (Set aside whether Jesus was the Son of God—this guy refuses to even acknowledge that he ever walked the earth!) From this dubious starting point, the author must then twist himself into knots in order to try to dismiss the New Testament accounts, including the writings of Paul. They must be undermined at all costs in order to support his bizarre thesis. So the author trots out all the worn out, discredited deconstructionism of the Jesus Seminar and others in an attempt to justify his position. This isn’t objective historical research—it’s a desperate effort to justify his own prejudices.
As for “the absurd belief that Jesus never existed,” this is not a presupposition either, but—rightly or wrongly—an arrived-at position through an examination of the record and the spirit of the times, as put forward in my first book, The Jesus Puzzle, and to some extent in Challenging the Verdict. (Reviewers who have said that I do not put forward my Jesus myth theory in the present book are overstating the point.)
Nowhere in my book, or even in the former website version, have I referred to the scholars interviewed by Lee Strobel as “fundamentalists,” but only as “conservative” and “to the far right of the critical spectrum.” In the comments about the book on this site I have used the term “evangelical” in referring to some of those scholars, and I regard this as a valid characterization of people like William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, though I am willing to be corrected on the point.
Instead of “shouting back at the book,” this reviewer would have been better advised to respond on the Jesus Puzzle website, or on any other forum of his choosing, and actually itemize and discredit “the author’s fanciful conspiracy theories, historical misstatements and corruptions of logic.” Such an addressing of the arguments I put forward in Challenging the Verdict might also have cast some light on my “outrageous methodology.” Rational discussion of the evidence is the only effective avenue to understanding and enlightenment.
[**] A poor execution of a flawed premise, November 29, 2001
This reviewer (who chose to remain anonymous) says, “Readers are left with the author’s dubious assertions and no way to responsibly evaluate them."
The way to evaluate any position is to investigate the accuracy of the premises being asserted, and then to apply one’s own reasoning to the arguments that are being based on those premises. If the assertions are “dubious” or false, they can be so demonstrated by one’s own survey of the evidence. If the arguments being offered are invalid, they can be exposed as such by rational standards.
To take the opening example of the book, Craig Blomberg’s position was that the church’s attribution of the traditional authors to the four canonical Gospels is completely reliable. My counter to that position was to demonstrate that no one presents such Gospel authors before the year 180, that the Gospels themselves are not quoted from or clearly attested to by Christian writers before the time of Justin Martyr in the 150s. Those are assertions. If they are “dubious” they can be so demonstrated by pointing to earlier references and quotations I have overlooked or misrepresented. When Dr. Blomberg attempted to do precisely that, by pointing to Papias around the year 125, I showed by Papias’ own reputed words (relayed to us through Eusebius) that his remarks about a “Mark” and “Matthew” cannot be taken to refer to narrative gospels, and that he could not have possessed copies of whatever these documents were. If my arguments and conclusions are suspect or invalid, it is incumbent on the opposing position to offer a demonstration that this is so, rather than simply label them dubious, bizarre or insipid.
On what basis Strobel’s scholars would “roast” me is not clear from their testimony in The Case for Christ. I can assure the reader that I have not conveniently or deviously left out anything they have said that would support their case. It is in my own interest to answer all of their arguments. Moreover, as apologists, Strobel is appealing to them to give him all the ammunition they can to support the case his book seeks to present. They are not liable to have failed to present him with their best views on the matter. Thus, while they might seek to object to some interpretation of my own, it would be difficult to see what further substantive arguments they could produce in rebuttal to support their positions. However, once again let me point out that I have extended an invitation to them for such a rebuttal and have offered to provide a forum for it on this site. [Again, this invitation has been withdrawn, due to a lack of response, but can be reopened on request at any time.]
[*] Funnier Than a Three Stooges Video!, December
Reviewer: J. P. Holding from Ocoee, FL United States
As President of Tekton Apologetics Ministries I’ve had a lot of practice taking Earl to task, and he prefers to respond with harrumphs and grunts and arguments that dig him even deeper in his hole. All of the arguments in this book are derived from his earlier book, The Jesus Puzzle, so if you already have that you won’t miss anything. Doherty’s attempt to refute Strobel is no more than a case of Doherty trying to milk the cash cow that Strobel’s works have become.
Doherty fancies himself an expert, but has bitten off way more than he can chew. He is behind the eight-ball of scholarly consensus on every point—and I speak here of secular as well as religious scholarship.
Me? I read it for amusement.
Mr. Holding’s remarks scarcely bear commenting on. As usual, he presents much noise but little substance, though here he is uncharacteristically brief. His rebuttal to my earlier website critique of The Case for Christ was, as always, over the top and ran out of steam as it progressed. He regularly complains that I don’t pay him enough heed, though my site contains two detailed responses to his “Rogues Gallery” attacks on the Jesus Puzzle, one at the head of my Reader Feedback, the other in the Postscript to my Sound of Silence feature. But until he has the good grace to provide a link to my site articles he is rebutting, so that his readers can check things out for themselves (to reciprocate my own and common practice), I won’t be giving him any further attention.
[*] The obvious verdict: this book is lame!, December
Reviewer: Hankloftus(...) from the Pacific Coast
If this book is the best defense of the idea Jesus never lived, then this bizarre contention ought to be given the proper burial it deserves. For me, I cannot conjure up enough faith to believe his inane conclusions—especially with the entire book being based on a ‘trial’ in which witnesses are not allowed to answer the author's questions!! It’s easy to ‘prove’ your point when you never allow anyone to challenge it, which is what the author does. His historical analysis is shallow and misleading. For example, his claim that Paul didn’t care about the historical Jesus is contradicted by Paul’s laser-beam focus on the resurrection of Jesus, as evidenced by First Corinthians 15 and other passages. I’d be interested in what qualifies the author as a ‘classical and New Testament scholar,’ since his own biography doesn’t even mention whether he has any degree in the relevant area and, if he does, where he got it. Perhaps he was trying to save the school from embarrassment. As for his handling of the empty tomb issue, a much better exploration of this matter can be found in the debate between Gerd Ludemann (a highly qualified and credentialed scholar) and W. L. Craig—a debate which any unprejudiced observer would have to say was won by Craig, who defended well the vacancy of Jesus’ grave. This is a rehash of old Jesus objections written in a tedious and unenlightening format.
Paul’s “laser-beam focus on the resurrection” as found in 1 Corinthians 15 is something to which I devote repeated discussion in Challenging the Verdict, addressing that passage in three major places, as well as Paul’s concept of the resurrection in many others. As for the Ludemann-Craig debate, that would not be my reading of the matter.
[*] Cross Examining Witnesses That Are Not Present,
November 14, 2001
One can’t help wondering how Mr. Doherty would have performed in a courtroom where the witnesses could actually answer for themselves. As the author not only controls the questions, but also the answers, his predetermined verdict should come as no surprise to anyone.
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