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March 1, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Is the influence of Roman and Jewish culture on the Bible relevant?

The following is an answer I gave on Quora to the question: “If all self-identified Christians were made thoroughly and properly informed about the secular history of Christianity and its scripture (largely accepted among scholars), what do you think would happen? (with a few additions):

A small percentage might be persuaded, but only because they didn’t know or understand the full context of the situation. I guess we can only speculate.

In terms of the real question that every other answer tends to (rightly I might add) be focusing on–is this relevant? Is this important? What does this mean for the credibility of the Bible, if anything? Is the possible influence of contemporary culture on the Bible or Biblical writers relevant?

I think this gets back to the influence of all literature. All artists draw on the culture around them. All communicators do the same. According to Aristotle, communication is the joining of the agreed upon with invention.

Our Constitutional scholars drew on political, ethical, and other theories from their day and before–this doesn’t invalidate or in any way change their amazing feat and their legacy.

All academic disciplines, including science itself proceed based on the building of ideas on the back of other ideas. Ask Hegel about the history of ideas and disciplines (for instance Hegel’s dialectic which he used to explain the history of ideas–you can learn more here or Google “Hegelian dialectic” after you finish reading). Or ask even Steven Johnson about ideas–and how they replicate. The evidence of this is the citation system–which is used in academic, scientific, and even some popular books (particularly in business and the social sciences).

In this line of reasoning, we still credit re-mixers like Girl Talk as being original and inspired, but to have a (conveiniently) contradictory stance on this topic seems a bit misguided.

A Christian can also point to the fact that Jesus stands at the center of history. These stories and traditions are all pointing toward him (albeit it rather imperfectly).

This question with no justification assumes bad motives on the part of the authors (they borrowed to manipulate rather than they borrowed to inform and empower. Given their authenticity, particularly in terms of New Testament authors, this is problematic.

Given the above, I think this is a spurious or misguided line of reasoning. I don’t see why atheists, agnostics, or Christians should consider it as valid or relevant–especially in light of multiple other forms of proof and reasons for faith.

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The following is some replies to someone else in the thread (which is a bit off topic, but re-affirms the main idea):

Jeanette,

Creativity and culture builds in the notion of being influenced by earlier writers. Finding out that Dr. Martin Luther King used the Declaration of Independence–adds to the historical context–it doesn’t subtract. Influence alone is not plagerism and certainly doesn’t undermine the philosophy–all creativity, all writing, and all of academia. If you invalidate the New Testament or Jesus based on that–you’re in the position of also invalidating all of academia and science.

Also, I’m not sure if you understand entirely–but Jesus stands out among those of his day and the long list that came before him. The meme which suggests that he’s not distinct is pretty absurd. Its like saying you wrote a love story and borrowed from Romeo and Juliet–ergo your love story is bogus. That simply doesn’t make sense.

But more to the point….and maybe this is because there are multiple interpretations. The idea of music being “false” doesn’t make sense and just isn’t analogous. The analogy is to the accussation of plagerism. Irrespective, the grounds on which these assumptions are all built is a rather hollow one.

I’m sorrry you’re missing the distinction I’m making (or perhaps you’re getting it now). I was hoping for you to perhaps revise or amend your analogy–rather than defend it. Changing it would seem to make it stronger–as it would represent the nature of the question rather than unsupported and unsubstantiated claims without warrants or assumptions.

You have to think there is a reason why the Jesus movement was successful when all the others weren’t–there in lies his uniqueness.

I also have a similar answer coming out on July 24, 2014.

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